The Return Journey

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The story is slow. Those, who are looking for a quickie, please leave. If you like it, please let me know. And please vote. Hope, you enjoy the story.

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‘How long you’ll be here?’ I asked the guy behind counter, keeping calm, trying not to insinuate any sign of my desperation.

He appeared to be in late thirties. Checking his wristwatch, he answered, ‘Hmm, half an hour.’

It was not even three in the afternoon but cloudy sky and fast depleting day light, made it appear like an evening. All shops in the vicinity were closed. Number of vehicles on the otherwise busy road was negligible. Very few people were walking on the road. It appeared, the small, sleepy hill town in north was almost closed for the day.

I was standing alone for over an hour, in front of a ticket counter of the only bus terminus of the hill town. In fact, it was the common terminus for bus and other passenger vehicles and I was standing in front of the only open counter at that hour of the day. Bus service was closed. The last bus had left at 1-30 p.m. and the counter was for passenger vehicles only.

Arriving for a job interview on the previous day, I was returning home. I had to catch a train on the same night from a city in plains, four hours’ drive from the hill town. I had a confirmed berth in the train, which was booked months back. Getting railway reservation in tourist season, in the month October is not easy.

The man at counter had told me in clear terms that no vehicle, originating from the hill town would leave for plains, at that late hour. Only in case of arrival of any vehicle from plains, I would get chance to get down and that too, depended on having sufficient number of passengers for plains.

My twin sister, my own self, who lives in me, is always critical. She scrutinises my every action, and every thought. In her enmity against me, she often tweets the oddest, polluting my mind, clogging my normal thoughts. Most of the time, we are in fights. Since the man in counter spoke to me, she started it.

She tweeted: ‘You’re doomed!’

I replied: ‘Shut up. I can wait and I’m sure to get a car for going down.’

Tweet: ‘You still think, you’ve a chance?’

Reply: ‘Just shut up, stop it for now!’

Three buses were parked at the bay with closed doors and windows were shut down. Although, few persons were scattered here and there; I was the lone passenger in front of the only open counter of the terminus.

I needed two things, arrival of a vehicle from plains and sufficient number of passengers for plains. I do not know what would be that sufficient number! I needed luck, I thought.

The man at the counter was discouraging, ‘Why don’t you come tomorrow? I don’t think you’ll get any vehicle at this hour! You’re a tourist?’ he asked me.

Come on man! You don’t need to so mean. He’s checking on me since I arrived here. Well, I do not mind; especially, in such a situation. So far, no sign of any car from plains and in case he decides to leave, closing the counter, my all hopes would vanish. I need to keep him engaged, in good humour, I thought.

I nodded with a broad smile.

‘You see, you’re the only passenger! I don’t think, even if any vehicle comes now, the driver will be ready to go back with single passenger!’ he asserted, increasing my tension.

In case, I failed to get back and catch the train, it would be a huge problem to get back home. I had no idea that getting a vehicle in afternoon was so difficult. Not even the hotel staff, where I stayed, told me any such thing, even while I was checking out. Cursing the hotel staff, I said to the guy in counter, ‘Please, don’t scare me! Where’ll I sleep for the night?’

I repented for the silly question immediately but the damage was already done.

My twin tweeted: ‘Are you asking him to offer his bed?’

Indeed, he grinned with my question but understanding my concern, tried to pacify me, ‘There may be some late comers like you,’ he answered.

‘Thanks for your kind thoughts,’ I replied in a sweetened voice.

I have to keep him in counter for more than half-an-hour and I don’t mind flirting a little, I thought.

Leaning against the counter, avoiding eye contact, looking at the tourist map affixed on wall at the back of the counter, I placed myself for his closer inspection. In such a chilly day, opening buttons of my cardigan was out of question but my tight cardigan made them prominent and he could see the contour and shape. I knew, it would work and making a quick glance at him, I found his eyes fixed on my bulges.

‘Try your luck but you’re standing here pretty long. It’s so chilly outside. You can get in here. I’ve an extra chair,’ without moving gaze, he asked me.

I had seen the vacant chair lying next to his chair. He had a mind for something more! Pleased on thinking that my initiation worked, I refused him politely, ‘Thanks for being so helpful but I’m ok here!’ I said to him.

By happy, what you’re getting beylikdüzü escort man, I thought. But my twin objected.

