Many of my friends and fans have asked me to write and publish a novel. I am doing the first part: to write. So, chapter by chapter, this novel, without any editing from my part, shall appear here on this blog. Please let me know in the comments if you like it. I shall also be looking at your comments if you don’t like it or any part of it; so that, if considered necessary, I can make amends. Alright, fasten your seat belts and prepare for this long flight.
The Jet Airways Flight from Mumbai to Goa was full. All flights to Goa are generally full at the end of the year; it being the favourite destination for Christmas and New Year Eve parties.
This was the last flight before Twinkle would have her holidays. She had joined Jet Airways three years back and, as in everything else in life, she didn’t entertain any regrets. She was an agreeable young lady with a radiant smile that all people close to her found infectious. Indeed, as far as passengers were concerned, it was the firm opinion of others in cabin crew that Twinkle had a kind of sobering effect on the passengers as if they were being served by one of their own. When Twinkle was selected for the Executive Class, none of the other crew objected; it was considered the most natural progression.
At the door, as the passengers came in, a lean and tall man, Twinkle gathered in his eighties, nearly tripped over an obstruction and she instantly bent to help him. He immediately righted himself, picked up his fallen walking stick and beamed a smile at her, “I think I can manage.” Just five words before the next passengers came in; but, Twinkle was sure those words conveyed far more than just the present tripping. It instantly occurred to her that perhaps he was making a statement about his entire life: ‘I think I can manage without any help from anyone. I am used to it’. However, the smile was not of derision or complaint, but, of acceptance, of being content with what life had dished out for him.
He was on seat 2F of the Executive Class space that had become her duty to serve. She offered to hang his jacket but he declined that. Later in the flight she realised why; he took out from one pocket his pouch of medicines. Later, when she offered him a newspaper he took out his reading glasses from another pocket and a pen to solve the crossword with. This man, she decided, didn’t depend upon people for anything. He was self-sufficient.
For the take-off, as she strapped herself to the folding chair, she could see him. He held both his hands together as if in prayer and closed his eyes. Many passengers did that and pretended that they were merely dosing off. However, he did that with great dignity as if he knew God would be instantly there when he’d close his eyes. Another glance and she found that a curious smile had formed on the edges of his lips as if in remembrance of something delightful. Perhaps, she thought a little mischievously, he was already in conversation with God. And then, it suddenly occurred to her that she was paying him far too much attention. It also surprised her to know that she couldn’t help it. There was something magnetic about this man in his eighties; she found herself being drawn to him, as if…as if…she forced herself not to drift into those thoughts and as soon as she announced about the seat belt sign having been switched off she jumped to her duties as a hostess.
There were eleven other passengers to be served but it occurred to her that she wanted to serve only him. “I don’t feel like eating anything”, he told her, “But, I have to since I shall be taking my medicine after that.” He didn’t indicate a choice and she didn’t want to be seen as fussing over; so, she decided that Continental Breakfast was what he’d prefer. He appeared to relish it but declined second helpings, even of bread. She noticed that the beverage was just black-tea. After the breakfast, she wanted to help him with his black leather bag in the overhead locker so as to take out the medicines, but, he took them out of a small plastic pouch in the right inner pocket of his coat.
After breakfast and medicines, he read the newspaper for a while and then started solving the crossword. He dozed off whilst holding the pen and the folded newspaper. She went to take the newspaper from his hands and she should have returned it to the pouch in front of his seat. But, curiosity got the better of her and she took the paper to her working space behind the curtain. She took the pen from his hand, capped it, and gently put it on the flat space between the two seats.
In her working pantry space, she found that the only word that he hadn’t solved was 16 Across and from the letters that were already inserted by him and the clue ‘Sometimes, even a small pebble thrown in a pond can cause_____, _____(7,7)’ she could guess the solution: UNDYING RIPPLES. She started guessing as to why had he left inserting the other letters; the solution was so obvious. Why? Didn’t he know? Was it too difficult? It then occurred to her that she was fascinated by the clue he had left for her to solve! Perhaps he wanted her to! She took out her pen and inserted the missing letters that didn’t make any difference in the other solutions either across or down.
His head had tilted to the right whilst dozing and she went back to insert a pillow between the head and the back-rest next to the window. She also reclined his seat to make him comfortable. Fortunately, he had kept the seat-belt on. She put the window shutter down.
Just before the landing, she went back to upright his seat, open the window shutter and perhaps to wake him up but, she noticed, there was no movement from him whatsoever. She touched him and found him rather cold. She hurried back to make an announcement requesting if there was any doctor on the flight. A kindly gentleman from the economy class approached seat 2F, made the motions of checking his pulse, eyes etc and shook his head, “I am afraid the passenger has died in his sleep.”
Despite her training, she almost screamed. She went and reported to the Captain and the Co-pilot and they made arrangements on the ground to receive the dead body. Since he was at the window seat, he won’t be in the way of disembarking passengers.
Whilst preparing him to be taken away, she wanted to know who he was. She felt for his boarding pass in the outside left pocket of his coat. As she felt for and took out his boarding pass, a picture fell out.
She glanced at the picture and nearly fainted.
It was the picture of her mother.
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