I was more than happy to be at the Bangkok airport a good three hours prior to the scheduled departure of my flight. This is not my usual self, I am one of those travelers who feels the airport is my sprinting track and I am allowed to be at the boarding gate at the time of the actual departure of the flight. But the summer heat of June in central Bangkok melted me into accepting a more responsible stance.
This was my last solo trip before settling down to a more anesthetized domestic life. I have heard strange stories about marriages from my friends and how life changes after seven series of merry go round. I was quite confident that I wouldn’t have the same fate as them, after all I am not them, I am me….. Riya – the quintessential adorable darling to one and all. But then who knows what will happen tomorrow, so I played safe and set out on my unaccompanied journey of self-discovery and peace in the tiny island of Samui, somewhere far from the hustle and bustle of the city life. It wasn’t easy to convince my parents and my fiancé Vivan for the trip, especially Vivan, who had reservations against the famous full moon party at Phangan. It was not even my itinerary, but given my psychedelic past he was apprehensive.
Vivan was the typical banker who had more interest in the numerical figure than my hour glass one. But he was successful, had a good pedigree, good education, in short, everything that would make him a hot property in the Indian marriage bazaar. He was just what your parents would prescribe to you. I met him through one of those social networking sites which cater to two types of people, one who doesn’t have the time to look around, which is Vivan’s category of people and the ones who are tired of looking around and being in failed relationships, which was my category. For most normal people a more real world existed. Had it been ten years back, I wouldn’t have given Vivan a second thought, but at 26 I am more level headed, a better judge of the world that shouted out loud “survival of the fittest”.
I swiftly got rid of my check-in luggage, passed the immigration and came in front of the giant statue depicting the mythological episode of the churning of the ocean of milk. This Hindu mythological depiction in a largely Buddhist country at their largest and busiest airport comes as a surprise to me.
It was too early for the airlines to decide on the boarding gate, so I wasn’t left with much choice but to laze around. The overnight ferry and bus trip from Samui to Bangkok had left me quite exhilarated and hungry and thirsty and so on. I decided to check in the “Bangkok Café Bar” at Level 3, one of the many restaurants in the airport. The menu had almost enough to satisfy my hunger, quench my thirst and make my pocket light. Everything on the menu was priced at almost triple of what you would normally pay anywhere else in Thailand, but then this was an airport, you can’t escape.
I chose a sofa chair to park my battered self rather than the normal chair that was in abundance at the restaurant. I noticed the guy sitting bang opposite to me in a similar sofa chair was checking me out. He was an Indian too, well, nothing surprising in Bangkok airport! This is a haven for Indian carriers and newlyweds, but I am sure he was none of the former.
Stubble, short crop, white tee, blue denim and Crocs, probably 170-174 cms, nothing that would set him apart; yet there was something that made me take notice of him. The giant size menu served as the perfect cover-up for me to check him out to my heart’s content. A good five minutes later I lowered my guard and put down the menu where it should have been in the first place. The waiter was in front of me in and no time he noted down my gastronomic desires.
As I started to fiddle with my smart phone wanting to make good use of the free Wi-Fi at the airport, I noticed from the side of the eye that the guy was walking towards me.
“Is he gonna really talk to me? Is he coming to say hi?”… Human mind, I tell you, can beat the speed of light any day. In a few nanoseconds the mind covered a lot of distance all to be disappointed when he walked past by me to the men’s room. If someone had the vision to dig into my mind, I would have surely slid myself under the sofa and pretend that I didn’t exist. Girl’s mind, I tell you….
“Is it Riya? From CGS….” Asked a husky voice from behind me when I was least expecting anything like that.
I went into an awkward momentary silence as I turned my head to find the same guy standing behind me. Before I could react, he continued in a husky tone…
“Vikram from CBS… we used to be in the same neighborhood… do you remember? I moved out of the city when you were still in school.”
Do I remember…. Dude, you were my first crush… I have spent countless hours conversing with you in my head… enacting situations that never happened….
Yes, I wanted to broadcast all of this, but then I was a girl… rather a lady now… and we ladies don’t say things like that… on top of it I just had my engagement before this trip… so what came out was-
“Oh yes…. Right… Vikram… you were in CBS… we were in the same locality.” Nothing more than what Vikram had already informed me.
“Can I join you if you don’t mind…?”
In my head – “Do I mind…? I searched you desperately for years, tried every possible source to get some info on you and now when you have bumped into me… do I mind?”