Tweet: ‘You’re getting cheap! What’re you doing?’

Reply: ‘No, I’m not. I had noticed him checking on me and I just need to keep him in counter for some time.’

Tweet: ‘He’s looking at your melons!’

Reply: ‘Nothing’ visible, they’re covered with my cardigan.’

Tweet: ‘But you placed those on top of the counter intentionally, to let him look at them!’

Reply: ‘Are they getting smaller by his stare? Many would do more than that, in my situation. He’d just staring at them, absolutely no problem!’

At the very moment few persons, entered through the big ornamental gate of the terminus. Indicating at them, I exclaimed in joy, ‘Your wishes are so powerful!’ I said to him.

‘Yes madam, but you also need a vehicle to go,’ he said to me in a challenging tone.

What was it? His desperation? Since my prospect of return getting increased? Since, he got disturbed from staring at me? He did not want me to go? He could spoil anytime by leaving his chair or by closing the counter and I had to keep him engaged, I thought.

Leaning more on the counter, putting more in his view, I pleaded with him, ‘Would you please wish for me again? Your wishes are so powerful! Wish a car for me!’ I asked him grinning.

Keeping his eyes fixed on the counter, he fumbled for reply, ‘Of course, for you!’

Seven of them, two ladies, three children and two men had entered through the terminus gate. They were looking like local hill people, wearing their traditional dresses.

People from hills are distinct from the people of plains by look. They are shorter in height, fair complexioned, with narrow eyes and blunt nose. Most of them are muscular and healthy. Young girls and children are having apple red cheeks. Lesser oxygen in high altitude resulted in their red cheeks and it is genetic among hill people. But respiratory diseases are common.

After my graduation in nursing, I was working as a staff nurse in a reputed city hospital for the last five years. I came to the hill town in north, 3,000 kilometres away from my native place, a coastal city in south. I did well in the interview, held on the previous day.

I did not meet any other candidate for interview, maybe I was the only one. They were surprised to see someone from so far away. They wanted to know about my marital status; maybe to know whether I would go home frequently, about my distractions and I might have pleased them unwittingly by saying my status as a divorcee.

We had mutual divorce, which ended my nine years of marital life and my only distraction in life was my eight years old daughter, Sara. After divorce, I moved to live with my retired parents and I was working in a city hospital. Sara got admission in a reputed boarding school and my younger brother was also living with my parents. Eventually, I wanted to move on. I wanted to go out from the city, from my past far away to start my life afresh.

Trying for a new job, I had applied with a reputed private hospital chain, M/s Hirani Health Care, having national presence. They had a vacancy in their newly inaugurated hospital at the hill station in north, far away from my city in south. I made a strenuous journey of 48 hours by train, spent a night in a city hotel then travelled again for 4 hours by road to reach the hill town, popular for tourists, on the previous day morning.

I had grown up in a city in south with long coast line and sandy beaches. Travelling to a hill station for the first time, I was enchanted with beauty of the sleepy town, surrounded by green forests with exotic flowers and faunas. I managed a short sight-seeing trip in a hired taxi after the interview. Look, language, dress; everything was so different. I could not make out even a single word of the local people.

I have to interact with locals on a daily basis and I do not know single word, they speak. Would it be possible for me to work here as a senior nurse? I thought.

‘You’re so lucky!’ words of the guy in counter broke my thoughts.

A ‘Toyota Innova’ entered into the terminus. One of the locals, who reached into the terminus, a few minutes before had come to the counter asking for vehicles. To make space for him, I moved back from the counter. They wanted to go the same way but their destination was in mid-way.

‘Would it be ready to go back?’ hurriedly coming back to the counter, I asked the guy in counter with doubts in mind.

‘Yes, the car’s from plains and spending a night here is additional expenses for the driver,’ he replied.

‘Wow, that’s nice!’ I exclaimed, looking at him.

I found him looking at my cardigan more intently and I smiled at him.

Getting desperate since time of my departure is coming near, I wondered in my thought.

It was something I was indulging more and more for some time. I needed a change. After divorce, I was bostancı escort like once bitten, twice shy. I refused to go out on date though there was no dearth of suitors. But I had my biological needs and I could not make out when I started flirting with someone unknown in a party or teasing someone on road. I understood, my abstention was taking its toll and I needed a man in my life. Isolation was just not for me and I wanted to go out, to a new place, to start afresh.

