It was almost midnight with heavy mist canopying the field where Z had just entered. He was there to meet no one in particular but to just tag along with couple of his friends who were looking to get away through the night in the rooms of the main building overlooking the field. Z never bought the idea of spending a night in a brothel. He would rather be anywhere in the world than in any of the rooms inside this old rambling ready to fall any time with the burden of ever dominating lust and fierce desires that have prevailed here over more than a century. But today something brought him here as for the last few days he was unhappy due to the constant quarrelling that took place in his house.
A young boy in his early twenties, Z has grown into a sensitive soul over the last few years. More so because of the unnecessary verbal fights taking place back home to which he had struggled to bring together the elders in his family who were in the grip of the ever dominating domestic mayhem. With loneliness came a love for solitude. He saw himself drifting more and more towards the silent world where only he could find peace. Whether it’s the old cobblestone leading an isolated path all the way to the top of the ayar hill with groves of oak giving him a quiet company or the dilapidated old kothi of a forgotten local raja at the top of the Laria-Kanta hill where he would sit for hours just gazing at the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas seeking a sense of belongingness, his yearn for such unconventional haunts was growing day by day. He was also starting to become indifferent to the crowded bazaar where he lived. May be it was an escape for him where he could be as natural as he can.
He looked up at one of the rooms inside the building. The room was dimly lit with gloominess screaming out at him giving him an instant push to puke. He stopped and told his intoxicated mates that he wishes not to continue and would wait outside. They gave him a loose stare followed by a quick smirk as they turned and made their way to the staircase. They knew how Z felt about the act and were descent enough not to push him.
Standing on a corner, Z quickly fell into a reverie. He could see his past clearly floating in front of him. During his growing up days, how happy he was reaching the ground on a cold winter morning just to have a good few hours of cricket. He did not mind getting bruised elbow after diving here and there to take a great catch. The drawings he would do that would make him lose track of time, dexterously going about the page with well armed crayons in his hands. But as he took his past reel a bit forward, he saw how he quickly changed as he reached his teenage years. The need to please everybody and to fit in with kids he felt superior to him in different ways was a task he got lost into. And this took away his self belief which he found after some six years of dancing like a puppet to his own inhibitions. He saw the relationships he had in the past which gave him satisfaction but not for long. He could see himself working hard to put things right which were never meant to be together at the first place. After failed attempts, he could do nothing but leave everything and find a new path and that he did.
A smile witnessed his face as he now reached at his recent past where he learnt and accepted the need to be alone. It is not that he liked being a recluse, he would be around people but a good chunk of his day would be dedicated towards being on his own. In this he found refuge with his sudden love for books giving him a company he could not get anywhere else.
As he looked up after gazing a good half an hour at the ground, he saw a glimpse of someone standing near the steps leading down to the bakery market. The light installed on that corner was unable to reach the sight. Z tried to fix a firm gaze but he couldn’t make out anything as it was the opposite corner of the field. The figure suddenly turned and started looking at Z. The wind was quite strong as the firm deodars around the building made the woooo-woooo sounds, anticipating this mystery to unfold. The breeze hit the unknown’s face lifting up the hair. ‘It’s a girl,’ whispered Z to himself. Alarmed yet curious to know more, he started moving towards her. She stood still as Z quietly with a soft, gentle pace approached her. He must be about ten feet from her when she turned and started walking down to the market. On seeing this, Z hurried after her slipping on the pebbles that covered the steps. He reached the narrow lane and to his astonishment couldn’t find the girl. A bit scared now, he turned around to go back to the field when he saw the girl standing just few inches away from him.
Her face was pale white with big dark brown eyes, slightly crooked nose and with lips just enough to complete an interesting face added by a chin visible at the bottom. For a moment Z was displaced as he stopped himself from getting bumped into her. His loose footing almost made him topple over the slippery pebbles when her hand came to his rescue. It was a cold touch, something that has not seen a good fire for a long time to keep it warm. As their eyes met, Z noticed that her eyes grew even bigger asking him to find whatever he was looking for. Z immediately looked down freeing himself from her grip. ‘Who are you and what are you doing here at this hour?’ he questioned her with a firm look of concern.
Again the cold wind could be felt, it was the month of January and the cutting winter winds were somehow managing to slip inside the warm layers that Z had wrapped himself up with. His breathing was condensed into clouds as he spoke again, ‘Would you mind opening your mouth?’ Still he got no answer from the girl. Z noticed that the girl was wrapped around in a shawl with a very old, thick faded jeans visible as you go down the knees where the shawl ends. She was wearing boots which was understood because of the weather but he could not get his head around the intense cold touch that he experienced few minutes ago. How could she be so cold? Doesn’t she have a home? How is she managing to stay out in such a windy night and that too in this forbidden corner of the town? These were some questions bothered him as he waited for the girl to utter something.
