all of a sudden positioned herself like a skier and skidded away. Perplexed, I looked in front of me. The road before me had turned into a great ski run. A smooth, serpentine slope traveling through dark, empty space, it didn’t seem to have any end. It shelved menacingly and every square inch of its jet-black charcoal surface was illumined by a brilliant yellow light. S. was skiing with great skill, executing the all-too-numerous bends deftly with an elegant swaying of hips. I hadn’t known that she skied so well. Or were my eyes deceiving me? Was what looked like a skilled maneuvering to me actually a desperate struggle going on? It had to be that. What else? Three years and S. didn’t mention even once that she knew how to ski, let alone that she had perfected the art.
“Oh God!” leapt from my heart as a sharp corner appeared, and the next moment I myself was sliding down the track, close on her heels. “Don’t worry, I am here,” I shouted and to my surprise, I couldn’t hear my own words, though I had definitely spoken them. A gripping fear took possession of me. I wanted to assure S., to tell her that she must not lose hope, that I had arrived on the scene and would save her from the clutches of what looked like an imminent death. I reached out my hands, and my fingertips felt the wooly fabric of her fur jacket. Thank God the sense of touch was alive. S. squinted over her left shoulder, looked at me, and creases of vexation gathered on her face. It was a peeved look: “What do you want?” it asked me. A large air bubble burst inside me. My legs felt wobbly and this perhaps slackened my pace.
What if again I had got it all wrong? I wasn’t a particularly good hand in the craft of physiognomy. What a mess! I pushed on. We both had now entered a straight strip on the slope, and I was again closing in on her, when S., like a flash, hopped on a scooter and scooted away. It must have been a soundless world, for the usual sputtering of the scooter engine was not to be heard. I could only see the outlines of the driver’s head and shoulders: it was a man. S was keeping a formal distance from him and had to crane her neck forward each time she wanted to speak to him. From my perspective it gave the false impression that they were necking--S. must be explaining to him why she had accepted a ride from a complete stranger, how she and I had been struggling in that seemingly fantastic world, and what she now expected from him. They would be pulling over any moment; I carried on with the chase.
S. spread her bare arms wide, like two wings of a bird of prey, tilted her head back and threw another glance at me. A coquettish smile played on her lips. S. had always been like that: she enjoyed the bike ride, the feel of a strong gust of wind on her naked flesh. “But this is thick, he is a complete stranger,” I told myself and shouted, “You must understand that you have already worried me stiff.” But the words once more refused to produce any sound. “Stop, damn it,” I bellowed. S. was moving farther and farther away. Three years, miles: I wanted to cry and to hear myself crying. Tears of helplessness welled up inside me; it was a soundless world.
Not any more. The scooter had receded to a distance, where it was only a faint blur against the skyline. A slight tepid breeze caressed my cheeks, and I gasped as if from sheer breathlessness. Its soft, regular murmur filled my ears. Sounds, such sweet-sounding sounds. “For God’s sake!” I shouted; vibrations that would travel, at last. S. screeched to a halt at once and stood facing me, her arms akimbo. “What the hell do you think you have been doing?” The sheer joy of making sound, of hearing it; my own voice, not choked with tears, but calm and modulated. S. looked bored. My heart fluttered: “Thought I had lost you.” “No, you haven’t,” she glowered and turned her back on me.
Nikhil Pandey is a writer who lives in India.
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story copyright by author 2003 all rights reserved