You’re staring for pretty long and if I let you stare for more, you may want to reach out, to touch them, I thought.

I turned to my right, watching the Toyota. It was parked a few meters away from the counter and passengers rushed to alight from the car. I noticed a man and woman, may be a couple, were getting down from a taxi in front of the terminus gate. The taxi driver put down two big suitcases from the taxi. I was watching them when the guy in counter disrupted, ‘Madam, you can choose a seat. You want a front seat or middle one?’ he asked.

I turned back to the counter, leaning again to please him. ‘Whatever, you choose for me!’ I said to him grinning.

I was not fussy about front or middle seat, at least I got something to catch my train but instinctively, I could not miss the chance to make him feel important and yes, his eyes brightened. It takes so less to make a man happy. A failed relationship teaches a lot. I changed myself. I cannot afford to fail again. Let him be happy, I thought.

He was looking at a spreadsheet and I asked him, ‘Do you’ve higher and lower fares for seats?’

Looking up from the spreadsheet, meeting my eyes, he grinned, ‘Not really but most prefer window seats in front,’ he said to me.

I might have amused him with my ignorance. Gazing again to my breasts, ‘But you’re not wearing a heavy woollen and I’d suggest you to take the middle row,’ he suggested me.

I was wearing the heaviest woollen, I had; a cream coloured cardigan over full sleeve tee, a black synthetic legging and a pair of sneakers. My mom suggested me to carry the synthetic legging, thinking it would be warmer than cotton but in open terminus, I had a feeling as if nothing in worn in lower part. Rather my feet were better in a pair of heavy socks and sneakers.

I grinned, ‘Thanks, whatever you suggest,’ I said to him and indicating to the local passengers, asked him, ‘What about them?’

Three children, aged in between 8-10 years were in shorts and skirts. He replied, ‘They’re locals. They’ll get down in mid-way.’

‘I see’, I nodded.

The couple, appeared to me as tourists, were coming towards the counter. The man was carrying two big suitcases and they were walking slowly. I noticed them better as they drew near. The woman in her blue-denim, brown leather jacket, polka-dot white scarf flapping over neck, brown handbag hanging from shoulder, shoulder length fluffy black hair swaying with footsteps appeared prettier when she came nearer. She was may be of 25-26, about 5′-4″, slender, fair skinned and the man grey suit with red tie with French-cut beard and long moustache was handsome. He may be of 30-32, around 5′-8″ and little bit plum.

On reaching in front of the counter, he kept those two big suitcases on the porch with big relief. I moved aside from the counter to make space and he approached the counter. ‘Can I’ve two seats please?’ he asked the guy in counter.

‘Sure sir, two seats. You want in front or in middle row?’ asked the man in counter.

‘In the middle row, preferably window seat.’ He replied.

‘You can have a window seat and the next one in the middle row. The other window seat isn’t available, she has taken it,’ indicating at me, the man in counter told him.

Looking at me, he smiled, ‘That’s ok. I’m with wife, one window and the next seat will be fine,’ he replied.

Taking out purse, he enquired with the counter guy, ‘How much?’

I checked on my wrist watch and it was 3-45 pm. It would not take more than four hours to reach at the railway station and the train was scheduled to leave at 10 pm. I had enough time in hand and I watched around lazily. All the passengers, who alighted from the Toyota had left the terminal by then. It was parked about 50 feet away. The locals, who were standing near the car, were getting into the car. The wife, standing about 10 feet away from me, appeared to be safeguarding their two suitcases. She smiled on meeting my eyes and I noticed her cute dimple on right cheek. It was visible only when she smiled. I smiled back at her. Maybe she assumed me as another tourist waiting for returning home.

Are they honeymooners? I wondered in mind but they did not resemble those over-excited, showy pairs of newly-weds. In the pre-winter tourist season of October, they could be a couple in annual tour, I thought.

The husband had left the counter. Collecting my ticket from the guy in counter, I was about to leave. ‘Thanks for your wishes and everything,’ I said looking çapa escort at him.

‘It’s my pleasure. Hope to see you again, Bon voyage.’

Did he look a bit sad? I wondered.

Tweet: It’s your figment of imagination!

Waving at him, I proceeded towards the car.

