The second last seat of the blue Volvo bus was not a marvel at comfort but it did just enough for Raj. The partly open window at his side was showing a grand view a majestic height. It’s peak had been enveloped by a thick fog. Raj was staring at the breathtaking sight from his window. His legs had seemed fine when he had gotten in the bus but now it took an effort to lift them up the seat. His body felt heavier in that seat as if gravity had become stronger. No wonder, climbing Kalsubai has its pains. And still Raj was feeling fairly satisfied.
Raj had almost forgot to notice that he wasn’t alone in the bus. His stare at the window-scenery was disturbed by increasing chatter in the bus. The ‘guy with the crazy hat’ was texting someone on his cell phone while ‘Miss IBM’ was gossiping something with a sly expression on her face to the guy seated next to her. The ‘DSLR-guy no.2 ’ was packing his Cannon while having a Oreo biscuit. When your trekking group is huge, be creative in identifying each trek-mate. Raj had been creative in this thing since a last few treks when a trek-leader had told him this trick, and Raj had even forgotten his name and hence he remembered him ‘The Nameless Namer’.
Raj knew it was not until another half an hour that bus will depart the base village. A slower paced platoon of some trek-mates hadn’t made it yet. The ‘guy with funny specs’ had had a cramp while descending. With him and a few others the departure was going to be delayed. Raj took out his cell phone from his bag which was below his seat, switched it on. He knew it would be hopeless as obviously there would be no network and he was disappointed when he found out he was right. How do the villagers communicate? Letters!? As opposed to the network indication the battery indication was pleasing. So, he looked for the headphones in his bag and as he found them he praised himself for not forgetting to put them in the bag. He scrolled down the playlist to find a slow song and rested his head against the seat. As music started developing further his eyes closed. The lyrics came along in a harmony of guitar strings, rhythm of the song and cool mild breeze from the window were making Raj sink into his seat. And suddenly the lyrics did it’s evil trick, it reminded Raj of someone and that made him sad.
When Raj’s eyes opened it was dark outside. His face had gone cold due to the outside wind. As he opened his eyes properly he realized the bus was in motion, he could hear the gentle roar of bus engine and the highway lights pacing backwards from the window. His body felt stiff by sitting still in one place and so tried to loosen up when suddenly he felt a weight on his left shoulder. As he tried to shift his gaze to his left, his shoulder moved back by shock. It was her. It was Radha, his reason for feeling sad and his reason for feeling happy.
Radha’s eyes opened, followed by blinks, adjusting to the darkness in the bus and finally as she turned to face at Raj who was sitting next to her, she could see a look of surprise on Raj’s face.
“Do you dream of bulls!?” snapped Radha. “Can’t I rest my eyes for a few moments?”
As a shocked Raj looked at her, golden lights of highway moved back across her face. A strand of her hair bouncing at the side of her face by the soft chilly wind that blew inside from the window.
“Wh-what are you doing here?”, asked a perplexed Raj.
“Trying to take a nap. And I sure would have if only my head had found a more steady support”
“Raj, look it was a great day but I’m not used to climb so much. I’m really glad we did this trek. But I’m really tired. And I’m going to sleep again and I hope you’ll cooperate” explained Radha
Raj brought both his legs up to the seat which took a bit more effort than he thought and said “Wait, didn’t we have a fight? And weren’t you furious!”
A sleepy Radha opens her eyes to face Raj. A frown on her face.
“You were so furious that you had said you’ll not come to the trek. And I also remember you cancelling the booking and throwing the phone at me and storming out of the room. I tried calling you a hundred times but nothing. Now you pop up next to my seat and say you enjoyed the trek!”
As for his surprise, Raj saw Radha laughing. She leaned back on the seat still smiling. Then she once again kept her head on Raj’s left shoulder. She yawned the cold air in and found that Raj was still looking for an answer.
“It seems even you are tired by the trek. Oh and why wouldn’t you be! You didn’t sleep last night, you were busy singing or should I say screaming songs with others. Try to sleep for a while and it will all come back to you.” Saying this, Radha leaned back on the seat and rested her eyes.
Yes Raj did feel tired from climbing the mighty height but he felt he was missing something. He looked out of the window and stared at the darkness outside trying to remember what had happened.
“Is this a dream?” asked Raj
“It is just like one” whispered a sweet voice from his left shoulder.
