Nayan looked up from the manuscript and looked at him. Many questions were running into her mind.
“Are all those lore or stories or truth…” she asked self.
“Don’t think so much…”, he said in soft voice, not looking at her.
He had lied on his back putting his legs up on the opposite chair—one on another. His eyes were closed while his hands were clasped and gathered at his lap. A long ago memory she recollect.
Four of them were sitting together beside the lean weak mountain stream. It was summer—early or late, that is she couldn’t recollect. Nay was not there; Pickle Granny had been taken to bed for last three days. She was there taking care of her. Last day they had been able to fulfill her last wish. A, though, was not there.
Galpo Dadu had barred everyone from visiting him. The only exception was A. He had allowed him to visit him; if anyone knows the last three days of the old storyteller was him. He never though said anything to anyone. On asking he had said Dadu made him promise not to tell what he had been telling to him. Everyone was sure of this passing of the story or stories as he had told long before to many people that before he die, he would pass some of his untold stories to A and no one else. The reason he never disclosed.
The late morning sun was glistening on the water of the stream after touching the arms of the mountain. Dadu had one last request.
“Put me on a pyre…don’t bury me…” he had said to Siddique, the then Mayor of the Town.
It was ritual to bury the town people after they passed away. Dadu had made this request when he went to see Pickle Granny four or five days ago, and there he had met with the Mayor.
The pyre of the old storyteller was burning towards its end. The flame of it was waltzing to the tune of the late-morning mountain-air. The crowd that was dense was now trimmed down. Few left like four of them.
Nayan found A to be lost in his thoughts. Ferdouse and Dip tried to talk in with him. But, he had requested them to leave him alone. From last day he was like that. Though he was a silent and introvert guy; but, that, Nayan knew, was different. His eyes was not a teary one like of them, and his face was grave but that was not from grief but he was coming in understanding with some things. She had thought, not only that day many days later also, what had Galpo Dadu told him or what untold stories he has shared with him. Later she had asked him, and he had said time hasn’t come till then.
She was walking towards him signaling Ferdouse and Dip to go away with her hand. She sat down beside him on another boulder.
“Share with me…what had happened…” she had asked him.
“Nothing…you know this town…it’s a haven not heaven…” he had said looking at the passing stream, “there were so many fallen characters…are faulted characters…”
She holds his hand in her palm and remarked, “I couldn’t get it…you always share you stories with me…now why are hiding it…keeping it to yourself…”
A moved his eyes from the stream and pointing at the pyre said, “promise…I had made promise to him…not to tell them…’til the time has come…”
He was halted in his sentence because Nay had been coming; she was running towards them. Joe was behind her. Ferdouse and Dip seeing this goes forward. Both of them, Nayan and A knew what had happened. A shake off his hand from Nayan’s hand and came down from the boulder and ran towards her.
Nayan remain sitting there looking into the marks of her vacant palm. She felt a silence around where the ripple of the stream could be hard, and a under the breath a rhythmic sound—it was her heart beating. She looked at the other three. Nay was in the embrace of A , and she was crying like a baby. Joe was coming forward to her in his majestic trotting style. Her eyes unknowingly suddenly went to the other end of the stream.
“There I saw an old man holding hands of an old woman…they were crossing the stream at the ford…where the water was less…and the flow was absent…” she said looking at him.
“H’m…” he said maintaining the position of his laid back relaxed pose.
She knew he had listened to it all, and this mean he was listening to them closely.
“So…what do you think…it was Kedarnath and—”
“Read the manuscript…town is two hours away…and the rain might delay it for a few minutes…” he said jerking off his drowsiness.
She knew he would not entertain her for speaking any more. He had said what he had to say in this manuscript, and she had to know of them by reading the manuscript and ending it before they reach the town.
She drank water from the bottle kept on the hanging table beside her bed, and saw he had kept his cigarette case there. It was with him then how could it reached her—she thought for a while. She was going to ask him of this when she found him to be slept in the chair. His face in the cabin strong light seems to be tired at the same time much older than what she had saw last time he had saw it. She lit a cigarette and opened the manuscript again. The title of the chapter was scribbled; alternative ones were there. It was uncanny as he knew what shall the chapter be called. Amongst all those scribble and alternatives ones, one was underlined—Smell of Blood.
“Smell of blood…now what he was up to…” she scoffed.
“Can’t you read silently…” he said while adjusting himself.
She smiled. It reminded her of the time they were together, and sometimes to tease him, she used to read aloud from his competitor’s manuscript or book. And every time he used to get irritated throwing a cushion or pillow to her or just used to pull away the manuscript and captured her lips with his mouth.
A deep pang of sigh risen up inside her and she left it as deep long breath. She finished her cigarette and then starts reading—
Sir, how many times…