The waiting was getting the better of her now. Only one thought ruled her tired mind He would be waiting for me. Of all days the flight had to get delayed that day. While she was sitting in the waiting lobby of Delhi airport, a man was looking with forlorn at every passer-by at Mumbai airport hoping the next girl with a luggage carrier might be her long lost love.
It had been a week since Sonal joined her new job in Delhi. Well, Gurgaon to be exact. A new city, a new beginning, a new life. A lot of similar punchlines had hit her face-first when her company had informed her about the joining date. Despite her repeated attempts to appear oblivious she very well knew she was at a crossroads in her life. She had, however, never been the one to get excited about such things. This time was no exception. She considered herself to be a closely guarded introvert. Such was her level of expertise -in being an introvert that is- that she had managed to lock herself for an entire week in her room when she received her appointment letter.
Sitting in an airport now, recounting the previous week – the first week of job- she could almost taste on her tongue, the coppery taste of loneliness with a garnish of intermittent frustration. Solitude had been a dear friend of her since childhood. The anger, however, was new and as such was mounting as her flight to Mumbai was getting delayed further; three hours late now. She had only one day to meet him, spend time with him, reminisce and rejuvenate. Most of all she had only one day to put her head straight.
The first day on your job you are expected to look around, meet new people and start thinking about the future or the impending doom or both. Instead she silently awed at the massive skyscrapers and moved her gaze still further to look at the sky. The clouds fleeting by in the afternoon sky reminded her of the sweet college life that had breezed past her the previous four years. The air was familiar but hot, unlike her hometown. The people were friendly, excited even; yet she was closed like a lid.
Sonal had been a silent introvert all her life. In school, she would sit in the corner peeping at the teacher every now and then between seemingly endless bouts of window gazing. Whenever somebody would ask her anything, she would squeak like a mouse, in fear she might break. A similar trend continued in college. So much so, that she didn’t talk to a single person the first month there. She eventually opened up but only to a few people; that too like her. College life against her best attempts brought a different side of her to the surface. She reluctantly but periodically started going out with friends, returning late to the Hostel. She began chatting with them till odd hours instead of sleeping early. Most of it was due to her endless pursuit to clean the black soot of loneliness from her soul. A large part, however, had to to do with him.
Sitting in the waiting lounge, silently begging for her flight to start boarding soon, she looked at the people around her. She found a few couples sitting hand in hand whispering to each other. With glazed eyes and dreamy heart she looked outside at the runway and remembered the day her love had taken off.
It was her second year in college. And it was supposed to be like any other day. The class had completed early, and she had decided to take a walk to hostel. Singing cautiously but boldly near the college lawn, she forgot she was out in the open. She didn’t even realize she was not alone until someone walked behind her.
“You have a beautiful voice.”
She turned and almost ran into him. She started to speak something but forgot what it was as soon as she looked at him better. “I… umm… Thank you.”
A smile crept up his face. His honey brown eyes twinkled like stars in the night sky, or so she thought. His long hair was matted on one side of his head with locks coming off near the sideburns. Long height, bold smile, and right hand stretched out forward. She came out of her trance and realized she was gawking awkwardly at him.
He smiled again, “I’m Nitin. And you are?”
“Sonal” she whispered.
“Have you ever considered singing on a stage Sonal?” he asked, with intrigue in his voice.
She suddenly became alarmed by his direct approach. “Stage? No.” This time she had actually meant to shout. Shout at his insolence and cavalier attitude, but again only a mumble came out. She now was openly avoiding looking directly into his eyes fearing her gaze might betray her.
“For a girl who sings so beautifully, you sure whisper a lot.”
This time he laughed. “Tell you what. Why don’t you come by the Music room this evening? Maybe we can get you a spot in the upcoming College Fest.”
“You know where the Music room is right?”
She just bobbed her head rapidly in reply. He laughed some more, turned and went on his way. She raised her head and watched him go never realizing it would not be the last time he would leave her speechless. Certainly not the last time she would see him go.
Sitting beside numerous people waiting to get to their destinations, that first day felt like a lifetime ago when it was only three years. Their love had escalated swiftly after she joined the Music Club of which he was the President. He was one year senior but that didn’t seem to matter. They met between classes and sometimes didn’t go to class altogether. As time passed and their love progressed the frequencies of class decreased, and their sneak aways to the private lawn behind the Open-Air theatre increased. The silent eyeing among friends had finished. Bold passion had taken its place.