What came out from my mouth – “Absolutely, please feel free, but I have flight in two hours or so…”
“That’s good enough to catch up on old times, ” he smiled.
Certain things do not change even with time, Vikram’s smile was one of them and it still makes my heart skip a beat. Of course a few things have changed, the hairless cheeks have turned into a stubble field; the teenage boyish charm has made way for a lean muscular physique man. But nothing really that I could complain of.
As Vikram went past me to grab his drink and his stuffs, I chanced upon my reflection in the huge glass that overlooked the runway. Suddenly I became conscious of my looks, suddenly I felt the need to get my hair in place, adjust my bra straps and check if my mouth freshener is still working. It’s a tough job being a lady, especially when your first crush bumps into you when least expected.
Walking with a sling bag and a glass of beer Vikram looked more alluring as he approached my table.
“Who drinks beer at such early hours” – I thought to myself
“In case the glass of beer is causing you concern, then let me assure you that there’s no bad time for a good time.” – And broke into a laughter.
I could hardly react as my mind was shrouded by the thought of whether he can really read minds or he knows that it’s odd to drink at this hour and owed an explanation to a lady.
My hand phone started to wriggle on the table as soon as it got connected to the Wi-Fi. It was Vivan’s WhatsApp messages that poured in like Mumbai rains, one after the other, non-stop. He was just concerned if I had safely reached the airport. Before I could even finish reading all his messages. Vivan called me on Viber.
I looked at Vikram as if I needed his approval to receive the call.
I excused myself, talked to Vivan for a good five minutes out of which four went assuring him that I am doing great and the last minute went telling him that I bumped into an old friend of mine.
Was I telling the truth? Was Vikram a friend? I don’t even remember how many times I talked to him… but I remember those countless moments that I have thought about him, conversed with him in my head and tried to figure out where the hell he disappeared.
“My fiancé, Vivan” – I informed Vikram as I hung up and sat down, trying to convince myself that Vivan is the only person who makes my heart flutter.
“Oh, congratulations! So when are guys going to tie the knot?”
Not a bit of regret… very nonchalant… very indifferent. At least he could have said “Oh, that means I can’t hit on you” or “Wow someone’s gonna be lucky.” Is he like this or it is because he is married? But then I didn’t notice any ring. So the cat in me couldn’t contain its curiosity.
“So are you married? Kids…?”
“Whoa, whoa… you are too fast for an extremely slow person like me. Couldn’t go beyond stage one of this video game called marriage. I bailed out at the live in stage only.” And once again he broke into peals of laughter.
I didn’t know if that should have made me happy or sad. Or should I be bothered at all.
We got talking. Family, friends, schools, life in general.
Vikram was in Calcutta Boys and I was in Calcutta Girls. Our schools shared the same boundary walls. When our school used to get over we used to patronize the same ice cream vendor, the same stationary shop even the same footpath that lead to our locality. But neither he nor I ever talked to each other. I used to look at him from the corner of my eyes, but I was never sure if he did the same. This was all his fault. It all started because of him.
I got my first pair of wheels on my 12th birthday just when I moved to class six. It was a nice pink bi-cycle gifted by my father on my behest. Every day, I used to go to the nearby neighborhood park to practice my balancing skills on my new wheels. Slowly and surely I mastered the art of balancing and started speeding through the streets throwing all cautions to the wind. The wheels were my symbolic wings, it was like graduating a step closer to freedom.
But one day I got nervous by an approaching Ambulance and couldn’t work the brakes at the right moment resulting in a head on collision with Vikram who was walking on the footpath going towards the same park where I used to cycle and he used to play cricket. I fell down on him and fell in love. He held me in his arms as he tried to move the cycle away from my body. That was the very first time that I got so close to someone of the opposite sex. I wasn’t really concerned about the blood oozing out from my elbow, which had brushed against the pavement, but I was more concerned about our proximity. He looked at me and I gave him my heart. Vikram literally held me in his arms and got me up. He asked me if I was okay. To be honest, nothing fell into my ears. I was still stuck in that very moment when he held me in his arms. I became a slave to his thoughts from that very point in time.
Love songs and romantic mushy movies took a whole new dimension, they used to rule my world along with the thoughts of Vikram. I never had the courage to go up to him and express myself, a whole year went by and I did nothing apart from being immersed in his thoughts and then one fine day he disappeared. I knew he went to Mumbai after passing out, but that’s it. As long as I was in school, he was the only guy I thought of, he ruled my mind like no one ever did. But then you know we all grow up.
