I call it "The Games We Play."
How did I get pushed into this, she thought to herself. The ring on her finger didn’t really stand out, but to her it seemed to overshadow everything. She tucked her hands in her pockets, wondering whether everyone noticed how uncomfortable that thing around her finger was making her feel.
Never in a million years had she imagined that she would be one of them.. One of those girls who was going to have an arranged marriage. Urrggh.. Even now, the word made her cringe, but as she had grown older, her belief in love had all but disappeared.
As her mom put it, if not love, marry for companionship. And she had agreed. She hated to admit it, but she was tired of all the dating and disappointments. Marriage wasn’t important for her, but it had gotten to a point where she had started thinking, why not? She wasn’t too hopeful about finding the one and Rajat seemed like a nice guy. On paper, he looked really good, perfect for her. And they got along really well. Maybe with time, she’d even come to love him.
After dilly dallying for a year, she had been forced to admit, that even though she didn’t feel any sparks, he was a pleasant person and she hadn’t found anything in him that she could absolutely not tolerate. And they had gotten engaged. Still hopeful, she had tried to push the wedding as far as possible, but nothing had changed and one year later, she had agreed to get married reluctantly.
A loud announcement announcing the final call for her flight made her realize she had been so involved in her thoughts, she had almost missed her flight.
Great, she thought, I was going to miss my own wedding.
She picked up her bags and hurried towards the gate. The seat next to her was empty, she was grateful for that. She hated it when people with cranky kids sat next to her. There was a cranky kid right at back, crying his lungs out. She rolled her eyes and muttered a silent prayer of thanks that she wasn’t the unfortunate soul sitting next to the family.
As the plane began to taxi on the runway, she bid goodbye to the city which had come to be her home for the past twenty eight years. Once upon a time, she would have been aghast had anyone suggested her to move out. All her life, she had been there, her friends, her job, her life was this city. Not anymore. Her friends had either moved out or gotten way too busy, she met them once in a couple of months now. Her job was stagnating and her love affair with the city had had an ugly end. She was ready for a change and had agreed to move to her fiancé’s city.
Her family and his family had taken it as a sign of her relenting a little and been ecstatic with her decision. But Rajat, who had known her real reasons for agreeing to move, had advised her to let them be. “A little white lie is not going to kill you, and its making them happy. Let it be.” He had said.
Maybe he was the one for her. Maybe, in her search, she had overlooked the most obvious person. He was everything she wasn’t. Patient, thoughtful, calm, composed. Sometimes, she wondered why he had settled for her. She had asked him a million times about it and he had smiled indulgently and said, “I just feel we will be great together.” Feel, he had said “feel”.
She didn’t tell him, she didn’t feel anything.
“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” She told herself. Now was not the time to be having second thoughts. She was on a plane to get married for God’s sake! She had taken a decision and now it was the time to grit her teeth and
sticky stick by it.
She pulled out a book from her bag and started reading. She focused on the words, reading them aloud in her head, trying to keep her mind from drifting. She stopped after a while, the sentences were not making sense. She shut the book and closed her eyes.
After a while, she became aware of someone standing around her. She looked up and saw a man standing, smiling awkwardly at her.
“Hi,” He said, “I was wondering if I could sit here.” He was pointing at the seat next to her.
“Ummm.. Sure..” She straightened up and picked up her things from the seat.
“Thanks,” He said, settling down, “ I was sitting right at the back and the baby..”
“Was driving you crazy?” She smiled, finishing his sentence.
“Yes!” He looked relieved that she understood. “I’m Samrat.” He introduced himself.
“Nandita..” She said hesitantly praying that she wouldn’t be badgered into carrying out an awkward conversation with a stranger. She turned her attention to her book.
“Do you think we will take off today?” Samrat leaned across and pushed the window shades up.
Take off today?????? Whatever did he mean??
“What do you mean? We’re already mid-air right?” She glanced out of the window uncertainly. He was right, they were still on the tarmac and it was
puring pouring cats and dogs.
Samrat laughed at the shock that had registered on her face. “Either that book is very interesting, or you are utterly and completely lost.” He joked.
“But the plane was taking off!! They had all those fasten seatbelts and the taxing and the…” She paused.
