She sat there at the airport thinking about the happenings of the past few days. She had another hour to kill before her flight back to Bangalore. She was trying to reason; to satisfy herself as to what she did was the only way out. Quitting her job was a tough decision; after 7yrs in London and after achieving so much, it was not easy to let go. London had become her second home: relations were built, routines were set, people knew her, she knew them and life was comfortable. There were even subtle hints from her managers in Bangalore that if she wanted she could make London her home. But maybe it was the ‘seven year itch’; she wanted change, not professionally maybe personally, more than ever now. She could have even managed without quitting, if her manager allowed the one week’s leave that she wanted. After all, it was only twice in a year that she would visit India and this was the more important one. But her new manager in London had a mind of his own or maybe it was the recession. Finding a job was the least of her concern; there would always be jobs for her in Bangalore and this time she would have a ‘no travel’ policy. What was worried about was her relationship with Rajan.
He had just finished another call with her; the eleventh call today and it was the longest one. He was not convinced that coming back to India was a smart move. They were almost starting to argue when he pulled himself back. These were bad times and there were indications that it would turn out to be much worse than the ‘dot com’ bust. Though he was much more comfortably placed this time, had become a manager now and was having enough savings to tide over any downturn, he was worried that both of them being IT professionals, there was too many eggs in one basket. But there was no convincing her. She was hell bent on following the tradition that they both have been having from college. It started on a 14th of Feb during their college days and has continued so long. Even after moving to London, she would visit India, every year, during the second week of February. They would spend time together, on long drives out of Mumbai, catching up with friends and family and spend time experimenting with any new restaurant that would have opened in the past year. This had become an annual ritual for them, which was followed come high wind or deep sea. But now he was growing weary of her determination and steadfastness; which he once absolutely adored. But this was least of his concerns. He was worried about the future; their future. All his friends were either engaged or married and some even had children. There was growing pressure from the family to settle down. He had tried discussing, about her, with his parents before, but to no success. Religion was becoming a barrier, greater than he had ever imagined. A beef eating Christian girl into a Brahmin family; never, that was his father’s last verdict on the subject and on Susie.
The lady at the check-in counter pointed out that her luggage was over-weight. She explained that she was going back for good and that’s why the extra stuff. A little pleading and coaxing did the trick and she moved on to the immigration desk. There was something that stuck her during her last call with him. He seems to be adamant at her decision to return as if he doesn’t want to her to return at all; contrary to their of courtship days when he would persuade her not to go back, entice her with jobs in Bangalore and beg her to reconsider. Even when she brought up the topic of marriage he didn’t give a convincing reply. All he said was that his parents were not ready and spoke about family and customs. She wondered how the tables had turned; previously it was her who was not ready to go the extra mile, defile traditions and family honour and he tried to convincing her to go ahead at any cost. But now when she was had put all that behind her it was he who was taking a step back. She was very well acquainted with his family and they never seem to have a reservation about this girl, who appeared more than a friend to their son, their only son. Sitting in the waiting room she remembered that how little they ever spoke about marriage in all the years. It was their careers that took precedence and the subject of marriage consciously avoided. She started thinking that maybe the physical distance between them had taken a toll on their relationship. They had worked it out between them that a call a day was all that was required to keep things up and running. They discussed about everything under the sun, as if each were speaking to a shrink and yes it was therapeutic. Until two months ago the routine was followed without a glitch but a few no calls was dismissed by him as the downside of his growing responsibilities as a manager. Even in the few recent calls he seemed to be a little aloof and needed to be eked on to participate in the conversation and even then there little talk about love and belongingness. The thought never occurred to her, of another person in their life; in his life. Her name was Shruthi.
He had tried to break the news to her before but could never gather enough courage to do so. He procrastinated as long as possible but now things were beginning to get complicated. She quitting her job and coming back was the first sign of trouble. He was wondering how he would face her and tell her about this other person in his life. Six months back he interviewed a girl and got her recruited in his team. She had the same confidence and fiery personality that Susie had and it was not long before he got drawn to her. He gave the all the training and personal attention a new comer requires and she reciprocated with care and respect. The need for physical presence of a loved one, which was missing in his relationship with Susie, was a barrier which he had ignored so far but it was becoming too hard for him to resist with his need found love. One night when things got heated up, he crossed the final frontier and made love to her. Though she was casual about the whole thing, he felt a sense of guilt and wanted to own it to Susie but somehow got tongue tied. He always had a tight control over the proceedings of his life but somehow things got into the fast lane and now he was expecting things to crash sooner than later. With 14th Feb approaching, he started getting worried about whether he would have to choose between the two – the one who he loved for seven years but was always seven seas apart or the one who just a touch away and may be worth spending a lifetime with. Sometimes the similarities between the two was so blurred that he forgot who he was with and sometimes so different, but still captivating, that he wanted to keep loving both of them. But with Susie coming back he knew that he didn’t had much time and that tough decision had to be made. He thought of taking her along to receive Susie at the airport.