The loneliness had gone, and a new color had entered her life.
It was a rainy night when he had proposed to her with a ring in his hand. And she had said yes with tears in her eyes. He had promised her between two stolen kisses that he would never leave her alone again. She didn’t have to worry about being about herself ever again. She had believed him of course, as she had believed everything else he had said.
Unfortunately, it was also a rainy night when they had left each other alone.
“This is not working out Nitin.”
“What is it Sonal? What’s wrong?”
“What do you think? You can’t just leave me.”
He smiled as he realized what was going on inside her mind. His smile was weak and helpless as he understood every emotion pouring out of her big eyes which were full of tears. “I’m not leaving you, my love. I’m going to Bangalore for a job. The company is sending me. You know I can’t do anything.”
“Why can’t you just stay here?” she asked fully knowing it was a stupid question to ask.
“I’m passing out Sonal. I can’t just stay here. Besides, I have to work.”
“Why? Why do you have to work?” She knew she wasn’t making any sense. Yet she still kept blurting out whatever came to her mind. She didn’t know what to say. She just knew she had to say something. Something to keep him with her. She couldn’t be alone again. Not after she had seen the other side. She kept holding his hand and then leaving it in confusion.
He realized her fears and understood everything that was going on inside her mind. She feared he would leave her. He would find someone else. Or his work would come between them. He would choose the next best thing over her. After all, he had done the same with her previous girlfriend. He didn’t know how to make her understand. So he did what he knew best. He held her in his arms and said, “I am not forsaking you, my love. I will call you every day. And Bangalore is not that far. I will visit you quite often. Before you know it, you’ll pass out and if luck gives way you can get a job in Bangalore and be with me.” He slowly kissed her nose, but she pushed him off her.
“You know that never works.” Tears were gushing out of her eyes now. The solemn pleads now escalating to screams of agony. “We’ll grow tired of each other. You’ll not be free when I would be. I will have work when you won’t have. We will not be able to sit hand in hand in the garden. We will not be able to kiss each other when we want. I…” she slowly lowered her head. “I don’t wanna be alone again.”
“I would never leave you alone my love,” he whispered. “Please, it’s not as bad as you think.”
“It isn’t?” She lifted her head anger dancing in her eyes. “It, of course, is good for you. You’ll find someone else.”
This made him angry too. “You know that will not happen Sonal. I love you.”
“You don’t. And I don’t love you anymore too.”
“Please don’t say that Sonal. You don’t mean it.”
“I mean every word. You’re free to go Nitin. Best of luck for your life. I will never talk to you again.”
The boarding announcement brought her out of her trance. She slowly picked up her bag and trudged towards the boarding gate. She didn’t know what she would talk about when she finally reached Mumbai. She just knew she had to reach him.
They hadn’t spoken for one year, and yet she had no idea why she had called him the second day of her job. Something just clicked inside her, and she picked up the phone.
“Hello?” he sounded like he had just woke up. She checked the time. It was 2 o’ clock in the night.
“I know I promised never to talk to you again,” she paused. “But I couldn’t resist.”
“I joined my job in Delhi on Monday.”
After a couple of minutes of silence, she finally gathered up the courage and said the thing she had called for. “I’m coming to Mumbai on the weekend. Will you meet me?”
Her heart pumped fast for the next five seconds as she heard his silence.
“Yes,” he finally said. “Now that you’ve finally said what you wanted to, please sleep. You sound very tired.” As usual, he had understood everything she had wanted to say without her saying it.
“Goodnight.” That night she slept the most peaceful sleep she had slept in a long time.
She got out of the Arrivals gate and looked around the entrance for him. Her heart was beating so loud she could hear it in her ears. When he didn’t show up after a few minutes, she called him. “Where are you?” She blurted out just as he picked up the phone without even saying Hello.
“I’m in front of Starbucks.”
“I’m near the entrance,” she replied.
“Look left.” As she turned left, she saw the Starbucks’ entrance, beneath which was her love standing with open arms. He looked as rugged as always with wavy hair getting swept up by the wind. She slowly moved towards him. They had met after almost a year. After waiting to talk to him for 5 hours straight, she now didn’t know what to say.
“For someone who sings so well, you sure whisper a lot.”
She smiled as he engulfed her in his arms and whispered. “It’s good to see you, my love.”
After a year it felt warm and comforting to return to her most favorite place. She wasn’t alone anymore. She was whole again.