“Yeah, well, we never took off. The pilot announced they’re waiting for the weather to clear a little before they do.” He smiled at her confusion.
“I can’t be late!!” She said out aloud.
“Important meeting tomorrow?” He asked.
“Something like that..” She didn’t know why she didn’t tell him, it just didn’t seem important. “Oh great!” She exclaimed.
He laughed, “Relax, you’ll make it in time. I for one, absolutely do not want to reach on time.”
“I have a not so important meeting, which will most probably be extremely boring and very long, but I have to attend it anyway.”
She nodded. And turned towards her book, indicating the end of their conversation.
“Besides,” He continued, “Its not often that you find interesting company on a plane.”
Oh my god! He is flirting with me! One day before my wedding!
But, he doesn’t know you’re getting married. And he is kind of cute.
Hmmm, kind of. But I’m getting married tomorrow!
So what, not like you’re doing anything. Plus, its just a conversation. Could be the last time, you feel free to do this.
Isn’t it wrong?
Its just a conversation!
Within a fraction of a second a quick battle of words occurred in her mind. And she decided, what the heck, I’ll play along.
“But we’ve hardly had a conversation.” She said innocently.
Before he could answer, the speakers came to life and the stewardess’s voice reached them “Ladies and gentlemen, we are very sorry to inform you that due to bad weather, our flight has been delayed by three hours. We will be disembarking all the passengers for the time being and start the boarding again after three hours. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.”
Samrat smiled, with one brow raised wickedly, “Looks like we’ll have plenty of time to correct that now.”
As she unbuckled her seat belt, Nandita wondered what she had gotten herself into. What was supposed to have lasted only a couple of hours, now looked like it was going to last at least for seven hours. I have to come clean, Nandita thought to herself. Maybe once we get off the plane.
“Do you want me to carry that for you?” Samrat pointed at the bag Nandita was carrying.
“No, That’s fine.” Mentally, Nandita sought her checklist.
Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!
Its just seven hours. How does seven hours matter, when compared to the rest of your life!
Seven hours is too much. I should probably get lost in the crowd once we leave the plane.
Fine, you do that, and then keep wondering for the rest of your life, if you missed a chance.
“Are you alright? You
look looked kind of dazed there for a minute.” Samrat’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
She looked up at him for a moment, and as his face creased into a smile, she felt the blood rush to her face. In that moment, she made a quick decision and quietly slipped the ring off her finger.
“Helllooo?” Samrat waved his hands in front of her, “Lets go?” He asked.
“Yeah.” She smiled back. For the first time in two years, she felt free. She hadn’t realized that the ring had weighed so heavily on her mind. She was relieved, but as she looked down at her naked finger, she felt her conscience pricking.
As they reached the terminal again, Nandita excused herself and rushed towards the direction of the restrooms, promising to meet him at the nearby coffee shop. When she was safely out of his sight, she stopped and took a deep breath. In this huge terminal, he would never be able to find her until it was time to get on the plane and by that time, it wouldn’t matter.
She went to the furthermost coffee shop, selected a place right in the corner from where she couldn’t be seen easily and called Rajat.
“Hey, its me. My flight’s been delayed by three hours. I don’t know if its going to take off after three hours too.”
“This is exactly why I asked you to be here, one week before the wedding! Why don’t you ever listen to me.” Rajat was clearly not a happy man.
“I told you, I had some last things to be done at work.” It was lie, she had stayed at home the entire week, preparing herself for the drastic change her life was going through.
“More important that your own wedding?” The sarcasm was evident in his voice, before she could react, he continued, “I’m sorry about that, I’ve just been stressed out. Lots of things to be done. Keep me informed okay?”
Nandita hated him for this. If she was in his place, and he had had the audacity to tell her that he could be late for the wedding, she would have blown her top, but here he was, understanding as always. She wondered what was wrong with her, that instead of appreciating who he was, she hated him for it.
“Yeah, I will. Bye.”
“Bye, love you.” Rajat had said the goodbyes, but he didn’t hang up. He was waiting for some kind of reciprocation.
Nandita struggled to get the words, that didn’t come naturally to her, right.
“Yeah, bye.” With that, she quickly hung up.