Her thoughts were broken by the fasten seat belt message as the flight was approaching Bangalore airport. All through the flight she thought about the wonderful moments they spent together. How they first met at the college bus stop but never gave more than a glance during the initial days. How he turned out to be her brother’s school mate. He was no good at studies and how she did all the assignments for him. Their first Valentine’s Day, when they indulged in their first love – movies, by watching three shows in a single day. How she sacrificed a better job, to work with him in the same company, during the campus placement. They never made many friends at office for they never got over spending time with each other. How weekends were always short for long drives, loads of movies and good food. How he always encouraged to move ahead in her career and take challenges head-on. How he sacrificed the opportunity to work abroad, knowing that it was always her dream, gave it to her. How they would call each other every day and talk for hours and hours and would never feel the distance between them. She joins the other passengers and waiting to collect her bags she gives him a call.
He is too confused to concentrate on what’s going on in the meeting that he is presiding. Suddenly his phone rings and he jumps from his seat. He was supposed to be at the airport to pick her up and now she has landed. How can he be so sloppy? Everybody in the room look at him with surprise. He fumbles with his phone and it drops and rolls to the farthest corner under the table. He apologizes, picks the phone and moves out in a jiffy. He had thought of taking Shruthi along and calls her to meet him at the car park. Next he calls Susie.
She is surprised to hear that he is still at office. The traffic at this hour and with the new airport being a civilization away from the city meant that he would take an hour atleast. She gets angry and asks him not to come. He tries to pacify her but she hangs up on him. He curses himself for the slip up but decides he is going to go anyways. He picks Shruthi and joins the maddening traffic on the road. He knows it’s not a wise idea; it might take him double the time to reach there, compared to what she might take if she hires a taxi. But he still wants to do it. He calls to inform her that he’s on his way to pick her up but she doesn’t respond.
She comes out of the arrival and scans the people standing outside, thinking that he is very much there and might just be playing a prank on her. She remembers how he once stood at the arrivals with a placard, bearing her name, which was as big as a blackboard. She waits for few more minutes and then heads to hire a pre-paid taxi. The driver helps her with the luggage and she cannot stop wondering that how the taxi - a white Huyndai Accent was same as Rajan’s. He tries calling her and she eventually picks the call to tell him that she’s already hired a taxi. He pleads with her to meet midway at a location, that they always frequented, which should be traffic free at this time of the day. He asks her about the flight and she tells him that she was thinking about old times. He feels the guilt rising again and only replies back in monosyllables. He tells her he is bringing some one along and then realizes his mistake. She’s taken aback to hear about a girl, whose coming along to pick her up, but has never been mentioned before in her conversations with him. She resists the idea of thinking that there is something fishy and tries to out in.
The traffic seems to be worst of all days and he is stuck at the last traffic junction and after this it would be a smooth ride. He makes small talks with Shruthi but all the while his mind is somewhere else. She can’t keep her mind off thinking about this other person with him and calls him back. He doesn’t respond. She asks the driver to speed up. He sees her call coming but it’s at that very moment that he sees the green signal and he goes for the accelerator instead of the phone. Once out of the traffic, he pushes the speed up and tries to make up for the lost time. He gets another call from her and he picks up but fumbles with the phone in doing so. A moment’s lapse and he slightly nudges a passing bus in the effort to get the car back in control. But a speed like things quickly get out of control and the car hits the divider, tumbles twice and swirl s towards the traffic coming from the other side. The last he could hear of is Shruti screaming and then sees bright lights heading towards them even as they lie upside down in the car. She starts screaming his name on the phone, the driver turns back to look at her and then suddenly without warning her car hits something head-on, with bone crushing force.
The lone policeman comes rushing to the accident site, which is now surrounded by onlookers, who are taken aback by the intensity of the crash and stand their ground, who even otherwise would have not taken a step to help the victims. Though both the cars look similar, he approaches the upside one first and tries opening the door, but it’s too much for him. He asks for help from the people crowding around. There are two people stuck inside, a man at the driver’s seat and a woman next to him. The man seems to have lost consciousness because of all the bleeding from his head. But the woman seems to stir around. He pulls her out of the wreckage first. She hands him a phone and then looses consciousness. In the mean time the others get the man out from the other side. He calls for an ambulance on his radio and moves towards the other car. He takes the mobile phone; the one the girl gave him and tries to call the last dialed number. He calls the number, which bears the name of a woman but no one picks the call. As he approaches the other car, he sees the people pulling out a woman from the back seat, badly injured and with his experience he’s sure she is close to being dead. He tries calling the number again and then he hears a phone ringing close by. With so much commotion around he’s not sure if it’s coming from inside the car. He looks inside and sees the screen flashing from a phone lying at the floor of the car. He picks the phone and attends to the call. Just then he sees that someone has answered the first phone as well. He now has two phone on both his ears but there’s only one voice he hears; his own.