A faint scream reaches my ear. I would normally turn at the call of my name, but I just go still. My legs won’t carry me any further after hearing that voice. I want to turn and make sure it is her, but I don’t. What if she is? What if I am not mistaken? What if… What am I supposed to do when she stands in front of me looking into my eyes? Can I even look back into hers?
The voice is louder now. Closer. Is she walking towards me? A wave of people is continually flowing ahead. I feel a nudge as someone bumps a shoulder into mine and walks ahead unhindered. I can’t face her. I am not even sure what I’d feel at her sight. Maybe, that is even scarier. What if I breakdown and drown into my own pool of tears in the middle of this crowded airport? What if I lose my shit and scream at her for everything she did? What if… What if she breaks down or loses her shit?
I look around, moving only my eyes. I need to compose myself. Look around! This is a public place, Shaan. Please hold your own. I already have a few eyeballs in the crowd. Some have probably made the connection between the screaming girl and the living breathing mannequin. Others are just annoyed that I am standing in the middle of the ten feet walking space, in the midst of a flowing human wave.
“Kolkata to Mumbai I5-316 is now boarding. All passengers are requested to report to gate number three immediately.” No, that’s not my flight. My flight doesn’t board for another half hour. But the announcement catches my attention, as I desperately try to find something to think about… something… something to take my mind off her!
That isn’t a scream anymore. It is as calm and composed as can be. But it is sufficiently loud for my ears. Maybe it is just my nervous system amplifying her voice or something, but the call almost urges me to turn. Something in me says I shouldn’t turn. Something badly wants to, but can’t. Why is this moment so overwhelming?
I can categorically feel the passage of time. No matter how fast the neurons in my brain fire, the moment is still fleeting, and now it’s just weird not to turn. Again, I look around, this time turning my head properly. I have a few more eyeballs on me now. The people who had doubts about making a connection between us, are already invested in how our meeting goes. The indifferent people in hurry, who hated me for abruptly stopping in my tracks, are now nicely forming an almond around us as they casually pass by, leaving the apparent ‘couple’ undisturbed.
We are NOT! We are not a couple. Not anymore. We haven’t been a couple for about five years. Five years, one month and two days… I inadvertently look at my watch, almost as if the watch waved at me. Nine hours and nine minutes… A smile escapes my lips as I realise that I didn’t stop keeping a count. I promised myself I would. But it’s not even voluntary anymore!
“Are you late?” She probably saw me looking at my watch.
My lips straighten out. I don’t want her to see me smiling. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t want her to know how much she still means to me.
I finally turn. I scan the surrounding while turning. They are looking, Shaan. Don’t make a scene. Please, don’t make a scene.
“Hi.” Hi??? Really? Do better, you idiot! “What are you doing here?” Stupid!
“Same thing you are. Catching a flight.”
“Right. Duh! Sorry… How are…”
“I’m good. How are you?”
Okay, first of all, how are woman so confident most of the time? How does she not feel the… wait what is it called? What am I feeling? Nervousness? Anxiety? But why… why… Why would I? Why would I be nervous or anxious? What if she is feeling the same… thing? What if she just masks it better than I do? What if…?
“I’m okay,” I reply in a very dull voice. It hits me how extremely still I have been these few minutes. Wait, how many minutes have I been standing here? I am not moving a muscle more than what I need to pronounce the dull replies. I am still standing like a mannequin in front of her. Why can’t I be more… normal? Move a muscle, dammit! Any muscle.
I shift my weight onto my left foot, slightly leaning onto my trolley with my left arm and elbow straightened out. Her eyes follow my feet. I guess even she notices how weird I am being. Suddenly, almost in a hurry, she takes a sip from her cup. Yeah, she had a paper cup in her hand, that I didn’t notice until now.
Wait a minute! Her sudden sip from the cup hits me. She was being very still too. All this time, we were both just staring at each other’s eyes. I wasn’t weird alone.
“Can I…” a whisper escapes her.
“Yeah,” I nod. I don’t know what she was asking. But the approval made its way out even before I had a moment to wonder. You need therapy, bro.
She almost sprints forward and takes half a leap, before she realises, she is holding hot coffee. She improvises on the fly. Her arms go around my torso, locking my casually hanging right arm in her embrace. Wow! This is not awkward in a public place at all!
I look around, as my head pivots, towering well above hers. A few eyeballs have gone back to their own businesses, probably trying not to awkward us out. A few from the distance wink at me, while a few others raise their thumbs. Either way, now there are less eyes on us than before. I guess drama would have been interesting. But hugs in an airport, are probably not that uncommon or dramatic enough.
I realise I didn’t hug her back, as she briefly lets go off me, rises on her toes and wraps her arms around my neck. Weirdly, I still don’t hug her back. It is weird, right? Why can’t I still move? Just hug her back, dude!
I shift my weight again as I raise my right hand a little, the left still on the trolley. I guess she senses the discomfort, because she holds my hand and leads it casually behind her.
My hand is now around her, and both of hers around my neck. She takes a wet sniffle. Yeah, she is definitely crying. Her arms tighten around me. Her hand is now running through my hair… But I am just standing there!
I don’t move. My eyes don’t water. My face has its resting calm expression. Suddenly, I don’t even feel anxious or nervous or whatever I was feeling. I just feel… null. I don’t even feel a certain emptiness. It’s just a lack of everything. No feelings, no pain, no desolation. I just stand, wrapped in her teary embrace, looking ahead, I know not where.
It has been five years since we last embraced each other… since we held each other this close. The tears I feel freshly wet on my neck now, mean no more what they meant to me half-a-decade ago. Somehow, her holding me close is not what I missed… not even what I dreaded would trample the emotional walls I had built. But then, it is not suffocating either. It is just another random hug that barely reminds me of a discriminate aroma from the past.
Maybe this is what I was actually dreading when I heard her voice. What if I realise, I still pine for someone who is just a residual snap of her in my memories? What if she holds me close and I don’t feel a thing anymore? What if I go stoic in that emotional moment? What if she embraces me and lets go of her pent up emotions, and I simply let go of her? What if I let go of that residual memory of her as well? What if… What if all that is left in me is… What if I am just a mannequin?
Written by: Aninda Kr. Nanda
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