There’s a fine line between reality and fiction.
“When will this bloody journey end?” Jennifer was irritated, as her taxi took another sharp turn. The road to Mussoorie was a scenic one but with sharp bends. Jennifer didn’t want to be here. What could have simply been a conversation over the phone had now turned into a tête a tête, thanks to her manager’s insistence.
A gush of icy cold breeze hit her face as she opened the window to look outside. ‘WELCOME TO MUSSOORIE’, white pant on a green reflective board greeted her. Finally!
“We will reach Edmonds’ house in a few minutes,” the driver said.
It was her first time in the hills. The Victorian houses, along with the crisp cold weather, captivated her instantly. The sun had almost disappeared, the last tangerine rays blending with grey clouds looking almost violet. The car came to a halt in front of an old bungalow. It was located right next to Mall Road. From the entrance one got a breathtaking view of the valley. There was a metallic archway covered with creepers at the entrance. She raised her hands up and stretched her back. The journey had left her a bit light headed. The driver unloaded her luggage from the car, graciously accepted his tip, and drove off. Jennifer picked up her bags and walked towards the front door. Before she could knock, it was opened by a man little taller than herself, with neatly combed hair and a thick moustache almost covering his lips.
“I’m here to meet Mrs. Edmonds,” Jennifer said clearing her throat.
“Please come in madam, I’ll take care of the luggage.” The house was a lot bigger than it appeared from outside. “To the right madam,” instructed the man as he walked in with the bags.
As she entered the room, she was greeted by an old lady who appeared to be in her late sixties. She was nothing like Jennifer had pictured her.
“Welcome my dear, how was your journey,” she asked with a thick British accent.
“It was lovely Madam,” she said.
“Please call me Flora. Never got used to being called madam anyway,” the lady smiled. “I’ve got a room upstairs ready for you. You’ll be comfortable here.”
“Oh Madam… sorry Flora, its all right. I wouldn’t like disturbing you, I’ve already booked a room at a hotel nearby,” said Jennifer.
“Nonsense,” said Flora raising her voice a little. “It would be exciting to have some young blood in this old house after all these years.”
Jennifer didn’t want to stay but felt it would be wrong to refuse. Just for a few days she thought.
“Vikram will take your luggage to the room. In the meanwhile I’ll get us some dinner.”
Jennifer followed Vikram up the creaky wooden staircase. The room was decorated with French linen, a giant four poster bed and a huge wooden wardrobe beside it.
“Fresh towels are kept near the sink,” Vikram said as he left the room.
Jennifer took out a diary from her handbag and placed it on the desk next to the window. Finally some rest after a long and arduous journey – she noted in her diary. She lay on the bed and before she knew it, she was fast asleep.
The next morning Jennifer started her work.
“Will you answer some of my questions after breakfast?” she asked as she sat next to Flora. “Alright,” said Flora handing her a plate. “I just finished one of your books, quite a fascinating story.”
“Which one?” asked Jennifer curiously.
“The one in which the hero dies after drowning in the well he made.”
“Oh that one, thank you.”
After a quick breakfast the interview began. Jennifer asked Flora various questions from the first time she came to Mussoorie, to her education, and marriage to a British barrister.
“Was it tough living here after the British left the country in ’45?” Jennifer asked.
“Not at all, in fact we were provided with enough love and support. So much that we never felt lonely.”
A long question and answer session later, Jennifer closed her book with a thump. Having done more work than she anticipated, Jennifer decided to take the rest of the day off.
The sheets of heavy white rain outside had reduced to a light drizzle. She decided to go for a stroll to Mall Road. It was crowded on both sides with numerous shops selling winter wear, daily wear clothes and groceries. The place had a strange vibe, good but mysterious. She felt strangely at ease, forgetting about the failure of her last novel and just living in the moment. She bought a few things from a bakery - almond cookies and bread - and began walking back. She noticed a man standing across the road. He looked familiar. She was about to walk towards him when a car suddenly honked behind her.
“Jesus!” shrieked Jennifer.
“Hop in,” shouted Flora form the back seat.
“You scared me for a moment there,” Jennifer said as she got into the seat beside Flora. She chuckled.
They had an early dinner that day, after which they gorged on the cookies Jennifer had bought. It was a busy but fruitful day –Jennifer noted in her diary. But there was something bothering her at the back of her mind. The man she had seen at the mall. Who was he?
The next few days were hectic. She constantly took down notes dictated by Flora as she went about doing her daily chores. Jennifer noticed that she was extremely satisfied with her life, without any complaints. She also ran a restaurant located at Landour next to a famous hotel.
“You should come to the restaurant. Bet you would like the food,” said Flora confidently. Jennifer agreed.
Days at a hill station pass slowly. Evenings in Mussoorie were strangely alluring. They were chilly and crisp, unlike the bright sunny mornings and afternoons. The town would be a good place to set a mystery novel, she thought. She also spent time at Flora’s restaurant observing Flora work and graciously help people.
Stranger in the night? Image source: pixabay.com
“I have over-eaten today,” Jennifer said, wiping her mouth with her hand. “Go for a walk,” Flora said patting her back. The cold gripped Jennifer the moment she stepped out of the main door. There wasn’t a soul on the street. She started walking to a church nearby, but soon got the feeling that someone was following her. She walked faster. From the corner of her eye she could see a shadow right behind her. Without thinking she began running. Cold sweat dripped from her forehead. All of a sudden she bumped into something. Horrified, she squealed.
She opened her eyes to the sight of a man lying on the ground and a cat standing next to him.
“I’m so sorry,” Jennifer said extending her hand. The man held it and hauled himself up. Looking at his face, Jennifer was caught by surprise.
