Raghav called up a few days before Christmas. “I’ve got some great news!”
“You’re getting married?”
“Well, not that great.”
“What’s the great big explosive news then?”
“You’re getting to see me again! I’m coming home for Christmas.”
“For how long?”
“Nine days. I’m getting there on Christmas day and I shall stay all the way till the Sunday after New Year. Isn’t that great? We can spend New Year’s eve together!”
“I won’t be here.”
“I did tell you that I was going to my mom’s for the New Year.”
“Oh. How long are you staying?”
“I’m back on the 3rd.”
“When are you leaving, then? Will I see you before you go?”
“No, I’m leaving on Saturday.”
“This Saturday? The day after tomorrow?”
“But why didn’t you tell me?”
“I distinctly remember telling you that I was going home for the New Year. If you choose not to remember, that’s your problem, not mine.”
“Calm down,” said Mandakini. “Whatever you do, he mustn’t find out you’re jealous of Sonali.”
“I’m not jealous of Sonali! I’m upset because my best friend doesn’t seem to care about me!”
“Miki, honey, is everything all right?” asked Raghav.
I took a deep breath. “Yeah, Raghav, everything’s fine. I was just annoyed you didn’t remember, that’s all. And I’m at work, so I’m a bit preoccupied. Can we talk later?”
“Sure. Shall I call you later tonight?”
“I don’t know when I’ll get home. I need to wrap up my project before I leave on vacation, so I am going to be busy today and tomorrow. And I haven’t packed for my vacation either. I’ll call you back if I can tomorrow, else I’ll call you on Saturday, all right?
“Okay. Will you have time on Saturday? You’re going home…”
“Yeah, but I should be able to call you from the airport or something. Sorry I can’t talk now.”
“No problem, babes. You have fun at home, all right?”
I was going home.
I wasn’t sure what ‘home’ was any more. It had been nearly six years since I had moved out of my mother’s house. I had lived in Guwahati for three years, doing my graduation. Then I had lived in Delhi for nearly two years, getting a management degree. And now I was in Gurgaon, living alone. This was my home, I liked to say to myself, this was the home I had made for myself. I would never go back.
And yet, I thought of Diphu, and of my mom, and I could smell the cool fresh air. In a way, that would always be home.
I worked till late on Friday night, wrapping up my project to my – and Nilanjana’s satisfaction. I had kept packing for that night, for my flight was at noon on Saturday, so I sat up most of the rest of the night packing, and wishing I had Divya to help or at least to give me company while I worked. I slept a few hours and got up with a headache that two cups of strong tea weren’t able to kill. Then the cab that I had booked to take me to the airport reached late, after I spent twenty frantic minutes calling up the cab company and trying to get them to locate the cab.
I kept my fingers crossed all the way to the airport, looking impatiently at my watch each time we stopped at a traffic light. On top of it all, my mom kept calling and asking where I was, making me even more nervous.
I got to the airport and stood impatiently in queue to get my boarding pass. It seemed that all of Delhi and most of Gurgaon was travelling today: the airport was as crowded as a mela. When I finally made my way through security check I learned that my flight was an hour late.
I called up Ma to tell her I had made it, and then looked for food. I hadn’t had anything since dinner and was ravenous. I met another queue at the food stall. When I finished my sandwich and coffee and got up to throw away the paper plate and cup, my flight was announced.
I had to stand in another long and extremely slow-moving queue, and by the time I boarded the flight I felt as cranky as an old un-greased iron door.
It was only after I settled down and took out my cellphone to switch it off that I remembered I hadn’t called Raghav.
My flight to Guwahati was through Bagdogra. I didn’t even know where Bagdogra was – I had a vague feeling it was somewhere in West Bengal.
I had a window seat, and was extremely lucky in that the seat next to me was empty, even though the aircraft seemed full otherwise. The middle-aged man on the aisle seat making no move to corner the middle seat, I put my handbag in it, and even put down the armrest and put my feet up while the seatbelt sign was turned off. I dozed off comfortably.
I awoke when the plane was descending into Bagdogra. I looked out of the window and saw wonderful swirls of mist and cloud. We went down, down, and a verdant undulating land rose up to meet us. In my half-awake state, it seemed like I had taken a detour into fairyland.
But this magical descent cleared up my mood. We halted in Bagdogra for an hour, and I wished I could get down and sample what looked like delicious weather – misty and breezy.
By the time the plane took off again, it was growing dark and there were lights twinkling through the mist.
“I wish I could stay on here,” said Mandakini. “This looks like fairyland. Like there will be no problems there, and no heartbreak.”
“That’s impossible,” said Miki, but she too wished it was true.