An extract from the unfinished novel The Girl with the Monsoon Eyes
by Nirmala Pillai
Cold blue, white light washed the faces of the fatigued
passengers with its eerie glow. Reva tiredly sank into 27-C, hoping
the badly postponed transatlantic flight would take off without
The hectic road show for her Japanese client was over. Her team-mates
were taking a break, staying back for the week end in New York to
unwind. Only she was returning to Singapore, to her world of
investment marketing and stock exchange dance of Yens and Dollars;
Cruising the revenue charts and bar graphs for thrills and dates, she
surfed the crests and troughs of profitability for emotions. She had
magic numerals as her bed mates. They never hurt her. She did not need
messy human beings.
Behind her back, her colleagues called her a frigid bitch with a
silicon chip for a heart. Yet they knew nobody could match her
brilliance and business acumen.
Yet there were moments she could not control the truth she ran
from; It was lonely and empty at the top. The long wait, drained her
of self control and self delusion during these vulnerable moments of
travel, spanning continents and strange hotel rooms.
Like computer pop-ups, images teased her memory– The fragrant mango
groves of her mother’s Cochin homestead in Kerala, sultry afternoons
of happy laughter between her mother and aunt, as they teased each
other eating Alphanso mangoes, golden juices running over fingers;
chasing butterflies and rabbits in the coconut groves, cuckoo songs
wafting in the air on warm sultry afternoons,awaiting the return of
her father from his business travels laden with gifts!. The nirvana of
senses mocked her present emptiness with despair.
The clicks and pings for service echoed constantly. Stewardesses
catered to the passengers. Their pale, plastic smiles churned up her
insides with bitter laughter; the mask of living. Every one wore it.
As a seven-year-old child, she thought life was heaven; a pearl
cherished and cosseted, secure in her shell, thinking life would go on
On a May afternoon, her dream world shattered when a blue, airmail
letter arrived from Los Angeles. Just like that! Her father had
abandoned his family for another woman a golden haired, white skinned
Barbie doll look alike ;the image of the various presents her
father had showered on her.
Devastated her meek, gentle mother quietly grew catatonic not knowing
why, when they were so happy to gather. The questions hung Reva and
her mother on its end like puppets. After two years he reappeared at
the homestead again, shabby, unkempt and an alcoholic, a stranger to
them, expecting to be taken back. It was too late. Her mother was
unreachable in her private hell.
She was a shadow of her former self and depression had taken its toll.
How deliriously happy she was her father came back ! In her childish
cruelty not understanding why her mother had grown silent and
unsmiling.; only living to regret and curse every day he spend with
them. The drunken rages and physical abuse that followed was painful.
He vented out his frustration against the world at them. Her mother
was like dead wood. She was married to him for life, a devout Hindu
wife! She had no escape. A sick woman, she could not walk away. Stuck
between them, Reva grew to hate this male figure in her life. He sold
off all the land and jewellery of her mother, reducing them to penury
to finance his drinking and his drug habit. When he died in an
accident she did not shed a tear.
Rejected and bewildered she grew into her teens a cold, driven,
self-sufficient girl wanting to conquer, in a man’s world. Her
father’s betrayal ate her soul. She would never be dependent on any
She jerked her thoughts back to the fast filling cabin, gripping the
cool hand rest as a wave of nausea hit her, she closed her eyes and
tilted her head against the seat.
When the stranger said, “Excuse me, 28-C is my seat,” she jerked
back to reality.
She stared into the shadowed grey -green iris of a tall man peering
at her, his face mirroring his bewilderment.
It was swift and smooth, as the grid of muscle, bone and expression
reset the mask on her face. A tilted nod and she gracefully got up to
let him through. A beautiful woman in a business suit with the silky,
waist length tresses, the only feminine touch; the epitome of a
woman of substance.
The seat belts were fastened. The take off maneuvers completed as the
plane taxied for lift off. The vibration of the metallic body
increased as the cold steel grinded into the welded plates to be air
borne, into the foggy, winter sky.
Reva watched the dark, bruised gloom splayed against the earth with
pin-pricks of light, tilting and falling away. The dull thud in her
temple intensified as she closed her eyes again. .
Twenty minutes after take off the red seat belt sign was on. None of
the cabin crew had put in an appearance. All were gripped in an eerie
waiting for the reverberations to ease. A crackling sound assailed her
ears. A wave of most frightening shudder went through the shell of the
aircraft. The lights blinked on and off and sparking sounds brought
little screams and moans. Soon the plane was lurching sideways and all
hell broke loose.
“Oh my God !’’
“ Lord in heaven…’ Have mercy on us’’.
“ Devil take thee”,
The words fell out of the mouth of the passengers as cabin baggage tumbled out.
The curses and the prayers were laced with bangs and crashes as the
darkness streaked with cries. Mobile phones were flashing messages
ignoring the ban on flights.
The baby talk to loved ones amidst the “ Darlings.” and “Honey.” rent the air.
“I love you.”
I love you forever…’’
“Pray for us .”
Desperation thickened the miasma of confusion and angry frustration.
Painful sobs fill the void. Reva seemed to be suspended in a glass
capsule. Again and again it struck her like a thunder bolt that she
might die. These may be her last moments. The emergency lights
flickered futilely. The static and announcements were quavering and
The emotional turbulence churning around dragged Reva in its wake. It
struck her with a painful vengeance that all seem to have some unseen
bonds stretching across time and space; some tenuous strands to hold
and hope in moments of crisis; She had no one. No warm voice or words
to console or share through the pain and screams. Her mother Uma… Maa,
the name was frozen on her tongue.
