“Thank you for flying Emirates Airlines. Please wait for exit instructions from the cabin crew.” The voice sounded young, though Meera knew better. Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport was here at last. She was going to meet her family after nine months. She could picture their excited faces in her head. Why she was not excited, she could not tell. She longed to see her little brother. Her sister would be cool when she sees her, but she was always a guarded person, who could be stoic even when seething underneath. You just had to get used to it.
Meera stretched her legs and yawned. She wasn’t that tall, but planes were really skimping on the leg room these days. At least the ticket was cheap, she thought. She was looking forward to two and a half months of relaxation, not to mention home-cooked food. She was an average cook at best, but her tastes were absolutely high class. Romba naaku neelam maa onaku was an oft-heard refrain in her house. She filled out the customs form as the swarthy guy in the seat next to hers got her bag from the overhead compartment. “I hope this does not mean he is gonna walk all the way to the exit with me”, she thought. He wasn’t ugly, but she wasn’t interested. The one thing that always escaped her was that guys never understood the ‘thanks, but no thanks’ face she put on. Maybe they would rather delude themselves into thinking that there was a fraction of a chance than face the truth.
She had always wanted to do a masters and a PhD. There was never any question in her mind. Her usually broad-minded parents had turned surprisingly conservative when she mentioned it during her TE. They were all excited that their daughter was becoming an engineer, and that a good mapillai was the next step. After all, why would she need to study so much when she had to be a housewife! Meera wanted to throw something sharp and heavy at her uncle when he said that, especially when his son was leaving for the USA to do an MBA in that very year. She winced at the memory of that conversation and said a silent prayer that that uncle should not be at the airport.
Baggage claim was the usual one-hour wait. “If I fly enough times, at least once, my bags should arrive first on the conveyor belt”, she thought. Even she knew that the bags that came first simply belonged to no one, and that her bags were carefully identified by the handlers and put towards the end of the line. Well, her optimism was clearly induced by her own cynicism. She could see the exit now. She could smell the clammy Mumbai air, with the ridiculous amounts of pollution and sheer noise and odor, which were absent from her life the past year. Damn! It was good to be home.
She had always been an emotionless girl, on the surface that is. Anyone who knew her would describe her as stoic and calm no matter what the situation. A precious few people in the world knew how emotional she actually could be. She was sad to admit to herself that her pseudo-boyfriend was not on that list. She would have to meet him too now…did she think ‘have to’? She was gonna break up with him sooner or later. She lied to herself that it was because she wanted space and he was not giving it to her, but the truth was that she never really had any romantic passion for him. He had been the safe choice, and she now realized she probably wanted more. “I better wear something old when I meet him to end it, he is gonna sob all over my clothes anyway.” She chided herself for being so callous. Maybe that was the truth. Maybe she did not care about him, because she simply did not care. Her optimism kept fuelling the thoughts that maybe that guy exists, the one who was an intellectual challenge to her, and yet one that could get her juices flowing. Maybe settling for what was available was stupid. Her research work was fulfilling enough. There was no need for a boyfriend, unless he was the one.
A small voice inside her still resented her for not feeling anything even though she was meeting her parents after a long time. She was near the exit now. She could see the crowd, all waiting for someone or the other. She started scanning the crowd for them. Ah! Was that her brother, no…false alarm. Suddenly someone grabbed her by the wrist.
And the tears just started flowing.