Medha Godbole

I have been dabbling into creative writing for almost a decade now. Currently working as a Content creator and seo analyst, I have written a few short stories and would like to publish a novel some day. Meanwhile some of my pieces have been a part of SweetyCat Press’s anthologies. I am a film buff and an avid traveller. I have a travel blog too.

The Layover

Vikram Khanna and Vaani Mehra were at the New Delhi Airport, in the line for the security check. The terminal was teeming with passengers travelling within and outside India. There were those who had landed in India from other countries. In this humdrum, it was difficult to hear even the person who in front of you in the queue. Vikram looked at Vani, standing in the men’s line. Vani was 36, a Chartered Accountant with a well-known firm. She was fair and had a lustrous mane of hair which she mostly tied in a bun. She was dressed appropriately, yet smartly for travel. A simple and properly fitting maroon straight pant paired with an off-white kurta, with delicate embroidery in the same colour as her trouser. She was overall, well put-together, no too slim, not plump or fat. She was on the taller side and mostly used to stand out among the crowd. He was gazing at her, perhaps trying to find out the right time to shout to her what he was thinking. But much to his displeasure, just when he was about to say something from across the busy queues, Vaani looked at him for a split second, as she went inside the enclosure to get frisked.

Minutes later, Vikram collected his belt and laptop bag after the security check, Vaani too picked up her lap top bag. That done, they proceeded towards their gate. The terminals at New Delhi airport are huge. As such, getting to your gate mostly requires the passengers to walk a lot. So, it was going to be a long walk for both of them to their gate. Vaani stole a couple of glances towards Vikram while he wasn’t looking. Vikram, on the other hand, was purposely staying a bit behind to keep an eye on her without her noticing it. He was almost 40, with a salt and pepper French beard but jet-black hair. He had a good physique, thanks to his regular exercise routine and controlled diet. He may not be all muscles, but he was fit, unlike a some of his fellow men from the same age. He was wearing a smart, casual jacket and a t-shirt, paired with denims. His medium length hair was neatly groomed.

Their walk was going to be short compared to what was going to follow. A 4-hour lay over was in store for the two of them. That was perhaps the last thing they wanted – to be straddled together at the airport. It was supposed to be irksome. Especially now, when they had filed for a divorce. After 10-years of being together, they had decided to call it quits. It was probably among the worst nightmares someone might have. But here they were – two smart, professionally successful, and good hearted-humans thrown in an impossible situation. As the two settled on the chairs at their gate, Vikram took a deep breath, scratched his head. Then he looked at Vaani, sitting next to him.

“Um… I cannot imagine we opted for this flight. Now what?”

Vaani gave wry smile.

“And now, my friend, or-soon-to-be-divorced-husband, we wait.”

“Wait, it is, isn’t it? First, we waited to confess to each other, and now…”

Vikram left the sentence incomplete.

“Yes Vikram. Now we are waiting for the divorce.”

Vikram hung his head low for a moment. Then peered at Vaani.

“What? What is it? Wait. Are you having second thoughts?” No.. No..We both decided. Now..

Vikram nodded in disapproval as he stopped her midway. 

“No! No Vaani. I am not having second thoughts. I was just not ready to say the D word. That’s it.”

Vaani looked at him. She was pensive. Her eyes would have expressed it all if Vikram would have seen them. No matter how strong and unaffected she was pretending to be, deep down, she knew she wasn’t. It was like an ignored wound, leading to a dull throbbing in the background. You don’t want to nurse it or confront it. Yes, it was the right thing to do, but that didn’t make her less anxious and sad. As if Vikram read her thoughts, he spoke again.

“I know you are strong and this is going to be good for both of us. Still, it doesn’t make it an easier.”

Vaani kept her hand on his for a second and then withdrew. She checked her watch.

“Ohh, I didn’t realize. It is 1 pm. You hungry? You bet I am. The hunger hadn’t kicked in till we had settled. Now I am famished!”