Three children were sitting in the front row and the men and women, accompanying them, maybe their parents were seated at the back seat. The young driver, in his early twenties appeared to me as local. He kept the two suitcases of the couple in rear booty of the car and was playfully teasing the children, seated beside him.

The middle row of the car was vacant. The door for entering into the middle row was at the left side of the car. The couple were waiting outside, may be to let me get in first. Getting into the car, I sat next to the right window, behind the driver and kept my backpack near at my feet. As soon as I took my seat, the couple boarded on the car. The wife sat in the middle and her husband sat next to the window, on the other side of the car.

Each row of the car was meant for four persons but they could not get fourth passenger for the middle row. We three sat in the middle row, pleased with the prospect of having some extra space.

The lady, talked to me first, ‘Hey! You’re shivering!’

I did not think, my shivering was that conspicuous and gave her a nervous smile, ‘It’s chillier than yesterday and I was standing in open for long. But its ok now, we’re inside the car.’

‘Yeah, you cannot predict weather in hills,’ she agreed and continued after a brief pause, ‘You should’ve worn warmer clothes.’

Nodding, I gave her another uneasy grin.

Wish she knew, I was wearing my warmest clothes, I thought.

The driver had started by then and driving past the gate of the terminus, we reached on road. I said to her, ‘It is cosy inside, don’t worry, I’m fine.’

Turning to her husband, she said to him, ‘She’s just with a cardigan!’

He looked at me but did not say anything. She turned back face, ‘It’s not that cosy. Please check the window, there may be gaps. Why don’t you keep the bag by your side?’ she asked me.

Pushing the button on armrest, I checked up the window glass. It was fully closed but chilly air was coming in from some invisible gaps. As suggested, moving towards her, picking my backpack, I kept it on the seat next to the window. On peeping out through the car window, surroundings appeared darker and more dark clouds were hoovering on the sky.

The husband proclaimed from his side, ‘We’ll get rain on the way.’

He was also looking out through the window and in coincidence, while I looked inside, he too turned back side and our eyes met. He had some boyish charm, which made him look younger.

‘Are you on honeymoon?’ I asked but repented for asking that immediately.

The wife, on hearing my question chuckled, ‘What?’

My question surely amused her, ‘Do we look like honeymooners?’ She continued after a brief pause, ‘I’ll take it as compliment, thanks,’ she smiled.

Feeling little awkward, I did not reply and she went on, ‘We’re married for three years. He’s in construction business and I forced myself on his project tour,’ she laughed.

‘By the way, I’m Indira,’ introducing herself, she stretched hand.

As we shook hand, indicating at her husband, she continued, ‘And this is the man of my life, my only husband, Suman!’

I broke into laugh by the way of her introduction. Suman had stretched his hand. I forwarded my hand in response and we shook hands, ‘I’m Luxmi. I came here for a job interview.’

‘Oh really?’ she asked me with brightened eyes.

‘Yes,’ I nodded.

‘So how was your interview?’ she asked me.

‘I think, I did well …but you can’t be sure. It’s for job,’ grinning, I said to her.

‘True,’ she nodded.

‘What’s the job, if you don’t mind asking?’ she asked.

‘Not at all, I’m a senior nurse by profession. The company, I applied for is Hirani Health Care. You may have heard the name. It’s a reputed hospital chain, spread all over the country. Recently, they’ve opened here,’ I replied with smile.

‘Oh I see,’ she responded.

My profession might have sounded unimpressive. She looked uninterested did not ask me anything more. I looked outs through the window. The children in the front seat were discussing something animatedly in their language. Their guardians, may be their parents on the back seat were silent. Turning gaze, I found them dozing off in peace.

Traffic was sparse on the road. When the children stopped, monotonous engine humming broke the sudden fall of silence, inside the car. All windows were closed. Nonetheless chilly wind was getting inside. I was shivering from cold but kept my cool outward.

Breaking the silence, Indira asked me, ‘You appear to be from a hot place. From where you’re?’

‘Yes, I’m from a coastal city in south. We’ve summer and monsoon there, no winter,’ I grinned at her.

‘I thought so. We’re from west, with same weather like yours. You must be having beaches there?’ she asked me.

‘Yes, we have beaches,’ I replied.

‘Cool, I love beaches. We don’t beach or hills or anything interesting in our city, only industries; so boring!’ she complained with a grin.

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