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   Chapter 3 Finding My Way Back

Broken Past By Arathi Characters: 13424

Updated: 2018-08-01 20:31


I ran till my sides ached and then, I ran some more. My chest hurt and I felt like my head would split open, but I continued running. My legs felt like they were on fire, the ache slowly clawing at my muscles turning them stiff and then, floppy like Jell-O. I stumbled but caught myself, only to stumble again. As I tripped over my feet, I braced for my inevitable fall. I seemed to bounce off the solid mountain like a tiny ragged doll. Skidding to a stop, belly down, several feet from where I had actually fallen, I closed my eyes and inhaled the deep richness of the mossy mountainside.

When my breathing slowed, I suddenly became acutely aware of the fact that at that moment, I was quite a sight to behold. A foreigner lying on the ground, her hair a tousled mess! Timidly, I opened one eye and looked around me. I sighed with relief when I noticed I was completely alone. I pushed myself on my back and then sat up. I brought my knees closer to my chest and waited until my heart beat returned to normal. Dusting my hands and knees, I tentatively flexed my ankles before standing and inspecting my injuries.

Scratches laced both my arms, from elbows to palms. I lifted my shirt and noted similar marks on my tummy. I shook my head and mentally kicked myself. What a stupid, stupid thing to do. I turned to look around me, trying to get a sense of where I was. The middle of nowhere, or so it seemed. Not a building nor a person in sight. The road cut through the mountain, so I was sure – somewhat – that this was a frequently enough traversed path.

A debate began in my head. Should I go back the way I came? Or should I continue forward and see where the road takes me? Should I just plop down and wait for a vehicle or person to pass this way and ask for directions? Should I call my hotel and have them send someone? A great idea, except I had run so far from where I was that I no longer knew where I was. Every mountain road looked the same and without a signpost with a name, in English, I would be unable to tell them where to look for me.

Relief flooded over me as I took a quick look at my watch. Not only was it still functioning, I still had some time before I was to meet with the agent. I checked my bag and smiled when I saw a small bottle of hand sanitizer. This would do for now.

I quickly opened the bottle and poured a generous sum in my hand and then rubbed it over the wounds on my left arm, wincing at the stinging sensations. As I was rubbing the sanitizer on my right arm, a rickety old bus approached. Against a greyish white background, I could see patches of blue. Perhaps that was all that was left of the original paint job on the bus. The windows were closed and dusty so much so that I could barely see inside! Scratches, much like those on my arms, covered the bus – from its bumpers to its side panels. The mirrors on both sides seemed to be hanging on simply by the wiring. But people were in it, for sure. So it must be safe to travel in. Without further thought, I waved my hands wildly hoping to catch the drivers attention.

My efforts were rewarded when the bus screeched to a halt. It seems that the outside of the bus wasn't the only part that was lacking maintenance. As the door flung open, I took a deep breath, grabbed the sidebars and pulled myself up the first few steps.

The man closest to the door had a horrified look on his face when he saw me. Conscious, I ran my hands through my hair and gently tugged at whatever leaves and twigs I happened across. I smiled politely at him as I noted his appearance. His dark skin, almost the same shade as the soil, his mousy dark brown hair, yellowed teeth, and dirty fingernails. He wore a faded white shirt; I think it was white at some point. And trousers two sizes too big for him, held up by a threadbare cloth belt. He wore slippers and dirty toenails looked back at me from under the railing behind which he sat.

"Will you be going past the tourist rest-house?" I asked, unable to name any other place. Again I kicked myself mentally. I was certainly doing an abysmal job of figuring out my new home. For the first time since I had arrived, I had stepped out without an Indian guide and found myself lost. If that wasn't bad enough, I hadn't a clue how to get back to the rest-house. Did these seemingly endless mountain roads have names? If they did, I hadn't the foggiest clue! I never asked. Did the market I went by earlier have a name or did people just call it a market? It must have a name, how else would people distinguish between that and say, any other random market in the area? I racked my brain for the name of the road my new house sat on. I know there was a signpost that I had seen. When my mind continued to stay blank, I grimaced. I just bought a house, and I didn't know where it was!

I admit I was a hopelessly lost cause!

When the man looked at me even more confused than before, I actually face-palmed myself. The locals wouldn't be fluent in English! I had no idea how to get back, and I was conversing with someone who didn't understand me. This day was getting better and better.

Running out of ideas and patience, I simply tried one word, "ticket?"

He nodded, mouth still open. Without taking his eyes off me, he tore a ticket from the bundle he held in his hand and stretched it towards me. I dug in my bag for my wallet, and while rummaging through it for the smallest denomination, I asked, "how much?"

When I got no reply, I rolled my eyes. Again with the English. Of course, he wouldn't be able to tell me how much. I grabbed at the ticket and took a look at it. On it was written in bold, the number 10. Aside from that, there was a line running around the edge of the ticket and a punched hole at the top left corner. Nothing else. Not even a destination scribbled on the ticket.

Assuming that number meant 10 Indian rupees, I searched in my wallet for the peculiar peach-ish white note. When I offered it to him, he took it and made no move to provide me with change. Assuming the transaction was complete, I climbed further into the bus and looked around for an empty seat.

