“Welcome aboard Emirates, Mr. Rao! Your seat is 1K - The first seat by the window.” The elegant air hostess greeted Pavan with a delightful smile and pointed towards the right side of the Boeing A330-243. Returning her smile with a charming one of his own, Pavan lugged his on-board baggage and made his way to his seat in First Class. He slid into the plush beige coloured seat and tightened his seat belt. 1J was empty and he found himself hoping that it would be occupied by a pretty woman with whom he could flirt. He closed his eyes and tried to get his breathing back into rhythm as he thought about how his day had unfolded so far.
Despite having a scheduled flight to Hyderabad for a conference in the evening, it had turned out to be an exceptionally busy day at work. He’d been in and out of meetings the whole day and he managed to sneak out of the office just two hours before the scheduled departure. Fortunately he’d checked in online the previous day. What he’d underestimated was the rush-hour traffic in Dubai. He’d eventually made it to the airport with less than forty minutes to spare. Luckily, check-in and security had been a breeze and the staff at Terminal 3 ensured that he reached the aircraft ten minutes before scheduled departure.
“Excuse me!” A shrill voice cut into Pavan’s thoughts. He opened one eye and glanced at the owner of the sharp voice, an elderly lady with a garish green tattoo of a snake creeping up her neck. She was pointing at the seat next to Pavan's and gesturing towards his laptop bag that he had inadvertently placed on 1J. Muttering a curse, he gathered the bag, stored it under his seat and sighed. It was going to be an uneventful flight to Hyderabad.
Pavan sipped on his complimentary glass of champagne and re-checked his Powerpoint presentation. Though he couldn’t be sure, he sensed that the old woman was throwing furtive glances in his direction. He silently rued that fact that the flight did not have enough of a separator between two adjacent first class seats. He quickly turned his head to the left and met the glance of the old lady. Though she desperately tried to avert her gaze, Pavan knew she’d been looking at his screen. Before he could say anything, the old lady smiled politely and asked, "Business Man?”. Pavan stared at her, slightly irritated by her question. He shook his head vehemently and said, “No! I’m a marketing engineer.” The aged-woman leaned back into her seat and smiled again, while Pavan went back to his presentation. “I’m a palm reader.” said the old woman, once again trying to strike up a conversation. Pavan was both irritated and aghast. "When did palm readers start making enough money to fly First Class?” he wondered as he tried to get back to his presentation. But the woman was persistent. “Give me your hand,” she said, her discordant voice breaking into his thoughts once again, “I will read your palm and tell you your future.” As hard as he tried to be polite, Pavan couldn’t help but let out a loud smirk. The old lady paid no heed to his condescending demeanour and continued to talk, “I have seen many moons, my child. And I am always right. How will I benefit by lying to you?”.
Pavan continued to stare at the screen of his laptop, paying no heed to the old woman’s coaxing. But his curiosity was growing by the minute. He threw another glance at the elderly palm-reader, who was still staring at him through her half-moon spectacles with a smile on her face. Reluctantly, he held out his hand. The old woman chuckled and held his palm. She stroked his hand twice and murmured something unintelligible. She slowly raised her head and met his expectant gaze. With a smile she said, “The woman of your dreams will come to the airport to receive you. You must propose to her; else she will be lost forever! If you miss this chance, you will not marry for another three years and that will not be a happy marriage.” Pavan burst out laughing, accidentally knocking his champagne glass over in the process. He stared at the palm reader and said, “You have got to be kidding me. The woman meeting me at the airport is one of our PR Managers. I’ve never met her before. Surely you don’t expect me to go around proposing to people I barely know!” The old lady returned his stare and said, “She is the one. There will not be anyone else. If you do not act as I advice, you will end up marrying someone your mother chooses. And she will ruin you.” Pavan grinned and said, “ I guess I’ll have to take that chance then”. He mouthed a thank you and withdrew his hand gently. “Marry the woman who comes to meet you, indeed!” he mused as the pilot announced their descent towards Hyderabad.
Pavan’s jaw almost dropped in surprise when he got a glance of the dainty woman holding up a sign board with his name. As the escalator slowly descended, he felt his heart start to thump loudly against his chest; so loud in fact that he was certain even she could hear it. But she hadn’t noticed him yet. From a distance, he watched the gorgeous woman, draped in a warm amber-coloured saree, run her fingers lightly through her wavy, hazel brown hair. “Mridula!” he called out, hoping the woman would recognise him. The woman lowered the sign she was holding and stared at him, with an equally surprised look on her face. “Pavan? Pavan Rao? No wonder the name rung a bell!” she said, walking around the barricade to greet him. Pavan dismissed his shock and said, “It's nice to see you again Mridula. How have you been?”. Mridula flashed him a bitter smile and replied, “I’m good, actually. But no thanks to you. I head the PR team for our Hyderabad office. But we can talk in the car. We need to get a move on now. Everyone’s waiting for you in the conference room.”
Despite the car being air-conditioned, Pavan felt sweat drops form on the nape of his neck, and slowly slide down his back. He glanced at Mridula who was sitting beside him, busy working away on her iPad. He sat mesmerised as her diamond earrings slowly moved back and forth, occasionally brushing against her skin as the car slowly chugged along through the rush-hour traffic. She was even more beautiful than he remembered her to be. He threw a quick look at her hands and noticed that her ring finger was bare. Mridula, probably aware of Pavan’s furtive glances, looked up from her iPad. Almost instantly, Pavan turned to his left and pretended to take in the surroundings. The reality was that he was staring at Mridula’s reflection in the window.