Vaani got up and looked around to see a coffee shop.

“Ah, there! That seems like a decent place to eat. You coming?”

She didn’t even wait for his response and took off towards the coffee shop.

Vikram shrugged and followed her.

Once at the coffee shop, he volunteered to get the order. A chili cheese toast and grilled vegetable sandwich was ordered. Once at the coffee shop, even Vikram had started feeling the hunger pangs and had decided to go for the sandwich last minute.

Having settled with the food at a table, they both dug in and there were no words spoken until almost half of the food was finished.

“Gosh. I didn’t realize I was this hungry.”

Vikram quipped, having swallowed a bite.

“Yes, totally. And I am loving this cheese chili toast.”

Vaani nodded and quickly stuffed her mouth with a couple of pieces.

Before Vikram could react to her eating so fast, she started coughing. In a few seconds, Vaani was choking. Vikram almost threw the chair he was sitting on and ran towards her. He started slapping her back. When the cough seemed to have subsided, he grabbed a glass of water and made Vaani drink. One sip was followed by a violent bout of cough.  Eventually, the equilibrium was restored. The cough had stopped. Vaani drank the rest of the water.

“Damn it yaar Vaani. You never learn. How many times has this happened? Why do you have gobble? I mean its good to be excited about eating something you like. But is there a need to swallow in such a hurry?”

Vikram’s brow was creased, his tone concerned and agitated.

Vaani tried to speak, but her words just hung in the air, as she got another bout of cough. Albeit it wasn’t as bad as the previous ones.

“Oh hoo. Now, is it a matter of life and death that you have to speak? Can you please just breathe for a bit and relax?”

Vikram’s agitation continued.

Vaani bowed a bit and pretended to zip her lips, as if to say, “okk. I will not speak.”

“Thank you”, Vikram responded, in exasperation.

Then somehow, something happened in that moment and both started laughing.

Vaani waited for a few moments before she spoke.

“Remember, when we had gone to London, we were eating at this pub and the same thing had happened. Oh lord, the people there thought I was dead. But they don’t know that we Indians are better than that.”

Vaani chuckled, as she seemed to picture that incident on her mind’s 3-D screen. Vikram smiled, his eyes crinkling, and the lines on the corners of his eyes became prominent.

“Yes, absolutely. How can I forget. You gave them quite a scare. One of the girls there was going to faint, looking at you choking. Oh, wait and while one middle-aged concerned guy had almost called the emergency service.”

“Haha, too much”, Vaani threw her head in the air as she laughed.

“You bet. It was crazy. But apart from your discomfort, I think that was the best time we ever had.”

It was now Vikram’s turn to get onto to the train of thoughts and alight at the destination which was 6 years back. He was made to get out of the train by Vaani waving her hands in front of him.

“Vik.. Hello.. Vik? Kaha ho? Lost, are we?”

“What? Huh? No no.”

Vikram fell silent.

“Come on, there’s something playing on your mind.”

Vaani looked at Vikram with her large dark brown eyes.

Vikram nodded in negative.

“Alright, if and when you feel like, you can tell me. Okay?”

Vikram nodded in approval in response.

And then as if something struck him, he said something which caught Vaani completely off guard.

“When was the last time you called me Vik?”

Vaani’s expression became serious for a split second. She immediately changed the subject.

“Coffee?”

Vikram again nodded in negative in response.

“I will get some.”

Vaani got up to get coffee.

Minutes later, Vaani got back to the table, only to find Vikram gone. He was not there. His bag too wasn’t there at the table

She kept the coffee on the table and looked around frantically. No sign of Vikram.

She took her laptop bag and went and checked in the coffee shops and restaurants around. He was nowhere to be found.

She went and sat the same table they were sitting at, at the coffee shop. She slowly started sipping her coffee. Her mind wandering all across the airport, even the wash rooms.

‘Where could Vik go?’ ‘Did I say something which upset him?’ ‘Is it work?’ ‘Is it our separation?’

