Flames9 mins 170 9 mins 170
“You are so naughty, Sir!” The air hostess giggled at me and said. “Yes, I am! But not a sugar daddy, my dear. ” I was travelling from New York to India, after my annual vacation to my brother’s house and as usual I couldn’t stay put. As there was nothing else to do, I mingled around with everyone, specially the gorgeous air hostesses.
Most of my friends say I have not changed in the last 50 years. I am the same flirt college boy, just that I have turned 65. To the world I was a rich chronic bachelor enjoying my life, but to myself I was just a chronic bachelor, who could never find a befitting partner for himself. “Anand!”, I heard my name in a very familiar voice, sounding from the rear row of my seat. It was meant to be a long journey and we hadn’t even crossed Europe, still over 13 hours of flight was pending.
I was too surprised to see Maria, sitting behind me. She had been there for at least 4 hours. How could I not recognise her! Like a glass of old wine, she has turned old gracefully, but the glow on her face hasn’t even faded a bit. Before I could talk to her, memories gushed in and they carried me back to my college days. Maria was my heartthrob and we were the most famous couple of the campus, the most happening pair. “What are you thinking? You couldn’t recognise me?” I was brought back to normalcy by her sweet voice. Surprisingly she didn’t seem to be excited about meeting me. Her voice was calm, no excitement could be traced out of her tone. I smiled, “Maria, how can I forget you?” “I have been noticing you since last four hours and was trying to place you, getting old you see!
My memories are fading out and I couldn’t frame you. But the way you were flirting with the air hostesses rang the bell and I then I could recognise its you. ”, Maria said. ”Yes, people say that I have grown old but not grown up and I am happy about that” ,I said. ”Let me try to come to your seat. ” I requested the young man sitting next to her, whether he would exchange his seat with mine. However with the help of my sweet air hostesses I managed to get transferred to the very next seat of Maria.
And there I was sitting with my heartthrob, ex-flame Maria and taking a nostalgic trip down the memory lane. To cut it short, we had decided to spend the rest of our lives together as a family, but our conservative backgrounds, my joblessness and our age all worked against us. By the time college finished Maria was ready to go for a job and getting married, whereas I was still a young guy who was not ready to take up any responsibilities.
We had a great time in the flight. The rest of the time till we reached our destination we were discussing about our old age. She was the mother of two now, knowing which made me so happy. I could never find a replacement for Maria in my life but then fortunately she found her man and she was now on her way back from her daughter who was settled in New York. Her husband had just passed away two years back according to what she told. I felt very satisfied with the quality of life she had. Oh yeah! Beyond my expectations, this dumb girl in college turned out to be a college professor, now retired though and seemed to have a very successful career. Suddenly Maria asked, “So whom did you marry, Anand?” I was startled. I had to lie to her since I didn’t want her to pity me. I never wanted to make her feel that I wasted my whole life waiting for her. I said,” My wife passed away 10 years ago and my son is settled in New York whom I frequently visit. ” She felt happy and content with my answer that I was also peacefully settled, despite the fact that both of us never really hoped to live happily apart.
“Are you not on facebook?” I asked her. “No social media, I don’t have time for these stupidities”, she retorted. “Why are you asking? Did u ever try finding me there?” I said, “No, no way! Though I am very active in Facebook with my political opinions and social commentaries, etc. See, I don’t have anything else to do in my post retirement age. This armchair activism is my ally. ” “Good,” she replied, “In college you used to be an armchair activist too, ideologically strong but never got involved into anything physically damaging. ” “Yes, I am still the same”, I said with a smile. Maria giggled and replied, “Its evident from the way you were flirting with the air hostesses. ” I had to join her laughter this time.
