He had never expected that she would say ‘this’. Not even in his dreams. Neither did she ever imagine that she would speak like this with anyone. With him! But such words are not planned and articulated. They just spill out. Like emotions. Like tears. Like an overwhelming surge of a deeply felt pain. The way she didn’t think even for a moment before she ran towards him to ensure that he w...
I have NO WORDS to thank all of you who read this story and tell me about it in some way or another. Your comments, messages, emails, DMs are precious. I may not be able to reply to all but my gratitude and heartfelt wishes are always with you!
Stay blessed. Stay happy. Keep smiling. Love you!
I’ve made an edit for this story –
“My husband is on his way to Kabul!”
With that sentence, another surreptitious smile made its way to waltz on her lips. Along came an unmistakable blush on her cheeks. She lowered her eyes lost in her own world.
Her smiles, her blushes were sneaky and secretive initially but she couldn’t hide them after some time. It made Krish smile too. As if the small sentence about her husband wasn’t enough that her blush did it for her – quashed down every speculation, every gossip about her relationship status.
Krish was surprised and then he smiled widely. “You look so happy?”
Immediately, Manasvi checked herself, “Do I?” She was nervous and worried. For all these years, she had taken pleasure in smaller achievements, crossing basic hurdles of life, that she had forgotten the meaning of real happiness. Now suddenly when Krish mentioned it, she became conscious. She didn’t want it to be jinxed in any way. She tried to dismiss it, “No… it’s not…”
Excited for her, he interrupted her, “Stop defending yourself for being happy, for God’s sake! Your husband is coming to Kabul for you! You have every right to be happy!”
She smiled sweetly, “Err… I’ll have to go to the airport…”
“I’m coming with you to the airport. I can’t leave you alone until your husband is here to be with you. I’ll go back once your husband arrives.”
Manasvi didn’t argue much and they hired a cab for the airport.
Anshuman was woken up from a spontaneous slumber when the plane landed on the Kabul airport with a thud.
He never realized when he fell asleep. The last he remembered was that he was reading some article about the political scene in Afghanistan, in the magazine supplied on-board by the airlines. Tiredness got on to him. He had felt exhausted.
Right after the Syria trip, he hadn’t rested well. From being stuck in Syria in a bunker, being hurt and injured, traveling all the way to New Delhi for Preksha’s engagement, leaving the next night to report to PBB camp on The Gaza Strip and working in tough conditions for a long time. Then, the team was airlifted to Italy for the PBB meeting after which he had been detained in Dubai before this flight to Kabul.
It wasn’t new to him. The tough work, the dire circumstances, the long hours without any basic facilities of water and food. He had done that all his life. But this time, it was getting strenuous beyond his expectations.
A small nap did nothing to destress his mind, right now worried for Manasvi. He crossed the long tarmac, carrying his backpack on his shoulder to enter the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul. The first thing he did was use the washroom and splatter scores of cold water splashes on his tired face.
He looked into the wall-sized mirror of the plush washroom. It was no good. His eyes were tired and reddened. Complexion down by two tones due to tanning with a few pigmentation marks on his nose and under the eye. His beard had grown to almost a week’s length. His hair was ruffled and uncut for some time, now.
Placing his hands on the washroom slab, he leaned forward, and gave himself a long look. If his mother saw him in this avatar, she would probably throw a fit of anxiety. He wiped his face dry with the paper napkin provided in the washroom and walked out of the all the channels and checkpoints, smoothly. Without any obstacles, without any questions, without any raised eye on his identity.
Such is the power of a few documents in your hand. They validate your intentions for land and it’s people.
Manasvi was anxious all the while in the cab towards the airport. The slow traffic at this hour of the day had them take a longer time than the time taken in the opposite direction.
The traffic outside the airport was higher too. They quickly hopped down the cab and reached the arrivals gate to find people walking out of the airport with bags in hand and over their trolleys. Almost 3-4 flights had landed one after the other and the crowd coming out was large.
Manasvi tapped her fingertips impatiently over the steel railing beyond the exit gate. She bit her lower lip while her uneasy eyes scanned one face after the other, to locate that one face which had the ability to turn every frown on her face to a smile.
