This was the first time he had set foot in a truly international airport of mega-proportions, and though he had hoped to remain blasé about whatever wonders the Western world had to throw at him, he was suitably impressed. Taking the shuttle coach to Terminal 2C, it seemed to him that the longwinded route eked out by the shuttle was an excuse by the Charles de Gaulle airport authority to show off its massive spread, but he was happy to drink in the large, purposefully-built facilities in the company of the steam-exhaling international traveller who was GOING SOMEWHERE IMPORTANT.
Having settled down in a bucket seat after the routine frisking, he opened his copy of Le Monde, intended to help him recollect his smattering of high-school French. He had gained a few valuable hours travelling ahead of the sun and he wanted to make good use of it of his short descent on French concrete-and-ceramic. A peek-in at Duty-Free, more window than actual shopping was plan B, in case he wanted to exercise his legs. Paris, more than any other city he had seen, seemed to be the epitome of the modern internationalism: with the multi-racial and multi-lingual audio-visual proofs endorsing CDG as a hub of cross-culture. The stereotypical Indian swarm seemed curiously absent, as he panned over the mass of heads filtering for the dark-haired and tan-skinned. It was the earrings that called his attention to her: the dangling kunjalams announcing not just nationality but also offering a narrowing-down in region.
She seemed pretty without sticking out in a crowd; that's what he made of the view from his seat two rows back, of course. Sometimes it was best to leave the notion of prettiness there, too often he had spoilt the sweet sense of imagination by gazing at faces. But he soon realized he wouldn't be disappointed with this sighting as it slowly dawned on him that he was seeing her again after 5 years.
Memories rushing back at him mimicking the frenzy of the last-minute boarders at a nearby terminal: of being paired in college group dances, of hot coffee and shared samosas, of scratching around for the perfect birthday gift. Of measured hope and sceptical aspirations. Of her expressive eyebrows and her quirky collection of jotter pens. She would be feeling rather cold in this air-conditioned airport suite, he realised, their friendship had made him privy to the everyday minutiae that comes from being together for periods just a fraction greater than the average casual acquaintance.
"Here of all the places!" he couldn't help repeating to himself as she smoothed her hair back in that familiar gesture of hers. After he had bid goodbye to her on her birthday with the heavy knowledge that the bonds of their (what do you call it?) relationship would probably not be sustained with the mere glue of an email from an overseas University. He, with his usual sense of un-impeccable timing, had not been able to talk about it. It could not be easily broached in the ephemeralness of an instant message, but the thought would tug away in the recesses of him mind, only to pop in ahead of him now, between him and two rows ahead.
Spontaneity was better in such situations, but having been denied that luxury, he had to decide in cold thought whether he should walk up to her (of course, he should: so what if they had been too busy to keep in contact?) and if pressed by the clock, to introduce without much prelude, the long-pending question? He took a deep, meditative breath: how badly did he want to talk about it? Would he rue the missed chance if she were to hear a call for her destination (god knows where to now) in the next ten minutes, while he ruminated over aspects and summoned his mental faculties? It was probably the setting: given the familiarity of a Puneri restaurant, he wouldn't have seemed so tied up, but that's what he imagined. It could even be easier, they would be paradoxically alone in this mass of suitcase-pulling, sleep-yearning, uninterested voyagers.
He stood up with an abrupt jerk, the Le Monde falling to the floor. Hopping past the legs of his Latin-American looking neighbour, he made his way to the aisle. And hesitated. Thinking of what he had to say, right from the exclamation of surprise to what he would ask about her present state of living. And then perhaps... His demeanour seemed to derive strength from this structure of thoughts and he stepped forward, trying to look nonchalant, and failing at it. As he got to her row, he saw her look in his direction: now there was no turning back from unfinished business.