Dear reader, before I start narrating you this fragile segment of my life, I’d implore you to not judge me for any of my then thoughts and feelings. Yet, if the urge keeps on pricking you, and doesn’t go away, try to use that judgement over the circumstances that I was thrust into.
It was a normal day. I donned the casual white shirt and jean, and headed towards the airport. I prefer to be before time, especially at the places like airport, but that day I feared if I would be able to make it even on time. Yet, somehow, I managed to board my flight, and wasn’t one of those unlucky ones, who have to wave a goodbye to their own plane.
Now this was the phase, in which, obviously, nobody would be interested in. Neither do I expect you to be. But this is the bit of the background story I thought you should know.
Aah! So, this is a story that happened during your journey in air. So, this story is about this cute person, who sat beside you, and how you got into a conversation, and, now, how you both are going to get engaged, you might as well say. Well, you’re correct, partly. Yes. It is about the person who sat beside me. But rest of the reel-story, I still just dream about.
With just-on-time entry at airport, I was left with the options of only middle seats; no aisle seats, nor window ones.
When I sat at my place, both the sides of my seat were empty. Soon came one, aisle one. A corporate person, I supposed. With the clothes he had thrown on, and the visage he was wearing, I felt it. I would know about the people of my breed, won’t I? He was fine, except his loud burping throughout the course of my flight.
Then, after a while, I noticed a tall and bulky structure, in mid-forties probably, wearing white pathan suit and a taqiyah on his head, and carrying a long grey beard, walking in my direction. He held a strong face; a fearful one, grave and straight expressions made it appear so; his countenance bothered me, even without his doing anything. Few seats were empty around me, and so he must be one of its occupants, I thought. And, see, he was the occupant of one of those seats. He was the one who occupied the other seat beside me, the window one.
So, now, I had to sit between two middle-aged males. Their gender wasn’t the issue, but constant burping from one side was. And, well, the other thing…
The window man said nothing to me. He, probably, didn’t even look at me. He minded his own business – sat at his place, kept his bag beneath the seat, and yawned, probably relaxed; but I, starting then, was minding everybody’s business but mine.
The moment he took a seat beside mine, a weird, screwy, should-not-have-occurred thought took its tight grip on me. A thought of that flight being my last one, a thought of, soon, being at the gun-point, a thought of never landing, a thought of these being my last few breathing moments. And why did all this happen? Only because the window man had that attire and look.
What religion do I belong to shouldn’t concern you, my dear reader, for it has no significance here.
Soon, the air hostess started demonstrating the mundane things. They had been nothing but boredom to me until that window man’s entry. I couldn’t help but intently listen to all those instructions as carefully as ever. I even tried to see and listen to the instructions, specifically for the occupants of the seats next to emergency exits. I wasn’t in one of those seats, yet I heard and tried to understand each word of the air hostess with all eagerness and intention.
Once all was set, my flight took off. We were in the air, best moment for somebody’s execution of hijacking a plane, the thoughts took hold of me, again. The window man, as if on the cue, bent down and started searching for something in his bag. Oh my God! Oh my God! He is looking for the gun. I’m going to die today. Why god? Why? Why was I to be on time today? And a red, bright, shining apple made its way out of the bag. Oh! Was all the next thought could gather.
The flight still was to be in air for five hours. Five hours are too long. Too long to live with anxiousness and uneasiness and terror and fear. If not he, I was sure, my own fear would take my life that day; I’d be my own murderer. A murderer? I, by moving just my eyes and not head, tried to look at the window man. He was already looking at me. Damn! What is he planning? Is he plotting on the time when to get me? Oh God!
He had good observational skills, for even after my intention of glancing at him without letting him know, he knew I was looking at him. His faint smile said it for me. I, immediately, turned my head to an altogether adjacent side.
Looking at aisle, I couldn’t find a single air-hostess in sight. Now I was getting furious. But soon one came out of the cabin with the meals. I beckoned her and asked, “Is there any vacant seat available? I would like to change my place.”
That was the moment I realized how strong an emotion hope is. If you were there, my reader, at that time, you’d have seen the glistening eyes brimming with hope and helplessness. She, as per her job profile, smiled, and asked me to wait. No, not wait. I nodded but did not smile. How could I? I had forgotten any emotion or gesture pertaining to happiness. I was consumed with helplessness at that time.
After the air hostess went, the window man turned towards me. Is that it? Is that all? Was I to live only for this short while?
“Are you not comfortable here? Is my bag bothering you?” My eyes widened. Is he putting on a sarcastic show now? I delivered a smile. The most-fake smile ever. But said nothing.