Raj’s eyes were closed. He could feel the wind blowing through his hair and a light coldness against his eyes resisted him to open them. His body felt stiffer and tired than ever. He could hear the bus’s gears changing and a increasing roar of the engine. He figured they must be on the highway moving towards Kalyan which would take about an hour or half. He checked his wrist watch. The green light of the digital showed the time as 8:27PM. Raj heard all trek mates singing a old song called ‘pyaar hume kis mod pe le aya’. From where on earth do these people get energy to sing after climbing the highest mountain of the state! As the song moved to high notes all of them started screaming the lyrics. Raj got his knees on the seat by turning backwards. It was dark except the shiny golden lights that bounced off all the crazy guys singing in their highest voices. Raj spotted ‘the guy with funny specs’ making sound of a drum roll towards the end of lyrics. And there was ‘Miss IBM’ on the last seat of the row in which Raj was seated. The golden light running backwards revealed her head rocking with the notes of the song.
“Surprising isn’t it? Even after such a long hike these people can still sing so awfully!” yelled the guy seated behind Raj.
“What?“ screamed Raj. He didn’t remember the name of this guy thought he had seen him several times on the trek.
“Can’t sleep huh?”
“Yeah” yelled Raj.
“So can’t I. It’s strange isn’t it? How a bunch of strangers coming from different cities, having different professions, they climb a mountain together and get along so well. God! Look at them all, they were strangers a day ago and here they are now singing songs and laughing together. How often do we even do such things with people we know well! Well someone did say it rightly, mountains bring us closer.”
Though this guy was screaming the words at Raj, he hardly heard him except the last bit. Mountains bring us closer. And suddenly he sensed he hadn’t replied.
“Yeah. You are so right!” said Raj, as loudly as he could.
Raj saw a hint of smile on guy in the backseat as his face glowed in golden light.
And so Raj sank back to his seat and closed the window shut as it was as he was now starting to feel chilly. The song-chanting still continued. But it was dark and it felt as if someone was pushing his eyelids shut. Mountains bring us closer. With the meaning of those words Raj gently drowned into a sleep.
When Raj woke up it was quite. It was completely dark and no other noise other than a few snores. He realized that the bus was stationary. It seemed to him that he had woken up after an eternity. He opened the window sliding to let the cool breeze coupled with tiny raindrops on his face. It was drizzling outside. Why have we stopped! Is it a tier puncture? No this will take a lot of time. Raj sensed that everybody around was fast asleep. He looked outside. He remembered that last time he saw they were on a highway but this place felt strange. There were no lights, no dividers. It was hard to say as it was too dark. He could figure out the outlines of a few trees outside. Suddenly, all the lights in the bus went on. The bus was now filled with light and he could see everyone, leaning against the next thing to them sleeping peacefully. And before the whole scene sunk in, he heard a whistle. The trek leader came inside and whistled once again.
“Wake up everyone! Guys come on, it’s the wake up call.” Said the trek leader in a startlingly loud voice as he took strides in the passage between the seats. “Guys we have to climb a damn mountain, hurry! Wake up!”
Everyone were alarmed out of sleep and a confused Raj could see everyone yawning. We have to climb a mountain! He’s kidding right! He checked his wrist watch and was stunned by what he saw. The clock indicated 6:02AM. Something is wrong. Wait! He remembered something. Radha! She’s not here!
The trek leader approached Raj, “Hey good morning. Come on get up, they are serving tea outside.”
And before Raj could mumble another word, he was gone, waking up others. Good morning. Morning?! Raj was now starting to worry now. Radha wasn’t seating beside him, instead there was some other guy he didn’t recognize. He got up and moved to the passage between the seats. Surprisingly he wasn’t feeling tired at all now. His legs, knees all felt unstressed and fine. Raj moved through the passage to find Radha. And after checking the last seat when he didn’t find Radha, he felt sad.
Raj suddenly realized something else. He was not able to recognize anyone in the bus. He ran to the last seat of the bus where ‘Miss IBM’ was seated. As he reached there he saw some other girl with specs doing her bag. He looked for ‘The guy with funny specs’ and both the DSLR guys. He wasn’t finding a single familiar face. Now Raj started to get scared. He didn’t know what was happening.
He got out of the bus, it was now enough light to see properly. The sky was faint grey and he could see an outline of mountains stretching through the area. There was a sign there which read “Kalsubai Shikhar”. Raj was hopelessly baffled by the situation he was facing. He decided to ask for help. There was a guy standing near the bus, sipping his tea. Raj approached him and spoke to him
“Hi, I’m Raj.”
“Hello, I’m Abhi.”
“Abhi, I was looking for a guy who wears specs. His specs are kind of weird. Did you happen to have seen him anywhere?”
“Uh-no, actually I don’t think I remember any guy in our group with specs.”
Raj swallowed. “This may sound weird Abhi, but can you tell me when did get here and why?”
“We obviously are here on a trek, and we get here about a hour ago.”
“But I did climb Kalsubai and I was on my way home. We were on the highway and now I end up over here!”
“What? Look my friend we just arrived here. And we are going to trek Kalsubai NOW!”
