Ana Hasan was having a really good day. She smiled to herself as she tucked her luggage in the overhead compartment and sat down quickly so that other passengers could walk down the aisle to their seats. She was nervous but she hoped it didn’t show on her face and she tried to pretend she had been flying all her life. After all, she was good at that.
Taking a deep breath, she observed the other passengers as they found their seats. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was filling up slowly, with families and businessmen who would be changing flights to travel on ahead to other destinations. She still couldn’t believe she was doing this. Her father had been wary and not willing to give in when she had spoken to him about it. It had been just a few months since she had got a job as a behavioural counsellor at an international school and she knew it had been a stroke of luck that she had been chosen to attend this conference.
“Abbu, please. It’s a great opportunity,” she had told him. He had looked at her, helpless and uneasy.
“You’ll be travelling alone, out of the country,” he murmured.
“So? It’s fine. I’ll be fine. Everything is taken care of,” she told him. She had turned to her older sister Tehzeeb who was visiting them with her six-month-old son Aslan and beseeched her to make a case in her favour.
“Abbu, she’s right. She may not get such an opportunity again,” Tehzeeb said. Abbu seemed cornered and he turned to Athiya, her younger sister who was a spitfire and was probably jealous too. To her surprise, Athiya too took her side.
“Why are we even discussing this? If Ana Api had been a boy, you would have sent her without even thinking twice, no? Why can’t she go just because she’s a girl?” she asked as she bent and took Aslan from Tehzeeb, cooing to him.
Sighing, Abbu capitulated. “Okay, fine,” he said. He looked lost and worried and Ana had to reassure him that everything would be fine.
“But why isn’t anyone travelling with you?” he asked.
“Why would they?” she asked him, surprised.
“Aren’t other people going to this conference?”
“Yes, but they’re from all parts of the country and other institutions. Why did you think everyone would be going from Bangalore?” Ana asked.
She smiled now at the memory and blinked when she realised that the plane was full. Her silver jhumkis clinked as she caught her reflection in the window of the plane. She had been given a window seat, although it wouldn’t do much good to look out because it was night. The seat next to her was still empty. She looked out of the window, not really listening to the flight attendant who was giving instructions about seatbelts and safety.
She sensed some sort of disturbance at the entrance and someone apologising profusely. The flight attendant paused and then began again. Ana couldn’t see what the fuss was about and she went back to looking outside, wondering what Abbu and Athiya were doing. She pulled out her phone and sent a quick message to her sisters that she had boarded and the flight would take off soon.
The excitement inside her had finally kicked off. Until this moment, she was worried that something would go wrong, someone would intervene and she would be deprived of this experience. She knew her father was getting calls from that pesky Taskeen Auntie who was trying to send rishtas for her, and Abbu could deflect only so much. One of these days, he was going to relent. She knew this was a possibility that she had to be prepared for and deep in her heart, she had accepted it. Not everyone was as lucky as Tehzeeb to fall madly in love with her husband, to have him love her back just as passionately, to live such a charmed life.
She was no longer jealous of her sister and she knew that Tehzeeb deserved every bit of happiness. She smiled to herself, thinking that she was going to stop thinking about annoying people like Taskeen Auntie and what waited for her back in India. She was going to live in the moment and enjoy what life gave her now.
She continued to look out into the darkness when, suddenly, there was movement beside her. She realised that the person occupying the middle seat had arrived and she turned the slightest bit to see. Her breath caught in her throat.
Luqman was shoving his backpack into the overhead compartment and dusting his hands. He smiled at the person sitting in the aisle seat, asking them if they could get up so he could sit down on the middle seat. Ana turned away swiftly, looking out of the window as her heart pounded and sweat made her palms clammy. Luqman was going to be seated next to her for the duration of this flight? Oh no! Oh yes, her mind warred. No. What did it matter?
But she couldn’t possibly sit like this until the plane landed. It hadn’t even taken off yet. She felt a sort of prickly undercurrent radiating from his arm when it brushed hers and she took a deep breath. He hadn’t seen her yet but she knew she had to face him soon. The air around her seemed to have thickened. She swallowed nervously. It had to be done now. She had to turn around, feign surprise and say hello to him. She looked down first. He was wearing jeans and his shoes were a little scruffy. Lifting her head, she straightened up in her seat and felt him stiffen.
He had seen her now. Keeping her face expressionless, she looked ahead for a few seconds as the boarding was completed and the plane began to move. She had never flown before and it was then that the reality of the situation struck her. She gripped the armrest tightly and shut her eyes, icy fear flooding her insides, turning them cold.
Excerpted with permission from Loving You Twice, Andaleeb Wajid, Westland.