The crowd thinned out and the arrivals side of the terminal started getting silent and lonely. Krish observed her restlessness and offered to find out at the inquiry office. He returned back running towards her.
“Are you sure, he is coming from Dubai?”
“My mother-in-law said so…” Manasvi said.
“The flight from Dubai landed an hour ago. It came 30 minutes before it’s scheduled time and almost all the passengers have left!” Krish informed her. “Check with your mother-in-law, if he really boarded the flight. Maybe, he didn’t and so we can wait for more. And if he did, he must have gone out. Does he know that you are coming to receive him?”
So many questions and suggestions felt like a hammer hitting the center of her head. That harshly, her head spun and ached. She simply nodded to refuse. Anshuman didn’t know that she was coming there to meet him. How would he know? He was in the aircraft when his mom told her… And now, her phone was not working…
Her face lost all its sheen and sparkle at once. Her throat went dry and her tears formed a pool to break the barriers stopping them from trickling down. Her heart was heavy and her mind fogged out. Her eyebrows puckered to collect at the center, above her nose and she parted her lips slightly to release a deep sigh, in an effort to release the ache in her throat.
Disappointment washed down on her face and she lowered her face and nodded softly, with a painful, small whisper, “Let’s go!”
“Do you… err…want me to look out for him? Ask the cabbies and all?” Krish suggested, just to make her feel better, though he knew very well that such measures were a waste in such a magnanimous airport.
Manasvi nodded, “No! I think he has left for Kabul. He didn’t know that I am coming.”
“Call your mother-in-law…”
“What will I say? I don’t want to make her worried for him. Let him call and tell his parents that he is fine. I will call after some time.”
Krish nodded and guided her towards the window for booking the next cab.
Anshuman was terribly tired when he walked out of the airport. Once again, he tried to call Manasvi. But she was unreachable. After trying multiple times, he gave up. He thought of calling Madhu but if he told her that he wasn’t able to reach Manasvi, she would get worried about her wellbeing and will lose her sleep over it. But what if Manasvi called her. At least he would know where she was.
He chose the option somewhere in the middle. He called his mom and talked in rapid, quick sentences, giving her as much information as he wanted. He often did that when he was working in remote, difficult areas.
“Mom, I’ve just reached Kabul. The network is problematic here. Please tell Manasvi to call me in case she contacts you.”
“But, she said that her phone is not working.”
“Yeah. That is why I am telling you. Ask about her whereabouts, ask her to stay there and I will call you later…”
“Don’t worry! We’ll be fine… okay… bye mom…”
Madhu kept the phone back. Anshuman didn’t give her enough time to process the entire information or ask questions to him. She hoped that they will meet each other, soon.
Next, he dialed another call. “Sir, I’ve reached Kabul. I have some work at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, here. It opens in the morning, tomorrow. Then, I will have to go to Jalalabad.” He informed his team manager.
“Alright! And… By the way, if your work is around these areas, then I guess there is no point going further to westside or south side camps. You can be at the humanitarian camp near Jalalabad, 40 miles away from the city. Report there when you go to Jalalabad tomorrow and finish your work. Then, we’ll decide on the rosters after that. Dr. Alex and Dr. Amanda will reach tomorrow.”
Anshuman had hired a cab from the airport and asked him to take him to the city center to check-in the hotel that he had to search on his own. There was no accommodation booked by PBB authorities as the doctors reached the campsite directly, in usual cases.
He checked in the first hotel, his cabbie suggested. Moments later, he dumped his tired, nearly lifeless body to slouch on the bed with no sleep, no peace in his eyes… just a vacant look towards nothing…
Manasvi took slow, dejected steps towards the cab. Her feet dragged due to the weight of her body refusing to co-operate.
Her tears didn’t break the barrage. They were not released. Not at a public place. Not before Krish. She didn’t know if the capacity to endure more pain was increased or it was blunted towards an empty feeling to no feeling at all.
Right now, she felt nothing! Nothing, anymore.
“Manasvi…” Krish could read her disappointment and he tried to break the ice.
“Hmm?” She softly whispered and turned to face him with a blank look on her face. There were no expressions on her beautiful, pink face devoid of any makeup. With time, she had learnt to hide her feelings well. “What?”
“We’ll have to wait in Kabul. We can go to Jalalabad, early in the morning, tomorrow.”
