I strain to hold myself forward to be as close to the window as possible but my back offers resistance and pulls me backward towards the soft feel of the seat. The sound of the aerodynamic structure taking off the ground reaches my ears like a siren and I smile to myself thinking of the things that happened during one take off like this one.
(Three years ago…)
“I am waiting.” I said to my father as he kept on asking what the status of the flight was.
“How long? Go and ask the staff if they are planning to give their passengers a ferry ride at least.” His voice boomed through the phone.
“It is okay, Dad. Really.” It was not. I had been waiting for hours and the flight had been delayed for like 2 hours then. It was supposed to depart at 21:00 hours, it was already 23:00 hours and there was still no sign of the boarding call.
I looked around at the other passengers as my Dad rambled for a while and then disconnected the call.
I sighed deeply to let out all the impatience that might have built by then. The last thing I wanted was a stampede started by a bunch of angry, sleepy and disoriented passengers. And for a stampede to occur, one human body is enough. They call it the trigger.
As I washed myself with the thoughts of stampede and blood hungry humans, a voice from my left side called –
I turned to my left and saw a beautiful man (I am not sure if a man can be called beautiful but that man definitely was) sitting there with his hand baggage rested on his lap. A small yellow cloth was sticking out of one of the little pockets in its front.
“Are you going to Delhi as well?” He asked. I noticed his lips curling up at the corners of his mouth. It made me wonder if that was his real smile. If that was not, then what was? He had a little pin-head mole on the far end of that corner of his mouth.
“Can you hear me?” He asked.
“Y-Yes.” I said, flustered, embarrassed and nervous. Had he noticed? Had he noticed that I was looking at him like a creep? “Yes. I am going to Delhi.” I managed to get out.
“Well, how long is the delay going to be?” He asked with a frown forming on his face. I don’t like his frown, I decided.
“I don’t know. But the ETD is 23:50 hours.” I said, looking over his shoulder, at the screen which showed all the departures. He turned to look where I was looking.
I could not help but notice every flicker of his movement. His neck, as he kept his face turned to the other side, was flushed red, a deep shade of blush. I liked it.
He groaned as he turned around. I looked away.
“Do you live in Delhi?” He asked as he finished stretching his long legs in front of him.
“Me? I mean, yeah. I live in Delhi.” I said.
“Is it too cold out there, right now? In Delhi, I mean.” He asked ruffling his soft black hair with one hand as the other hand held onto his backpack.
“Yeah, well, it must be really cold. When I left, in December, it was freezing. So, I expect it must have worsened now. It’s January. It is expected.” I said, sounding confident.
“Oh.” He said.
Before his voice, that sweet melody of a musical could stop echoing in my ears, I turned towards the sound of the announcement made by the airline staff, booming over the hall and beyond, asking us to reach the threshold of gate number 5 for our boarding. Boarding call, I said to myself. I smiled inside as I connected it to mating call in my brain and imagined a situation like that in the plane where people are going frenzy over finding their partners, where my mate would be this delicious treat beside me. NO. Stop. You are objectifying a person, I chided myself.
“I think that’s us.” He said, breaking my thoughts.
“Yes. It is us.” I said.
We walked towards the gate with him walking a few steps ahead of me, showing off his broad shoulders. At that moment, I realized that there is no such thing as ‘love at first sight’ but there is definitely something known as ‘lust at first sight’. I was witnessing it.
“Seat numbers 16 to 30 are requested to form a line in front of gate number 5, rest of you are requested to please be seated in the waiting hall.” One of the staff said.
“What?” A man roared at the top of his voice. “I am not going to wait anymore. It is already late…” I let his voice fade as I grabbed my cellphone to speed dial my Dad in case of an emergency. Impending stampede. A voice inside my head said.
“What is your seat number?” he asked again. I forgot to notice how close he was standing next to me, given the fact that the whole area was crowded with passengers waiting for their delayed flights to begin boarding.
“11F.” I replied instantly, looking at my boarding pass.
“Wow. That is some coincidence.” He said.
My heart began thrumming as I wondered if he was seated beside me. Clichés of clichés.
“Coincidence? Where is your seat?” I tried to sound casual.
“11A.” He said with his eyes twinkling at me.
“Oh.” I said as realization hit me. Bad luck. “That is just opposite to my row of seats.”
“I know right?” He said, as if that was any good.
I rolled my eyes at nothing.
We finally boarded the flight and I gracefully fell onto my seat with relief. I buckled my seat belt and plugged in my earphones to soothe my mind and escape reality. Music. I scrolled through my playlist and chose my all-time favorite – ‘Strawberry Swing’ by Coldplay.
