I had to travel, suddenly. Usually all my trips are planned before hand. That way I stay calmer. But this trip, sudden and unexpected, I simply couldn't get out of. It was November. The beginning of winter.
My return flight landed at 1 in the morning. I decided it would be safer to sleep at the airport instead of taking a cab home in the middle of the night. I would rather take one of those buses in the wee hours of the morning. So I tied all my luggage to my hands with my scarf and slept on one of those uncomfortable airport chairs in the arrival hall.
It was a strange night. Each time some flights landed and the conveyor belts started running, there would be a crowd and I would wake up. I would check if my bags were alright and try to sleep again. There was nothing precious in the bags except some cards and some cash. But they were all I had so I was obligated to stay alert.
Also I wasn't the only person sleeping on those chairs. There were like a dozen other people. But each time I woke up that night, the set of people would have changed completely. It was like waking up in a new place.
Anyway, it struck 5 and I assumed it was then okay to venture out. I took a bus which moved unusually fast because there was no traffic. There was no one else, just us. A bunch of strangers, waiting to be home.
The bus dropped me near the lake which is about a mile from my place. So I took an auto. On the way, I saw the nursery owner opening shop. It was about 6:30 but still not totally lighted outside. The nursery owner was arranging a rack of potted blue hydrangeas on the outside. That image stayed with me. The hydrangeas looked like hundreds of tiny blue birds captured in a glass ball.
I got home and slept some more. Woke up around 10 and decided to take the day off. The trip had taken its toll and I wanted a personal day. I made noodles and coffee, sat on the patio and ate it all.
Then I went to the nursery and bought a potted blue hydrangea. I usually stay away from instant gratification. If I get used to it, it may get chaotic. But this time I took a chance and got myself just what I wanted and immediately.
It changed my mood totally. I was overjoyed to have it along with my other house plants. I had read about these flowers in a ghost story as a kid. Blood red hydrangeas in the middle of a damp forest, infested with a ghoul. And I had ever since been fascinated with them. Hydrangeas seemed mythical and magical and I had one of my own.
I just couldn't gather that truth inside my chest.
At school of course, everyone knew us as best friends. Somehow we had become a jointed entity. It was comforting to know someone had my back. I think I had hers too. We grew up, too fast. Then, as is the usual case, things fell apart. Grew apart, more so.
Four or five years later, when I was cramming something in my engineering dorm room far away, I got a call from a common friend. Erstwhile best friend's mother had died. Death wasn't such a common phenomena then, it never is. Utterly shocked I dialed the landline number of hers that I had. Her father answered and in a sorrowful tone explained to me what had happened. I did not know what to say so I listened quietly.
I met her at a temple over the summer vacations when I was home next. I don't know who picked the temple. There was a cafe right infront of it. Yet neither of us thought of sitting there and chatting. We chose the temple and its ample courtyard with guava trees all around. It all felt densely sepulchral.
She had moist eyes when we spoke. Yet there something inside her that had gone absolutely cold. I could never fathom that. I repulsed.
Years went by. Then I got her wedding invite. It was an email perhaps. Or a facebook invite, can't remember. But my mother who had been asking about her from time to time was overjoyed and asked me to get in touch again. Hence I congratulated her. She asked me to come over.
Recalling now, that was some phase in my life as well. I needed some getting away. I had already decided to be somewhere else on the Sunday she was getting married. And nothing could be done about that. So before taking the train on Friday night, I squeezed in sometime in lunch hour to visit her house again. I drove to the gift shop and bought perfumes: His and Hers. I can even recall the brand, perhaps Nike. Then since I was already due back at work and had a terrible whoreface boss, I sped to her home just to handover the gifts and return.
But she kept me. We sat on the same dining table we did as kids. She had henna on her hands and hair tied in a bun like she had no more fucks to give. She was very perturbed that day due to all the wedding related stress. Yet she smiled and drank coconut water as I ate lunch, rice and dal and something else. A bowl of mango pickle sat in the middle of the table. And then ten minutes after there was juice with ice cubes.