I was surprised to know she was settled in Chennai since last 2 years. We stayed in the same city but our paths never crossed. I never seriously made an attempt to find her on facebook, in which she wasn’t there. Though I had lied to her that I did look for her. We landed in Chennai, and post collecting our respective luggage I went up to her and gave her a hug. “Sorry” I said, “to hug you without your permission, but just as you gave me a trip back to my college days, I thought I can hug my bestie. ” “Ofcourse you can, Anand” , her voice was devoid of any excitement which kept on surprising me. Possibly her husband’s death and old age had made her sober. She said, “Good that you married and settled down. ” I retorted, “Even better, you did the same instead of waiting for me. But then both of us had a fulfilling life and now can die in peace. ” She giggled and hugged me again saying, “ I will join facebook for you. ” We exchanged our phone numbers before boarding our cabs.
I kept in touch with her as promised over the phone and she joined facebook too. Like our college days she was my biggest critic and made sure to comment on all my political posts with her conflicting opinions. I was enjoying this like the good old times. Despite the fact that we were living just 10 kms apart, I never made an attempt to visit her. Somehow, I couldn’t make up my mind to meet her. I couldn’t accept the fact that she’s a grandmother now. To me, she was just my same teenage sweetheart.
I looked up the calendar and it was April 13th. I promptly remembered it was Maria’s birthday. I had always been bad with remembering dates but somehow this day has always lingered on my mind. I called her up to wish her and she invited me to come down for dinner with my family. I said there’s no one in my family there other than me since my son was settled abroad, so I would come down alone. She wholeheartedly accepted that and I went down to visit her.
The dinner was supposed to start at 8 p. m and I started getting ready right from 6. I was very excited, ecstatic and confused. I wanted to gift her something but couldn’t decide as to what. I decided to buy a pack of oil colours as she was a passionate artist back in college, a book on evolution and astrophysics each, both of which subjects inspired her in college and the latest carnatic vocal cd, which she was an expert in. I reached there, 5 minutes prior to the time I promised her. She was surprised to see my punctuality. “Anand, at least I should say that you’ve become punctual. This was never your trait. ” Thanking her for her compliment I went inside the porch of her house. “I bought this house two years back, when I shifted my base from Bangalore. Do you like it,Anand?” she asked. I spontaneously replied “ Its beautiful!” “ So you stay here with your daughter right? “ I questioned her. She remained silent. I was surprised to notice no other human being inside the whole building, just a pretty pug playing around. I enquired again, “ You said you have two daughters. The elder one is in U. S. A., and the younger one stays with you, so isn’t she home?” All of a sudden she held my hand and said “ I am so sorry Anand, I lied to you” Her eyes looked lonely, she continued “ It's just the fact that I didn’t want to hurt you by saying that I remained a spinster because I couldn’t marry you. I was sure you would be shocked, hearing that and thus couldn’t even invite you home, though we had met a month back. I never had the courage to say that I was never happy without you and also happy knowing you had a content family life. “Yes Anand” she said with moist eyes, “ I couldn’t find your replacement in my life. ”
I couldn’t express to her what I was going through. I couldn’t exactly explain to myself what was happening to me. With glistening eyes I looked up at her and said, “Maria, the fact that you had lied to me is indeed making me happy. But I am not sure, how will you accept my truth when I reveal it. ” And with that, I told her that even I couldn’t find her substitute and hence remained a bachelor throughout. She looked at me with confident eyes now, and said “This house has two bedrooms on the ground floor and one at the top, too big for a single person. So, you can rest in one of them. ” I asked her with a grin, “ Is it for the time being, or permanently?” She smiled back at me, “ I leave that to you. We can stay here or both of us can shift to your place. ”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
On a lazy evening, after three months of staying together, I asked Maria, “ I always wanted to know this, why weren’t you excited seeing me in the flight, though you were the one to spot me first?” Maria’s eyes were as calm as ever. She said, “ I was sure that I would find you someday. So everyday I woke up with the hope of finding you. So when you appeared before me, it wasn’t surprising at all, it was something I always expected. ” She added, “ You never stopped flirting, right? You never changed!” I softly touched her hand and said , “ After you left, I had become so sober! I had changed completely, Maria. I never used to talk to anyone. But after a few years, I told to myself, there’s no point in being depressed and right from that day, I started searching for you in every girl I met. And in this quest, I started flirting with every other Maria. ”