‘Why are you here?’ asked the girl. Hers was a husky voice rather pleasing to the ears. Z wasn’t expecting this. He himself did not know as to why he has set foot in this depressing surrounding of ill fame. He was never attracted to such places. Was it the constant quarrelling that he was trying to escape from or was there something else that was bothering him to look for a company if not an amorous one? Z was not sure and so decided to keep quiet. Both of them, staring right into each other’s eyes, stood there quietly as the bitterly cold winds started to become a bit hostile.
Her name was Yana. Her family came from the plains of Dehradun after her father retired from the Administrative Service. They decided to settle in the hills of Kumaoun as her father was a Kumauni. Yana got her education from one of the convents established in the 19th century situated up on one of the hills where she lived as a boarder. Her love for the hills was something she acquired from her father who would plan his summer retreats in the unknown hamlets in these hills. Together they would spend nights camping out in the wild. Her mother was not that much fond of the hills as she was rather taken in by the fast paced city lifestyle. She would come to the hill station during the retreats just to meet Yana. She did not share the same attachment that her husband had for mountains. A proud shikari, he would spend several nights out in the forest stalking the wild beasts. Meantime the wife would be busy attending late night parties in the various clubs in town. Soon the disagreements grew and Yana knew beforehand that the marriage will tumble down soon if she did not do anything about it.
Her holidays would be spent in comforting the two and doing whatever she could do to make them get back to being a caring couple. Her efforts would usually go in vain as in no time the verbal fights would take a form of physical abuse. After her schooling she moved to Delhi. She sacrificed opportunities just to be with her family and after spending seven years in the capital came back to look after her ageing parents. Being the only child, she decided not to get married as that would take away from her the care that is required on her part towards her parents. She opened a local handicrafts shop in one of the rooms facing the bridle path outside the cottage. When she would be in the house, the elders would remain quiet. They would not speak to one another but at the same time would complain to Yana about each other. She would forcefully make her happy inspite of the situation getting out of her hands as there was no one for her with whom she could share her pain.
As the days gave way to months and months to years, Yana was still unhappy as the quarrels would still take place. She was now in her mid twenties and due to a prolonged sadness had gotten a bit weak, more of an ashen-faced. She would still think of the time when she was fresh out of college and would beam with confidence aspiring to be a sculptor. But because of her only wish to make her parents reconcile she had to give up on a lot of things.
One late chilly winter evening, she was returning from the bazaar to her battered old cottage which was hard to look after because of her meager income. She was happy as she had just met an old friend of hers and had decided to be in touch with other long lost souls she had forgotten in her quest for harmony. ‘A new start,’ she said to herself grinning and twinkling at the oaks and surai trees along the steep hill.
As she entered through the main door opening to the wooden lounge, she went inside her room which fell first followed by her mother’s room and then her father’s room.
Excited to tell them about the evening with her friend, she entered inside the first room with a tray full of hot gulab jamuns. She placed them on a wooden table and went upto the bathroom as her mother was nowhere to be seen in the room. The bathroom being unoccupied, she moved to the other room which was also vacant. A fright took over her as she quickly made her way past the dining hall and into the kitchen where she saw the back door still moving after being knocked open by force. She courageously stepped out only to spot his father being fastened by a robe around his neck as he sat on a wheelchair unmoved. A little further from was a lady trying to get pass the tiny gate covered by wild kettles and weeds. She was her mother who had killed the father and now was trying to run out of the house. Yana ran after her making her way through the garden. She got through the gate and in a scurry dashed into the forest behind her mother. As she climbed the steep path, tears rolled down blurring her vision. Her mother was nowhere to be seen and by now she was alone in the hillside chasing her bright past that had taken a form of a faded bed of memories entangled in a never ending struggle. She kept on running till she reached the crest of the hill disappearing for ever beyond the last ridge.
* * * * * *
Z stood on top of the same crest, as together they had climbed up the bridle path leading to the hill while Yana told him her story. For a second Z froze to death after discovering the girl next to him was Yana’s ghost. A startled Z just stared at her big eyes as she came close to him. She reached for his left ear and calmly whispered, ‘We always have a choice, I had mine and you have yours. Cherish whatever is there to be cherished but remember that we all have limitations, we cannot rule other’s lives.’ She brushed her lips against his cheek and vanished into thin air.