“Hello Sir,” she said.
In the suddenness of the moment, I did not recognize her.
But then she gave me her vivacious smile, her eyes danced, and I knew who she was.
She had been one of my brightest students – but then that was quite some time ago.
“Of course I recognize you,” I said, “How can I ever forget one of my best students? But meeting you here was so unexpected that I was confused for a moment; and you’ve grown up so much, and I too am getting old, you know.”
“No, Sir, you still look handsome, and as young as ever. I am sure all the girls still have a crush on you, like we did!” she said naughtily.
I almost blushed, so to change the subject, I asked her, “What you doing here at the airport?”
“I’m going to New York,” she said, “my flight is delayed so I am just killing time.”
“My flight to Singapore is delayed too,” I said.
“Singapore?” she asked.
“Yes. I’m going for a conference,” I said.
“Oh,” she said.
For some moments no one spoke.
To break the silence, I said, “Let’s go to the coffee shop. We can sit and talk over there till our flights are announced.”
As we walked to the airport coffee shop, I thought of the girl walking beside me.
She had abruptly left our school three years ago, after completing her 9th Standard.
When we teachers expressed our surprise, the Principal of our school told us that her parents wanted to shift her to an elite boarding school, faraway in the hills.
We told the Principal that she was a brilliant scholar, one of our best students, who had the potential to top the 10th Board Exams, and she would surely bring laurels to our school by adorning the merit list.
We also argued that, even from her point of view, it was not prudent to change her school and shift her just one year before the matriculation board examination.
But the Principal told us that he had discussed all this with her parents, but they were adamant.
So, the bright young girl left our school and went away to the elite boarding school at the distant hill station.
I did not see her again, or even hear of her, after she left our school.
“Sir, do you know why I had to suddenly leave school?” she asked, as we sat down for coffee.
“No,” I said, “in fact, we were quite surprised at your unexpected sudden departure.”
“My parents were getting divorced and they did not want me around, so they sent me away to the boarding school,” she said, nonchalantly, without batting an eyelid.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “that’s sad.”
“Yes,” she said, “it was really sad. They never asked me. They just decided to divorce on their own. I felt terrible. I did not like it at all. It was amicable divorce by mutual consent – but no one took my consent. Why is it that in divorce cases, no one bothers about the children’s consent?”
I did not answer.
Because I did not know the answer.
I remained silent and looked at the girl.
Though I had met her parents once or twice perfunctorily at school functions, I did not know her parents that well.
In fact, I do remember most of my students, but I hardly remember their parents.
I sipped my coffee and did not say anything, waiting for her to speak.
“I just don’t know why they split,” she said, “we seemed to be such a happy family together.”
“They must have had their reasons,” I said.
“Well, I think I know at least one reason now,” she said.
I just looked at her, waiting for her to continue speaking.
“Do you know what my father did the moment the divorce was through?”
“What?” I asked.
“My dad got married to a woman half his age.”
“Half his age?” I asked, quite incredulous.
“Yes. The female was his student.”
“You know that my father is a Professor, don’t you?” she asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
The girl looked at me with bitterness on her face and said, “Yes. That girl was his student. She was doing her Ph. D. under him. The wily female snatched him away from us. And it was his fault too – a married man with a family getting involved with a woman so much younger in age than him. It was terrible – a teacher and a student shamelessly getting married to each other. Just imagine how embarrassing it must have been for me and my mother.”
“Yes,” I said, trying to show empathy.
“And do you know what my mother did?”
“Three months later, she too got married to a jerk from her office,” she said, “I hate him – he’s such a crafty smooth-talking fake.”
She paused for a moment and said, “And can you imagine his audacity?”
“This so-called step-father of mine – one day he politely told me that ‘they’ wanted more privacy so could I please go and stay with my own Dad for a while?”
“Don’t tell me…!”
“Yes. And you won’t believe this – my mother just kept quiet and said nothing.”
“So I packed my bags and went over to my father’s place, but it was even worse over there.”
“Though she did not say so in so many words, my ‘step-mother’ made it quite clear that I was not very welcome – she kept giving me repulsive vibes of fake politeness, you know those terrible negative vibes – I could feel them every moment.”
“So I spent the next two years of junior college, my 11th and 12th, shuttling between my two parents like an unwanted badminton shuttle-cock,” she said.
“It must have been terrible,” I commiserated.
“Yes. It was really very painful for me, so I made a deal,” she said.
“I told both my parents that I wanted to go abroad to America for my studies and wanted them to jointly pay for it – I told them they must fund my entire studies and my stay abroad,” she said.
“Oh!” I exclaimed.
She paused for a moment, had a sip of coffee, and then she said, “you know, all of them were so delighted to hear this. My Dad used his academic connections and went out of the way to get me admission to the best university. No one wants me here. So everyone, my very own mother, and even my so-called ‘step parents’, they are all chipping in to finance my education abroad for as long as I want to study. They all are so happy to get me out of the way.”
“Oh, so that’s why you are going abroad to America?”
“Yes. I am running away. To a new life,” she said.
Suddenly, her flight was announced, and she got up to leave.
“Thanks for the coffee, Sir,” she said, “it was so nice meeting you.”
“I am sure we will meet again when you come back,” I said.
“I am not coming back, Sir. There is nothing left here for me to come back to. I am leaving behind the debris of my past over here and I am moving on to begin a new life over there – and I am not going to look back,” she said.
“All the Best. Take Care,” I said.
“You too, Sir, Take Care,” she said.
Then she turned and walked away.
I watched her for a long time, till she disappeared from sight.
I thought she would look back.
I thought she would wave a last good bye.
But she did not look back.
Maybe she did not want to look back at the world from which she had escaped forever.♥