The icy wind blew across John’s hair sharply as he stepped out of the taxi. He sighed heavily, knowing it would be a long time before he gets to feel such a sensation again.
He paid the taxi driver 500 bucks, grabbed his tiny luggage and then walked inside the airport terminal.
There were already quite a number of people inside the monolithic Lengpui Airport, situated on the outskirts of Aizawl. People were sitting in groups, discussing about politics, policies and anything they fancied, while chewing paan and laughing out loudly every two minutes.
John found himself a seat and waited.
30 minutes later, four airport staffs lethargically walked to their posts behind the X-Ray machine and the burly CISF guard with an MP-3 sten gun hanging loosely behind signaled to the people that they can now proceed inside to get their boarding passes.
John stood in line along with the others and noticed that the person in front of him was traveling lightly too.
When he was next in line to reach the ticket counter, he overheard the person in front of him telling the staff, “Direct flight to Delhi, please make it a direct booking.”
John exclaimed in surprise, “Hey, even I’m flying directly to Delhi!”
The other person smiled, “I’m Hminga.”
“John. Call me John.”
“Cool. So, John, do you want to get your boarding passes along with me?”
“Sure, I don’t mind! Would be nice to have a Mizo companion all the way to Delhi.”
Hminga smiled, “I know. Same here.”
“Hey, do you know you can get your Kolkata-Delhi boarding ticket from here too?”
“Yup. That way, once we reach Cal, we can move directly to the security check-in without necessarily standing in line there for a new boarding pass again.”
“Wow. That’s really neat. And I thought the only thing we can directly book from Mizoram to Delhi was our luggage. This is so cool.”
And so saying, John and Hminga took four boarding passes from the counter, making sure they were seated together in both the flights from Aizawl to Kolkata and Kolkata to Delhi.
They exchanged formalities once they were inside the security check-in area. Turned out, they had a few common friends, which was not so surprising when any two Mizos meet.
Their flight landed a few minutes later and they walked from the security check-in room towards the plane, talking about their professions and where they stayed in Delhi.
As they sat inside the plane, they went through the usual formality of following the safety procedure enacted by the obviously unenthusiastic airhostess who moved her hands inanimately and halfheartedly.
“Ever noticed how cold and unreceptive these airhostesses become when they’re in the North Eastern sector, but suddenly full of brim and cheerfulness when they’re in other sectors?” John casually remarked.
Hminga wanted to tell him it wasn't like that, but decided it’s better to keep quiet, especially since they had just met.
As the plane drew momentum and eventually lifted off above the sprawling Mizoram hills, John looked at the place he loved for one last time. The moment the plane reached the required altitude and the seat-belt sign turned green, he joked, “Weeeee… that was fun. It felt like I was cruising through MG Road at 3 in the morning after a couple of drinks!”
John laughed. Hminga looked at him in shock.
“Hey, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing…” Hminga replied, “It’s just that… I don’t think people should drink and drive. Haven’t you seen all the deaths caused by drunken driving? You should be more responsible.”
John was completely taken aback. He knew drinking and driving is a wrong concoction, but he had never been in a state where he was too sloshed to drive. He was as alert as ever even after a couple of drinks. And the fact that somebody he had just met and who didn’t know how responsible he was while driving under the influence, lectured him like this… he felt a little blood rise deep within.
But he changed the topic, not wanting to get into a long debate regarding this, especially with a stranger.
“I know…” he merely uttered.
After a few minutes of silence, Hminga spoke, “I’m sorry about earlier… I feel that if people treat drinking and driving lightly, then it will soon be accepted by society. Pretty much like these homosexuals. Now that the High Court has…”
“Huh???” Now it was John’s turn to sit up and face Hminga.
“Yeah… with their section 477 High Court ruling and all the love fest going on in public…”
“It's 377, and what is wrong with that?”
“What do you mean what is wrong with that? The Bible clearly said…”
“Do you even know what this Act signifies???”
Heads were beginning to turn towards them, so they lowered their voices for a while, but only for a while. Soon, their argument was back in full swing, and an airhostess had to come over and warn them both to keep it down.
As the airhostess walked away, Hminga muttered, “I’m sure you’re one of those people who think its ok to have a tattoo and pre-marital sex too.”
“I don’t think its okhayyyyy,” John retorted, the anger obvious in his tone. “But if a man or woman wants to do it, who are we to judge them?”
“Leviticus chapter 19:28 clearly said you cannot tattoo yourself!”
“Oh yeah? Leviticus chapter 19:27 clearly said you cannot cut your beard or sideburns. Why are you clean shaven?”
Within minutes, two airhostesses approached them again, requesting them to be quiet. A tall Sardaji sitting in front of them suddenly got up, turned around, and sternly reprimanded them. “I don’t care what you two are arguing about, but for God’s sake, please DO NOT DISTURB us!”
One person applauded from behind, but quickly stopped when he realized nobody joined him.
Awkward silence filled the plane amidst the throttling sound of turbine engine as the angry Sardaji got back to his seat and the two airhostesses prepared themselves for the landing.
It was a few more minutes before John muttered under his breath, “At least my sister didn’t marry a Bengali.”
In Hminga’s mind, he could picture himself landing one hard upper-cut on John’s face. His hands trembled and he clenched his fist. He tried his best to suppress his anger. He should have never told him that his sister was married to a non-Mizo. In his head, he was trying to pacify himself… “Comon… breathe Hminga… breathe… don’t let this asshole spoil your mood… Remember if you punch him and a fight ensues, Mizos are going to get a very bad publicity.”
Finally, Hminga found his composure and replied as calm as possible, “So you are open to homosexuality and tattoos, but support DUI and against inter-racial relationships? If I had known you’re such a racist bigot, I would have never sat with you in the first place.”
“Neither would I,” John gnarled back.
That was the last time they spoke to each other, as the plane landed in Kolkata and came to a squeaking halt.
They both stood in the queue and walked out of the plane, still completely raging deep inside. Neither looked at each other, nor stood next to each other on the bus that transported them from the plane to the airport terminal.
The moment they reached the terminal, Hminga walked into the rest room, hoping a splash of water on his face might cool him down, while John made straight for the ticket counter.
“Good afternoon sir,” the cute Indian Airlines staff sitting in the counter wished him.
“Good afternoon,” John replied, “Ma’am, I’ve just arrived from Aizawl, and I have a connecting flight to Delhi from here. I already have my boarding pass issued in Aizawl itself, but can you please change the seat number? I want a place somewhere at the back instead. Please?”
“Oh.. ok… any reason why?”
“No such reason. I just want to sit at a new location, if there is vacancy…”
The lady looked at her screen for a few seconds and then finally looked up.
“Sir, shall I shift you to 29-A? That’s quite far from the current seat.”
“That would be great!” John smiled for the first time.
He took the ticket and looked at it again. No way in bloody hell was he going to sit with that jerk again. NEVER.
Meanwhile, at another place far away, Hminga stood there waiting and thinking about how much he detested John.
A voice interrupted him.
“Sir, here you go.”
Hminga smiled and genuinely said thank you. He grabbed the ticket and looked at his new seat number.