Pavan let his mind wander to their college days, almost a decade ago. They’d been dating for almost 3 years. He could still picture that bitter meeting with Mridula, on the day they broke up. “I was such an obnoxious jerk!” he murmured as he thought about how he’d rejected her because of her decision to go into the communications business over engineering. He had wanted to have total control over her, and had hated that she’d decided to pursue an alternate career despite his advice. They had loved each other and he had been so short-sighted. As the Lexus pulled up in front of their office building, Pavan remembered the old palm-reader’s words. “Could she have been right?” he wondered as he held the door open for Mridula to get out. The palm-reader’s prophecy still ringing in his ears, Pavan followed Mridula all the way to the conference room.
As Mridula started to walk away, Pavan caught hold of her right wrist. He looked into her coal-black eyes and said, “Mridula, we need to talk. Can we meet after the conference is over?” Mridula threw her head back and laughed. She freed her wrist from his grip and said, “You haven’t changed at all, have you Pavan? You still want everything your way. No, we cannot meet after the conference. We’re colleagues and nothing else. Now, you’d better not keep them waiting longer.”
The next three days were nothing short of a nightmare for Pavan. Though the conference had been a resounding success, he felt like a failure. Every time he saw Mridula, he couldn’t help but kick himself for having been stupid. He even felt jealous when he saw her have lunch with a handsome man, who he later found to be one of her peers from the PR Team. But try as he did to approach Mridula, she never gave him a chance. Finally, on the day of his departure back to Dubai, Pavan managed to get Mridula alone. He walked into her office and tried to talk to her. But Mridula was unrelenting. “Look, Pavan,” she said, looking at him straight in the eye, “It’s taken me time to move on and I would appreciate it if you left me alone. There will never be an US again."
Dejected, Pavan returned to Dubai. The old lady’s words rang in his ears mockingly. He knew he had gambled away his one chance at true love.
“That’s it. Put your arm around your bride. And smile with your pearly whites.” Pavan grinned as the wedding photographer moved them about like pawns on a chess board, trying to get the best photographs. He glanced around the room and his gaze was met by a few young men, who instantly lowered their eyes and shuffled their feet uncomfortably. He smiled slyly, knowing well that they had all been admiring his new wife, Neha. Secretly he felt proud. And strangely aroused. She was one of the most gorgeous women he’d ever laid eyes on. And now she was his wife. She’d been his mother’s choice, and the moment he’d seen the photograph, Pavan knew he wanted her. “Mother chose well!” he mused as he continued to admire his partner and thought about how jealous all the other men would be.
Drenched in sweat, Pavan walked out of the house topless. He desperately needed a smoke. “That was quite some workout!” he thought, grinning mischievously like the famed Cheshire cat. Neha had been a lot more feistier than he’d anticipated her to be. His neck still hurt from her strong grip and he was certain that there were finger nail marks on his back where she’d hugged him tightly. Soon after their physical rendezvous, Neha had fallen asleep. He lit up his cigarette and blew a ring of smoke into the sky. A light breeze ruffled his dishevelled hair. As he continued to puff away, he noticed a frail silhouette approaching. A slight shiver crept up his spine as the figure continued to walk up to him. The figure stopped a few meters in front of him, beneath the tall garden lamp. Pavan gasped as he identified the figure - it was the palm-reader, who he’d encountered on the flight to Hyderabad.
Recovering from his initial shock, Pavan looked at her carefully. The woman was thin and frail, and walked with the aid of walking stick. Her serpent tattoo looked rather bizarre over her extremely wrinkled skin. “You!” he exclaimed, “What are you doing here? And at this hour, that too? And how did you know?”. The old lady cackled, her raucous laugh reverberating through the night, and said. “I have seen many moons. I know all!”. A tad irritated by her presence, Pavan said, “Well, you were wrong after all! My mother chose wisely for me. Have you seen my wife? She is gorgeous.” The old woman adjusted her spectacles and asked. “Are you sure? You are mesmerised by her beauty now. Soon, you will see her for who she is. Mark my words, she will destroy you! I am never wrong!”
Pavan felt the chill start to creep up his spine again. The old woman seemed to be losing it. And how had she entered their bungalow premises in the middle of the night? What if she had done something to Neha? Questions racing through his mind, he ignored the old woman and turned around to look at the door that led into the house. It was still shut. He turned back to give the old woman a piece of his mind. But she’d disappeared. For a brief minute, Pavan panicked. Had he been dreaming? Where did the old woman go?
Starting to sweat profusely, Pavan ran back into the house, taking care to lock the door behind him. He slowly crept into his bedroom, and looked at the bed. Neha was snoring gently, a warm smile etched on her face. Their discarded garments lay in a heap in the corner. He breathed a sigh of relief. The old woman had probably been a figment of his imagination. He looked at Neha and smiled again. He debated if he should wake her up for another round. “Nah! There’ll be plenty of time for that in the future.” he thought as he admired his toned physique in the full length mirror. As Pavan ran his hands through his hair, his eyes widened in shock. There were two vertical lines of blood spots on the side of his neck, where Neha had kissed him.
I've often wondered how two writers would collaborate. So as a trial, I'm joining forces with one of my closest friends for this piece of fiction.
Story and Characters : Hema Anavatti (alias Pixie), who blogs here Narration: Yours truly
[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. Today's prompt was : You’re on a long flight, and a palm reader sitting next to you insists she reads your palm. You hesitate, but agree. What does she tell you? ]
Image concept from Psmag.com | Edited