London

Fumes and mute conversations
Red buses and red buildings
Standing amidst
Moving adrift
Fenced by my earphones
The lone star and I
Solitude acknowledged in the sky.

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The Accident

Liverpool

Our bus halts. There isn’t any bus stop in immediate vicinity. I don’t notice it at first, still enjoying the lingering taste of Dorayakis on my tongue. We had dropped these Japanese pancakes on the floor of the bus while trying to open the packet. That hadn’t stopped us from eating them though. We had picked them immediately and stuffed them into our mouths. There’s always that three seconds rule.

“Sorry, you’ll have to get off here. The road is closed ahead,” the driver tells us. Abruptly brought back into reality, we stare at him, puzzled.

“Don’t worry. Your stop is just 2 minutes walk away.”

We thank him and get off the bus. A few seconds pass by deciding which way we should head to. Which nothingness are we willing to choose tonight? The right one or the left? Our London plans are always nothing. We end up going to the same places, every time – Soho, Piccadilly, Camden, Shoreditch. London is too big to be explored on spontaneous weekend plans. We walk anyway, to the left or maybe to the right, hoping to find an interesting place and probably meet interesting people. My hopes are dim. The night has progressed too deep and it’s Sunday – nothing’s going to be open. But I am enjoying shivering in the cold and unsuccessfully trying to find the top of the buildings around me. It’s the first time I have been in Liverpool. With fancy buildings and offices splashed all over the man-made scenery I am walking through, I am too amazed to know where to look and fix my gaze at.

“So, that’s why the road was closed…” Lee nudges me.

I look at the ambulance as well. There’s been an accident.

Accidents are not unknown to me. I have seen plenty on Indian roads – the overturned trucks, cars with shattered windshields and their engines bleeding green, two wheelers lying in the middle of road – the victims engaged in a verbal fight, curious people gathering around them and traffic growing rapidly behind.

Lee and I continue walking past the accident scene.

“I..I..” a man is sobbing in front of us, trying to speak but failing horribly.

“There’s a woman on the road..” I tell Lee as cold shiver traverses through my backbone. She nods and we both look at her, immediately turn away afraid of what we might end up seeing. I can’t help it though. I turn to look again. There are three paramedics around her. She’s lying motionless, head covered in blood.

“Paramedics are already there, she should be alright,” I think.

I recall the face of the of the man we had just walked past. So, it was his car…

“Do you think…” I try asking something, immediately forgetting, feeling colder, falling numb. I want to get out of here. We both walk as briskly as we can.

“That woman was-”

“Dead” Lee completes the sentence for me.

I look at her, blink for a couple of seconds, wondering if there was a question mark or a full stop at the end of what she had just said.

The Movie Premier

We were walking on the streets of London again, still thinking about Mochi. Our tongues craved for one more but we were determined not to succumb to our perverse insatiable greed for this Japanese dessert.

“Is today 12th?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” I said checking my phone.

“I am not sure, I need to check, but if I think what’s tonight is really happening tonight, it might just turn out to be the best night of our lives.”

“Oh, nice!” I clasped my hands in excitement pretending I understood what she said.

“Yes! I know where we need to go!”

I followed Lee blindly. Wherever she would take me, I would happily go. No, I wasn’t in love, we just didn’t have any other plan.

We talked, walking on the pavements, crossing the roads, watching people around us.

“Look at that lady,” I mumbled to Lee. “Yes, I saw,” she nodded.

“I want to be like her when I am old.”

“Me too,” I thought. Who wouldn’t? How could one care to be so well dressed even at eighty something? I didn’t intend to be offensive, if that thought is offensive in anyway. I was just shocked because I am twenty four and I have given up on life already. I don’t even bother to comb my hair sometimes. I wear the same canvas every day. I wear the same jumper. I wear the same jacket. I don’t bother wearing contact lens, I prefer saving two minutes over doing nothing and looking weird in specs instead. This lady, on the other hand, was a model. How does she have so much life? Bottle green stylish hat, velvet dress, shiny pearls, red but not too loud lipstick, white gloves – Posh and graceful – this is what I would like to be. How do I end up being messy and loud instead?