If was ‘here and now’.
All was a cipher. The ultimate end. The perfect zeros flickering in
her eyes teasing, tasting of fear and of death. Panic was a new
sensation. Fear tasted of brine? She had never shed tears in front
of any one, now she felt this liquid roll down her cheeks. No visions
of her past spooled out in front of her eyes. What she felt was the
utter loneliness of her self.
No memories of happy moments arose. The clammy skin inside her
clothes was peeling away. The bone was cracking, mocking her. The
flesh was pulpy and she wanted to scream, “I am in pain, please help
me!” To whom,? to her self or to strangers.? She had denied her own
Bottled and schooled with years of practice, no one had touched her
heart and her body! Driven to achieve, success became her shroud.
Silence her death song.
Was it five minutes, fifteen minutes? the chorus of praying and
cursing continued; the plane banked and tilted perilously this way
and that; the unseen hand of a desperate pilot trying to keep the
plane on course. Terror had numbed them. Reva felt the serrated edge
cutting into her body, her heart exposing her hollowness.
Bound to her seat her thrashing right hand made contact, as if on
its own volition with her co-passenger’s arm. Her fingers clutched the
warm hand and wordlessly felt the comfort seep in as it was taken and
gently cupped into his chest.
“Please”… the syllables formed and disappeared as she slumped side
ways, the dark swathes of black silky hair spilling forward straining
and stretching her seatbelt. The pains making her scream into
The unbearable noise and flying debris in the dark interior was
hurting as Stanley Norton tried to keep his cool in the middle of the
crisis , holding on to the inert figure of his co-passenger who had
gripped his arm in the darkness.
He had tasted fear many times in his tough job as a marine biologist
and taken it in his stride. Fright was a childhood creature he had
overcome. This raw waiting, haplessly awaiting death, trapped inside
the metal belly was demeaning. Totally clueless about the direction or
the state of affairs, without control over his immediate destiny, he
was just another human being like any of the two- hundred passengers
in the aircraft.
He thought of his mother who had seen him off at the air- port after
Christmas. The sprightly, petite seventy year old Doris Lee, a small
bundle of energy who was charming and charting her own course in life.
A smile softened his eyes. A lump caught in his throat as he wondered
if he would ever see his mother again.
A jarring thud wrenched them out of their seats. He cried out in
agony. He saw the tiny points of light zooming up as the plane
nose-dived losing aititude. It was about to crash in its down ward
flight. He hugged the slender figure of the girl, trying to nestle
into a ball. His last memories before blacking out were the fragrance
of sandalwood from the silken hair that clouded around them.
He whispered a long forgotten prayer that rose to his lips as he
recovered and realized that they were alive. The plane bumped along
the runway, buffeted by strong winds coming home to port.
The airport lounge was a war-front. The sounds deafening. Hell was a
place of cold metal and chrome; A concrete glass structure where
hundreds of coiling human dots and squiggles dashed about, lay about,
searing the air with screams, sobs and hard commands tearing the
chilled, numb atmosphere.
The disaster teams had taken over. The airport was shut again. The
morgue looked happier than this place. Destinations lay in stupor.
Cranky, hungry children were buzzing like dying mosquitoes, sprayed
with toxins. Baggage, bulky clothing, empty food counters, stinking
toilets and pieces of anger, emotions piled up like little heaps of
Near the pillar, on the floor, where the glow signs flashed ‘Rolex’
watches, Stan tried to prop up a disoriented Reva. Their bandages were
hastily done by the first aid crew on the scene of the accident. It
dulled the pain but the physical discomfit of the last four hours
waiting for Ambulances, with no food and limited supply of water was
unbearable. The last piece of chocolate cake, his mother had given,
was taken from his knapsack and given to Reva. Her mouth tried to chew
it. It stuck on her tongue as she tried to swallow it whole.
“Don’t do that”, Stan said gently, as he tilted her head and rubbed
her back. She tried to keep her heavy lids wide open to focus on his
face. “Stan. Sten. Lee. Lay”. The memory was teasing her All she could
recollect and feel was warmth, a cocoon she had fallen into, at the
height of her nightmarish journey. The eyes, she was drowning was
luminous and mirrored an alert patience. The smoky voice was cracking
slightly at the edges with tiredness. She was hearing it, loving it,
like a hand held fan, whose cool breeze passed like a gentle swell
over her consciousness, Now far, now near.
How many hours had this stranger spent taking care of her? A dull
question raised its head. It did not seem to matter. Her steel armor
was twisted and mangled. It was of no use. Like a raw, newly hatched
chicken, she could only yawn and feel the utter vulnerability cloak
her. The glimmer of a smile, the shadow of pain, tried to surface on
her face and Stan Norton felt the pull of it, as his features softened
into a smile.
His patience had paid off. This lovely, strange fish that clung to
him like a barnacle had aroused his interest; intrigued him no end.
Slowly as she tried to sit up on her own, like a child waking up from
her bad dream, he relaxed and stretched his long cramped legs on the
As he got up and exercised his stiff muscles shedding his coat, her
eyes followed the line of corded muscles of his throat and shoulders,
the span of his wide chest, where she had clung and buried her face.
She grew hot as the memories rose and fell and flamed, catching the
bemused gaze of the man who was trying to get his frozen blood and
‘Reva’ he nibbled at the name like a fish, curious at the strange
hook dangling in front of him.
A Touch of Flight is an extract from the unfinished novel The Girl with the Monsoon Eyes.