She opened her book once again, still not reading. After what seemed like an eternity, she dared to look at her watch.
At least an hour must have gone by. She thought to herself as she glanced at her watch.
Barely ten minutes had passed.
This was going to be one loooooooooooooong day. She resigned herself to boredom and settled for observing the people rushing around.
She looked around and noticed the mother who was trying to get her son to stop snatching other people’s newspapers. The guy who had a laptop open in front of him but who was checking out the girl in front of him. And the girl who, completely aware of the guy, was laughing just a little
but bit too hard for it to be real. Samrat who was walking towards her, the old man who was.......
She turned back towards Samrat, praying he hadn’t seen her. But of course, he had.
“There you are! I thought you meant the other coffee shop.” He smiled broadly and settled down in front of her. “You’re right, this one is much better. Quieter here.”
“Yeah..” Nandita said awkwardly, “That’s why I selected this one.”
“Look, I should tell you something.” Nandita started, the guilt almost killing her.
“Wait,” He interrupted her. “the only reason I’m here, is because, I’m bored and you certainly look bored and we have three hours to kill. Why not just keep each other company?” He had a really easy going smile.
“Would it help if I said please?” He was teasing her now.
“It might.” She smiled back at him. He was right, what was she fretting about? They were just travel companions. And if he asked, she would tell him, that she was getting married. Obviously, if he asked her, “Are you going to get married tomorrow?”, She would say yes. She wouldn’t lie about it.
She laughed, the awkwardness suddenly forgotten.
“Phew! So we cool?” He said, putting on a teenage style.
“What are you? Sixteen?” She laughed.
“I wish, I’m afraid those days are long gone.”
“How long gone?” She asked trying to guess his age. She pinned him to be around thirty-thirty four.
He grinned, “Very long gone.. So what do you do?” He asked, clearly indicating a change of topic.
“Ummm, well, I was working in an MNC, but I just quit my job. I don’t know what’s next. What about you?”
“Don’t laugh, I’m a professor.”
“Oh. That’s unusual.” What she was thinking was, how did someone so cute, so smart end up being a professor. She remembered her professors. Apart for a handful, the others had taken on the teaching profession for the lack of a better job.
“Is it? Yeah, not many people take it up. But it’s a good line to be in. I love my job. I travel a lot, meet a lot of bright minds and I get paid to talk. What could be better?”
“Travel?” Professors and travelling did not go hand in hand in her head.
“Oh yes, you’ll be surprised, I travel once every three months, giving guest lectures.”
“Oh.. Are you some hot shot person I should be aware of? I mean, regular professors don’t go around giving guest lectures. Do they?”
He laughed, “Well, I did write a book, which, at the risk of sounding conceited, was very well received.”
“Oh, congratulations!” She was at an utter loss of words.
“So what do you teach professor?” She asked cheekily.
“Psychology.” He looked at her intently.
“So, are you analyzing my behavior?” She asked slyly. God! She was flirting with him, at least she thought she was, she had never been any good at it.
He smiled softly, “Of course I am, ever since I met you.”
“And?” She asked before she could stop herself.
“And what?” He was messing with her now, she could tell by that smile on his face.
“What’s the conclusion?” She asked impatiently.
He looked at her thoughtfully, making her utterly conscious. “I think..” he started when her cell phone rang. It was Rajat.
“Just one moment.” She got up, and walked away. She answered the call, but her mind was still on what Samrat was going to say. What was he going to say?
“Are you there?” Rajat’s voice brought her back to reality.
“Ya.” Nandita said, suddenly feeling terribly guilty. Her casual conversation with Samrat was no longer so casual.
“Are you alright? You sound a little off.” There he was, concerned as always.
“I’m fine Rajat.” She said quietly.
“Well, the reason I called was, well.. I thought you must be getting bored. I mean, if you want me to keep you company?”
“No, no, I’m fine. I have company here. I have a book. I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I’ll call you when I’m back on the flight okay? Bye.” Nandita said hurriedly. She didn’t know why she didn’t just tell him casually, that she was with somebody she had met on the plane.
“Well, if you are so sure, bye. Take care.” She sensed the disappointment in his voice and wondered for the millionth time why he put up with her.