Those there were plenty of. Seats that is. At the end of the bus sat a handful of old men with wrinkled faces, with white or salt/pepper hair. Their clothes were nondescript. In the middle of the bus sat two girls, and judging from their clothes, I assumed they were returning from school. They had identical white tunics over white pants, and a seemingly unnecessary white cloth of sorts draped around their necks. Later, I would come to learn that this particular outfit was called a salwar kameez and that the fabric wrapped around their necks – for

extra modesty – was named a dupatta. I have perhaps, learned how to spell such alien words, but when I speak them, people listening burst out in fits of laughter! I guess I have as of yet, still to learn how to pronounce them correctly. However, I digress.

Picking a seat near a window, I sat down. At least now I could see where I was going and if I spotted a familiar place like the market or the rest-house street, I could simply ask the driver to stop and hop off. Great idea I told myself, feeling proud. At least I wasn't quite as hopeless.

As the bus began its descent down the mountain road, I rummaged through my bag for my phone. I swiped across the screen to unlock it and then found my way towards my least used app, the calendar. I had a vague idea of how to set notes in it and figured if I had to remember to learn about roads and such, I should leave myself a reminder of sorts.

Using both my hands and keeping one eye on the road, I began typing.

- Local guidebook (for sightseeing)

- Map (if I get lost again!)

- A Hindi-English dictionary (for conversations)

- Telephone numbers (hotel)

And then I began to think. Was there anything else that I would need? It suddenly dawned on me, that once I left my hotel, I would have no one I could call on in case of an emergency. I would practically be alone. As a current paying guest, the hotel would worry if I didn't return today. But once I moved into my new house then what? Whom would I call on if I got stuck or lost or worse? The only other people I had ever truly interacted with was the agent and the bank manager.

The bank manager perhaps. He seemed friendly enough. That thought quelled the panic I felt at the realization that I was truly, completely, and utterly alone. How would I go about making friends? Me, of all people. Making friends? I snorted and then realized to my utter horror that I had snorted out loud.

My face turned a light shade of pink, and I turned around to see if anyone had caught my indiscretion. Fortunately not, or they didn't care. Either way, I was glad.

I locked my phone and returned it to my bag before continuing to look out the window. The road wound around the side of the mountain, sometimes climbing up and sometimes climbing down. We barely passed any traffic, perhaps the odd cyclist or pedestrian. We rounded another bend, and I looked at a tea-stall, in shock. There was perhaps two feet of space on the outer end of the curve? And the tea-stall sat on that. A tin shack, for lack of a better description. Not even a proper solid building! And in it, sat a man behind a table with a gas stove. He stirred a pot with, I presume, tea in it. He looked absolutely comfortable and utterly oblivious to the fact that a tin sheet separated him from thin air and a fall several hundred feet down the mountainside.

Before I could wrap my head around the sight, we turned another bend, and I turned in my seat, looking out the window trying to keep the tea-stall within my sight.

When the little stall went out of view, I adjusted myself, facing the front again. As my mind tried to absorb what it had just seen, my eyes continued their search for familiar surroundings. Another few bends flew past, and suddenly I was excited. I thought this street looked familiar. I kept my eyes peeled for something definitive, and soon, I saw the beginning of the market where I had bought the crisps. I stood and walked towards the conductor. He looked at me expectantly, and I reminded myself that he wasn't familiar with English. So I said one word, "stop?"

He nodded and shouted something at the driver who just looked back at me before turning his eyes back to the road. Not long after, he found a bus stop and pulled over. I muttered a quick thanks before hopping off the bus.

A half hour or so later, I proudly carried my new belongings with me; the map, the guide, and the dictionary. I stopped at the priciest looking restaurant on the street, hoping that it would have food that agreed with my stomach. I sat at an empty table and spread the map open. I pulled out my phone, a pen, a notebook and began dialing the agent's number. In our conversation, between sips of hot coffee, I asked him for directions and road names. Dutifully, I jotted them all down. We confirmed our appointment time and ended the conversation. I then turned my attention to the map and began looking at roads, important buildings, and such.

What a confusing mess! The names I had written down did not match those on the map. I wondered if I had spelled them wrong. I turned the map upside down and then round and round trying to make some sense of it. The big green dots made no sense to me. Were they places? Like, say hotels? Why was there no index?

Dark and light blue blobs probably signified lakes or ponds. I identified rectangular shapes with green and red dots as possible gas station locations. The Golf Course was clear as daylight. But which direction took me back to the tourist rest-house? Pink, blue, and black lines riddled the map. Black for roads? Blue for rivers? Pink for god only knows what! Perhaps a bus route?

My heartbeat quickened. On something called a Mall Road was a massive star with TRH written alongside. Tourist rest-house perhaps? Was that the one I was staying at? I looked up, and there was another on Monal, and a third on Himandri. I picked up my phone again and searched for the hotel's number. At least I could call them and ask, as silly as I may sound for not having thought of this earlier.

I felt a little happy looking at the map now. I had the TRH at Monal circled and the Golf Course. The man at the hotel had told me that I was most likely sitting at a restaurant in Sadar Bazar, bazar being the Hindi word for a market. So that was the third huge circle on my map. See I was getting the hang of this! I could figure this out!

Now the agent had mentioned that my property lay West of the army cantonment area. That should be easily identifiable on a map, right?

Wrong!

The cantonment area is not a tourist destination, and hence it didn't figure on the map! The next best thing? The agent had mentioned that there was a huge post office nearby. Perhaps I could simply ask to be taken to the post office and then make my way to the house? Still turning the map round and round I put the pen in my mouth and began chewing on it as I pondered over the situation.

"Hi."

I looked up from the map at the person greeting me. I was expecting to see the waiter. Perhaps he thought I needed a coffee refill or something. Instead, I looked at a man wearing military greens.

Oh crap!

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