As the air hostesses did all what they had to do, that is instruct us to not act stupid in case of an emergency (which most of the people in there, including me, feel totally useless and are probably going to act totally opposite to what they expect us to), I cocked my head to a side, to look at the gorgeous man sitting right opposite to my row of seats and some woman was sitting there, adjusting her lipstick.
“Are you looking for someone?” A voice right beside me said.
As I shifted my gaze to the person so close to my face, I saw him. He smiled with his brows raised, biting his lip a bit. That smile tore my heart a bit.
I smiled back. “I was.” I said.
“I am Shreya.” I said, containing my smile as he did not bother to stifle any of his charm from exuding.
And the plane took off along with my love story, flying in the air.
(Two years ago…)
It was one whole year with him. I don’t know how long it took for me to fall in love with him but I did. Conscience is a weird thing. Sometimes, it plays games with you; it expects you to figure out what is happening to you, around you or in you. It did not tell me that I was already in love but when he said those words to me, I knew that I did too.
Soon, we decided to move in together. We rented a small, affordable and neat place to live. We were so much in love that we fooled ourselves to believe that we were perfect for each other. At least, I did.
He had gotten a job in Delhi with a good pay, so there stopped being a commute. There stopped being a distance. But, one day, I realized that miles don’t determine distance…sometimes, even though you are close, they seem far away.
“What do you think I should wear?” I asked Prudhvi as he was adjusting his bow tie.
“Just wear anything you want to.” He said quietly.
“Well, if I am asking you…maybe it is because I cannot really decide.” I replied.
He glared for a minute and then said, shifting his gaze to the clothes on my bed – “The blue one.”
“That is my night dress.”
“Well then, I don’t know.” He groaned.
“What is wrong with you?” I asked, as my heart started its usual thrumming. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him. Maybe, it was too soon. Maybe it was not the time…maybe…maybe there is never a time….
“Nothing. Just…be quick about it.” He said and left the room.
As the door clicked behind his back, I looked at the pile of clothes on my bed with blurry eyes. Was I crying? Maybe, I was. I am not sure now. But I am sure that I was heartbroken.
“I made a mistake.” I whispered to no one. I kept repeating it until it ached to say it. I made a mistake. It was too soon. Maybe, it was too much for him to handle. What if he leaves? I can’t let that happen.
I dressed myself up and put on my makeup as soon as possible. It was a party at his office and he wanted me to look my best. I looked at myself. Do I look at my best? If broken is the best, then, I am. I said to myself.
I shook my head as if to shatter all my thoughts to dust.
“Come on, now.” His voice roared across the room.
I walked out into the hall, expecting him to pour his usual appreciations on my appearance as he always did but there were none. He merely stood straightening his coat. His face was impassive, his thin, pink, soft lips formed in a straight line and he just walked out the door.
I stifled a painful scream and followed him. He did not talk all the way to the party. I did not coerce him either.
As we reached the destination, he said – “Try to act cheerful.”
He looked at me knowingly and said – “I think you should forget what I asked you the other night. I think it is not a good idea.”
Good idea. The world crashed around me as the words echoed inside me. I bet I heard my heart breaking into pieces and then again.
I let the tears pour down my cheek. “Why?” I gasped.
He walked out the car as if he did not hear the question. He straightened his coat again and walked ahead. I got out of the car myself and heard the beep of the car locking behind me.
Not a good idea. It took him just 24 hours to figure that out.
I recalled the events that had happened the other night. We were lying on our bed coddling and pampering each other as we always did. I loved his ears. They were soft and always invited me to bite them. I loved his eyes, his eyelashes. They were so dense and long that whenever he used to come close to my face and close his eyes, I could feel them brush against my skin.
“I love you so much, Shreya.” He had said.
“I do too.” I had said as I looked into his twinkling eyes.
He had pulled me closer into a hug as I breathed in his scent.
“I was thinking of asking you something.” He had said.
“Go on. You know that I don’t like surprises. Just ask.” I had said.
“Well…that is exactly why I am asking you this now…it is private; there is no one but us…”
“That is why they call it private.” I had interrupted.
He had chuckled and had asked something so beautiful in between his small laughs – “Will… will you marry me?”
My heart had stopped at that moment and had pulled apart from him to look straight into his eyes. To make sure he wasn’t joking.
“Will you?” He had asked again, biting his lip.
I had kissed him not knowing what to say to that. Lack of words. Of course, I wanted to say yes.
“Does it mean yes?” He had asked.
I had straightened up to sit on the bed as something tugged me on the back of my brain. Tell him, it said. Tell him.
