I’m not sure what it is about flying that makes me feel…romantic. Maybe it is the knowledge that up there in the sky it’s just me and ‘the man’, in the moment. In a world where romantic encounters have been limited to dating apps and social media, perhaps the idea of a chance encounter at the airport makes it exciting. Or, I don’t know, when you meet someone at an airport, you know there’s no running away. Sure, an airport is a big place but imagine if you’re on the same flight to the same destination- you’re bound to each other for the duration of the flight, and anything, literally, anything can happen in a closed capsule.
As a teenager, I would feel so sure that I would meet someone on holiday and we’d both end up being from the same place and we’d exchange the most riveting conversation and then our phone numbers and that would be it. But that never happened. I only ever saw guys at the airport who were much older than me. Super attractive, for sure, and of course I would try to look the part of ‘hot woman at the airport’ but at age 15 I was struggling with body and face issues (in that I didn’t think either of those things was attractive on me) and also, a 30-year-old attractive man is not on the lookout for a 15-year-old moderately tolerable looking girl. If he is, I would alert the authorities. Insecurity replaced romance.
As I grew older, I started feeling more confident in my face and body and so issues of insecurity subsided but were unfortunately replaced by issues of thinking that I am too good and that if someone at the airport bar or lounge were to ask me ‘excuse me, is this seat taken?’, it would be because they want to sit next to me and chat me up, not because they need the seat. This state of mind wasn’t brought on because I was too self-absorbed, no. It was because of incident after incident.
There was one time at Heathrow when I was sat in the airport lounge, waiting to board my flight back home when a Nigerian man- rather good-looking- asked me if he could sit next to me because the lounge seemed full. I had no reason to doubt that the lounge was full. After all, it was Christmas, and loads of people were heading out.
‘Of course’, I said, waving a hand towards the chair in front of me.
He smiled and thanked me and sat down. I am not much of a conversationalist with strangers, but I am also not rude, so when he asked where I was headed, I had to reply.
‘Dubai’, I said.
‘Oh, no way, I am headed to Dubai as well’, he said.
‘Oh!’ I said.
God, I hope he isn’t sat next to me on the plane, I thought.
I learnt that the man was in transit in Dubai and that his final destination was Lagos. He was in London for work and was now heading back home and was excited to see his family again. Work kept him rather busy and on the move between Lagos and London but he didn’t mind because he loved both cities so dividing his time equally between both cities was easy for him. He said that he would love to see me when I get back to London after Christmas. He said he thought I looked very pretty and that I had a beautiful smile and beautiful lips.
At his last comment, I cringed inwardly and decided that I was going to have to create an imaginary boyfriend to be able to get out of this one. I knew just how the conversation would play out if I didn’t.
Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t think I’d like to see you when we’re back in London.
Because you’re not exactly my type of person
Is it because I’m black?
The conversation would invariably take the racist turn as it always did. Living in a predominantly Black part of London, I had had the same conversation with multiple men. They’d ask to see me again, I’d say no, they’d ask me why and somehow ‘I am not interested’ just wouldn’t suffice.
‘I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend’, I finally said to him.
‘Your boyfriend doesn’t like it when you have male friends?’
‘He doesn’t like it when my male friends say I have beautiful lips. Literally, none of my male friends says things like that.’
A few awkward minutes later I realised that I could just leave the lounge and go to the food court, or the Duty-Free shop, or Costa, or any part of the airport where I didn’t have to sit next to this beautiful Nigerian man.
I finally found a quiet spot in Pret a Manger and settled in with a mango and lime bowl. Why hadn’t I just done this to begin with? I have coffee, a book, my music, and a socket so I don’t run out of battery on my phone. The only thing the lounge had was free wine. Ah, I see why I had ended up there.
A few minutes passed by in the comfort of reading with soft meditation music on my headphones before I felt the presence of someone standing behind me.
“Excuse me”, I heard the sound of a man’s voice and turned to look at him. “Oh, you’re reading The Namesake!” he exclaimed.
