The Mysterious Hike

Tania was panting uncontrollably as she ran and ran with all her might. With a broken hand compass in one hand and a crumpled note in the other, she desperately searched for her way out of this jungle. Each day is closer to a mystery that’s impossible to crack. She wasn’t sure if everything before her sight was real. She questioned her sanity. But one thing’s for sure – she wasn’t alone when she first arrived…

D-Day

Tania met Robin at the local coffeehouse and they had omelette for brunch before heading out. Tania asked the owner if he had taken a hike at the jungle before.

“Yes,” he said. “And I always return as a different person.”

Robin paid no attention to his words while Tania sensed something amiss. But she refrained from probing further. The owner gave them two energy bars each on the house and told them to come visit again when they return.

“How long does it take to complete the hike, Tania?” Robin asked, twenty minutes into their journey.

“Four hours,” Tania said. “What? Are you tired already?”

“You’re kidding!”

Whenever they covered a remarkable distance, Tania tied a blue silk ribbon to a tree branch to mark their trail so they can track their way back later. They were greeted with tall and vast pine trees that caused their jaws to drop as they went deeper into their hike. Somehow mesmerised, they would stop and stare up at the pine trees that seemed to overshadow their existence. They also encountered strange flowers that rejuvenated their exhaustion. Robin plucked an eye-catching yellow daisy and tucked it behind Tania’s ear and told her how elated he was to be with her on this hike.

It was the first time Robin said something like that to Tania. They have known each other for five years and Robin never expresses his feelings bluntly. Tania was taken aback, but she felt the same way and told him, “me too.”

“I don’t want this hike to end,” Robin said as they went deeper into the body of the jungle.

They took a break by the gushing waterfall and listened to the birds sung and inhaled the nature bestowed upon them.

Robin never came back. He told Tania he wanted to see the view from the cliff of the waterfall and take some pictures while he was at it. She watched him climb but as he went higher, the mist above hindered her sight. And before she could blink her eyes, he had evaporated into thin air, becoming one with the clouds.

She waited and waited and waited. She bit her nails and tapped her feet as time passed. Robin should be back since twenty five minutes ago, she thought. She fixated her eyes on the waterfall, desperately sourcing for his presence but to no avail. It has been more than 40 minutes and there were three more hours before the sun sets. Tania could not sit still and wait any longer. She stood up with her backpack and noticed Robin’s backpack behind her. She picked it up and the energy bars dropped out of it; they were empty wrappers and she left them behind.

She followed Robin’s footsteps to the waterfall cliff. It was a view of a lifetime and it made her forget about everything else for a moment. She wished time could pause and the view before her eyes would never dissipate and Robin could magically resurface.

Tania went back down and searched the waters. She didn’t hear a splash but she wanted to make sure and take the chance when she had nothing left, and no one left. She gasped and found herself breathless at the sight of Robin’s camera afloat. She dragged her feet in the water and fell to her knees, grasping the camera with trembling hands.

She collected herself after taking numerous deep breaths and kept her distance from the water. She sat down on a huge rock and scanned through the camera. It was empty. But that shouldn’t be the case. They took multiple pictures throughout the hike and the memory card was still intact. She kept the camera in her backpack and decided to head back. Because what she needed to do urgently is to find Robin.

D-X

Tania lost count of the days. She doesn’t know how long she has been going in circles in the jungle. It felt like the day never ends because it never turns dark. But based on her instinct, she believes today’s the third day. She couldn’t find the blue silk ribbons she tied on the branches, not even a single one. Someone or something must had followed them before and got rid of it. As a result, she could not find her way back despite following the path nor did she successfully find Robin. She also had not slept. She gets hungrier and hungrier with each passing day. She finished most of the food she brought in two days and have been surviving on fruits and nuts in the wild. But it wasn’t enough to satisfy her insatiable appetite.

That was when she recalled the two energy bars the local coffeehouse owner had given her. Fortunately, she hasn’t eaten them yet. She found comfort in the energy bars until she tore open both wrappers, only to find sand everywhere, slipping through in between her fingers and out of her grip. This must be a nightmare, she thought.

The camera in her backpack caught her attention and she decided to check it once more. Her face turned pale and she was petrified. She was browsing through pictures of herself that someone had taken from various angles. It screwed with her mind and she wasn’t able to think of any rational explanation for this. She just wanted to get away from here. Then, she heard a familiar voice – Robin. “Run, Tania,” he whispered from behind but there was no one except a crumpled note on the ground.

The note said, “They’re everywhere. R.”

Tania knew ‘R’ was the initial of Robin’s name but where is he? That was when the trees started to rustle unanimously and the wind howled vigorously. Tania took out her hand compass but the compass rose was spinning in all directions. It had to be broken now of all times.

The Discerning Commuter

He was not sure. He could never deny that he never wanted it. He needed it, particularly at times when he was stressed and tired. However, he was not at all sure what way he should act in general.

Yes, Amlan considered himself as a deserving candidate since he was fast approaching the life landmark. He was not there now, but it was not that far off either. And, most of the other candidates often showed a bullish attitude which always made his will stronger.

The evening that day was very warm and humid. And to add to it the rush hour lingered on somewhat late into the night. Amlan couldn’t get a seat and had to retreat to the farthest corner of the metro train coach near the coupling. There he found some standing space with his briefcase tucked in between his legs. As he leaned against the side panel near the coupling opening he watched quietly the movement around those seats that meant so much or so little for him. He was not sure, he made sure.

The occupier at the other end of the four-seat bench got up and that seat fell vacant. The commuter nearest to the seat was a little balding but a young man in his prime. The young man looked greedily at the inviting seat, but decided to check if genuine contenders were there or not. His looks finally settled on Amlan, and it became lingering and also furtive as if he was trying to find out the credentials and at the same time not wanting to let go. Amlan didn’t make any move because he was not sure. Apart from the fact his destination was just two stations away and that he was relatively comfortable in his present position his continuing dilemma of so-near-yet-quite-far-off prevented him from going for the grab. He began to study the young man with interest now.

From his uncertain looks Amlan thought with certainty that the young man in fact found him genuinely deserving, but not wanting to give up. Amlan’s indecisiveness also emboldened him to go for it. Now Amlan felt offended, because he thought the commuter was very close to being a bully. And, finally he almost made for it. But it was too late. Maybe sensing the probability of the near-senior citizen of asserting his right the young man occupied the seat in an instant dash, now not bothering to look up at Amlan.

As always, Amlan couldn’t suppress the grin trying to crack open his lips. The senior citizen seats were on both sides of every coach of the metro railway rakes that also include the differently able, and it was always interesting to observe the mental wars between contenders. In India, one becomes a senior citizen after the age of sixty. However, from sixty to eighty plus years of age one is still a senior citizen only, and so the deserving stamp of the contenders is always relative. Nobody could possibly tell or ask about the age and there was no way to prove anybody’s case, because there is no system of checking identity cards. Therefore, the relative intensity of the grey hair or the frail body or the emaciated features are the only guidelines.