Later, we started coming across even more fashionably dressed people. Despite expensive looking silk gowns and gloves, crisp and handsome tuxedos, no one could be compared to the old lady we had just seen though. The shiny sparkly queue of glamorous rich people was boisterous and long. Everyone seemed happy. Why wouldn’t they be? They were going to watch Star Wars with people who had starred in that movie themselves.

Lee was brimming with excitement. We walked till the very end of the queue, at the entrance of the Royal Theater. Actors were stepping out of the Limousine, posing in front of the camera, stopping by to say a word or few to the anchor, waving to the crowd, signing some autographs, smiling at the camera again and then going inside the theater.

We could have tried asking for an autograph or a selfie too, but we were on the sadder side of the barricade. The side that you don’t have to pay truck load of money for. I stared at the huge LED screen while Lee tried clicking some photos by going closer to the barricade hoping for better angles and views.

Star War premier, who would have thought?

A part of me was excited. I wanted to post photos on facebook, send snaps to my friends in India. “STAR WAR PREMIER! WOW!” #London #IloveLondon #RoyalTheater #soexcited #unbelievable #likereallyunbelievable #Pleasetellmeyouarejealous

But I didn’t.

Wish I had watched even a single Star War movie. Wish I had given a fuck.

How not to book your International Flight Tickets – A ray of hope

Part – I

Part – II

Part – III

The gloomiest day ever. I tried to divert my attention by watching people, reading a bit, writing a bit, eating little and mostly weeping my heart out in a way that nobody noticed. Morning, Noon, Evening. I wish time had passed as quickly as these three words. But they hadn’t. They had been spent imagining number of ways things could go further wrong. Because that’s how you cheer yourself up, don’t you? I was standing in the Check in queue again. Deja Vu? Yes. But this time, I didn’t have to abandon it. Slowly but steadily, I finally made it to the check in counter only to be told that my flight had been delayed and I might miss the connecting flight to London.

Wow, just when I thought that the drama was about to end.

So consider this – You want to get to the Heathrow Airport as soon as possible. All the flights leaving from Mumbai to London are not only booked but “overbooked”. So the flight that you have booked is a funny one – It takes you to Ahmedabad International Airport ( a much much smaller airport than Mumbai’s) and then from there you catch another flight to Heathrow. You have just been told that your flight to Ahmedabad has been delayed and you might miss the other one that takes you to London.

Perfect. So what do you do? You stand dazed for a couple of minutes but then by some miracle, your brain starts functioning again.You talk to the supervisor and beg. Your voice is shaky, eyes heavy with dark clouds yearning to pour the fuck down yet again. You are there standing vulnerable, wishing that your emergency gets through to the person you are talking to.

And somehow, somehow it does.

“Yeah, your flight has been delayed but I can put you to another one which leaves earlier.” She said.

Yeah! DO that! Why didn’t you think of that before?

So there was still hope. I was shifted to another flight. My check in finally got completed and I walked to the boarding gate and waited some more. I knew I should have been calm but I couldn’t help but cry a bit now and then. Good thing nobody noticed and if they did they didn’t utter a word to me. I hadn’t slept properly in three days. I had been frustrated as fuck and this journey was turning out to be a lot longer than I expected. I fucking hated that Airport. I always will. The glamorous shops near the infinite boarding gates sparked zero interest in me. I tried watching a movie and a TV series but nothing cheered me up. I waited and prayed that my flight didn’t get delayed. But adding to my misery, it did. What could I do? Anxiously, I waited some more. Finally the boarding began. There wasn’t much margin left. That plane had to take off ASAP. Just when I had finally reached the end of the queue and handed over my boarding pass to the attendant to scan it in the system, he told me that there was something wrong with it. For some mysterious reason it wasn’t getting recognized. Everyone else who had been in the queue was already inside the plane. And I stood there at the gate waving them good bye.

You asked for some suspense in your life, didn’t you? Here. Have plenty.

