Chasing his corporate dream Nishant had literally been living out of a suitcase for the last couple of years. His air miles had kept pace with his rise in the company but now it had started to take a toll on him. He remembered the day when he was straight out of college and had gone to see off his uncle at Bangalore’s old airport. Watching the plane take off he had thought “Will I ever be able to fly and see the world?” His wish was granted and how.
Nishant traveled constantly, like a zombie on auto pilot, he got a signal for another meeting from his secretary and started from point A to point B whether it was Paris or Portland it did not matter. At home, his wife and 4 year old daughter had given up on him, getting used to living life in his absence. They had created a world of their own and Nishant was not sure if he was part of it or not.
Today, Nishant was flying from Bangalore to Chicago on Lufthansa which was his company’s preferred Airline partner. He entered the airport and encountered a familiar scene. All around him was a maze of people – Techies, corporate executives, family’s going back after vacation, old folks on wheel chairs travelling all the way to show themselves to their grandkids. He was so used to it that from the look on their face and the way they dressed he could tell who was a first time traveller or a typical IT guy going onsite or a business man raring to get that big dollar deal. But what he always found amusing was that people wore overcoats meant for freezing temperatures from Bangalore itself! His wife had told him that her friends did it so they could save space in their suitcase. Thinking of his wife he recalled how things had changed between them over time. In the beginning Aditi used to pack his bags and his daughter would make “come back soon” cards for him with her crayons. Both of them always came down to see him off and waived till they lost sight of him. Now he woke up by the alarm on his cell phone, got ready and left his home quietly so he does not disturb anyone. They slept in separate rooms for this reason or that’s what they told each other. The truth that both of them knew was that they had lost that loving feeling.
The Luftahansa counter was at the far end and he waded through the commotion to reach the comfort zone of his business class check in counter. It was another thing that Nishant knew that the welcoming smiles were as fake as his own. Battling sleep the only thing he was looking forward to were shots of Talisker to help put him to slumber.
Just then something caught his eye.
The frilled white top and faded jeans stood out amongst the black and grey formals. Curious, he changed his posture to have a closer look. His guess was right. She was a young girl in her early twenties. Even he was not that old Nishant thought. Just 34 – and a young achiever! He smiled at himself and thought – old habits die hard. To avoid getting distracted he started to look at the billboards around on the walls of the terminal building. Most were bright and beautiful with a promise of a happy family life. Nishant resolved he would not look at the girl again.
But the more we try to get away from something, the more it charms us towards itself. Nishant found himself stealing glances overlooking how indecent it would seem if someone finds out. She was at the counter now and the clerk was issuing her boarding pass.”Chalo it is over….you go your way baby I go mine” Nishant mused as he pulled out his passport from his laptop case.
At the lounge he gulped a few drinks and sat down to read as there was still time. He loved reading. It offered a journey into another world, a world he had always longed for but had never found. A world of stories,of characters,of far off places in mountains or next to the beaches. He had picked up a book of stories by Premchand from the Airport book shop . Nishant loved Premchand from the time he was a student. To him, Premchand knew the human condition like no one else. His stories though set in rural India had emotions and relationships so well thought out that one could relate to them no matter where they came from and who they were. His characters were so real that one felt as if they had met this person sometime. If he didn’t fall asleep, he planned to finish the book by the time he reached US.
The mechanical voice of the lounge executive announced that the Flight to Frankfurt was ready for boarding. Nishant grabbed his laptop case and started walking towards the gate. It was 1:45 am already and He was looking forward to a good sleep. “Guten Abend” he said to the hostess and took the left turn towards business class seating. Dumping his belongings in the hatchet above he ensconced himself in seat 2 C and asked the stewardess for a glass of water. The whiskey had made his throat dry and to avoid jet lag he wanted to make sure was hydrated. He took out his book from the laptop case and put in the pocket in front of his seat.
Nishant took off his shoes and pulled back his seat to relax. It would take a while for the plane to be airborne so he thought of finishing the story he was reading in the lounge. As he moved forward to take out the book, he was distracted by a sweet fragrance. He looked up and could not believe his eyes.
It was her – the girl whom he had seen at the check in counter!
