Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Long Weekend- a short story ( Part II )

They woke up late the next morning, a rare luxury indeed. ‘How about some trekking. I need some action.’ Sachin said. So after breakfast they set off on the short but steep climb to the Hanuman temple on the top of the hill inside the Air Force Station. This was restricted area but tourists were allowed to trek to the temple, situated on the hilltop also called Manki Point. The climb was far from gentle and they had to stop half-way to catch their breaths. ‘I think this idea of yours has sinister ramifications. You want me to die of exhaustion so you are free to pursue whatever nefarious designs you have’, huffed Anjali. Sachin just smiled as he caught his breath. The climb proved to be well worth the effort. The top of the hill provided panoramic views of the surroundings and they could even see the distant city of Chandigarh. 
The descent proved to be a relatively easy affair. They discovered a Tibetan eatery in the market and did full justice to the offerings of momos and thupka. The weather changed dramatically in the evening as dark clouds gathered and it threatened to rain. It started raining around seven. By eight it was pitch dark, the wind howled and shrieked and the house made ominous creaking noises. The rain lashed the surroundings with unabashed fury and they sat in the small living room in enjoying the unaccustomed sights and sounds. ‘It can’t possibly get worse than this’ said Sachin. 
The moment he said it the lights went out plunging the room in pitch darkness. Using his mobile Sachin hunted up the candles left over from yesterday and lighted them. The candles flickered and spluttered sending out feeble yellow light which cast eerie shadows in the room. And then the hail stones started falling making a loud noise on the tiled roof. There was a louder noise reverberating through the house. ‘Someone is knocking on the main door. Who can it be at this time on night?’ wondered Anjali. ‘Maybe it is the caretaker.’ Sachin said as he moved towards the door. 
He opened the door and peered out in the dark. A young man dressed smartly in jeans and a leather jacket was standing there. He was drenched and drops of water dripped off him. ‘I am sorry to have disturbed you at this time of the night. I live nearby and was caught in the rain. I am used to walking around in the rain but then the damn hailstones started and I had to seek shelter so I thought………..’ ‘Do come in.’ said Sachin as he ushered in the stranger. He was reluctant to admit an unknown man at this time of the night but the fury of the elements left him with no other choice. The young man walked in and sat on a cane chair in the darkest corner of the room. ‘I don’t want to spoil the settee as I am soaked.’ He said as an explanation for his act. Anjali was concerned. ‘Do you want a towel?’ The young man gave a sad smile, ‘Thanks m’am. I am okay. I love the rain and often roam around like this.’ Sachin noted that the man had a deep scar running across his forehead. The young man noticed the glance and said, ‘Mobike accident. I too drove a Bullet like you and the brakes snapped while I was going to Kalka last year. But I am here to tell the tale so that is good enough.’ Seeing the surprised expression on their faces he said. ‘By the way, my name is Robin. I live around here. I saw you driving around in that bike of yours yesterday. I even saw you taking an after dinner walk but did not disturb you. I am a bit of a Bullet fan myself. But you need to be very careful when driving around in the hills, particularly when going downhill.’ Sachin was miffed, ‘I have been driving a bike for many years. I have never had an accident.’ ‘And you should not have one,’ replied the stranger, ‘Just get the brakes checked before starting off on every journey.’ Anjali joined forces with Robin, ‘I did not want to come on a bike. I wanted the car.’ ‘No, no, the pleasure of driving a bike is far more. Just be careful and get the brakes checked.’ By that time the hailstorm had petered out but the wind was still howling in the trees. Sachin thought, ‘what a spooky night. It almost makes you believe in ghosts.’ Robin apparently read his mind. He said, ‘You know, ghosts exist. I know it but please understand that all spirits are not evil. It has stopped raining and I must go. Goodnight and remember to get the brakes checked.’ And with a polite nod he was off. The light came on after a few minutes and Sachin and Anjali did not think much about the matter after that. 
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. Kasauli looked washed and scrubbed and Anjali and Sachin started putting their things together as they neared the end of their brief holiday. As they handed over the keys to the caretaker Sachin asked him, ‘Do you know this fellow Robin?’ The caretaker gave a visible start, ‘Sir, why are you asking me this question?’ Sachin said, ‘we met him yesterday.’ The caretaker paled visibly and asked, ‘who did you meet yesterday and when?’ Sachin said, ‘Robin, The smart young man in jeans and jacket who lives around here. He said he also drives a Bullet. Don’t you know him?’ The caretaker said, ‘Robin was the only son of the owners of this Bungalow. He was a very kind hearted fellow and drove a Bullet. He died in an accident last year while driving down to Kalka on his bike. He is buried in the cemetery out there. May his soul rest in peace.’ He shuffled away leaving the dumbfounded couple behind. 
Anjali was the first to find her voice, ‘ Don’t you think we should get the bike checked before commencing our journey?’ They made their way to the market in silence and told the mechanic to give the bike a through check. ‘ Sir, the brake wire is about to snap. There is only one strand left. Thank God that you brought the bike for a check-up before driving back.’ Sachin and Anjali could only gape in silence as the words echoed in their minds, ‘You know, ghosts exist. I know it but please understand that all spirits are not evil. It has stopped raining and I must go. Goodnight and remember to get the brakes checked.’

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