An excerpt from the book A Year of Wednesdays by Sonia Bahl.
I can’t thank baby enough for his impeccable timing: he opens his eyes, smiles, and gives me the look that says, ‘You
have two minutes to get that feed ready before I morph from photo-worthy cherub to toxic banshee from hell.’ It is a relief to focus on pretending to perform brain surgery—opening up a carton of formula, pulling out a sterilized bottle, putting it together—concentrating hard on something I know I can do with my eyes shut. Only so I can use my actual focus to find a suitable response.
“I mean look at it this way. Too much cossetting could have turned you into a tree-hugger. What good would that be?”
It isn’t the best second serve. Certainly isn’t the stuff that scales the rafters on empathy or wit. But at least it brings on a big smile devoid of irony. From both of us.
It is the exact moment I sense a truce. Also the exact moment I feel the subtle shedding of the metal-enforced
armour I have been wearing for the last twelve hours. Breathing easier, the conversations continue despite the never
converging points of view. Unplugged, unfiltered, unceasing.
The landing protocol kicks in. And Seat 7A returns from the toilet in his suit, looking all set to clang the New York Stock Exchange opening bell. He settles into his seat, spa fresh and smelling expensive clean.
“So can I invite you and your husband for a drink?” he
I smile a thanks-but-no-thanks smile.
He gets it but chooses to act like he doesn’t. “Come on, I’ve got to meet Escobar . . . at a bar?”
I think even my toddler rolled his eyes.
The plane lands with a gentle thud. He is still waiting for an answer.
“You know what, this is insane. You can’t spend fifteen hours talking to someone and never meet again.”
I shrug. “We’re just two people on a flight, we don’t even know each other’s names.”
He nods. “Right! Okay, let’s start from the beginning. Hi, I’m—”
“No!” I cut in like I am announcing an emergency landing.
“You know what, let’s not.”
He stares at me for a minute, refrains from asking me why. But clearly he is undeterred. “Okay, phone number?” People around us are leaving the aircraft.
“How about this. It’s Wednesday today. Let’s meet next Wednesday for a coffee? You can tell me in detail how people
like me are out to destroy the world and I’ll tell you why you should stop trying so hard to save it.”
I have gathered all my things, including my semi-awake livestock, but oddly enough, I am still glued to my seat.
“So there’s this place on Fullton Street. Attilio. Six tables, small, tiny. Best food. Unbeatable coffee. Once you have an
Attilio espresso, you’ll kill yourself before having any other coffee. Next Wednesday?”
Now the economy passengers are walking past us. We are the only business class ones still seated. “Somehow, I always took you for a decaf, no-foam, non-fat, soy latte type,” I say. Perfect. Hide behind more meaningless banter.
“I can be old school. So Attilio’s then, next Wednesday,
I try reminding him I am not a coffee drinker. But that conversation goes into another silly loop, faithfully following
the trajectory of all our previous conversations and stilting so off-topic that what was actually being said was somehow lost. My boy is telling us to get a move on. After monk-like patience for fifteen hours, he is finally showing us who he is: a little person who can squirm and stretch himself so taut that he can be mistaken for a hardwood octopus.
“I need to go,” I say, making paltry, busy movements but remaining firmly in lockdown mode.
He puts out his hand. “Hang on, I might need some good counselling on why I shouldn’t invest in an overpriced blood diamond for my fiancé’s three- or maybe four-carat ring.”
“So will you go first or should I?”
“Why can’t we go together? Introduce me to Escobar.”
“Please carry on. You probably don’t have too many bags.”
“Just the one here. I’ll be out of the airport in a minute. But why leave like strangers?”
For some reason I am still in physical and verbal lockdown mode. He is still waiting for an answer. I don’t have a logical one. Like most of my recent actions and puzzling inactions, this is led by instinct. For the record, I hate my instincts. They throw logic under the bus and make me feel and see things light years ahead of when the rest of me is equipped to make sense of them. After all the banter and the laughter and the cringing and the teasing and the criticizing and the confessing, I have seen it. A small red flag, valiantly fluttering in the distance, demanding to be seen, heard, and honoured.
“What are you doing here? This is odd—shouldn’t we exchange numbers? What’s your point?” He throws me a sentence strung together by question marks and genuine bewilderment.
PC: Fingerprint! Publication/ Sonia Bahl
Excerpted with permission from A Year of Wednesdays, page 14 to17, by Sonia Bahl, Fingerprint! Publishing.
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