Nishant had a strange feeling. He didn’t know how to react or if he should react at all? He hoped his eagerness did not show up on his face. Nishant realized that the girl was not only beautiful but there was something that was pulling him to her – like a magnet. Her big brown eyes, her long straight hair, her flawless complexion somewhere on the darker side and her figure that made her absolutely desirable. Attraction is not about someone being perfect – it’s about someone being just right for you. Each of us has an idea of beauty, almost like a frame waiting for that perfect picture. Only if you are lucky you come across a face which so exquisitely matches your imagination. A whole lifetime can pass before such a miracle happens and sometimes even that is not enough. Nishant was witnessing one such miracle.
She was on seat 2 D.
Nishant requested for another glass as he gulped the one brought by the hostess. Soon the plane took off changed its course to move northwest. Nishant wanted to roll up his sleeves but he felt as if his every move was under a scanner. He remembered he had felt the same when he had fallen in love the first time. “Take out your Premchand and read. A book in Hindi won’t spoil your impression” He chided himself but his hands did not follow his brain. He closed his eyes and sat quietly. Half an hour had passed and he could no longer pretend to be asleep. He opened his eyes and found that she was reading the In-flight magazine. By her watch it was 2:30 AM. Her hair was falling over her hands tempting Nishant to touch her but he figured out that she was a bit afar. “Damn business class ! Why do they have the seats so far from each other?” he thought and pulled away instead. He tried to sleep but it won’t come. Normally, he would have been dreaming by now. But his dream was sitting next to him so how could he sleep.
To end the dilemma he pressed the button and called the hostess. “Do you have Lemon tea?” he asked.
“Yes Sir, we do have.Do you care to have one sir?”
“Yes please, and please get sugar separately” Nishant cursed himself for not remembering that they always did. This was the business class of a premier airline not the student canteen of Lucknow University.
“Lemon tea and low sugar. You are such a fraud!” his inner voice mocked him.
“OK – I do like Red Label boiled 5 times with 3 spoons of sugar because it keeps me alert. I wish to sleep now and Lemon tea will help ” Nishant argued.
A fresh thought came to his mind. One should always try and make friends with fellow passengers and how can you do that unless you start a conversation. Nishant mused and opened his eyes to look over his shoulder. She was asleep. The magazine was lying flat on her chest. Did he expect that she would be awake and looking for someone to talk to at 3:30 in the morning?” Nishant realized his stupidity but felt relieved as he won’t have to put up the show anymore. He felt at peace with himself. Finally, alcohol did the job and he drifted off to sleep.
When he woke up it was 9:30 by his watch. He never set his watch to foreign time zones, it made him feel connected to his home. He wanted to stretch but he didn’t. She was still sleeping and he did not want to wake her up. Also, this way he could look at her without getting noticed. Soon the plane would land and he would never see her again. Why didn’t he talk to her? He could have at least asked what she did or where was she going? What was her name? Who knows they could have become friends. The plane started its descent into Frankfurt. As the moment of truth approached his heart began to sink.
At about 10:00 AM the plane landed at Frankfurt airport. It was cloudy and it looked like it had rained earlier through the night. Everything was clean and fresh. The plane began to taxi.
Nishant felt as if someone was looking at him. He turned around and saw that she was eyeing him. She smiled. He smiled back.
“Can I show you something?” She said.
Nishant was out of his wits. “Ya sure” He nodded.
“What a beautiful rainbow” She said pointing out of the window.
Nishant bent a little towards her to get a clearer view. He could smell her. It was Davidoff Cool Water.
“Actually, I wanted to speak to you the whole night” she said as Nishant pulled himself back.
“I saw Premchand’s book in your seat pocket. It’s quite rare to get people who love Hindi literature in Bangalore. From my school days I really like his work. His characters are so real and his grip on human emotions is better than any other writer. A true master he is” She added.
Nishant didn’t know what to say and blurted taking the book out of the seat pocket “You mean this book?” She nodded with a twinkle in her eyes.
“But you looked so serious and busy with yourself. I just didn’t want to disturb. In fact, if you would not have smiled back I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow”.
They had a few minutes to chat and she told that she was on her way to Los Angeles. She had won a scholarship to pursue a degree in management and as a special gift her father had bought her business class tickets. Nishant introduced himself and she said she would want to become like him one day.
They went together to Baggage claim area and bid good bye. Nishant turned away to catch his next flight to Chicago. He could see her going up the escalator. Her words were still echoing in his ears:
“If you had not smiled back, I would not have had the courage to show you the Rainbow.”