Memories from the Hills

The spirits were high.The weather was adding to the enthusiasm.The moist merry wind was distributing freshness to everything coming it’s way.The hills of Shillong had got us all in love with itself too quickly than we had imagined.

We had hired a cab.An antique Maruti car.It must have traveled the rugged terrains of the hills for years.It appeared to me like an old man who had lived his ages of thrills and had now retired,taking pleasure in just doing his work,though with no sense of adventure attached with the trips anymore.It had already housed countless families,friends and couples take a ride along the winding paths-had seen them leaning on the windows,heard them gaping in awe,taking pictures frantically and saying words of excitement.It may not have felt any different carrying the five of us -Bittu ,Sanu,Mayank,Chinu and myself and hearing the same old words of excitement and happiness that people say during the trips to the hills.

***

As the car winded down the slope, I felt a tinge of thirst and looked for the bottle of water.”Stop the Car” I shouted,as I saw the empty bottle and a small shop outside simultaneously. The driver decelerated the car towards the left.”Whats the matter?” I was asked with mixed voices each laden with excitement and worry. “Oh,let me just get a bottle of water.” I said apologetically with a smile for having caused an alarm unnecessarily.”Ow we can take it later” was the instantaneous reaction.”Ya we will reach our next spot within 15 minutes,take the water there” was the next proposal.But I was adamant.Of all the things, not getting water when thirsty makes me restless.So I pressed a lot and the car was stopped.”Come back quickly” was the unanimous response I remember hearing ,as I closed the door behind me.

The car had stopped on the left side of the road and had moved quite a distance away from the shop.The slope was downward.I had to cross the road,taking care there was no vehicle raging down the path.

The shop was uphill, on the other side.Even before I had reached the shop I could hear the car I had just came out of,blaring horns and my friends there shouting towards me to rush and return quickly.It is not a good idea to let others wait when they are expecting to have a fast paced adventure tour and you make them stop,bringing a temporary halt to their adrenaline rush.( which was also fueled up because of cruising down the ‘Need For Speed’ like roadway.)

The shop was a two storied house.Isolated.The lower part was made into a shop.A girl was sitting at the counter.A young girl.Probably 16 or 17 years old.With dark eyes and bright face which is so distinctive with people in the hills.

She smiled,happy to have a visitor.You can but only reciprocate such a welcome with a bigger smile,and that is what I did. “Do you have a bottle of water?”I asked immediately,remembering my friends on the other side of the road,who must be getting impatient.

“Yes” she said.Suddenly springing up from her chair.Ready to do the job she was put there for.Her smile was gone.She was now a lady in charge of a situation,and she was going to perform her role promptly.She walked towards the fridge.I heard the noises of glass bottles tingling.I looked back at my friends away in the car.They were gesturing to come back quickly.I heard the horn blows again.I turned towards her.She closed the fridge without anything in her hand.”Sorry ,there is no bottle of water.” She said with a smile trying to suppress her feeling of guilt.Perhaps she felt bad that she had started up to do her task so excitedly but her effort had been in vain.I tried to comfort her by smiling more affectionately.”Ow,it’s alright.”I said concernedly and thought about buying something else from her,just to make her feel good.But before I could say anything she said-“Ok wait” and disappeared through the door towards her right.That was the way to the inside of her house. I felt she must have recalled that they have a stock of water bottles which hasn’t been kept in the fridge yet and so she had gone inside to get a bottle from there.

I heard the horn blares getting louder now.I turned to see.Now Sannu was out of the car and saying something to me.I couldn’t hear him,though from his body language I could sense he was saying-” What the hell are you doing for so long!” I lifted my hand assuring him that I was almost done.But the horn blares made me start panicking.I looked back at the door through which she had disappeared.I could only see the curtain swinging smoothy as the moist wind from up the hill blew across the shop.Where is she?I imagined her unpacking big brown cartons of mineral water bottles,probably with her mother’s or father’s or perhaps a brother’s help.Then I imagined her family working dexterously taking out the packaged sets of Kinley or Bisleri or some other local brand,handing them over to her, to be kept in the fridge at storefront.I took out the money in exact figures so that as soon as she came I would pay her and walk back quickly.

***

“She should have come back by now.” I calculated.The horn continued to blare across the road.I looked back at the blowing curtain.There was no sign of her.Should I leave? It was almost 5 minutes since she had left.I took a step to walk back to the car, when I saw the curtain being pulled and she appeared.. slowly walking… pulling the curtain aside with her left hand while in her right hand she held a beautiful tray.. with a glass..full of fresh clear water..

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