The man at the reception looks at her quizzically, he’s seen several Indian travellers with a heavy accent, some German, some British, some American, and he has always taken pride in his ability to be able to identify them, but this one was simply strange. A mix of German and Russian with a hint of British; he had guessed. She is standing in front of him, getting impatient, her hands tapping on the table, forming a rhythm of their own; he shuts his eyes for a second, and then hands over the keys to her.
The bellboy ushers her into the cottage, it’s small and scantily furnished, yet it’s the best a grand a night could fetch her. Consumed by her thoughts, she lights a smoke, walks up to the window and opens the blinds. She looks around her cottage and behind the haze of the smoke and the ochre yellow rays of the sun; the tiny almost shabby cottage seems cosy, this, she knows, is going to be her home for the next week. The week she can’t wait to live. Her phone beeps, she looks at it and smiles, puts out her cigarette, and walks into the bathroom, on the clock, she has half an hour to get dressed, in her mind, a quarter of that!
Northern India isn’t exactly the ideal place for someone who hates walking, but for two people, one with the spirit of a wanderer and the other with the soul of a nomad, this North Indian sojourn is a cross road on the highway of life.
She steps out of the bath, smelling of white lotus and morning dew; picks out her favourite jeans from her backpack and a t-shirt she picked up at a flea market in Brazil, throws on her stylish cardigan, she looks into the mirror and smiles. She looks at her watch and starts pacing the room anxiously. Seconds turn into minutes, it’s half an hour and a smoke later, that there’s a knock on the door. She can feel her stomach flip as she opens the door with all the expectations she had buried in some remote corner of her mind.
There he was. The boy she had dated almost half a decade ago; the man that stood before her five years later. All it took was a nervous laugh and a warm hug, and suddenly nothing had changed, the picturesque mountains of Kasauli had turned into their college campus, and her cardigan turned into her sweatshirt. One look and she noticed, his lose jeans and graphic t-shirts were replaced by fitted pants and a chequered shirt, her high fiving college boyfriend was now a high flying investment banker, but for him she was still the nomad who’d keep whispering rhymes to herself and quote Shakespeare at every occasion, except for her hair colour nothing about her had changed.
They had decided to meet here, in Kasauli just because Facebook messages and Gmail chats had stoked such a fire that only reality could douse the flames or bring the house down. It was a risk they had decided to take; a risk that gave their wandering souls an adrenalin rush that very few things could.
Away from home, everything feels brand new. Like neophytes lobbed out of the concrete jungle and into the bare. Everything is nourishing and cherishing, the colours in the clear skies, the fresh air, the several shades of green and brown of the mountains, it's an entirely altered experience.
Together they travelled through the mountains, Sanavar, Dharampur, a day at Shimla, a day at Chail, long walks along the banks of the Kewal River; it was pristine, like a moment of calm in their rootless lives.
There’s something achingly beautiful about the rhythm of water, it puts you in a trance. Watching its flow, she gets engulfed with emotion. The liberating feeling of experiencing such splendour. There is so much of the world to see and always so little time. Yet, for all the limited experiences life has to offer, to discover a new side to oneself, to accept a flaw. Ah, the journey called life!
The week slips by. She, the organizer, the nagger, the perfectionist… He, the calmer one, the listener, the anchor. He liked asking for directions, she liked taking the road less travelled. He liked fresh air, she loved cigarettes. He’d want to hire cabs, she’d want to walk. Yet, they’d make it work. And how! Two stubborn companions who grudgingly, nudgingly, teasingly took decisions to adapt to the other….to leave their footprints behind on these untouched mountains and their rugged roads!
It’s their last day in the mountains; the dream is coming to an end. It’s time to go back. Back to two worlds where nothing’s new anymore. America – Dublin – Same thing.
It begins to pour. They had been seeing the weather reports all week; finally here it was. They decide to walk it to the bus station.
She suddenly finds herself quoting Shakespeare again.
“Love comforteth like sunshine after rain, But lust's effect is tempest after sun; Love's gentle spring doth always fresh remain, Lust's winter comes ere summer half be done; Love surfeit's not, Lust like a glutton dies, Love is all truth, Lust full”
She quietly slips her hand into his. A twinkle in her eye, a smile on her lips and a lump in her throat.
He smiles. It was a fine investment that he had made.
They reach the station. The rain continues to fall, they sit onto the bus, she gets the window seat. She looks out at Kasauli, which now looks slight, dewy, and yet still beautiful like the dreamy delusion that was their vacation.