Tuesday, January 25, 2011

354: A Love Story?

Her dress is short.  Stop-you-mid-sentence short.  A soft, figure hugging thing that isn't on intimate terms with the knees of the wearer.  Stylishly unkempt hair.  Black leather boots zipping up to pampered calves.  Dusky, Smita Patil looks.  "Hi!" she says with a suspiciously open smile, as she slides in next to my neighbour "looks like I am going to be sitting with you for two hours."

9W-354 flies the supremely busy Delhi-Mumbai sector.  Both airports are so busy, and squeezing more flights in so difficult that Jet Airways has come up with the innovative strategy of flying really large airplanes on the sector.  We are flying a Boeing 777 tonight.  Seats 300 or thereabouts.  A large hulk of a carrier that usually does international routes.  So the inside is unlike anything one is accustomed to seeing on domestic routes.  Clean, well spaced interiors.  Full fledged in-flight entertainment system loaded with the latest movies (Look there - can you see the guy watching Munni badnaam hui? And there, and there too ..).  Nine passengers per row, in a 3-3-3 format.  We are in the middle three, the seats labeled D-F-G for some reason.  Why the silent 'E', I wonder.  I am settled into D, curled up with my book.  Dusky-Miss-bare-legs is in G.  And in F?  Well, in F, the envy of every male in the Boeing 777, is my neighbour, slouched low in his chair, the nervous, unsuspecting object of the lady's affections, lost to the idiot box, trying to choose between Zabaan Sambhalke and Ye Jo Hai Zindagi.

It starts naturally enough.  She presses the little light bulb on her controls - so she can read the in-house magazine, presumably.  The light turns on in F.  My neighbour looks up surprised, as does lady G.  Turn it off.  Try again.  Same result.  Their eyes meet, and they break out into a chuckle.  "Here, maybe I should try pressing your button", says G, reaching over and across F, who is now paying full attention, Zabaan Sambhalke be damned.  A pock-marked Pankaj Kapur is speaking on in impotent silence, unable to compete with babe-in-boots.  His button - turns on his light too.  So no reading for her tonight.  "The magazine isn't very good anyway" says F awkwardly, and they laugh.

"What are you going to do in Bombay?" she is asking him when I put on my headphones, determined not to stare any more.

So much for that.

It is a few minutes into my 'Two and a Half Men', and G has just picked her legs up to the seat, knees pointing skyward, the extraordinarily short dress all bunched up at her hips.  Oh come on!  There should be a law against this kind of stuff!  She unzips her boots, takes them off, and puts her feet down, crossing her now entirely bare legs at the ankles.  And here is the thing.  She isn't sitting with her legs pointing straight out under the seat in front.  Neither is it turned towards her aisle which presumably has more space.  Her legs are stretched out so they are in front of F, who is now shifting his own legs somewhat clumsily out of the way to make space.  Okayyyy ... we have upped it a notch haven't we, miss?

I am back to Charlie Sheen's antics for now.  All the while I am aware that Pankaj Kapur still doesn't have an audience, and that G is asking question after personal question of F.  I take a break between episodes and take off my headphone, just in time to hear F ask "Do you always ask people so many questions?"  He is smiling, but from what I can see off the corner of my eyes, it is a strained smile.  G, on the other hand, is completely nonplussed.  "Why not?" she asks in return, like this is a game in Whose Line is it Anyway? where you are supposed to speak only in questions.  He shakes his head, still half smiling, half unsure.  "I am going to watch this show, if you don't mind" he tells her finally.  I can't see his face, but the tone sounds a bit tired, maybe even peeved.  She doesn't say anything.  For two minutes.  "Listen" she says, after a bit, tapping him.  He seems to be repenting his brusqueness from a few minutes back as he takes off his headphones again -

"Is this a Boeing 777?"
"I am not sure.  Let me look .... yes, it does say so."
"Is that bigger than a Boeing 747?"
"I don't know to be honest.  But it must be.  After all, 777 is bigger than 747, isn't it?"

Laughter disproportionate to the quality of the joke.  Friends again?

By the time the food tray come along, they are lost in conversation.  "But I can never pack light.  I always have sooooo many bags ...", she laughs as she hands him the little cup of achar.  The conversation doesn't skip a beat as he takes it casually, opens it up for her and puts it back in her tray.  "Isn't it difficult if you are traveling by yourself with so much luggage?"  He seems to be doing more of the talking now.  In fact, I get the feeling it is mostly him talking.  He seems taller than I had imagined too.  Or is he just sitting straighter?

"We have begun our descent into Mumbai" says the suave Captain's voice, and I start gathering up my stuff.  "That is my favourite", F is telling Miss-booted-up-again, "you should try it some time."  She is smiling as she looks around on her seat.  "I could take you there" he adds, also handing her the buckle of the seat belt she has been looking for.

We are on the ground, and everyone is standing in the aisle, jostling for space, bending at torturous angles to reach bags up in out-of-reach overhead bins.  I have just retrieved my upright and a sorry, crumpled up suit.  F and G are still in their seats.  "Don't worry" he is telling her, "I will help you".

The bus doors close with a hydraulic whoosh.  I settle into my window seat, ready for the long ride back from the plane to the terminal.  I can see the two of them on the tarmac, probably the last people off the plane, in line for the next bus, still talking.  He has two bags in his hands and two slung on his shoulders.  She is standing close to him, lightly holding on to his arms.  He nudges her gently out of harm's way as a luggage trolley rolls under the plane.

The bus jerks awake, and we set off.


  1. love story .. no i guess not .. or was it? It was a good narration, made me remember some of the travels i had :)

  2. Great use of alfabets (D,F and G....and of course the silent E)...initially I had to scroll up and down to read who's who but finally it got settled in my mind as if they were the names of the characters..!!

    A nice little narration that even I may have witnessed on numerous occasions....good one.

  3. Nice story. How's India? Read Twilight yet? :)


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  5. Ever tried entering one of the countless online short story contests? Your story told from a side seat view was definitely one of the best I've read lately. Write more.

  6. Thanks for the feedback guys! @ Paroma - The whole internet lifestyle has passed me by I think. I didn't even know there were online short story contests!
    @ Christine - No, no Twilight yet. You know what the latest is, in the series of my loves-that-dare-not-speak-their-name? The Steig Larsson stuff - Girl with the dragon tattoo and what not.