The cool mountain breeze was soothing her face. It was after a very long time that she felt relaxed and fresh. The climb to her grandmother’s house on the hill top was very scenic. She took breaks to look at the scenery around and inhale the fresh air.
Just before she reached her hand to open the gate, her thoughts were interrupted by a voice behind her said, “Hi Anita, how was your journey?” she looked behind and strained her mind to recognize the person. “Did you recognize me?” the voice seemed familiar but she could not place the person. “I am sorry……but….” He smiled and said, “I am your neighbor Arun alias chikoo”. “Oh my God, chikoo…..” she could not hide her excitement. “What a pleasant surprise, where are you now?”
Grandmother with her wrinkles still looked beautiful. The stories Anita had heard were that her grandmother was the most beautiful girl in the village and the rich and famous had come to ask for her hand in marriage but she had fallen in love with a school teacher. “How are you grandma?” she asked lovingly and hugged her. “Great, now that you are here, I can rest from cooking and cleaning and get time to watch my favourite TV serials,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. Anita loved her grandmother’s attitude. She was full of life even at the age of eighty three. She lived life to the fullest.
Arun made tea for them and lit the fire. The winter had set in and the valley of Dehradun was becoming cold in the evenings. “Should I accompany you to the grocery store, it is not very safe these days, and especially with a beautiful girl like you….” Arun had not changed at all she thought, always teasing her. “Sure, I need a body guard anyway,” they both laughed.
“So tell me, what do you do for a living?” she asked him. “I have a business, will take you to my office one of these days” said Arun. “How long has it been since you left Dehradun?” “Oh, ten years I think,” she said. “This time I have come for a break. Life in Mumbai is very exhausting, and the work of a journalist is filled with deadlines. I desperately needed this holiday. And what about your family?” she asked Arun. “My wife Sushma, and my son Aditya who is in a boarding school.” Anita was happy that they reached home before he could ask her about her life.
The morning mountain breeze and soft sunshine was even more refreshing. She stood in the garden and took deep breaths and felt the scent of the flowers was almost intoxicating. In one day itself she felt much fresher than she had felt in years. “Good morning Anita, how are you today?” the uncle next door asked her as he took his news paper inside. “Would you like to join us for tea?” he asked. “Some other time Uncle, I want to go for a walk now”, she politely refused. She did not want people to ask her about her life which had been in a mess recently.
The sleepy town of Dehradun was slowly waking up, with very few people on the road. In winter the life is generally slow. She stepped into the garden. The flowers were beautiful. She remembered her childhood. Her thoughts kept going back to Arun. Why was he so formal with her yesterday? She saw the tree and went close to it. Did she see the words there, very faintly, only she could recognize them. Her entire body seemed to be electrified as she remembered the first kiss behind this tree. The first kiss is something no one ever forgets, she thought.
She sat on the ‘double seat’ as it is called on the bicycle, sitting on the rod in front while his arms around her hold the handle, while they rode down the mountain roads at full speed. Her tresses blew towards his face and he enjoyed every bit of it. They stopped at a small roadside shack and had hot tea, both shivering in the cold.
Is the tea shack still there? Just as she was thinking about it, a black jaguar stopped near her and the window lowered. “Step in madam; I have a surprise for you.” Arun looked smart today in his light yellow casual shirt and jeans. “Hi Arun, where are you headed to,” “Come in, you still ask too many questions. You haven’t changed at all,” he said. “Was that a compliment or a complaint?” she asked him with a smile. “Let’s decide later, just now just lets enjoy the moment together”, he gently pressed her hand. She felt a shiver in her spine. His touch after so many years brought back hundreds of thoughts with it.
He stopped the car on the side of the road. He got down and opened the door for her. He extended his hand, and she held it. His hand felt warm. “Are you running fever?” she asked. “Yes fever of love,” he smiled. “Do you remember this place?” he asked looking straight into her eyes. “Of course,” she could barely say, before he held her close and kissed her gently. “I still love you, just as I did all those years ago. I know life has changed for both of us, but this one thing has never changed.”
Did I do something wrong? The thought kept recurring in her mind. She and Arun were lovers once, but both their lives had completely changed. They had gone their own ways. She remembered the day she was engaged; she had burnt all his love letters, just to symbolically erase any memory of her past.
As they sat on the cliff’s edge, Arun took out a cigarette and lit it. “My wife thinks I am a workaholic not fit to raise a family. That was the excuse she gave for sending my son to the boarding school,” he said slowly blowing the smoke out. “Strange, my husband too thinks I am a workaholic, and justifies that for his disloyalty,” she said, her voice choking.
“Tomorrow I am going back. Thanks for the wonderful time. I don’t know when we will meet, if ever we will meet, but these few days will always be treasured by me and give me strength to move on in life,” she said as she spread her arms for a hug. “Please don’t go back,” he pleaded.
“Anita, wake up dear, it is 7 o’clock. The milkman is at the door”, she could hear grandma shouting. Anita woke up with a jolt. She hurriedly went to open the door and a bit nervous after the dream. Or was it a dream?
It was not the milkman but there in front of her stood Arun with a bunch of red roses. “I would like to take you for a ride just one more time,” he said pointing at his car parked outside the Grandma’s house.