So, I did.
“I…I need to tell you something before I answer that, Prudhvi.” I had said.
“I…I don’t know how to begin explaining this to you.”
“Now, who is being the Queen of suspense?” He had mocked me.
I had swallowed a few breaths as if to eat up all the oxygen around me. It wasn’t enough. I struggled to find words in my brain as I said –
“I…am…I was…I am…a rape victim.”
“What?” He had said, laughing. It did not sound like a joke to me, though.
When I had looked straight at him with all the courage I could muster, that is when he had understood that that was no joke.
I don’t know what I had expected…kind words or a shoulder to cry on but I had definitely not expected what I had seen….
“Well, someone looks good, today.” Someone said and brought me back to the real world.
“Hello, Preeti.” I said, smiling deliberately. Try to act cheerful. His voice bellowed in my head like a reminder.
Preeti was one of Prudhvi’s best friends at the workplace. She escorted me to one of the tables where no one else was seated, took a seat herself and motioned me to sit next to her. I did.
“Well, show me.” She said.
“I am sorry?” I said, still trying to be cheerful.
“The ring, of course.” She said, all at once. She had known that he was going to propose.
Fortunately, at that moment, someone called for her and she left like a breeze, only the breeze apologized quite a lot for leaving me alone.
There was no sign of my significant other. I looked around me and could not find him. He had never left me alone like this. Well, he had never done anything like this before…. I had never expected any of this…any of what had happened that night…
I don’t know what I had expected…kind words or a shoulder to cry on but I had definitely not expected what I was about to see….
“I don’t think that is possible.” He had said.
“What is not possible?” I had managed to ask even though my throat was closing up, my lungs were losing air.
“Are you sure?” He had asked.
“What are you asking?” I had said, not quite understanding his emotions, struggling.
“Are…Are you sure that you were indeed…you know…” He had hesitated.
“Raped?” I had asked as a tear dribbled down my face. I had not known it was waiting there to fall on my cheek.
“Well…yes. Are you sure?” He had asked again, not really seeing how he was hurting me.
“How can I not be sure? Do you think I have had sex with someone and now I am just presenting it to you like I was forced into it?” I had asked, painfully waiting for an answer.
“I am just asking if you are sure…” He had said again.
He could have said “no” or “of course not“. Why would you think that?’ He could have said anything but that.
“Yes. I am.” I had said just to make him stop. To make my screaming stop.
He had formed an expression. Something I never liked. I never liked his frown. He had clutched his hair with both his hands like he was in pain. Could he have seen what I was feeling, then? His face had twisted and had showed something I had never wanted to see. Repulsion. Like I was vermin.
“Well then… I don’t know how to handle this brand new information. Why…why did you lie to me?” He had asked.
“Lied to you? When…when did I ever…” I had stumbled over my words as they got caught in my throat. It had come out as a sob.
“When we had the discussion of having sleeping with someone.” He had said.
“I was raped.” I had gasped. “I did not sleep with anyone.”
“It is the SAME thing.” He had said with his voice full of rage and then he had stormed out of the room like being in the same room would have contaminated him.
Was it? I asked myself as I looked at the crowd laughing and jeering at old jokes. Was it the same thing? As I was pondering over it, I realized that I was looking straight at a waiter for a long time.
“Do you want something, ma’am?” He came up to me to ask.
That is the difference. I did not want it. I had not wanted to have sex with that guy. He had forced me. Almost deliberately pushed himself onto me as I kept saying no. He took advantage of being my boyfriend. “It is no big deal.” The rapist had said. “It is the same thing.” Prudhvi’s voice boomed again.
Yes, it was the same thing. I realized there was no difference between the two. Pain was pain. Physical or having to relive it mentally when the only support you thought you had thought of you as disgusting and a cheat.
I must leave. I must leave. Now. I thought to myself as sweat drenched my face and palms.
I got up to leave and he came pacing towards me.
“We need to talk.” Prudhvi said.
“No. We don’t.” I said.
I walked out the room and kept walking. He did not stop me. He never called me back.
I realized that love stories are not really like fairy tale endings or like gruesome deaths of star crossed lovers. It is the in between which we fail to notice. It leaves you hanging.
As I sit here today in the plane, watching the clouds beneath me; I think to myself that there might be someone who will accept me for my past, who will accept me for who I am and not for what had happened to me. There might be. There might be not. But now, I don’t feel the same shame as I did before. Because now I know, I need not. I need not be ashamed. I smile to myself as I listen to my same old favorite track of Coldplay – ‘Strawberry swing.’