“I saw you the other day!”
“Yes, near Mall Road,” the man said, as he dusted the back of his trousers.
“Were you following me,” she looked sternly at the man.
“Not at all. Why would I? It was you who bumped into me.”
“This is embarrassing,” Jennifer said covering her eyes.
The man started laughing. In the light Jennifer noticed his face. He had straight brown hair combed messily, defined cheekbones and dark brown eyes.
“I’ve come to Mussoorie for some work, haven’t seen you around before.”
After they introduced themselves and got over with the (ir)regular formalities, they began a casual conversation. Jennifer felt she could talk to Arjun - the mysterious man - about anything very easily. After a long time she was having a conversation with someone who did not have any vested interest in her.
“You look stressed,” Arjun said, looking closely at her.
“It’s just some work tension.”
“No, something more,” Arjun said.
Jennifer sighed and began talking. She spoke about the success and failure of her books and how it affected her life. She had no friends as she devoted all her time to her work.
“I only have one person, my manager, who if I don’t pay, will also leave me.”
Her eyes became moist. Arjun listened to her without reacting.
“I don’t know why am I telling you all this,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“It’s alright to let your emotions out sometimes. It isn’t so embarrassing if you do it in front of a stranger.”
“Okay, so now I am, literally, an open book. What about you?”
“We’ve already reached your place, how about we continue this conversation tomorrow?”
“Done,” she said.
An unusual friend found in an unusual circumstance - She noted in her diary.
Days passed quickly for Jennifer, immersed in work during the day and long walks at night. From their conversations, Jennifer learned that Arjun was from Bombay. He had come to Mussoorie to meet his parents and in a month would fly off to London for his post graduation.
Through her interactions with him, Jennifer felt that she had changed a lot. That heavy, sinking feeling that she felt all the time had completely vanished. Some days she would quickly finish her work, help Flora at her restaurant and then go to meet Arjun. Life had never been so alluring. With an initial intention of spending no more than four days, Jennifer had almost spent two weeks here. She was very close to completing her work. The late night walks had magically brought her at peace with herself. Arjun had changed her perspective of life.
One morning before breakfast Jennifer proudly announced that she had officially finished her work. She had gathered all the information she required for her book, infact more.
“Bugger! That means you will be leaving soon,” Flora said, keeping her cup on the table.
“Sadly yes,” said a long-faced Jennifer. “By any chance, do you know an Arjun?” Jennifer asked all of a sudden.
“Arjun....no dear,” Flora said, placing her hand on her chin.
“You seem unusually quiet,” Arjun said, wiping his nose with a napkin.
“It’s nothing. I have almost finished my work and will be leaving in a day or two.”
“Then we ought to make this night memorable,” Arjun said, his eyes twinkling in the light. “Come with me.”
They reached a narrow road. “This is the Camel Back road,” Arjun said, as they walked. The valley from there appeared to be painted in shades of grey. Jennifer had never seen anything like it.
“Wait till we go further.”
It started getting colder by the minute. Jennifer pressed her arms close to her body. Further ahead, there was a small extension at the side of the road. A beautifully carved metal bench was placed in the centre. Panting, Jennifer sat down. She felt the icy cold beneath her. A soft piano melody suddenly began playing. Behind her, Arjun was sitting in front of a giant ebony piano. He looked at her and smiled. It was one of the most beautiful melodies she had ever heard. Jennifer felt a whirlpool of emotions grow within her. Tears rolled down her cheeks. This moment would be forever etched in her memory.
Tiny snow flakes started falling from the sky. They sat there briefly, without saying a word. It began getting colder and they decided they should turn back. Once again no one spoke. They had a thousand things in their mind but their silence conveyed everything. Arjun looked Jennifer in the eye and said “Thank you for everything. There was one thing that had held me back. But tonight you made me feel something that I craved for. And now my time here is complete.”
Before she could say something Arjun walked up to her, kissed her lightly on her forehead and walked away in the thick mist.
“You had me scared there,” Flora said, as a baffled Jennifer entered the house.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was so late.”
Neither of them felt sleepy so they ended up talking for the rest of the night.
“I do miss Roger, a lot, but I try to stay strong,” Flora said, before they walked back to their rooms. Jennifer didn’t say anything.
I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop - this was the last line Jennifer wrote in her diary before she fell asleep.
Fact or fiction? Image source: pixabay.com
The next day Jennifer was packed and ready to leave.
“So at last you leave,” Flora said, teary eyed.
“I’m going to miss this place a lot,” Jennifer said, hugging her.
Just then Vikram entered the room. “Madam the other day you were asking about an Arjun,” he said staring at them.
“Yes, do you know him?” asked Jennifer, raising her eyebrows.
“There was an Arjun who lived here. I remembered this last night.”
Jennifer had a puzzled look on her face. “Was?”
“Yes. In fact I often crossed paths with the boy's parents as they live very close to my house. But a few days prior to Arjun's return from Bombay his parents met with a serious accident and passed away." Vikram paused and took in a deep breath.
"That's awfully sad," said a shocked Flora cupping her palms on her cheeks.
"That's not all. As Arjun came back he was diagnosed with a rare disease which could not be cured. Grief stricken the poor boy holed up in his parent's house and was seldom seen. After a few months, with absolutely no sign of him, some neighbours and I went to the police. On entering the house they found his pale lifeless body on the floor. His sad, lonely expression still haunts me at times."
Jennifer's heart was racing. The world around her had started spinning like a top. All those images of them walking at night flashed before her eyes. She suddenly felt sick in her stomach and started sweating profusely. That was the last thing she remembered before she lost consciousness.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Mohit Mordani
Cover photo credit: pixabay.com