I had smelled the perfume before. Its fruity aroma upset me more than the effect of her nimble hands pulsating through my aging arms, up my spine and down to my legs. I talked to my trembling feet, “Dare not collapse on me now. We got to make this journey of twenty steps, mere seconds away.”
“Are you okay, Sir,” she asked me, her bright red lipstick blinding my cataract-operated brown eyes.
“Eh,” spoke an unrecognizable voice emanating from my interior.
I may have had the unmanageable, grey beard, a collapsing turban over my head, deep wrinkles on my face I turned away from in the mirror, but I remembered another time vividly. A time when I could walk on my two feet.
Camilla’s perfume, lipstick and the worst of all, her hands holding me in double embrace accompanied by another stewardess following us with her hands on my back certain of my fall, played with my mind. The experience proved to be more painful than the pain that incapacitated me. Because I failed to make the journey of twenty steps with my head held high, relying on my two feet, I was a giant mass of crumbling mess to the glaring eyes of the seated public hearing the screech from my dragging feet, my ill-drawn caricature of lips, and my watery eyes.
Ten steps in, a wail slipped from my lips forcing Camilla to stop. Half my size, I could tell she was exhausted.
“Are you okay, Sir?” she asked.
I wanted to tell her I could carry her down the aisle with herculean strength. My wishful thinking accompanied me to old age defying wisdom.
Another “ah” sound and a nod signaled Camilla to continue. Through hazy vision of the packed airplane, my eyes saw a different view – one of breezy fields of gold, on sunlit Indian summers.
I could see a set of beautiful, hazel eyes and trembling lips uttering last goodbye. I felt the tug of defiance and the wild chase behind her auto rickshaw with speed my legs had forgotten by now. That was the last time I saw her, my love, one of my loves.
Just like that, arrived my seat too cramped for my body and so did the demise of my disgraceful twenty steps. Camilla tucked me into my seat and fastened my seat belt like I was a baby. Despite the difficulty of her latest chore, she kept the smile on her face intact. I pictured her as a lover. For my heart remained young, fierce, and hungry. “Maybe in afterlife,” advised an inner voice.
“Is Amritsar your final destination, Sir?”
She surprised me with the question.
Now seated, no longer humiliated by having my manhood shrunk to the size of a peanut and having taken a few sips of water, my quivering voice made a comeback.
She smiled as though waiting for more.
“Going to a funeral.”
“Ah, I am sorry. A family member?”
My heart choked. She stood there unwilling to depart.
“Closer than a family member,” I said.
“Ah,” she nodded, “A friend?”
Nosy Camilla. Maybe, she too saw me as a lover. I should make a move.
“Better than a friend.”
Camilla waited with a faint smile on her face. An attendant tugged on her shoulder, and I labored to turn in my aisle seat to take in her sexy gait to the rear of the plane.
She was young, too young to be told I flew to the funeral of a lover, another lover active in my dying brain. Some would argue my brain concocted my love. Camilla was too young to be told I lived my life without her whose funeral I now flew to. She was too young to know the other endings to lifelong loves, the unsuitable endings to unrequited love. I wanted Camilla to hunger the bookish love. I wanted her to have the bookish love unlike my life.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and focused on the hum of the plane’s engines. An image appeared in front of my closed eyes. I became a dashing, tall, athletic figure. I smiled. I was young again. And I flew.