He moved his bag bit more to his side. He even reclined his seat. “Is it better now?” He asked. I gave a faint nod. I think it was a nod; not sure.
There she is. I saw my angel approaching me. She was heading to me in her red dress, her wings hidden, her smile as broad as ever. Finally. My lips naturally curved to a smile.
“I’m sorry mam! There are no vacant seats. But is there any problem in this seat, that we can fix for you?” The idiot air-hostess asked.
Yes, please. Can you fix my thoughts? Or can you ask the pilot to land on whatever the nearest airport is? Can you give me a dose of sleeping pills, so that I don’t have to witness my own death? “No. Thanks! Can you let me know the approximate time we will land after?”
“Four and a half hours’ journey is still ahead us.” A smile, again, and, then she vanished.
Oh well! Now is the perfect opportunity for clock to be ticking as slow as possible. Really? You kidding me, God?
“I have never been on such a long flight. It is so tiring. They have such uncomfortable seats”, the window man said.
Has he still not gotten the hint of my nil interest in talking to him? My fake-smile made a reappearance.
If these are my last moments, I definitely do not want to live them in despair. So, I took my phone out and started sending my last messages to my family and friends and all dear ones. No internet, thanks to towers’ absence in air. If in case my phone sees the land again and gets into the range of network, they might receive my messages.
When all was sent and done, I put the phone down, and closed my eyes. I never fall asleep in a flight. With seats this uncomfortable and such congested leg-space, it’s impossible to. But, for some reason, that day I did sleep. Or at least I pretended to have been asleep. Thoughts and questions fidgeted in my mind. My countenance might have imparted a girl in deep slumber, but only the girl knew what she was going through.
After a while, I remember I had actually fallen asleep. For when I woke up, announcement was being made to not to use the lavatory and walk in the aisles. Flight was on time and about to land within fifteen minutes.
I was on cloud nine. In literal sense and otherwise too.
“Did you sleep comfortably? I had moved my bag on my lap. I even asked the air-hostess to not to disturb you when she came for meal. I hope you weren’t hungry.” The window man jumped in, the moment I opened my eyes and settled myself in the seat.
He really had moved his bag on his lap. And yes, I do not remember being disturbed even once.
And soon we landed. He took a huge sigh of relief when we landed. It was so loud that I, with no intention of doing so, turned to him.
“I always feel uneasy on flights. Will never sit on such a long one again”, he answered without any question from me. This time, his smile was bit made-up.
Passengers got up from their seats to collect their luggage from overhead bins. I did too, once the aisle man allowed me the space. But I’m a victim of the short height. Before taking-off, a nice fellow-passenger had helped me with putting it up there; now the nice passenger was nowhere to be seen. Seeing me struggling perhaps, the window man got up and took the bag out for me.
This time, I genuinely smiled and thanked him. He smiled with his brightest smile, as if he was waiting only for me to do the same. That was just a conjecture. I don’t really know what he smiled this big, with all his teeth on display, for.
But that smile made him appear, I noticed it only then, an altogether a different person. I could find no trace of that grave, serious, fearful man in him.
When we reached in the belt area to collect our checked-in luggage, the window man stood beside me.
“I lost a bag once when I went to my daughter once. Never received it”, he said.
“I had lost once too”, I replied. Though, if truth be told, I never had lost my bag. I just did not know what to reply with. I said the first thing that came to my mind.
Coincidently, my bag came subsequently after his. We carried our bags and started to head towards our respective exits. Noticing that I was going to move to a different exit than his, he, without wasting any time, turned towards me and said, “You look like my daughter. Same face. Same features. I know you were bit reluctant in talking to me, but I proceeded anyway. I’m sorry for bothering you.”
Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
“Oh!” I started. “No that was not at all the case. I just had headache. That is why I might have appeared bit cranky.”
He smiled, and we stood there for a minute. Nobody said anything.
For some reason, I asked him, “Is your daughter coming to receive you?”
A hesitant pause. “She won’t. No. She won’t be able to. She was one of the victims who died in the New York’s World Trade Center tragedy. It was her first day in her new job, you know.”
Did I take a gulp of guilt or of grief? Hard to tell. But I took a gulp and could find no words, not even an ‘Oh!’ to say. He didn’t wait for any anyway. It was his wife, I suppose, who waved at him. Seeing the wave, he offered me his best wishes for my life, and went to that female figure. And I, well, I went my way, safe and sound and guilt-stricken.