The only thing Rajesh could think about while boarding the plane was how much he wished it were headed to Cancun, Mexico instead of Hyderabad, India. The soft, warm sand pressing against his skin and refreshingly cool waves splashing at his feet while he shares drinks with Matt and Thanish and they recall the funny, and not-so-funny, incidents that had occurred during the two years that they had shared an apartment while pursuing their master’s degrees; he hadn’t seen the two of them in three years and the images of everything he had planned on doing this weekend kept playing in his mind. He tried to ignore them as he made his way through the aisle of outstretched legs and luggage that had not yet been properly stored towards his seat. Shoving his travel bag into the overhead compartment, he settled into the seat next to the small rectangular window and stared outside. It was still a little foggy from the early morning chill and the view of the plane at the adjacent terminal was distorted by the small drops of water that still layered the outer pane of glass. A small vehicle passed by, transporting luggage to wherever their next destination was.
Rajesh knew he shouldn’t be feeling this way. It was an emergency (he had known that as soon as he had heard his father’s voice on the other end of the phone). His grandmother had passed away unexpectedly and he had to find the earliest flight the next day so that he could attend the cremation ceremony. He had never been that close to his grandmother; his parents had sent him off to a boarding school in a different state at a young age and then abroad once he started high school. Still, she was family and it was his father on the phone, so he knew he had to attend. He hadn’t heard from his father since the incident that happened the last time they had spoken on the phone, but his voice had sounded so different, so weak; he could tell his father was shaken. Rajesh shuddered at the thought of his own mother passing away; hopefully that wouldn’t be for a very long time.
“Excuse me son, I think you’re sitting in the wrong seat?”
Rajesh looked away from the window to face a large, elderly man with a gruff, white beard that contrasted with his darker skin and thick glasses. He looked like he was about to attend a business meeting, wearing a light brown blazer and a pair of navy blue slacks with a tie that matched. His left eyebrow was raised in impatience and Rajesh felt partially relieved. He wasn’t much for making small talk, especially not right now, but this man didn’t seem like he was looking for an awkwardly social nine-hour flight either.
“Yeah, don’t worry.” Rajesh replied, getting up to exchange positions, “I’m sitting next to you. Just wanted to look outside for a while until you boarded…I hope that’s alright.”
“No, no problem at all as long as I get to keep my seat.”
Rajesh watched as the man squeezed through the small space in between the seats and settled into the one he had just occupied. Boarding was almost complete and the flight attendants were making their way down the aisles to make sure everyone had their seatbelts fastened. Rajesh reached into his travel bag for his tablet, only to realize that he had forgotten to charge it. Dejected, he put it back in the bag and stretched his legs before sitting back down. Before he could settle in, his seat slightly angled forward. He glanced behind him to see a little boy pushing his feet against the back of his seat while watching a video of Bugs Bunny on his mother’s phone. His mother was sitting next to him and gave him an exhausted smile. He turned back around and reached for one of the magazines in front of him; this was going to be a long ride.
“Are these yours?”
Rajesh was just getting into a riveting article about the importance of Ayurvedic medicine from a tourist magazine, but he welcomed the distraction and glanced over at the small purple pack of Bourbon biscuits that the man was holding up. He patted the pockets of his jacket but they were empty.
“Yes! Sorry about that.” He took the packet from the man’s hands and took one out, shaking his head. They must’ve fallen out of his pocket earlier.
“That’s alright.” The man replied, watching him as he ate the biscuit. Rajesh hesitated for a moment, but it seemed impolite to not offer the man any after he had found them.
“Would you like some?” He offered the pack to the man, who eyed it carefully.
“I really shouldn’t…”
Rajesh was about to put it back in his bag when the man changed his mind.
“Sure, why not.” The man delicately took a biscuit out of the pack and examined the sugary coating before popping it into his mouth. He closed his eyes and chewed slowly, and Rajesh wondered how long it had been since the last time he had had that much sugar.
As if he could read his thoughts, the old man said, “Borderline diabetes. Aarti tries her best to keep me away from sweets. I haven’t had one of these in years!”
Noting Rajesh’s confusion, he grinned. “Aarti, she’s my wife.”
Rajesh smiled and nodded in acknowledgement.
