It was winter break, and I was going back home for the holidays. I boarded a flight from Pune to Kolkata. As the plane took off, a wrinkled hand tightly clutched my arm. The woman was probably in her late eighties, had dark brown eyes, and her hair was as white as Santa’s beard. Her long straight nose served as a bridge to her pink but dry lips. There was something in her eyes and the way she held my arm that told me how afraid she was of traveling in a plane.
I asked her, “Is it your first time on a plane?” She nodded.
None of us spoke for a while. It was after half an hour or so that she started talking on a serious note. She did not introduce herself, nor did she ask me for an introduction. Instead, she started narrating an incident from the pages of her past, from when she was a young woman. She was slightly confused about the day it happened. Her eyes were wandering at a place far away from here, in a time that no more exists. She conversed in a singsong way, almost like a kid reciting a poem. Her voice had a tone of desperation, like she wanted to go back in time.
“It was a stormy night. I was traveling by train when a woman entered the compartment with her infant son. She was wet from head to toe and was shivering. I gave her the towel that I was carrying in my bag and took the infant from her. I turned my back towards her to take out something warm to wrap the boy, but I saw that the woman had fainted when I turned around. When I checked her pulse, I realized that the boy who was just a few months old had lost his mother.
I did not know what to do. You see, I was a widow and never had any children of my own. I couldn’t think straight, and my thoughts constantly wandered off in opposite directions. It was as if my mind had split up in two halves. A part of me floated like a hydrogen-filled balloon, and I decided to take the boy with me. I got off at the next station and did not tell anyone about the woman. I felt remorse, but the thought that I would not have to live alone anymore kept me from saying anything about this incident. I am telling this to you now because I am going to “my” son’s wedding and want to get rid of the weight of my past that has always haunted me. Sometimes it’s safer to confide in a stranger rather than someone you have known for years.”
She didn’t say another word after she said all this to me. I wanted to say something, but words seemed unnecessary and inaccessible. I held her hand, and a few moments later, she fell asleep. I do not remember how the time passed after that or what thoughts encircled in my head. All I remember is that I kept looking out of the window, holding her wrinkled hands in mine. When the plane was about to land, I noticed that her hands were cold. I patted her on the shoulder to wake her up, but…the boy who was getting married had lost his mother again.
I untwined my hands from hers and looked out of the window for the last time as if to catch a glimpse of her passing soul.