It is a place between places—an intermediary junction, a brief respite before moving on farther and farther away. Whenever I take a connecting flight, I feel the liminal space that airports occupy more accurately. This is not my destination, it is merely transitory. Yet, this is the space I will sit in till the next flight.
It is now four in the morning, and I smile when I see a man ordering a beer at the bar that never closes. How funny airports are. Time has no meaning here, it can’t get us as it does outside of airports. I, too, shrug off time as I order a big cup of masala chai. You will never find me drinking tea at this hour, but who cares at an airport!
There are many empty seats, but I decide to sit down at the counter, keenly watching the young man makes my order. He looks tired, deep circles under his eyes and a certain heaviness in his eyelids. I feel sorry. If I think my sleep cycle is awful, how bad would his be?
“Here, ma’am,” he smiles at me, tired, “Anything else?”
I point at the display of sweet, baked goods, “Can I get two lemon cookies?”
As the man turns away to get me my sweet treats, somebody behind me asks, “Is this seat taken?”
I said before how empty this cafe is, so with a scathing remark on my tongue, I turn around…and then instantly, all my words die before they can fly out of my mouth. I know this man standing and smiling at me. I know him too well…or I did once upon a time. I pick my jaw off the floor and force myself to smile, “Hello, Krish.”
Krish, my ex-fiance, smiles back, “Hello stranger.” He points at the stool beside me. “May I?”
To say no would be rude, but to say yes would be like opening an old rusted trunk filled with forgotten memories and emotions. I smile wider as I nod my head. He orders tea and cookies for himself, too. My heart thuds, once. He didn’t like drinking tea before he met me.
“Oh, come on, just try it!” I whine as I push the small teacup towards him. “This will not kill you!” Krish picks up the steaming teacup, scrunching his nose as if I had offered him poison. I resort to unfair tactics and pout, “I made it, you know, with all the nice spices…”
It works like magic—like it always does. Krish blows the steam wafting up from the cup. He sniffs it for a second and murmurs, “It does smell nice.” I grin, that is half of a victory. He takes a tentative sip. Then another and another and another. When he has almost finished the cup, he slowly smiles, “That wasn’t so bad.”
“Of course, it wasn’t! I made it after all!” I say, crossing my arms and smirking a little.
Krish laughs and reaches forward, pinching my cheek. I whine but he laughs, “Obviously!”
“So, where to?”
I am pulled out from my memories at the question. The young man leaves another cup of tea for Krish.
“Bangalore. You?” I ask.
“Patna,” he takes a sip, and I brave a closer look at him. Age has been kind to him, and the salt and pepper beard suits him well. Then, my gaze lands on the shining silver band on his left hand. Right…
I ask, “So, you’re still living in Mumbai?”
“Yeah,” he replies. “Shamali likes it here, so do the kids.”
I nod; I knew he got married thirteen years ago, settling for the girl his parents chose for him after I broke off our engagement. I swallow the knot of guilt as I ask again, “Kids? That’s lovely, how old are they?”
“The eldest is seven and the youngest is three.” He chuckles, “They’re both a handful!”
We both fall into silence as we eat our food and drink our tea. He is the first to break the pause and ask, “And you?”
I smile, waving my left hand where my diamond ring rests, “Got married eight years ago. We live in Chandigarh now. No kids for us but we do have three dogs and four cats, so my husband and I are quite satisfied with our mini zoo.”
Krish laughs again, and his gums still show the way I used to adore. It makes me smile. Besides the gummy smile, plenty of wrinkles have been added to that face, and suddenly, I am reminded of the time that has passed. Time has taken us forward, flowing continuously, and I have never ever looked back once. But now when I do, the ten years with Krish feels so distant, so prehistoric.
“That’s great,” he finishes his tea. “I saw you in Delhi once, well not you per se, but your poster. So, congratulations on your new book!”
I feel shy all of a sudden. I clink my cup against his empty cup, and say, “Cheers to me for finally publishing!”
“I knew you could do it, even if it took you this long!”
As the words slip out, we both turn our heads away from each other. I believe not talking about the past was the unsaid agreement we made, so this accident makes me think back again. I softly ask, “Did you read it?”
“No,” he sighs. “But I read the summary. A dissection of a relationship, eh?”
I chuckle, “Yeah. I had to take inspiration from somewhere.”
“Is this why they say it’s dangerous to date an author?”
I look at him, but my gaze slips past him and towards the massive LED board behind him. I smile a little as I say, “Perhaps.” I slide down the stool, pay my bill and say, “It was nice meeting you, Krish. My flight’s boarding.”
He widens his eyes and I read the disappointment on his face. But he hides it fairly fast, and says, “Fifteen years is a long time…I’m surprised you recognised me.”
“I’m surprised you did too!” I look at the teacups on the counter and the empty plate of cookies. “Goodbye, Krish.”
I don’t turn around as I walk towards my boarding gate. Airports. A liminal space. A time period where things happen in transition; ambiguous and disorienting things that have no power on the rest of our lives, or on our existence.
A piece of my past remains here and will remain so as I move ahead, flowing right along with time.
Cover Image from iStock by Getty Images.
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