Tuesday, 15 November 2005

Along the way

"Do you mind if I sit here?"

I looked up at her. I was really engrossed in my book, the glass of tomato juice almost forgotten on the table. It took me a moment to understand her question. "Sure", I nodded, moving my bags to make place and removing my jacket from the other chair, putting it at the back of my chair.

She seemed to be around thirty, a big round red bindi in the middle of her forehead and wearing a crumpled pale chicken kurta. She took off a big black bag from her shoulder and then removed the big ruck-sack from her back. Sighing deeply, she sank onto the chair. I went back to my book. She sat there cupping her chin in her hands, her elbows on the table, looking at the queue in front of the cash counter, persons waiting to give their orders. I couldn't concentrate on my book but tried to go on with my reading, forcing myself to not to look at her.

Finally I looked up and took a sip of the juice from the glass. She was still sitting there with her chin in her hands, looking at the queue, lost in her thoughts, unaware of every thing else. Then her telephone rang. She moved slowly, bending down to pick up her black bag and searching inside for the telephone. By the time she found it, the telephone had stopped ringing. She looked at the telephone screen, pressing some buttons and her lips tightened. She put it back in the bag and closed it, placing it on the ground.

The telephone rang again almost immediately. This time she did not move. After a while it stopped ringing. I was suddenly embarassed. As if I had trespassed into her privacy. I looked at my watch. Perhaps, it was time for me to move. My flight was from the northern terminal and I had to take the shuttle train.

I picked up my jacket and the bag. Then I nodded at her but she was lost in her own world. As I walked away, her telephone started ringing again. I stopped briefly to look at her. She still sat there with her chin resting on her hands, her eyes closed.

I had put on two shirts, one over another but I was still shivering. I was almost tempted to wrap the woollen blanket in the room around me as I went out for dinner, but I resisted. Outside, it was still raining.

In the dining room, I was looking around for a place when I saw him. He smiled at me and nodded, pointing to the empty chair in front of him. I vaguely remembered him as we had waited at Bologna airport for the flight to Paris and both of us had missed our connecting flights.

Air France had put us at a hotel inside the Astrix resort, about 20 km from the airport. He seemed happy to have found an "Italian" co-passenger and was a little suprised when I told him my name, that was clearly not Italian.

I slowly sipped a glass of red wine, hoping it would warm me up. It was July and yet so terribly cold. In the mean time, he was gulping down big sips of a dark liquid, that was surely stronger than my wine. Emtying the glass, he raised his hand at the waiter for a refill.

I am not much of a drinker and after a little wine, I tend to become silent, if not downright sleepy. He was the other kind, the type who opens up after a few glasses. Soon he was telling me about himself. He lived in Reggio Emilia, about 30 km north of Bologna and worked for some factory that exported machines.

He didn't ask me any questions and I was content to listen to him, feeling the wine take away a bit of that chill that seemed to have seeped down to my bones. Soon he was telling me about his wife. She was anorexic and refused to eat. She was worried about gaining fat and in the process, thin as a skeleton. She had been admitted in hosiptal twice but nothing seemed to work. He said that he was stressed and not too sure if he could continue much morewith this life. In front of him, she tried to eat but he was sure that afterwards she went to the toilet to vomit.

I was horrified. I knew about anorexia but I had never thought about living with someone anorexic.

Soon he was crying. Big tears coming down on his cheeks. He was catholic he said, and divorce won't be right. But he had no other way. It was destroying him and he couldn't bear it any more.

We walked outside and the rain drops probably helped in stoping his crying.

"Good night, I am really tired, must go back to bed now!" I said. "Good night" he mumbled after me as I walked towards my room, thankful that it was in another wing of the hotel.

In the morning, when the airport bus came to pick us up, he didn't even nod at me. It was as if we were strangers.


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