Somewhere in the sky, two hours from Nedumbassery Airport, Cochin, and two hours to Changi Airport, Singapore...

To Have and Hold

Sleep didn’t bless Nathan, despite the business class comforts the airlines offered. Curled in his fully-stretched seat, wrapped in a comforter, he shut his eyes tight and tried to close his mind to the nagging thoughts about his wife.

Ten minutes of struggle to chase away the unpleasant memories only increased the discomfort they caused. His wife wields a gavel, keeps tapping his forehead, as if a judge in a courtroom hushing the murmurs of an impatient audience.

Pushing away the comforter, Nathan stretched his arms sitting up and felt the cold blasts from the AC’s overhead duct on his chest. He had left home without informing Thara, his second wife, deciding he’d send her the divorce papers as soon as he got back from Amsterdam. At the last moment he couldn’t get a ticket from Mumbai to Amsterdam, a nine-hour fly time, and had to settle for the fourteen hours Singapore route.

Like Reema, his first wife, Thara also became nagging after a couple of years of their marriage. “I know your daily workouts in the gym, the careful way you choose your attires…” she’d hollered. “Everything you do is focused on your need to hook up with the next girl.” Her lips, glazed with wine-red lipstick, quivered as her naked, stomping feet smudged the Italian marble with steamy smears.

“Oh, c’mon, Thara,” Nathan said. “Gimme a break!” He walked into the study and slammed the door shut, warding off her verbal assaults.

Yes, he was badly in need of a break; a break from a life that had become dreary despite all the goodies money bought; a break from a life hooked with a wife who clung onto her belief that marriage was the synonym of loyalty. She’s too judgmental to tolerate; the tapping of the gavel on his temple too harsh to bear.

Yes, he deserved a break from the memories that kept coming back, shaking him out of sleep, like the turbulence of an aircraft trapped in cumulonimbus clouds.

He had decided to leave for Amsterdam to spend a few days with Vinay, his childhood chum. Maybe, he could even come up with an article or two and make some money out of the trip too. His fame as a travel writer fetched him good returns.

As he looked for the stewardess, she walked gracefully towards him, her tight, light-blue skirt revealing glimpses of her smooth, tanned skin above transparent black hose.

“Yes, Mr. Nathan?” She offered him a broad smile, showing the gleam of white, even teeth below wine-red lips.

He already had three doubles, on the rocks. This time he wanted it dry, hoping it might aid him to fall asleep “Same, airen. Double…”

“Got it, sir,” she said, giggling. It seemed to have pleased her all the more that Nathan called her a sweetheart in her native Mandarin dialect.

“No, you didn’t.”

The gold shimmer on her eyelashes sparkled as her brows arched.

A cold, icy breeze so soothing after the grueling torment the gavel left on his forehead.

Nathan winked at her and his eyes angled towards the comforter. “This time, dry.”

“Sure,” she said, her smile deepening the color of her lips.

The stewardess returned in a minute with his order. “There you are, Mr. Nathan.” She handed him a crystal glass, wrapped in a large paper napkin.

“Thanks, fengmi.”

“You do try hard and looks like it works.” Pleased again at the compliment, honey, she left, telling him he could call her if he needed anything, and wishing him goodnight.

Sipping on his fourth double shot of scotch, Nathan leaned against his seat. The lingering tang of single malt, warm enough against his throat, was still not strong enough to check the onslaught of memories.

Thara had her own unique ways of irritating him. Every time he received a call she’d be curious to know who was at the other end. She checked on him every couple of hours asking him where he was, when he’d be back. She expected him to account for everything; his time, his money, his aspirations.

The judge’s gavel keeps beating against his desk’s surface. He doesn’t like the audience showing their emotion; he wants them to behave the way he sees fit.

All the more exasperating was her never-ending eagerness to know whether he was dating another woman.

Trivial tiffs leading to haughty arguments, mounting to ever-escalating tensions…

What if he were dating another girl? Did marriage mean tethering your freedom to a vow of loyalty, confining all your energies to the service of a pestering wife?

Nathan had the drink, held it in his mouth and relished its tang. He hoped the memories of a wife he had but couldn’t hold onto for long wouldn’t steal his sleep anymore.

The gavel keeps pounding against his skull.

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