I hoped it was just a small glitch. I hoped they would find some solution soon and ultimately wouldn’t bar me from boarding the flight. But I was super high on Malana frustration and even this small event was enough to trigger an outburst of tears. Now, when I look back it’s quite embarrassing to picture how I might have looked in front of those flight attendants. But they said nothing. When the system refused to comply, they manually entered my boarding pass and finally I was on-board. But all this suspense wasn’t for London. It was for Ahmedabad – a city much closer to my hometown than Mumbai, where rains generally don’t fuck you over this badly.

My phone beeped bringing a silver lining in the dark clouds. I had received a message saying that my flight to London had been delayed as well by two hours. For the first time, in what seemed like years, I breathed a sigh of relief. This delay meant better time margin and better chances of me catching that flight on time.

Soon I reached and I went to the International Check in counter. “Excuse me, do I need to check in my bag again for the London flight? I just flew from Mumbai.” I asked.

“You flew from Mumbai?” she asked back.

Yeah, I know it seems odd. It’s a fucking long story. You have no fucking idea.

“Yeah, you need not check in your bag. Don’t worry about it.” She added.

I crossed the immigration, and waited for two hours in the most boring International Airport ever built on the face of the Earth. In the end, the dreaded time margin turned out to be much longer than it should have been. But I was happy simply to be away from Mumbai. I wondered if I should call back home since my family was oblivious of all this and pretty much in assumption that I had reached England already. I should have told them that I was still here, in Gujarat itself but I didn’t call them. It was only when the boarding actually started that I told my mother the whole story but this time with a positive note – “Don’t worry, I am boarding the flight right now.”

The moment I boarded the plane was a very simple one. There was no music or applause. I just walked with my swollen eyes and stinking body, fully devoid of euphoria but brimming with relief . When I finally took my seat it wasn’t happiness that gripped me, it was an odd image of my own self consoling me, “There there, everything will be okay now.”

But everything wasn’t going to be okay just yet.

*

Part – IV

How not to book your International Flight Tickets – The Beginning

Part – I

The two months that I had stayed in my home thinking I would be reading, writing and even perhaps learning how to play Piano had ended. I hadn’t read. I hadn’t written. I had forgotten whatever I learnt about playing Piano. I had spent my youth and my old age waiting in Bank and begging them to take my request for Education loan on priority. I had circled around the court for gathering weird documents for this loan, I had printed all sorts of stuff for my VISA application and then I had spent rest of the days compiling them as per VISA guidelines. And whatever time that was left after all this, I had spent it on “trying to learn” how to cook and bitching about State Bank of India to literally every person I could.

But all that struggle had finally come to an end. My loan had been approved, tuition fees had been paid, I had received my VISA, I had packed my bags and now I was ready to leave.The train to Mumbai was going to depart at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I had woke up early despite staying up late, bathed, ate and now I was sitting restlessly with my eyes fixated on the minute hand of the clock and butterflies fluttering inside my stomach. The adventure was about to begin. In five hours, I would be in Mumbai. In twenty hours I would be in Norwich – my current city of dreams. Odd – I know – not everybody is aware of this city’s existence, certainly I wasn’t till a couple of months ago. But there I was, dreaming of boarding the flight to the smallest city I would ever live in. I called the cab, one of the last times I would be using Uber and I excitedly hopped into the taxi bidding adieu to my mother.

Day one of my nightmare had officially commenced. But I had no idea it was a nightmare at all.

The cab dropped me at the Railway station. I excitedly strode to the Platform with my “Norwich dreams” only to find that my train was delayed by five hours. This was the first indication of how things were going to go horribly wrong down the road but though I acknowledged that it wasn’t a good sign but I merely deemed it as a minor setback. I had booked tickets with good time margin between them. So the delay didn’t bother me much. At least till the next hour. Then doubts began to spring in my head like weeds in a garden. I made the judgement call. I decided to take the bus instead. For the first time in my life, I used the station’s wifi and searched for the earliest bus cursing Indian Railways under my breath. Fortunately, I did find a bus that was about to leave in twenty minutes. Hurriedly, I made a dash for the Exit. I paid the Autorickshaw driver three times higher than the regular fare to reach the bus stop, booked the bus with three times higher fare than the train’s ticket price and unknowingly stepped further into the dreadful adventure. I boarded the sleeper bus, fell asleep with my shoes on, only to be awakened by the conductor asking me to take them off and shift to the upper seat. Though a bit irritated, I obediently did what he asked me to do and stared outside as the first few drops of rain hit the window. I had heard the news that it was raining hard in Mumbai – first from a fellow passenger and then from my sister who was already in Mumbai since the previous day – a visit planned to see me before I fly to Norwich. I hoped for the best and took another small nap.

