It was a queue again. Even though she had weekly visits charted out, she always had to go through the drill. First, show the card at the reception, get the name and time ticked, and then hand over the card to the head sister. The bustling lounge and the smells of ether only added to the urgency and fatigue of the appointment. Strange, she felt fatigued very often these days. Actually, the mind kept sending signals to the other parts. That’s what her general physician had told her. ‘Your problem is psychosomatic, Maya. Being single at your age, hormones, work stress – All a perfect recipe for your situation.’ With a prescription of calcium and vitamin D, he had apparently cured her. Delhi.

In another part of the world, Shukanya was waiting her turn in a queue too. She was waiting in the queue to board her plane. She was going to meet her husband after three months. After eleven years of marriage and three children, thinking of three months of separation seemed immature. Husbands and wives don’t have rendezvous. Yes, it’s a cliché, but many clichés come together to string our reality; much like the translucent string of purple stones that she had bought at the dollar store. She had wondered at the beauty and its price. Seemingly a steal, she had immediately worn it that day. That’s what clichés are. Replicas in abundance. California.

He is a frequent flyer. The term that the airlines use to offer miles and sometimes free tickets too. Oh! how she hated them for these offers. Every advantage on the miles meant an extra trip for him. She would always pack for him, his socks, undergarments, shirts, pants, medicines, papers, three phones, two laptops, one tablet, two power-banks, three pairs of headphones, and a sigh!

This was different than the earlier times. Every time, it used to be him in the queues, at the airports, in the aisle seat. It’s not that she had not travelled earlier; she had. It was different this time.

I was not just a site visit. He was heading the design team for the convention center. Different, as this time he was going to be away for more than two weeks. Six months. She had never liked the number six. The preparations were made. Lists drawn, timings fixed. Almost like her school timetable. 6:15 am, 9:30 am, 4 pm, 8 pm, and finally 10:30 pm. California time. Calls at regular intervals with updates on children’s school, repair work that he got started for the kitchen, banks and bills, and finally the mush before sleeping in two different beds. Discipline and time were managed.

But, just like that, she decided that the family needed a reunion before the project ended. Actually, the children were making it difficult for her. The odd hour phone calls and incomplete sentences. The little girls always asked him, ‘Is it night or day there?’ He was amused at the innocence of the question. No questions were asked, only phone calls made and tickets booked.

Couples with eleven years of marriage don’t get anxious about airport meetings. Or do they?

Maya had gone to receive him. She had run through the last hundred and three steps and hugged him. He hugged and told her, ‘you are late by two minutes and thirty seven seconds.’ She knew that it could have been fifty three seconds had she not started running through the lounge and the numbered pillars at the arrivals wing of the airport. She sulked at not meeting time. She sulked.

Waiting her turn at the clinic, Maya kept calculating time.  If its 1.30 pm here, it will be 4 am there. Even after much practice, her mind would often get confused between day and night, ahead and back. The revulsion for mathematics got refreshed, as the numbers continued to trick her.  As she struggled with the exact time, she knew that these were luxuries of an empty mind. He had told her so, many times. Then, Facebook added to the confusion. Earlier, it was easy when she didn’t know things like online, offline, last seen, last active, and the brigade. Yes, it is was if the tech world had taken up arms against her. This space only added to her dilemma. On being questioned if she was online at 3 pm, she would start calculating time again. She could swear that she had not made as many mental mathematical calculations in all her life. This was a strange experience. There was a sense of achievement when she got it right but also, very nerve wrecking. She always wanted to get it right. It was as if all nerve ends were turning into numbers and she was seeing addition and subtraction taking place with all the nerves and veins surfacing from under her skin. A network of nerves and numbers.

Maya had never been to California and she knew the bus stops and timings, the streets and the blocks. How often he would ask her to locate a certain bus route on GPS. How thrilled she was on seeing the satellite view of the block on her computer. Quickly pulled out the time schedule of Bus no. S230 and sent him the information. With a few more mental calculations, he could be boarding a bus today to save seventeen minutes from his usual time taken. The mental math would be orgasmic when she could get the calculations right. Her body clock was set to 6 am, 9 am, 3:45 pm, 5 pm, 7 pm, and after dinner. Delhi time.

The flight numbers on the information board kept changing and the lounge was filled with announcements in different accents. Another queue before she could board.

Maya left the queue and entered the therapist’s room.

He changed his phone settings and queued up for the metro to the airport.

 

Namrata Jain

Namrata Jain

Namrata Jain has taught literature in English for a decade at the University of Delhi. She earned her M.A. in English from the University of Delhi and her doctorate from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her area of interest/research has been feminism, literary theory, European drama, post-colonial studies, and Contemporary Indian Theatre. She has been actively engaged in theatre since 2002.

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