It was winter break and I was going back home for the holidays. I boarded a flight from Pune to Kolkata. As the plane took off, a wrinkled hand tightly clutched my arm. The woman was probably in her late eighties. She had dark brown eyes and her hair were as white as Santa’s beard. Her long straight nose served as a bridge to her pink but dry lips. There was something in her eyes and the way she held my arm that told me how afraid she was of travelling in a plane.
I asked her, “Is it the first time you’re travelling by an airplane?” She nodded.
None of us spoke for a while. It was after half an hour or so that she started talking on a serious note. She did not introduce herself nor did she ask me anything. She narrated an incident from the pages of her past when she was a young woman. She was slightly confused about the day it happened. Her eyes were wandering at a place far away from here, in a time that no more exists. She conversed in a singsong way, almost like a kid reciting a poem. Her voice had a craving for those lost times.
“It was a stormy night. I was travelling by a train when a woman entered the compartment with her infant son. She was wet from head to toe, and was shivering. I gave her the towel that I was carrying in my bag and took the infant from her. I turned my back towards her to take out something warm to wrap the boy but as I turned around the woman had fainted. But when I checked her pulse I realized that the boy who was just few months old had lost her mother. I did not know what to do. I am a widow and never had any children of my own. My thoughts could not gravitate towards a single point. They constantly wandered off in opposite directions. It was as if my mind had split up in two halves. A part of me floated like a hydrogen-filled balloon and I decided to take the boy with me. I got off the next station and did not tell anyone about the woman. I felt remorse but the feeling that I would not have to live alone anymore kept me from saying anything about this incident. I am telling you this because I am going for “my” son’s wedding and want to get rid of the weight of my past that has always haunted me. Sometimes it’s just safer to confide in a stranger rather than someone you have known for years.”
Silence interrupted the one-sided flow of the conversation. I wanted to say something but the words seemed unnecessary and inaccessible. I held her hand and a few moments later, she fell asleep. I do not have any memory of how the time passed after that or what thoughts encircled in my head. All I remember is that I kept looking out of the window holding her wrinkled hands in mine. When the plane was about to land, I noticed that her hands were cold. I patted on her shoulders to wake her up but…the grown-up boy who was getting married had lost her mother again.
I untwined my hands from hers and looked out of the window for the last time as if to catch a glimpse of her passing soul.