The Shadow Of The Hills

 

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When you are on the hills, a walk all by yourself is a must! But will the hills or the shadows let Jenny have a lone walk? Will the local bus let her leave her shadowy company behind, on the road? And will her Aunt Gracy recover from illness? Read to know more…

We visited Aunt Gracy mostly on holidays and on hers and dad’s birthday. It was always a happy visit. Only this time Dad got a call that she is very sick and we made our first gloomy and worried trip to Manali.

We reached early morning and Dad’s friend came to pick us up at the bus stop. As we drove home in his car, I overheard them talking.

“She has not been eating anything since two days. We don’t know what to give her so that she would eat…” Dad’s friend said in a worried tone.

Dad did not say anything. It was a tensed and silent ride.

We reached the villa and went to Aunt Gracy’s room first. She looked pale and tired. There was a nurse near the nightstand.

Dad’s friend said, “I thought it would be a good idea to get someone.”

Dad nodded and sat beside Aunt Gracy.

Two days passed and Aunt Gracy was still not eating anything. Dad was tensed. He was spending all his day either in the kitchen trying to make some sort of soup or curry that Aunt Gracy would eat or in her bedroom, coaxing her to eat whatever he had managed to cook.

 

Aunt Gracy and Dad had lost their father when they were only two. Aunt Gracy said she had absolutely no memories of Grandpa and Dad never talked about him. I figured he also did not remember Grandpa and so refused to talk about him at all. Grandma had had a tough time bringing them up and even she had succumbed to TB at an early age. Ever since her demise, Dad and Aunt Gracy had looked after each other. Aunt Gracy always told me stories of Grandma. Her favourite was the one where when she was 12 and would try to run fast on the road because she thought someone was following her and Grandma telling her that it was only the hills, their shadows following her to keep her safe. I missed Aunt Gracy talking chirpily and telling me stories.

One evening, I went to the kitchen and found Dad rummaging through the pantry.

“Dad, should I go get the medicines?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure honey. Take the money from my wallet. It must be on the coffee table.” he replied without looking at me. He was busy finding something which he could give Aunt Gracy to eat.

“Okay,” I said and took my windcheater from the cloak stand.

I bought the medicines and decided to go for a walk.

“It isn’t as if the medicine stock is over at home.” I convinced myself in my head.

I walked past Dad’s favourite bakery shop as I wondered what was Dad going to do if Aunt Gracy did not eat anything today also. It was dark and the street lights were gleaming bright and attracting the moths and the insects. I was still lost in my thoughts when I thought I saw a shadow on the road, which looked like someone was walking behind me. I turned to see no one behind me and only few street dogs rising up from their afternoon siesta and stretching on the road side. I was confused. Maybe I was just imagining things. I continued walking and crossed another street light and…the shadow was still there! I did not dare to look back this time because I half expected to find nothing but street dogs and mist. I continued walking but my mind was in a haze. I was not able to comprehend whatever was happening. I fastened my pace.

As I walked ahead, I saw an old lady at the bus stop. She was wearing a faded rust coloured saree and was alone. I decided to take the bus back home as I was scared to walk back and find the shadow under the street lights again. I sat beside the old lady at the bus stop and waited for the bus to come. She smiled at me. I smiled back.

“Tourist?” she asked.

“No. You?” I asked. I don’t know why I asked her because somehow I was convinced she was not a tourist.

“No. I stay…sorry, used to stay at the PollyLane villa.”

“Oh! I live there. Well, I don’t exactly live there. My aunt does. I am visiting her.” I said.

“Ohh…Gracy..I have seen her as a young girl. Its been years though. She must be quite old now.” she said.

I was surprised she knew Aunt Gracy. I figured she must have been a tenant in the upper floor rooms in the bungalow years ago, when Aunt Gracy and Dad were young.

I laughed and said, “Yes. She’s an old bone now. She is actually not well and so I am visiting her.”

“Gracy is not well? Oh dear..wish I could visit her. You should give her some spinach soup. That would dial down her crank.”

I thought of telling her that we had tried almost everything and Aunt Gracy had not eaten in almost five days now and spinach soup won’t make any difference. But instead I politely said, “Thank you. I will tell my Dad to make some for her.”

She smiled.

“Where do you have to go by the way?” I resumed the dying conversation.

“Oh not very far actually. Three blocks down the last chowk. My knees won’t allow me to walk, so I am waiting for the bus.” she said.

I nodded.

“Why are you taking the bus though?” she asked.

“You are a young lady. You should be walking all over the hills.” she added.

“I was just tired of walking for a long time. So…” I lied.

The bus came along in a few seconds and we got on. I bought a ticket and the conductor returned to his seat in the front.

”Why didn’t he ask her for ticket?” I wondered when suddenly the lady spoke, almost as if she had read my mind.

“He knows me and I have a pass.” she said and turned towards the window.

I was surprised but did not pay much attention to her.

“Gracy will be fine soon. Tell Henry not to worry much.” she said while looking out from the window.

At this point, I was not at all confused or surprised at her mentioning my father’s name as I had figured out that she knew everyone in my family.

“She must have been a tenant for many years.” I thought.

I looked at her. Her hair, resembling white silk strands, tucked neatly behind in a bun.

I wondered if she also knew my grandparents.

The bus was about to reach my stop. I got up from the seat and turned towards the lady and said, “Please do come home some time.”

She smiled and nodded. As I turned and moved ahead towards the bus door, she said, “Don’t forget about the spinach soup.”

I turned at her and nodded.

” And Jenny…” she continued, “…those shadows on the road are just hills. Nothing else.”

I froze as I saw her wane face smile again. The bus jerked and I almost lost my balance. The conductor yelled, “Didi kahaan dhyaan hai aapka?”

I looked at him and looked back at the seat where I had sat. The seat was empty.

“Kuch nahi,” I said and got off on my stop.

As I walked back home, I reminded myself to tell Dad to make spinach soup for Aunt Gracy and not disclose my encounter with Grandma.

Pic Credits: Shambhavi

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