Stories May 26, 2015

The Ten Hour Stopover

London

Pooja was on her way home. The end of yet another successful project. Yet another set of happy executives who had extracted their money’s worth from this assignment.Pooja worked for a Big 4 consulting firm. Soon after her MBA, she had joined them at the lowest rung. An outstanding student throughout, she had joined a premier MBAinstitute with dreams of outperforming everyone. That was when she got a rude shock. Everyone in her class was like her. Some were better. In the first three weeks at theinstitute she realised three things

  1. She had to outperform others or she would be lost in the crowd
  2. She had to work harder than others
  3. She had to work smarter than others
Getting lost in the crowd was not her style. So she slogged and slogged and slogged. Participating in every contest, competition or event that came along, completing her assignments in time, sucking up to the faculty, volunteering for industry events. She did it all. The result of that was a Big 4 placement with a very very high package. Pooja was pleased with herself but she knew that she would have to start all over again at the company. She was right. The gruelling competition, the office politics and the work pressure made her MBA days look like a vacation on the beach! After six years of working her way up the corporate ladder she had a paycheck most people her age would kill for and a lifestyle they were all jealous of. Pooja wore designer labels, ate at the best restaurants and jet hopped from one international city to the next.
Today, Pooja was at the Heathrow airport in London. She had a ten hour stopover there. Pooja had yelled, threatened and pulled her weight at the travel desk. They just could not fit her into an earlier flight. She had been on her phone till the time her plane had taken off from Washington and the travel desk had finally told her that she would have to sit through the stopover. There was nothing she could do. “You can always go out into the city ma’am” had been the girl’s response to Pooja’s question, “What am I going to do there for 10 hours?” Pooja had ended the call and almost thrown the phone in anger.
As the plane landed in London, Pooja began to wonder how long she could spend in the lounge before she went crazy. “You could always go out into the city”, the words of the travel desk girl came to her mind. “What a ridiculous idea!”, she thought to herself. Once she was out into the terminal she began to think about the idea a bit more and thought there was no harm in finding out if transit passengers were allowed to exit the terminal. She stopped at an information desk and they told her that they were if they had a visa. Pooja fished out her passport and checked. She had a UK visa.
An hour later Pooja was standing in line to get a taxi into the city. She had been to London numerous times but for the first time, she had no agenda. She could have called her associates and some MBA classmates but didn’t. Something about the way those words were said to her made her stop all thoughts of work. “You could always go out into the city”. That twenty something girl on the phone in India had a tinge of jealousy as well as incredulousness in her voice. Pooja realised that she had never really seen London.
London
She told the taxi driver that she wanted to see the city. He suggested a hop-on hop-off tour and offered to take her where the popular tours began. An hour and a half later, she was staring up at the Hilton and trying to locate a Big Bus stop opposite it. She had just about 4 hours to do the tour and then it would be time to head back to the airport in time to catch her flight back to Mumbai. She chose the blue line of the bus tour. She had not even bothered to read the destinations on the Red Line and the Blue Line. She chose Blue just because it had more stops. It was July and the sun was out. The kind of sun that made the weather pleasant and brought people outdoors in Europe. She choose to sit at the top deck of the open top bus and found that most seats were taken. She slid in next to a lean guy who was peering out on the street below. He looked up when she sat and smiled at her. Pooja smiled back and pluggged her headsets in for the commentary.
The tour started and Pooja did not get off at a single stop. She sat through the whole circle enjoying the weather and learning historical and architectural facts about London. She took pictures. Loads of them. At the stops, of the monuments and of any interesting buildings she came across. Most people who had boarded with her had gotten off at some point or the other. She realised that her neighbour had sat through just like her. She was curious why he never got off. So she pulled out her headset and turned to him.
“Hi”, she said.
“Hello”, he replied in a crisp English accent.
“So you sat through the entire tour!”
“Just like you did”
“Yes. I am in a hurry”
“Why?”
“I have a flight to catch in four and a half hours”
“Aww. That is a pity!”
“What is?”
“That you gave only four hours or so to this beautiful city”
“It has so much to offer”
“I know it does. This isn’t my first time here”
“Then why did you sit here with a child eyed wonder, listening to every word of the commentary and clicking pictures of every building?”
“I did not”
“Check your phone!”
“Okay. Maybe I did click lots of pictures. But what were you doing keeping tabs on me? Why weren’t you looking at the sights”
“Because I have taken this tour many times”
“Many Times?”
“Yes. 49 to be exact. Next one would be my half century”
Pooja didn’t respond
“Half century you know. 50 runs. As in Cricket. Thought you’d get the reference. Being Indian and all”
“I got the reference. But why would you do 50 runs?”
“To score half a century!”
Pooja rolled her eyes.
“Okay. That was a bad joke.”
“I am a writer you see. I take this tour often to get inspired. To see people. To see the sites and then I go back and write the stories”
“What is your name?”
“Pete”
“Which book did you write?”
“I don’t write books. I write plays”
“Oh okay. I don’t know of any plays”
“I figure. You seem to have a busy lifestyle. Plays are for people who can take time out and enjoy. Not for those who do four hour hop on hop offs between flights. Do you ever slow down?”
“I don’t have time to slow down”
“That is not correct”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you have the time. What you don’t have is the will. You don’t have the will to slow down. You will continue this tour for another hour before hailing a taxi and then going on to the airport and back to the busy life you have. You are a compulsive runner of the rat race”
“So what? I chose that lifestyle”
“Yes. And I really have no problem however you live your life. It is your life after all. You should be happy. I hope you are happy”
Saying so, he gave her a big smile and turned to look back at the street… leaving Pooja in a whirlwind of thoughts. She didn’t know if she was happy.
Suddenly, her alarm rang. It was time to find a taxi. Pooja descended to the lower level and told the driver she needed to get off asap. The driver was a kind looking middle aged lady. She pulled the bus to a stop and allowed Pooja to exit with a smile. “Take care sweetheart”, she called after her. Pooja did not bother to respond. She got into a taxi and reached the airport. She was about to walk in when she thought of what Pete had said to her. That she couldn’t slow down. The insinuation that she wasn’t happy. Pooja closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths.
“What does he know what makes me happy. How dare he judge! “, saying so she walked into the terminal. On to her flight and back to her busy jet-setting life.
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1 Comment

  • Reply Sid June 3, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Interesting premise there, Anks. The jet-set-go lifestyle of today’s youth. Well, we all fall into it. If only we took some time to ‘get off the bandwagon; and enjoy the sights that are around us.

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