The day I met Benedict

I was one trippy suitcase away from losing the little sanity I had. That, and the ruse of confidence that I had managed to play up during the security check at the airport. I was sure America (like in all those movies) would find a way of making me look like a guilty brown girl trafficking back, um, way too many suspicious skittles. I could almost hear the guard saying, “Miss we have a problem here. We may have to detain you in a shabby prison for the rest of your life.” And then he’d snatch away my precious passport and leave me begging on my knees, in a totally not sexy way.

I don’t know why I’m scared of airports. I mean, when I was traveling from India to USA, I had this disturbing fear that they’d never let me go. And on the way back, I was scared that’d never let me come back. It is safe to say that being alone in an airport terrified the life out of me. The airport was the Big Bad Wolf and I was all Three Pigs in one: Naive, Stupid, and too much of an Ass to admit that I could go wrong sometimes.

So here I was all alone, very hungry and tad bit scared that at any time now I’ll be deported to Antarctica or something.

I decided to settle the important things. My luggage had already been checked in, so even if I didn’t reach India properly hopefully all the books I bought from Barnes and Noble will. My hand luggage had been sniffed by the electronic monster which meant they really couldn’t say I was carrying drugs, yada yada yada, cue CIA movies. So I HAD to eat.

Now eating alone in college is daunting enough. Try doing it at an airport where you can’t even pretend that you’re actually busy. I mean, I’m 18 sans un laptop, with a phone that will have free wifi for only about 20 more minutes and about 10000 copies of my flight details in case they find a reason not to let me on the plane. (Is this phobia even real?!) So I go down, taking a nice stroll, finding no place desirable enough to dine at. Where art thou, beautiful MCDonalds? Then I make the foolish mistake of going into a place that only accepts cards, but thankfully realize so without ordering anything first because then staying at this damn airport forever would be guaranteed. Anyhow I find an okay place and get a wrap (which I didn’t finish eating and brought back to India, a wrap that’s 16 hours stale and traveled across the world) and even got daring enough to get a coffee that I sipped while walking to my gate. After I get my passport checked and done, made conversation with a lady coming to India to ‘discover it’s beauties’ (aka people spitting pan onto the road) (I am not a cynic) I finally think, “Phew I might actually make it home.”

That’s when I let my guard down and decide on resting my bum.

At this point in time, the gates 71 and 72 the former to Mumbai and latter to London are thoroughly crowded. I give up pretenses of being really cool sipping my coffee that has burnt my tongue far too many times, and concentrate on finding a seat. THERE! I began moving toward it, almost running and succeeding if I didn’t have my stupid hand luggage whose wheels never spun in the direction I wanted to go. When I got there, huffing and puffing like a mad lady escaping from an asylum, I see this tall, light browned haired man eyeing MY seat.

Then he looked at me.

I could have fainted but I think the caffeine was keeping me upright.

He then did this little bow and motioned his hand to tell me I should take the seat. I did. Because as I mentioned I was still recovering from a bout of oh-my-god-is-he-cute-or-what?! Then I realized that the seat next to mine was empty too. Phew. At least now I didn’t have to feel bad about keeping him standing. Then, I realized, oh the seat is dirty which is why he never sat there in the first place. I don’t know what got into me, but as he tried to make comfy with whatever the clean part of the seat offered him, I whipped out my handkerchief (which is extremely soft and precious to me) and give it to him to wipe his seat.

Did he have his own handkerchief? Probably. Why did I do what I did? I still don’t know.

After that, I resolved to put my earphones on and pretend like I didn’t care and I was a normal girl whp handed out handkerchiefs to everyone on every airport. Yeah. Yeah. Good cover.

It didn’t work.

He tapped me. I was forced to unplug my earphones but I knew I was hit by relief. I couldn’t just sit there pretending when obviously I have major social anxiety issues and what I did was not only brave but totally not me. I can’t even buy a ticket without getting nervous. Talking to complete stranger? Uh, no.
But here he was asking me what I was listening to and making a big joke out of the waiting area we were in. In due course he told me he was a photographer. (I should have guessed. He had camera round his neck and his hand luggage consisted of two camera bags) He asked me my age – Because I don’t know – I told him how this was my second flight ever and my 1st time being all alone. He asked me if I was going to London and that’s when I realized that he was. He told me he had just come from a photo shoot that he did for a magazine. I never bothered asking which one. He told me he had been to India, at which point I thought he was faking only to keep the conversation going. But then he said he lived at Bandra, got caught by the police at Juhu Beach for filming and was asked to pay a bribe and ended the entire story saying “Forking cops!” (Yes that’s exactly how he pronounced it.)

Too soon it was time for me to board my plane. The funny thing is his flight was supposed to take off before mine, at least half an hour. But it got delayed and he spent an entire hour with me instead. We both got up to queue at our respectful gates, he finally finding his friend who was supposed to accompany him. As I passed my the flight attendant to check my documents, I waved out to him. The tall lad in the wayward suit and tousled hair waved back and he kept smiling at me.

I may never meet him again.

Never. Ever. Ever.

And I keep reminding myself that. Two people at the same place, no matter how much it is planned, is a coincidence nonetheless. And it’s beautiful how moments like these can happen, how you can speak to someone who has a completely different world painted around, almost like a solar system of their own, where they are the center of everything. How they have different words that are precious, different bus handles to hold on to, different purposes to push to limit to. And for one whole second, if you’re lucky, their sun crashes into yours. And it’s chaotic and inconceivable and totally coincidental.

Mycroft: What do we say about coincidences?
Sherlock: The Universe is rarely so lazy.
(The Sign of Three, 2014)

“What is your name?” he asked me.

Having an Indian name I knew he would butcher it. “Salonie,” I said, slowly, feeling the word in my mouth.

“Salonie. It’s a beautiful name.”

“And yours?” I ask.

“Benedict.”

I freeze. Then unfreeze. Because no, even if by some chance I did manage to fall into some time travel shenanigans and meet the younger version, this is not how Ben looked like. Coincidence.

My face lights up silly.

I say, “I’m gonna be brave and presume that your surname is not Cumberbatch.”

“Definitely not that bloke!” he laughs.

-Vee

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