My phone, one of the last few times my Indian number shall be used, rang. It was my sister again. “It’s raining really hard here.” she said. “Even I am stuck in traffic. Where are you?”

“Somewhere in the highway.” I replied.

“Okay, turn your live location on.”

“I have run out of my net pack.” Because who needs it when you are supposed to leave the country in about six hours?

“I will get it recharged,” she replied.

I could sense higher level of adrenaline in my blood but there was nothing I could do but wait. And waiting is all I did for the next three days but of course I didn’t know that yet. What I did know was Mumbai rains were going to fuck me over. And that they did. Soon the roads turned into shallow rivers and traffic began to drift excruciatingly slowly. Panic? Yeah, I was drenched completely in it. But the movie had just started. My sister was calling me pretty frequently now. We were both wondering how I was going to reach Airport at all. Luckily, the bus conductor came to my rescue. “Where do you want to get off ?” He asked. “Nearest place to the International Airport.”

“Well, it’s going to be troublesome.” You think so?

But the bus conductor turned out to be much more helpful than I expected. I spent a considerable amount of time talking to him and the driver when I sat next to the driver seat discussing Mumbai rains, occasional “risks” of helping people (especially a woman – Well I would rather not comment), about Conductor’s brother working abroad and finally about my plans of studying in England. The driver asked me how English currency looked like. After a moment of hesitation, I handed him a twenty pound note out of my wallet. He glanced at it in fascination and to my secret sigh of relief returned it to me. We had reached as near as we could to the airport. I had to get off now. Since I didn’t have any umbrella, the conductor walked me over to the back of the bus holding his umbrella over both of us. He took my luggage out of the storage and again walked me over to the nearest bus stop. I was walking barefoot with my shoes dangling over my neck. The rain was pouring down hard. Five minutes outside the bus and I was already wet. The conductor left me after giving me rough instructions for how to reach the Airport which I didn’t quite understand. All I did understand was that I needed to cross the road to get a Taxi. While walking towards the Skywalk that led to the opposite side of the road, I had the best stroll of my life with the clouds showering their brutality over me for no reason whatsoever (How dare you try to go to England, you stupid dumbfuck!), with my blurry vision (How dare you wear specs while it’s raining, you stupid dumbfuck!), my heavy luggage (How dare you carry so much while travelling to another country, you stupid dumbfuck!) and my wet clothes (How dare you wear clothes that get wet at all, you stupid dumbfuck!).

I was struggling hard to carry my bag upstairs in the Sky-walk. My plight must have been visible all over my face. It was then that I met my heroes. I almost choked on my mental tears of gratitude for them when they helped me with my luggage, first by carrying it up the stairs and then down. However, my troubles didn’t end there. I still had to get a taxi to the airport. And finding one had been the hardest thing I ever did in my life. Maybe after the loan. And after Engineering. And my job. By the time I had crossed the road through the foot over-bridge – I was already wet to the bone and so were my bags. I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted to get a cab. I walked up to the middle of the road multiple times leaving my bag into the supervision of a random person, hoping that it wouldn’t get stolen. Nobody stole anything and I finally found a taxi but I paid extraordinarily high fare to the cab driver. I reached the airport – my one and only ultimate goal of my life then. My heart uttered some really creative curse words for the Mumbai rains and the city’s horrendous drainage system but at the same time it brimmed with gratitude for Mumbai people; for all those kind strangers who had helped me. I had been so absorbed in this entire struggle that I didn’t realize that my bladder was very close to a rather embarrassing explosion. I hurriedly entered inside the airport. Duped by the perpetual lost expression on my face, one of the Attendants approached me and asked, “Are you looking for something?”

“Yeah, Washroom.” I said. The same washroom that I was going to use for the coming three days.

*

Part – II

Part – III

Part – IV