A brief moment passed before the man asked, “What about you? Are you married?”
Rajesh shook his head and the man nodded, proceeding to crack a wise joke about how Rajesh was lucky to still have his freedom. Rajesh laughed in courtesy but he wasn’t really listening anymore. As much as he had tried to stop thinking about her for what felt like longer than six months, some thing or another always ended up trigging her memories and now he pretended to go back to reading his magazine while his thoughts turned back to her. Kristen, leaning against his shoulder on top of a rocky hill when they went on a hike together for the first time; Kristen, lying with him on his faded, stripped green couch at his old apartment, telling him about her parents and how they had fallen in love at Goa; Kristen, with her curly, light brown hair that she had once attempted to braid after he had told her how he found that attractive and the adorable, small dimples that formed on her cheeks every time he tickled her legs.
Was he married?
He had wanted to be, about a year ago, while he was taking an evening walking down Riverside Park with Kristen, his hand around her waist, their fingers locked together in her coat pocket as they hugged to share warmth against the Fall breeze. She had just moved to the city, which meant that they would be able to see each other more often again, and he had felt lucky to be with her and to have been with her for the past couple of years. Rajesh had never really thought about his future since most of his life had been a path that was laid out for him by his parents, but he thought about it that day and he knew that he wanted her to be a part of it. He made a resolve to tell his parents about Kristen and to try to convince them to accept her; he knew they wouldn’t approve in the beginning. If he had known that they wouldn’t approve at all, no matter how much he pleaded, then maybe he would have never gone out with Kristen in the first place. It would have saved them from the heartache, which was all they had left now.
Rajesh sighed. These were the things that he had wanted to discuss with Matt and Thanish so badly, but instead he was stuck with—
It took Rajesh a moment to realize that the man was talking to him again. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. Could you repeat that?”
“It’s fine. I was just asking, what is taking you to Hyderabad?”
“Well…if everything goes as planned, then that would be this plane.”
The man stared at him for a second and then began laughing a deep laugh. “I see what you did there!”
It really wasn’t a good joke, but Rajesh pretended to laugh along anyways.
“No really, tell me, why are you going to Hyderabad?”
“Well…it’s kind of a family emergency.”
“Oh…” The man stopped smiling and the serious expression he had maintained earlier returned on his face. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“That’s alright. It is what it is. So, what about you?"
“Yes, I…I’m actually attending a college reunion.”
“Really?” It was Rajesh’s turn to raise his eyebrows, and he eyed the man’s white beard again. “How many years?”
“Yeah, it…it feels really strange actually. Surprising that it’s been so long already.”
Looking at the man, Rajesh wanted to say he didn’t think it was surprising, but he decided not to; he was starting to like the guy a little. Though it didn’t compare with the kick of cracking constant jokes on Thanish with Matt, talking to this man kept him preoccupied, which meant less time thinking about the real awkwardness that he would have to face at home; he hadn’t been home since the whole incident with Kristen and he had no idea what kind of a welcome was waiting for him there.
“That’s actually kind of cool. I don’t even know if I’d attend a college reunion after twenty-five years…it’s hard enough to keep in touch with my best friends from college right now. I mean, everyone’s so busy with their own lives.”
The man nodded. “There’s a chance I’ll meet someone there who went to college around the time I did and who still remembers me, but it’s a pretty small chance. But that’s not the main reason I’m going there. Every year, Aarti and I help fund one or two low-income students so that they can get a college education.”
“That’s really nice! Very considerate of you and your wife.”
He smiled. “Thank you. You know, we never properly introduced ourselves.”
“That’s true, I guess the misunderstanding with the seats didn’t help.”
The man chuckled and shook his head. “Pardon me for that, I didn’t mean to sound rude or anything. Tight spaces make me queasy, so I prefer to sit next to the window so I can look outside, that’s all.”
“Oh, that’s alright.” Rajesh held out his hand. “I’m Raj.”
“Of what kingdom?” the man jested, shaking his hand.
“I wish. It’s short for Rajesh.”
“I’m Krish. Short for Krishna.”
“But you don’t have thousands of other wives, right?” Rajesh mockingly raised his eyebrow.
“Oh, I wish.” He grinned and shook his head, “No, trust me, one wife is more than enough for a lifetime.”
To be continued...
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