‘There is a celebrity on the flight.’ Krish heard the whispers as she approached the boarding area. For a second, her heart skipped a beat. She couldn’t be on this flight. Surely the gods wouldn’t be that cruel to her, would they? Krish had read in the gossip columns that superstar Mahek Singh was shooting in New York with her boyfriend, Kabeer Agarwal, for Razia Akhtar’s latest film. Surely she was still there. Surely she couldn’t be on this flight.
Krish had been really looking forward to this flight. She had won the Big B English Fiction award for her book and they had paid for a first-class flight ticket to India for the award ceremony. First class! Krish had never flown first-class in her life. She had been so excited! But now she looked at her boarding pass and hesitated. Then she shook her head. No. Not on this flight. It would be too much of a coincidence.
Krish looked up to the heavens but found herself staring at the ceiling of Terminal 2 of the JFK airport. She said a small prayer anyway. Please God...please. Just then, her phone rang.
‘Hello Ma!’ Krish said.
‘Have you boarded?’
‘No. Not yet. Just about to.’ Krish looked at the line that had already formed around the boarding area, even though they hadn’t opened the gates yet. ‘Why are Indians always in such a hurry to board?’ she wondered aloud. ‘Do they think they’re going to miss the flight? Or are they worried someone will take their seat?’
‘Stop being mean, Krishna,’ her mother admonished her over the phone. You’re Indian too.’
‘I’m not. I have an American passport to prove it.’
‘You can be a citizen of any country you want, but your heart will always be Indian. It’s your birthplace. It’s where you grew up.’
It’s where I got my heart broken.
The country was full of too many painful memories for her. Krish said nothing. Just then, the ground staff opened boarding for the first-class and business-class passengers.
‘OK. They are calling first-class passengers now.’
‘Achha beta. What do you want for dinner when you get home?’
‘I don’t know, Ma. Anything will do. Anything except...’
‘Baingan ka bharta, I know.’
‘How long, Krishi?’ her mother asked.
‘Someday. But that day is not today.’ This was the same reply she had given her mother for the past ten years.
Her mother sighed, ‘Theek hai.’
Krish hung up the phone and started walking to the gate. ‘Excuse me. Excuse me,’ she said as she wove her way across people who were crowding the boarding area. She’d almost made it to the podium when someone shoved her to the side. She stumbled. ‘Heyyyy!’ Krish exclaimed as she bent down to pick up her boarding pass.
As she straightened up, she saw, as if in slow motion, Mahek Singh being whisked into the flight by security. The same security that had pushed her out of the way. Of course. Krish turned around and walked back, away from the boarding gate. Her heart was thumping in her chest. Her legs felt like jelly. She needed to sit. She was not ready to board. Not yet. Alcohol. She needed some alcohol. She looked around for a restaurant or a pub, but so to close the boarding area, all she could see was a coffee shop. Fine, this will have to do.
She sighed and started walking towards café. After taking an inordinately long time – it’s hard to think when your brain is trying to work through anticipation, excitement, anger, resentment, and memories...so many memories...all at once – she said, ‘Ummm ... I’ll have an English breakfast tea’.
The attendant at the counter nodded and started preparing her cup. Soon, she was seated at a table, gingerly sipping her piping-hot tea. Deep breaths, Krish. Deep breaths. You can do this. She thought about calling Ma. What was the point? Ma would either get excited or worried. Probably both. She thought about calling her two best friends, Lauren and Chelsea. They would also get worried, and then angry. Probably both. Krish shook her head. Nope. None of those calls would be helpful right now.
She needed someone calm and centred. Maybe she could call Allie. That is the stupidest idea you could think of, Krish, she told herself. Call your current girlfriend to talk about your ex? That will
win you bonus points for being a jerk and an idiot. Krish sighed. It’s not like she hadn’t imagined coming face to face with Mahek after all these years, but she’d never expected something like this. She couldn’t do this. Not here, not now. And definitely not on a fourteen-hour flight to India. She looked at the hallway towards the exit. Maybe she could leave.
Take another flight?
You’re a sher ka bachcha, Krishi. We face our problems, Ma’s voice called to her. Krish’s shoulders slumped. She had to face it. Might as well do it now, right?
Excerpted with permission from Happy Endings, Minita Sanghvi, Harper Collins.