It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi Airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.
I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend’s wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. The wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batchmates. But what I didn’t know was that the reunion would begin much ahead of time; right in the queue in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was she. Same height! Same long hair! Same complexion! Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, she proved me right. My ex-girlfriend stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We had never met after the college farewell. (*)
Her face bore the same tinge of sadness that drew me towards her then; maybe a shade or two deeper than before; and certainly more attractive for that than ever. But when our eyes met, as if stirred by her soul, her whole frame got animated. While I stood rooted, unable to take my eyes off her, she gave way to the couple behind her in the queue. When it was our turn to obtain boarding passes, she took hold of my ticket and opted for two seats aside a window. And it was only when we rejoined in the lounge, after going through our separate ways for the security check, that she opened her mouth.
“What a pleasant surprise it is Mohan,” she said extending her hand.
“More so for the accompanying privacy,” I said unable to hide my joy, grabbing her hand.
“I suppose you are going to attend Madhu’s wedding,” she said in all anticipation.
“Now that we’ve met, won’t I walk in your tracks,” I said smilingly.
“Why didn’t you bring your wife along?” she said.
“I don’t know of any ‘wife for hire’ in Delhi, do you?” I said jocularly.
“So, I got the wrong feed then,” she said with an apparent relief that surprised me.
She led me towards a row of vacant seats, and occupying one, she reclined in it as if to demonstrate her state of mind. Sitting beside her, I felt that portended a major turn of events in my life.
“What about your man? I said tentatively.
“Tell me if you know of any ‘husband on hire’ for a divorcee,” she said pointedly.
“I’m sorry,” I said with mixed feelings.
“What for, is it because I’m a divorcee or you can’t find a husband for me?” she said in jest.
“Jokes apart, if I may know, what went wrong?” I said concernedly.
“You may have to wait for that as I can’t complete my story before we board the plane and I can’t continue that in the earshot any,” she said and walked towards the toilets.
When Rathi joined our class midway in B.A pre-final at Hindu College, it was no capital moment for she didn’t cause any sensation on the campus. Yet the elusive charm of her supple frame induced a mild commotion in my heart and with that tinge of sadness on her face began to seep into my soul, I came to develop a crush on her. But as she chose to ignore the emanations of my fascination for her, I was deeply hurt for by then I prided myself on my good looks. Swallowing my pride and subduing my lust, as I befriended her to be near her, she admitted me into her inner circle, albeit drawing a platonic line. As she began receiving me at her home, her mother dropped enough hints that she was in the lookout for a suitable boy for Rathi in the corridors of IIMs. And that put paid to the slim hope that still lingered in my mind about winning her hand in the end. So we had to part on a friendly note as graduates, and shortly thereafter she invited me to her wedding that I chose not to attend.
“Where are you lost?” she said returning from the loo.
“Well, in our woods of remembrances,” I said searching for her reaction.
“It seems the flight could be delayed by an hour or so,” she said without betraying her emotions.
“No worry as the wedding is scheduled for the evening,” I said disappointed.
“So, be ready with your handkerchief,” she said in half-jest.
“Thanks to IndiGo, you can open the floodgates,” I said pulling out a handkerchief from my hip pocket.
“In hindsight it was my mother who scripted my marital misery,” she said as a prologue to her hapless tale. “Reared as she was in middleclass drudgery, she planted high-class seedling in my childhood bosom that turned into an unbending tree in my adult mindset. I was enamored of you but yet I couldn’t entertain the idea of marrying you. As Shekhar fitted the bill, I became his willing bride but just the same, I wished you were at my wedding.”
“You don’t know what a struggle it was for me to decide one way or the other,” I said apologetically.
“Do you think I couldn’t have wagered a guess about that?” she said taking my hand, and began resuming her tale after releasing it. “But what I failed to understand then was why Shekhar opted to marry me as he could have picked and chosen any beauty queen.”
“Won’t that tinge of sadness in your face make you irresistible for men?” I said instinctively.
“Oh, is it so?” she said as her face radiated only to resume resignedly. “Well, he was not the one to nuance the feminine attributes. Instead, he was fixated with the astrological aspects in horoscopes. Do you know why he married me? I came to know later that his astrological guru told him that the planetary positions in the 7th house my horoscope indicated that my spouse would reach the apex of the business pyramid. Now I can figure out with what hopes he would have rented that house in Hyderabad, as a prelude to his entry into the haloed chambers of a blue chip company. You can’t imagine the astrological lengths to which he tended to go; he’s wont to take leave of absence during the predicted bad periods. As a result, he had to give way to his subordinate to ascend the administrative ladder. With his dreams thus shattered, he alleged that my parents had fabricated my horoscope and abused me for being the curse of his career. And that was the final nail in our marital coffin.”
“What have you been doing ever since?” I said placing my hand on her shoulders.
“I returned to Delhi and to my parents to take up the fulltime job of fighting for my divorce. What an ordeal it had been for two years to obtain a decree that was on hand only a fortnight back. In a way, this trip is meant to celebrate my release. Now, tell me about your life,” she said taking my hand.
“This is Mohan Kumar, B.A, LLB, a Junior Counsel at the Delhi High Court, and no more,” I said symbolically withdrawing my hand from hers.
“Had I known that, I could’ve entrusted my case to you and maybe you would’ve set me free much earlier,” she said smilingly.
Soon we boarded the Boeing and tried to delve into the fictional world, she with Crossing the Mirage and I with Benign Flame. What with Rathi’s enhanced sex appeal stirring my own sensuality, I closed the book, unable to grasp the nuances of Roopa’s sexuality dwelt in it. But as she was seemingly immersed in her book, without batting an eyelid, I began savoring her seductive persona. In time, as I was seized by an urge to possess her, I felt like proposing to her then and there. But I checked myself as that might seem that I was trying to take advantage of her disadvantaged position. Even otherwise, how could I measure up to her high-class aspiration? Why invite a rejection all again, I thought, and so I became once bitten twice shy. Yet I couldn’t help but let my eyes follow her frame all the way from Bengaluru Airport to the Koramangala Motel, where we were lodged along with our batchmates, who came in numbers.
It was a gala wedding by any standards of the day and also the bride was no less rotund than the prevailing trend. Even as Rathi was appropriated by the groom’s family, I was overwhelmed by our batchmates. And that depressed as well as relived me in the same vein. As our return trip proved to be an encore, as we waited for baggage clearance, I knew the time was up for me to go back to square one.
“Why not we have lunch at our place?” she said taking me by surprise.
“I would love that but.. “ I said as that didn’t sound like a formal invite.
“Don’t worry, as my mom no longer eulogizes MBAs, and who knows, now she many sing paeans for LLBs,” she said extending her hand.
I took her hand and, hand in hand, we walked out of the Delhi Airport.
This story was developed on the prompt (*) by author Ravinder Singh’s for December 2015 ‘Write India’ short story initiative of Times of India