“But Krish…” Manasvi was more anxious than before.
Krish had amazing patience. He tried to explain in calm words, “Everyone here says that the highway is absolutely unsafe and dangerous to travel, especially at night. I don’t want you to risk your safety at any cost!”
Manasvi nodded. Even if she wished to go to Jalalabad straightaway, she couldn’t risk another life with her. Krish didn’t deserve that for being with her.
It was another story that Manasvi was skeptical at the idea of staying in a hotel with Krish. Manasvi made it very clear that she was not going to stay with him and there was no way she was going to lie that they were married to be given one room.
Krish understood and respected that stance. He booked 2 rooms at the InterContinental Hotel, one of the biggest and star rated hotel, for he was not sure how the smaller, lesser-known hotels were going to treat two unmarried people traveling alone. It was a taboo in this society.
Manasvi checked in her room and squeezed herself within the layers of white bedsheets and white quilts, trying to calm her chaotic mind into waters of noisy stillness.
Morning appeared early for those who hardly slept.
Manasvi urged Krish to ditch his bed as early as possible and take a bus to Jalalabad. There was a regular bus service from Kabul to Peshawar which passed through Jalalabad and stopped there for some time.
Krish could notice her urgency, restless fidgety hands, scraping the seams of her kurta sometimes and folded in prayer at the other times. She wasn’t like this yesterday when they reached Kabul. She was patient and calm.
All her patience, calmness and tranquility had faded to merge with anxiety today. He smiled. For this was the effect of her husband’s arrival in Kabul. The girl was increasingly getting worried about the safety of her husband and at the same time, she was getting equally impatient to meet him.
And Krish didn’t even know how her husband looked, what he was as a person, what was his name… nothing!
He had never tried finding it out.
Anshuman hadn’t slept properly too. His face lost the remaining spark too and he appeared drained out. Concern for Manasvi was killing him. Bit by bit. Slowly. He was so uneasy that he couldn’t eat even a bite. Neither at night nor in the morning.
He got ready fast and left for the MoI office, much before it opened for the day. He didn’t get much information there even after meeting many people. Finally, one man told him that there was an Afghan resident who had come from India, yesterday and was told to bring her birth certificate.
Anshuman thanked him and rushed out, almost running towards the cab he had hired to take him to Jalalabad.
Manasvi’s phone was still unreachable, amplifying his worries manifold.
As told to them, Kabul – Jalalabad highway 08 proved to be a deadly drive. Manasvi thanked God that they were in a bus. The bus followed a rough, destroyed, broken route undergoing construction. The sun decided to roast the city as the temperature bar soared higher and higher with every passing hour. Sweat dripped down from their foreheads as they braved the heat and the dust storms along the way.
“Told you, we could have taken the next bus… it was A/c.”
“I couldn’t wait… Krish!”
Manasvi hoped and prayed to meet Anshuman at Population Registration office, Jalalabad. Madhu aunty had told her that he will go there.
Her lips were on the verge of being mutilated under the torture by her teeth. Krish chewed on from a packet of potato chips and offered her some. She politely refused.
Jalalabad was beautiful and she wished she was here in better circumstances, maybe as a tourist. For she was born here. It was her birthplace and it gave her a vibe of deep connection.
She remembered her home in Kabul; laughter and fun-times with her parents when she was too young; the man who sold jalebis near her father’s shop; the aunt who made kebabs for them and taught her ma the authentic way to cook Afghani delicacies; the parties, the chatter, the happy days; and then the trauma that followed with unforgettable pain of losing her father to armed aggression against the government; killings, rape threats, and massacre.
She remembered nothing about Jalalabad. It had an eerie connection with her. Nothing else.
They reached the said destination. A beautiful office. Krish clicked pictures of the offices, the city and noted the details in his diary, while Manasvi filed an application at the Registrar’s office for a duplicate birth certificate. Her date of birth and address was needed for this service.
She was asked to come the next day. She turned around the entire premises carefully, to scan each and every corner of the office… Anshuman wasn’t there!
She walked away, towards the stairs of the building facing the dry, dusty land and the scorching sun up above her. Her tears finally rolled into small pearls and trickled down.
“I don’t know why but I can’t go back without meeting you! I can’t!!”