I examined him for a second- it looked like the airport was filled with good-looking guys today. But I wasn’t in the mood today. The romance died when I realised that a majority of guys are just looking to chat women up, that the airport love story is true only for films, and that if someone were to get my number now, they would most definitely not be texting me. I could play games with this one or I could just be absolutely 100% clear with him about my intention of having no intention.
“Okay, listen”, I sighed. “I have already lied once today about having a boyfriend and I am tired of having to do this over and over. I’m just going to save you the trouble. I think you’re very handsome but I am not interested at the moment. You can take this seat if you want”, I added, seeing as the shop was full too and me having turned him down shouldn’t stop him from having a comfortable spot to sit in before boarding his flight.
He slowly smiled and chuckled.
“On behalf of men, I would like to apologize to you”, he said.
I chuckled. “Apology accepted.”
“But I only wanted to tell you that you’ve dropped your boarding pass on the floor.”
I looked underneath my table and saw that I had indeed dropped my boarding pass and that egg and my face were very much in alignment.
“Right”, I said as my face propped back up from the table. “I’m sorry for being presumptuous!”
“It’s alright, you’re a pretty girl, I bet you get a lot of attention”, he chuckled. “I was hoping to sit here though, everywhere else is full and Costa is shit.”
I smiled. “Costa IS shit”, I said and slid the empty chair in front of me in his direction, at which he smiled and sat down.
“I’m Kabir, by the way”, he said.
“I’m Maya”, I said, shaking his hand.
“Where are you headed, Maya?”
“What are you doing in Dubai then?”
“Visiting family”, I said. “You?”
“I’m attending a friend’s wedding in Barcelona.”
I wanted to get back to reading my book but I also wanted to listen to him talk. Kabir seemed smart- well-read, well-traveled. He was different from the guys that were usually around me. He wasn’t overly into video games, he didn’t think ‘politics is stupid’, and we had an actual conversation going instead of him just throwing around words like ‘sick’ or ‘innit bruv’.
Before we knew it, an hour had passed and it was time for us to head to our respective gates.
‘I’m B32', he said, looking at his boarding pass.
‘I’m C66', I sighed, picking up my bag.
‘We could walk to the transit together’, Kabir shrugged.
‘Yeah, we could’, I nodded with a smile.
‘I know you said you’ve lied once today about having a boyfriend’, he said slowly as we headed in the direction of the transit.
‘But would you like to get a drink with me when we’re both back in London?’
I looked up at him as the speakers announced the transit for Gates C52-C66 was going to be at the platform in two minutes.
‘I would’, I nodded.
‘Great’, he said. ‘Do you want to put your number down for me?’ he said, getting his phone out of his pocket.
‘Sure’, I said, dialing my number. I handed his phone back to him and he pressed the call button.
‘There, now you have mine too’, he said with a smile.
The transit arrived and I was on my way to Gate C66, feeling a little bit warmer than I had done before, and a little bit more romantic than I had done for a long time.
‘How was home?’ my friend Samara asked me as she undid her coat and lay it on the sofa in my living room. I had got back to London the previous night and Samara had decided to pay me a visit to catch me up on any London gossip I had missed while I’d been home.
I told her about everything that had gone on at home and she proceeded to tell me about all the drama that had arisen in my absence in her life. When it looked like her story was finished, I decided to bring up something that had been on my mind for a while.
‘I actually met a lovely man at Heathrow before Christmas’, I said, refilling Samara’s glass of wine.
‘Did you?’ she gasped with excitement.
I told her about how I had mistaken him for another chatter-upper and how we ended up having an enjoyable conversation, how we had exchanged numbers, and how he was yet to call me.
‘But I have his number, so maybe I could text him’, I said.
‘Mm, no, you don’t want to seem needy’, she shook her head.
I never understood why there were so many rules in place about who calls whom first, and why I couldn’t just say what I was feeling. But Samara had a good point- if he wanted to speak to me, he would have got in touch with me. No guy has been known to give away control to a woman.
‘Maya, this seems to be getting worse.’
