This happened many summers before. The schools had closed and it was vacation time. To beat the heat and to enjoy a cool excursion away from the hustles and bustles of city life, me and my cousins along with our Aunt and Uncle went to spent some beautiful days amidst the picturesque Nilgiri hill station.
Dense foggy mist used to envelope the whole area in the cold mornings, slowing melting as the day progressed to give way to mild sunshine and the cool dark evenings. The hills stood majestic surrounding the little cottage we had rented for our stay. The forests and the gurgling stream below gave us the feeling of being in the lap of Mother Nature. It was natural beauty personified. We used soak in this beauty during our many walks through the rounding hill roads. Occasionally the trumpeting of an elephant or the cries of a deer or bear could be heard.
Our cottage was a two bedroom building with a small living cum dining room and a little kitchen. The most fascinating thing I found in the cottage was the hearth place, used by its earlier occupant for warming the rooms. The floor was made of wood to provide more warmth. We were to stay here for a week or so.
The days passed lazily as we lived leisurely and at our own pace. It was soon time to leave. It was our last day of stay in this beautiful hill station. We were to leave the next day. My Aunt, Uncle and cousins had gone out to visit a botanical garden, some distance away. I was not taken as a punishment for playing in the waterfalls yesterday even though Aunt had forbade it and was therefore left with Kittunni Chetan, the caretaker of the cottage. I was angry at that and wanted to go out and enjoy.
I looked for the opportune moment and as soon as Kittunni Chetan had gone to collect firewood, I went out riding the bicycle that we had rented out. It was freedom unknown as I cycled through the winding roads, crossed narrow wood made bridges with the stream rushing below it and went cycling along the small pathways, generally used by people for walking.
I was speeding down a slope when the brakes failed and I skidded down. I got hurt and was lying on the roadside, moaning softy because of the pain. I couldn’t get up. It was after about ten minutes that a youth, probably 19 or 20 years old, came that way on his bicycle. He saw me hurt and pulled me up. There was blood coming from the wounds in my knees and elbow. He told his house was nearby and took me there and bandaged my wounds. He also came me glass of tea to drink.
“What’s your name?”
“Divya”, I replied.
“Where do you stay?”
I told him the name of my city.
“Oh! So you don’t live here. You are a tourist. Where are your parents?”
I narrated to him the story of my escape.
He smiled at me and said, “So, you are a prisoner out of the jail. Come, I’ll leave you at your cottage.”
I told him that my relatives would return only in the evening and that Kittunni Chetan being old and nearly blind, won’t miss me; so I had time till evening to roam this lovely place. He agreed to take me around and both of us went cycling.
I liked him very much. He was tall and with a kind and handsome face. He was very nice and entertaining. He helped me forget my pains caused due to the accident by cracking jokes and singing songs. He took me into the forest, showed me the many birds and monkeys and let me play in the waters of the stream. He took me into the tea estates and showed me how tea leaves are plucked. He showed me the tea factory for which he worked. I enjoyed the beauty of the place with this new companion of mine. I was going to be evening and we reluctantly started to return to the cottage.
“Did you enjoy?”
I nodded vigorously to show that I had enjoyed so very much.
“What will you give me for taking you to all these places?”
I said I didn’t have anything to give. And suddenly stopped my bicycle, plucked a wild flower by the roadside and gave it to him. He was pleased.
“I don’t have anyone. Will you be my little friend?”
“You will come again, won’t you?”
“Will you come to see me?”
Yes. I nodded again.
We had come to the gate of the cottage. We said ‘bye, meet you again’, and I went inside. After a while my cousins and Aunt and Uncle came. They told me their tales of sightseeing and adventure. I didn’t speak about my day but just lied that I was watching T.V the whole day.
We left for the city next day early morning. I didn’t see my friend again.
I have come back to this place many times during the past but have never been able to spot him. I have walked along the paths we walked and cycled, have enquired about the tall, fair, handsome young man; but could never find out anything about him. But in my heart he will remain eternally my friend, a dear compassionate companion who had given me a wonderful day to treasure among the hills and the streams and birds.