The local villager distributing cup of teas came to Raj and gave him a cup. Raj didn’t know what to say. Even Radha was missing. Had she even came to the trek? The thought of her made her sad again.
“You were sleeping the entire bus ride. Did you have a bad dream or something?” said Abhi.
Sleeping. Bad dream. Raj felt a chill run down his body as he realized what had happened. It all now made sense to him. He remembered about his huge excitement of climbing the Kalsubai since he had booked for the trek. Him telling everyone about the trek and all his day dreaming of reaching the top.
And to boost the excitement there was Radha who was going to be there with him. How much they both talked about this beautiful day. They talked of how it must feel to stand on the highest peak of the state. He remembered the fight, two days before the trek day. The horrible argument they had and Radha furiously grabbing the phone and cancelling her booking for the trek and storming out of the room. Raj tried to reach her but she didn’t return any calls nor did she reply his apology texts. And he remembered of switching to the old means and writing her a proper letter. And he remembered the ‘PS’ note after the sign that read: Mountains bring us closer .He remembered staying up the other night in hope of a reply. He kept on calling her but in vain. And he remember her not coming. He remembered feeling terribly sleepy as soon as boarding the bus.
It had now started drizzling again. The mountains around were covered by thick clouds which seemed to have stuck there due to the mighty height. The drizzle made the gentle sound of raindrops dropping on trees and the cold breeze rushing form the valleys. It was a morning you don’t come across everyday. It was beautiful. Raj sat on one of the rocks there, drinking his tea. The realization of what had just happened had sucked all the excitement out of him. The fact that all had went perfectly, they have had a great trek and Radha being with him, all was just a cruel dream. He felt both like a idiot and heartbroken at the same time.
As he got up to take his bag out from the bus and get ready for a trek that now didn’t feel the that awesome as in his stupid dream, a guy wearing a buff of Manchester United called out to him.
“Hey man!” said as he reached him. “Raj is it?”
“Hi Raj, your friend, she told me to tell you that you could find her in the base village, said she was going there to freshen up and see around a little bit with some other girls.”
A wave of joy ran through his body as Raj heard what this guy was saying.
“Did she say what her name was?” Asked a excited Raj.
“Yes. It was Radha.”
Raj’s lips curved brilliantly into a gorgeous smile at hearing that.
“Thanks man. Wha-what’s your name?”
“Oh it’s Vikram”
“Thanks a lot Vikram” said Raj while shaking his hand. And in the next moment Vikram could see his new friend running towards the base village.
As Raj reached the base village his heart was pounding. His face was still cold from the breeze attacking him while he ran. He saw a couple of women carrying huge pots of water on their heads and armpits. He could see the houses whose walls were nothings but big rocks and hay and wood for the roof. He looked around the houses and moved towards the second house. Then turned back and looked he could see all the trek mates now coming at the village. He again looked for her around the second house. He saw one of the girls who seemed like a trekker too. He approached her and asked if she had seen Radha.
“Radha who? I don’t know her.” said the trekker girl.
Raj was disappointed. He sat there next to the second house thinking what was going on. He suddenly felt horribly sad. He once again thought about there fight and how much he regretted it. He noticed it had stopped drizzling. He looked up at the sky which was filled with dark gray clouds and not a hint of sun. He sat back thinking where it all went wrong when his ears heard something he longed for.
“Hey sleepy head” Radha said as she came out of the house Raj was sitting next to. She came and sat next to Raj whose eyes had mist in them as he watch her.
“Well apparently, I did.”
“But you didn’t return my calls and you never said anything after out fight. Did you read my letter?”
“Yes. I did. I read that letter. And I don’t remember how many times. And I really thought about it. Mountains bring us closer. So I decided what the heck, let’s give it a try. Let’s see what do these mountains have that can bring people closer. So I begged the trek leader to let me in even though it was just two hours left for departure. And then I got a booking just because I got lucky, there was a cancellation. I tried calling you but your cell was switch off. When I boarded the bus from Thane, you were already asleep.”
Raj remembered falling asleep as soon as the bus departed Dadar. He looked over at Radha. He felt deeply relieved, he reached for her hand and held it.
“I’m sorry Radha, I should have never fought with you.”
“I’m sorry too”
They both exchanged smiles , Radha rested her hear on Raj’s shoulder and Raj put an arm around her.
Things sure did get confusing for some time and there were disappointments. But Raj now felt complete. Everything was fine and there was this great day ahead of him. A magnificent mountain waited for him to bring him closer to his loved once. He thought about how things happened and how everything was meant to be. Everything was set now and the wild excitement for the trek returned.
“Radha” said Raj.
“Is this a dream?”
“It is just like one.”