I was standing in front of the mirror, my husband Arjun standing at the door, looking at me as I examined a rash on my stomach.
‘Doesn’t it?’ I said and turned to look at him, his face masked with a look of concern.
I smiled. It was adorable how much Arjun cared about a silly rash.
Life had turned out fine in the last eight years. Arjun and I met five years ago through a dating app and just before our first date Samara had insisted she would stay in my flat until I came home so that if Arjun were to drop me home and insist on getting physical with me without my consent, I could let Samara know through a signal and she could phone the police. Luckily, consent had been forthcoming and two years later, a big fat Indian wedding had happened.
‘I’ve got at an appointment with a dermatologist after work’, I said, letting go of my top.
‘Do you want me to come with you?’ he said.
‘I’m not a child, Arjun’, I chuckled.
That evening I made way into the surgery on Harley Street.
‘I’m so sorry Madam’, the receptionist said, ‘Dr. Sepiolo had an urgent family business but we do have Dr. Saigal available, is that alright?’
‘No problem’, I said with a smile and sat down.
A few seconds later, a nurse came out of the treatment room
‘Mrs. Dewan?’ she said.
I stood up. ‘That’s me.’
‘Dr. Saigal is ready for you.’
I followed her into the empty treatment room.
‘He’ll be with you in a moment.’
‘Mrs. Dewan’, I heard a male voice a few seconds later. Dr. Saigal walked towards his desk and I turned to look at him.
‘Maya’, he said slowly, a small smile on his face.
‘Kabir’, I almost gasped.
Suddenly, it was 2011 again. I was at Heathrow, an ineffable attraction towards Kabir taking over me. I was too dazed to be involved in a conversation with him. All I wanted to do was ask him what had happened all those years ago. Why hadn’t he called me all those years ago? Could I have been his wife instead? That was a wicked thought. I loved Arjun. No, I can’t think of Kabir that way.
Kabir asked me to lay down on my back and lift my shirt up to reveal the rash. He carefully examined it and prescribed an ointment.
‘If it doesn't show signs of healing in a few days, feel free to call me’, he said.
‘Right, great, thank you’, I said. I gathered my things and thanked him again and stood up to leave- but curiosity got the better of me.
‘Why didn’t you call me, Kabir?’ I said.
He looked up at me. ‘I beg your pardon?’
‘All those years ago. I thought we had such a connection. I was so attracted to you. But you didn’t call. I always wondered. Do you know what, this is stupid, I’m sorry. It’s been years, I shouldn’t have said anything!’ I said and turned to leave.
‘I wanted to call you’, he said, walking up towards me. ‘Ugh, this is so silly!’
‘Why didn’t you?’
‘I went to Barcelona for that wedding and…well, we got drunk at the pre-party and I dropped my phone in the toilet. I lost all my contacts, everything. Nothing was backed up. I had to literally post my blackberry pin on Facebook to get people to add me!’
I chuckled. ‘Blackberry. God, how long ago was this?’
‘I was hoping you’d call me’, he said. ‘I thought you had my number.’
I felt a drowning sensation. I did have his number. I still had it. Instead of using my own instinct, I had chosen to take Samara’s word as gospel and not contact Kabir because if he’d been keen enough, he’d have let me know.
‘Well, no use digging that up now. Life chose other things for us’, he said with a smile.
That night, as I scrubbed the ointment into my skin, I wondered.
Would life have been different if I had called Kabir? Would we have gone on our first date? Would we have had a second, third, fourth date? Would we have introduced each other to our parents? Would we have met each others’ friends? Would we have had a future? Would I have been his patient this evening, or would he have met me for dinner later tonight? Would we have had our own wedding in Barcelona? I was happy with Arjun but would I have been happier with Kabir? If Kabir and I weren’t meant to be, why did Kabir come back into my life? What is this web that life weaves where Dr. Sepiolo should have a family emergency on the same day that I am meant to come in for a rash caused after eating sushi- and I don’t even like sushi! Why do we not just say what we feel instead of listening to people’s advice? Why don’t we trust ourselves and our instincts?