I checked my watch yet again, as if the more I check the time, the faster my bag will arrive. I was pretty sure that I could identify at least four different bags that had circulated the carousel more than five times but my bag did not turn up even once. What the hell were those airline ground staff paid for?
My phone rang. It was my sister Sayali.
"Did you fall asleep in the plane? What is taking you so long?" she barked.
"Is it my fault now that my plane gets delayed and my bag refuses to arrive?"
"Give all the excuses you want, you are always late for everything. You know the memorial service starts in 30 minutes right?"
"Yes my dear, I know that. I will change at the airport itself and come directly to the church. The airline has already pissed me off quite bad, I don't need you to make me feel worse."
"Blame me for every damn thing now. I hope you know where the hall is. It is behind....."
"Stop it now. I also grew up in the same town as you. Okay, I see my bag now. See you in a few minutes."
I cut the phone. Do all sisters like to micro-manage everything? She may be older than me, but I'm 28 now and she still treats me like a five year old kid.
I rushed with my bag to the restroom to change into more formal attire. Damn, I should have worn the suit before taking off. I quickly changed into the suit and was sitting in the cab in 10 minutes.
On a normal day, it should take about 10 minutes from the airport to the church, but since Murphy's law applied to the situation, there was a big traffic jam. My phone rang again.
"Where are you now?" Sayali asked.
"I'm sitting on my ass in the cab and there is a big traffic jam."
"Why do I have a feeling that you are still at the airport?"
"So I'm a liar now? Wait, let me open the window. Can you hear the honking outside? Or do you need more proof?"
"Its no use yelling at me. You were one of his favorites, not me. Couldn't you have come a day earlier?"
"Listen, its no use talking in retrospect. I'm trying my best here. So please cut me some slack."
"Fine" she said and cut the phone.
One word "fine", but it can have different connotations when it is said by a girl, none of which is the actual dictionary meaning of the word. But she was right. I was one of Francis sir's favorite.
Francis D'Souza was my high school teacher, though mentor would be a better word. He literally held my hand through all my struggles grasping math, often staying after school hours to provide me individual tutoring. If it wasn't for him, I would never have had the courage to become a teacher myself later in life. He made me fall in love with numbers and that was the basis of everything else in my life and career. We kept in touch even after I moved out of the city to work, though the past year it regressed. His health was failing him with age and I was too busy with my work to pay him a visit. That was till I got the phone call two days back. He had passed away. All the guilt of neglecting him came crashing on me. I hadn't seen him for over a year and now the only way I would remember him would be sleeping peacefully in his coffin.
Finally the cab reached the destination. I hastily paid the driver and rushed towards the church with my bag tagging along. Oh wait! Where was the hall exactly? I saw a priest walking by.
"Excuse me, Father. Can you please tell me where Mr. D'Souza's memorial service is being conducted?"
"Sure. If you go towards the front entrance of the church, then its in the hall on your left."
I thanked him and hurried. Luckily I was only 10 minutes late.
I entered the hall. The coffin was right in the front and there were about 8 people sitting on the benches. I could not see Sayali there. There was a slight sense of victory here. I'm the one who is always late, it it?
I had never met his family before. I approached the old lady sitting in the front, who I assumed would be his wife.
"Mrs. D'Souza, I want to offer my deepest condolences for your loss. He was a great man."
"Thank you, child. May I ask who you are? Sorry, but I've never seen you before." she said.
"I was his student. One of his favorites in fact."
The man sitting nearby came over.
"Really?" he said tersely. "What exactly did he teach you?"
"Everything that he knew. He loved his job. I used to struggle a lot earlier, but he made me feel comfortable. He was my inspiration and I followed his footsteps into my career. I owe him my life, my career, everything."
The man gave me a disgusted look and walked out of the hall. I could not understand what I had said that offended him. I sat down next to the lady and held her hand.
"Ma'm, if there is anything I could do for you, please let me know. It would mean a lot to me." I said.
She pulled her hand away and turned her back towards me. I looked around. Everybody was looking at me suspiciously. Nobody said anything.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the priest who had given me directions earlier.
"Can you please come with me for a moment, son?" he asked gently.
We walked out of the hall.
"Now, I see that you have made these people very uncomfortable." he said.
"I don't know what is happening. I just told them that Mr. D'Souza was my teacher and how special he was to me."
"Trevor taught you, is it?"
"Who is Trevor?"
"Trevor D'Souza, the man whose memorial this is. He used to be an actor, you know. Not the normal theater or movies. He used to work in those .. umm ... adult films. You know what I'm saying? The family did not like his profession, so they do not talk about it."
"Oh my God! I am here for Mr. Francis D'Souza's memorial. He was my school teacher."
"Oh, that is being held in the hall behind the church."
I thanked him and hurried towards the correct hall. Well, that explained the looks that I got. Hell, what was I talking?
The hall was almost full. I scanned the crowd and located Sayali who was sulking. She had kept a seat next to her empty for me. I quietly went and sat next to her. I knew what was coming.
"Thank you for coming before they finished the service. What is your excuse now?"
"I don't have any excuse. You won't believe what just happened. I reached the church and ..."
"Just shut up. Excuses and more excuses. I don't want to listen to any of your stories. You are always late!"
Based on an incident in the book "The Skin Collector" by Jeffrey Deaver.