Excuse me,’ I hear. I turn around and see a girl in a red Lee tee standing by the romance rack. ‘Yeah?’ I enquire. She is a little short and is wearing a blue capris– the shade which is in vogue, folded enough at the seam to pass as shorts. A purple sling bag lies on her shoulder – filled to the point of bursting and is carrying what seems like a fresh copy of ‘Fifty Shades Freed.’ Typical teen! ‘Can I exchange a book which I bought outside?’ she asks with what seems a hopeful expression. Confused, huh? ‘I am sorry but that’s not possible,’ I answer.
As a part time worker in the bookshop at the domestic terminal of the Trivanadrum airport, this was a question I frequently come across. They are always in a rush and they almost always need a book. And frequently, they buy from the MotuUncle’s shop before they security check and then they realise they need another one. And this gives me a hope that she will indeed buy one. This particular lady, however, goes back to the racks – autobiographies, adventure, mysteries and then comes back to romance. She takes out a Nora Roberts paperback and flips to the last page – places it back on the rack and turns to me. Her fringes adoring her forehead and rest of her hair pinned back with one of those rust coloured plastic bands which goes with everything but she also has a white polka-dotted red tip-tap hair pin. ‘Is this all?’ she asks me and tucks in one of the locks behind her ear. I realise she is indicating the books. ‘Yes, ma’am,’ I answer. It’s a relatively small book shop and one doesn’t have big store rooms on an airport terminal, do they? ‘Oh!’ And her pretty mouth goes a complete -O-
And then she approaches the small teak counter I am sitting on. ‘Which flight do you have to catch?’ I am curious. ‘The 4:45 one, you know. The one to Calcutta,’ she says. I have no idea. I never keep track of the several flights which land or take off here. I am here just on weekends or holidays from 2 to 6 to make a little cash. ‘Oh! But it’s only 3,’ I say. Why was she in a hurry to buy the book if she had so much time in hand. ‘I am alone and I am not supposed to go loitering,’ she says with her forehead pinched – an expression suggesting exasperation. Figures! ‘Why did you want to exchange the book?’ I ask her. ‘Not me – A girl who security checked with me. She didn’t seem satisfied with the Nicolas Sparks she had purchased. So I was just inquiring,’ she tells me. Sweet and Helpful! ‘Would you like a cup of coffee or chai?’ she asks me suddenly with a hopeful expression. And as if to lure me she adds, ‘My treat.’ ‘You seem like a rich spoilt brat,’ I don’t know where that came from but it did seem like my mouth. ‘That sounds insulting but I do have a lot of time on my hand and nothing to do,’ she seems a little red in the cheeks – anger or blush, she’d know. ‘Sure, the cafe is on the right,’ I nonchalantly instruct her. She comes back with two cups of chai. That must have cost her a good hundred and forty bucks!
And we sit and sip and talk. She talks and I listen. And she can talk – like talk, talk and talk. She talks of books she has read and she talks of places she visited here. She talks of South Indians and she talks of North Indians. She talks of hills and beaches, colours and peaches. And I listen. And suddenly she realises it is fifteen minutes past four. She gets up from the brown plastic stool on which she was sitting and knocks it over and rushes out without any goodbyes. I smile ruefully at such an exit and such a piece of a girl.
And a little moments past she enters the store back in huff. ‘Do you have a cover?’ she asks and has me bewildered. ‘No,’ and as soon as the word is out of my mouth she says, ‘a newspaper?’ ‘Will yesterday’s Malyalam newspaper do?’ I ask her nonplussed. ‘Anything will do,’ she says and literally snatches the old paper. ‘What do you need it for?’ I ask, curiosity again. ‘To cover a book I am not supposed to be reading,’ she flashes her copy of Fifty Shades. ‘Ah!’ I finally understand. She tears the front page of the newspaper and covers her book as if she has done it many a times. The paper is torn haphazardly. It does not entirely cover the back cover of the book. I can still see the word Romantic and a patch of gray-black peeping out. I look up to see her raising her eyebrows. “Erm..’ I am at a loss of words. ‘Do you have a pen,’ she asks. ‘Sure,’ I say and I hand over her one of those metallic pens which are always kept in the counter’s drawer. She writes down the date on the first page of the book and scribbles something on the newspaper cover – probably her name. ‘Thank you,’ she says.
And as she is going out of the store I can’t resist but shout, ‘What’s your name?’ and I wait. She turns. She smiles. She says, ‘Aarzoo.’ She goes away. A moment later I hear knock and look up. I see her head. She probably needs an eraser or a pencil or a rubber-band this time. But she says, ‘You’ll never meet a piece like me,’ and she disappears. I am left behind with nothing – no goodbyes – just two empty paper cups and a smile on my face.
A/N – This is an effort more of an educational type to try and write interactions between people. I would be really grateful if you are reading this and leaving behind your precious comments, suggestions and criticism. You are really free to point out mistakes in writing, concept, logic and anywhere. And also, I’d be grateful if you give me situations where I can write about conversations and interactions. Please comment if you read!