‘Oh god’. ‘Maine to kuch nahi kiya?’ ‘Did I do something which hurt him?’

All these thoughts rushed in and at one point she covered her face with her palms. Seconds later she composed herself and tried to figure out logically. She got her first solution – to call him. Immediately she took her phone from her purse and called Vikram. Switched off. Vaani gave a low grunt in disappointment.

‘Okay. What’s next?’ Just a walk around? ‘May be?’

Thoughts. Maddening thoughts. Eventually Vani decided she had no option but to wait and hope that Vikram is fine. Her mind running amuck with thoughts combined with fatigue and excitement of the journey, led her to fall asleep.

Her phone vibrating woke her with a start. She blinked for a couple of times before she could check her phone and be awake enough to answer it. By the time she could answer it, the call was disconnected. It her mother-in-law. She checked the time. She had fallen asleep for two hours almost. Looking everywhere and it struck her that Vikram was still not around. Now she was starting to worry. Still, she took her bag and went to the washroom closest to the spot where she had been sitting to freshen up. When she got back, she was flabbergasted to see Vikram sitting there. She almost ran up to him. Her first impulse was to hug him, but she controlled herself.

She sat down on the chair next to him.

“Hi! Where were you. I was looking for you. Was going to call you.”

Vikram said, pleasantly, checking his phone at the same time.

 Vaani took a deep breath. Looked at Vikram straight into his eyes.

“Where was I seriously? Where was I? I had gone for 5 minutes to the washroom. Where the hell have been since the past hour or so? Didn’t you think for a second that you might want to let me know your whereabouts? What is wrong with you? What if someone had mugged you in a spot with no one around? What if your wallet was stolen? And most of all, did you think even for a second that if something would have happened to you, what would I have done?”

Vaani went on without taking a breath and was furious. She might have punched Vikram, if her anger would have been a level up.

“Hello hello.. bas bas… kitni chinta karogi? Enough yaar Vaani. Relax. Look, nothing has happened. Now, before I could tell you what happened, you started with your tirade. So can I tell you what happened?”

Vaani nodded.

“After you went to get the coffee and I got a call from my friend. We came to know during our chat that he was also here at this very terminal. So, he suggested meeting, since it had been a long time we hadn’t. So, I agreed and asked him his gate number and left. Now, I could have waited till you were back, had told you and then left. But then I thought I will text you on the way to that gate. Unfortunately for me, I got talking to him and it slipped my mind. When I checked my phone to message you, the battery was almost dead. I had to find a charging point and that’s when I said bye bye and left. I charged my phone for almost an hour. When I came here, to check on you, I saw you were asleep and I didn’t want to disturb you. Then, I went back and got my phone charged and got back just when you were in the washroom.”

Vaani gave him a mock dirty look.

“Sorry.”

Vikram held his ears and made a puppy face.

Vaani broke into a laughter.

Vikram smiled and instinctively went towards Vaani and held her close. He kissed her on the forehead. Vaani gazed at him. Neither of them didn’t say anything for a bit. Then Vaani withdrew herself from Vikram, settling a stray strand of hair behind her ears.

“Um. I was thinking what if..”

Vikram looked into her eyes.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking?”

“I guess so.”

Vaani nodded.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

Vaani hugged him tight.

“Let’s do this.”

Vaani chirped, excited.

Vikram took his phone and called their divorce lawyer. Vaani took hers and called her mom-in-law. While Vikram asked the lawyer to keep the process on hold, Vaani told her mother-in-law that they have decided to put off divorce for now.

At the very same moment, the information board showed flight from New Delhi to Bengaluru – On time.

“Well. I guess the layover wasn’t exactly one of the worst things that could have happened to us, right?

Vikram smiled and held Vaani’s hand tight.

“Absolutely. Except for my choking, Mr. Khanna.”

Vaani grinned ear to ear as she poked Vikram and held tighter.

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