Ch 2: The fall wasn’t all!
We began marching towards the hotel from where we would board the tour bus. ‘Marching’ because a freezing wind was blowing the clouds about and chilling us to the bone. The ‘march’, however, was doing little to keep us warm. I buried my gloved-hands deeper into the pockets of my woollen long coat, thankful that I had brought the heavy thing along. Not that I had ever felt comfortable with the severe winters in New York but now it looked like this tiny Indian hill station could give the New York winter a run for its money. I thought of breaking into a run and as I was about to suggest that to the others, Pallavi stuttered, “Gawd! How much longer? I’m turning into a kulfi!” Her teeth were chattering fiercely and her breathing sounded rugged. I felt worried for myself as much as for the other two. Tanisha however, seemed to be managing fine as she plodded ahead resolutely.
‘THUD!’ “OWWW!” Two loud simultaneous sounds forced me to stop. Tanisha had heard it too and wheeled around. The tip of her nose was a bright shade of pink and her cold breaths were little puffs of smoke mixing with the blanket of mist that the sun rays were feebly tried to penetrate. To my dismay, I noticed that Pallavi had fallen flat on the hard, slippery ground and her bright blue woollen cap had flung itself onto the curb. A young man, barely in his thirties was trying to pull her up while apologizing profusely every minute. Pallavi’s eyes were still closed and her groans were getting louder. Both Tanisha and I tried to help her up, at the same time trying to prevent ourselves from suffering the same fate as her. Ultimately, it was the young man who gently pulled her up and supported her with his arm around her waist.
“Madam ji, I’m so sorry.” He repeated and the deep voice, so uncharacteristic of his age, made us start. I noticed Pallavi’s groans immediately ceased. The man took his dark sunglasses off, though why he was wearing them on an almost overcast day beat me. We noticed how handsome his features were. With remarkable ease, he lifted Pallavi in his arms and said with a sense of emergency, “I’ll take you to the doctor!” Both Tanisha and I were at a loss for words. I stared at this young stranger.
The man was muscular and tall. His garish clothes and his sunglasses which he had slung from the pocket of his fitted jeans screamed a lack of class and were extremely commonplace. Had he merely passed us on the road, I’m sure neither of us would have glanced at him a second time. Unless….
His face. I’ve never really called a man ‘beautiful’ before, but this man was beautiful. His porcelain skin was blemish free and his doe-like eyes seemed ethereal, filled with the promise of blue skies and sunny days. They sat with such perfection in his oval-shaped face; perfectly complimenting his broad forehead, slightly high cheekbones and chiselled nose. His lips were the right hue of reddish-pink and had he not been standing so close to us, I’d think he had applied a coat of lipstick. The chin was cutely dented by a dimple whenever he spoke. His dark hair was tousled and probably uncombed for days. Otherwise, he was clean shaven and his clothes were clean. His voice accentuated his charm manifold. It was calm, manly, musical…. and as Pallavi put it later that evening, “Sexy as hell!”
The man’s arms were still cradling Pallavi securely, and she, being of a short stature, seemed like a little something against his broad chest. “Put me down,” she growled at that moment, and I immediately stopped admiring the beautiful man.
“Oh, ye…. Yes, Madam ji,” he stammered, clearly flustered but his voice was still the call of the deep, deep, ocean. Something stirred in the pit of my stomach and despite the situation, I let out an unexpected giggle. Immediately, Pallavi set her eyes on me, raining fire, and red-faced, I swallowed the silly giggle. Although the man had set her down on the ground, he had his arm around her shoulders for support. I turned to look at Tanisha and had to smirk. She too was gaping at the man, wide-eyed.
He spoke again. From his accent, also from his looks, it became evident to us that he belonged to the hills. “I’m already late and I was rushing to open the doors of this little café we own,” his voice gave the slightest hint of desperation, “we lose customers when I open late and father gets mad at me,” he paused and I saw his long fingers pulling Pallavi towards him minutely, “I should have seen you Madam ji, I should have been more careful! So stupid of me!” His apology was genuine.
“It’s okay, I can manage,” Pallavi said curtly and brushing his arm off of her shoulders, she took a step towards me. At once, she winced and an involuntary yelp escaped her lips. I thrust my arm out to hold her but the young man leapt in front of me, hiding her from my sight momentarily.
“You’ll only make it worse with your stubbornness,” he scolded her. Turning to Tanisha, he pleaded, “You’re with her, please make this Madam ji understand that she can’t exert any force on the injured foot. Look, it’s already swelling up, she needs ice and a bandage!”
Automatically, the three of us looked at Pallavi’s injured right foot. The man was not exaggerating, Pallavi’s foot was ballooning up. Without another word, he lifted Pallavi in his arms once again and held her against his chest. A feeble protest was heard in Pallavi’s raspy voice but he paid no heed. He turned to me and frantically enquired about our hotel. The clear expression of pain on Pallavi’s face was alarming. Her eyes were shut tight and her shapely eyebrows were scrunched. As soon as I blurted the name of the inn, the man uttered a confident “Oh,” and practically began running towards it, his long legs coming to his aid. Tanisha and I struggled in his wake, clasping our chests as we battled the oppressing cold. For once, just for a few seconds, I was able to catch up with his pace. The young man was staring fixedly ahead as his big feet made hard contact with the ground. He seemed hardly conscious of the fact that Pallavi’s large breasts, although somewhat confined within her jacket were rising and falling hard, touching his chest every time. For a minute or two, I let my eyes linger on the man’s face for a reaction; then I admonished myself silently and turned away.