Meeting him after so many years evoked a plethora of emotions and memories. Memories about my first crush, my first experience of being in a man’s arms, my first ever kiss less love. It was innocent, it was pure and it was unpretentious.
Even now as he sat in front of me sharing anecdotes about his strange life as a freelance traveler, I remain mesmerized. Is he that charming? Is it his words, is it his sense of humor or is it care free attitude? What is that exactly that draws me to him even after all these years? No man has ever made me feel the way he did. Only if he knew…..
But I guess Vikram was beyond all this, loving another being of the opposite sex is for mere mortals, it is for the ordinary. In the past few years, Vikram has started his NGO to spread education for the deprived, he is a social entrepreneur who has been featured in countless articles in some top notch journals and also does freelance travelling. He has his travelogue which is quite a rage among fellow travelers. Most of the things he told me were in Google itself, only that I never ventured in the roads less travelled and people like Vikram don’t tread the beaten track.
Vikram kept me engaged and mesmerized till Vivan called me up again.
“Hun, hope you are already in the flight.”
I looked at my watch, I still have almost an hour to go. But Vivan didn’t know that. I was going to surprise Vivan by taking a flight to Mumbai rather than Kolkata. I didn’t want to spoil the party so I just played along and assured Vivan that I was sitting tight in the flight.
“You got a loving hubby…” Vikram smiled as I disconnected the call.
I told him how I intended to surprise Vivan, else he might find it strange that I lied to my would-be husband.
But Vikram was headed to Delhi and his flight time was ahead of me. In fact, he was the one who should have proceeded for boarding.
I knew we had to part once again, but not before I let him knew that he was my first ever crush. Yes, I decided that I should just let him know, there’s nothing wrong, there’s no fear of acceptance or rejection, no fear of being judged – and I blabbered
“Vikram, I need to tell you something – you were my first crush ever since the time you held me in your arms you had captured my heart.”
That was the first time I saw the ever articulate Vikram go silent, perhaps he blushed.
“Even I liked you, but never had the balls.” – Once again he smiled and mesmerized me.
It took me a good four to five minutes to come out with “What?”
I couldn’t believe my ears.
There were a lot of things that I wanted to tell him at this point, but by then the sling bag was on. The bill was paid and Vikram was ready to leave.
Much like life, our departure gates were in opposite directions. So our last common stop was the giant screen which displayed the departure gates against each flight.
Our actions are quite a reflection of our own lives. Bidding bye was awkward, while Vikram tried to give me a hug, I tried to shake hands and when I wanted to reciprocate he had his palm extended. I saw him getting lost in the crowd once again and then I turned to walk towards my boarding gate.
“Riya”, the same husky tone once again, at the most unexpected time, only this time panting a bit.
I turned and before I could react, I was once again in Vikram’s arms. He has this hypnotizing effect on me that at close proximity I find myself unable to react. Fifteen years back it felt the same when he took me in his arms. He moved the locks from my face, slowly placed his right hand behind my ears and smooched me …………..
It just felt the most natural thing for me. Vivan, my engagement ring, my impending marriage was all washed away by a wave of ecstasy that was so effortlessly imparted by Vikram. We smooched and kissed and then smooched some more before we both started running out of breath.
“I always wanted to kiss you Riya, it’s just that it took me 15 years to grow the balls. Now I will have one less regret in life.”
Those were Vikram’s last words before he disappeared once again.
The entire flight from Bangkok to Mumbai was once again filled up with Vikram and his thoughts and my imagination of us being together. I should have been guilty of keeping my mind full with another’s man thoughts while going to meet my fiancé and that too for a surprise planned by me. But then, Vikram would forever be my number one, he would always stand out, he would forever be special and I would have to live with the fact that no man can captivate me as much as this man can do. Vikram was the perfect mirage – alluring, appealing, tantalizing but it’s all a beautiful illusion which you can’t make your own. If you try too hard you will lose your sanity. My real world was different from Vikram’s surreal world.
Vivan was worried about the full moon party at Phangan, probably he was insecure; probably he thought what if I slipped after a few pegs and maybe kiss a total stranger or maybe some more. I can understand his insecurities, any man who has a hot partner feels the same way. But here, smack in the middle of a busy airport in all my senses, someone whom I knew since I was a pre-teenager swept me off my feet and kissed the way I always longed to be kissed.
Vivan would probably never know, in fact, no one ever knows when life comes calling. Even I didn’t know.
Thank you Vikram where ever you are. You made my last solo trip unforgettable, as always.