The rain was lashing against the windscreen, clouding the visibility!! The wipers seemed to be fighting a losing battle against the torrent of water. It was amazing how much noise this was making.

“Like someone has opened a tap up there in the heavens” muttered five year old Ankit as he snuggled into his mother’s lap in the back seat of the taxi. Riya held him close. His temperature had gone up again. She rearranged the shawl that was covering his shivering body, tucking it in under his feet.

The noise of the falling water seemed to be broken only by the sound of the thunder that crashed down. She held on to the door handle as the driver tried to keep the car steady on the slippery mountain road. Her husband Alok was sitting on the front seat with the driver. She caught his reflection in the rear view mirror. His face was creased with worry.

This holiday was not turning out to be how she had thought it would. She had hoped that the one week in a picturesque hill station, away from the tension ridden routine of their daily life i would help them bond as a family. But unfortunately, four days into the vacation , Ankit had fallen ill. It had been difficult to find a  doctor in a tourist spot. Riya had tried to manage his condition with  paracetamol, which unfortunately only provided temporary relief. She had not been keen on the drive this morning to the highest peak in the range. But Alok had been determined to go.

“What is wrong with  a slight  fever? He is not going to die for God’s sake! Stop fussing and come on” he had said in his usual aggressive way. Riya had not wanted to make a bad situation worse by arguing.

A strong gust of wind rattled the glass on the window as lightning lit up the sky. As the sound of the thunder died down, she felt the taxi grind to halt.
The driver tried to start it again, but it refused to restart.

“What the hell” muttered Alok as he looked at the driver in exasperation.

“Saheb, there is some problem with the engine. We will have to check it. Let us wait until the rain stops ” he said.

So, here she was, stranded in the middle of a narrow mountain road, inside a taxi with a broken down engine, a sick child and an irritable husband! Riya could feel the tension radiating from Alok.  She braced herself for him to turn around and tell her “This holiday was your idea. Look where it has got us stuck now”.

To take her mind off she turned towards the window, looking out into the pouring rain. The head lights had been turned off and it was pitch dark.

The silence inside was suddenly broken by a tapping sound She looked up with a start. Outside was an almost luminous form defying the inky darkness

“Alok,  look there is someone outside  ” she said  quietly.

Before Alok could react, the driver rolled down the window to speak to the man .

“Excuse me, my car is stuck in that lane up there. The road has been washed away in the rain. I trekked down the slope. Can you please drive me to town?” he asked politely.

Alok looked at the man. He looked decent enough. Should he let him in?  What if he was a criminal who was hand in glove with their cab driver?

But Riya had no such doubts .  She wondered if she should tell Alok that she knew him. However, she was not sure how her husband would react . He was an extremely possessive man given to bouts of jealousy. But it was inhuman to let him stay out like this in the storm!

Her mind made up, she opened the door on her side and said “Please get in”.
“Thank you mam” he said getting into the car at the back and shutting the door. Riya could feel Alok’s anger and anxiety at her action.

“ Iam Subhash. A doctor by profession” he said leaning over on to the front seat towards Alok. Alok grunted acknowledging the introduction.

She wondered if he would introduce himself to her next. What would he say?
But strangely he didn’t. He sat next to her , their distance separated by Ankit’s sleeping form.

She stole a glance at him. He had aged. His once black hair was now peppered with grey. Those piercing eyes were hidden behind a pair of glasses. Their glance met for a brief second as he took out his glasses to wipe the water off them. Did she imagine it or did those eyes crinkle up into a smile?

“Is he ill” he asked pointing at Ankit. She nodded. She could not trust her voice.

She had never imagined that after all these years she would meet him suddenly like this on a lonely road. She wanted to ask him so many questions but they never made it out of her mouth. His presence had again rendered her speechless!

Theirs had been a strange relationship. He, had been a man of few words even in those days when she had been a chatterbox. But whenever they had been together she could never bring herself to speak. Their friends had always teased them about each other. She used to blush whenever that happened while he smiled enigmatically. Despite the silences that tagged their moments together, they had managed to connect in a very special way. She remembered a hand drawn card with a poem inscribed in it- a birthday gift! It now rested deep inside a cupboard in her parents’ house in Bombay. It was the only thing he had ever given her before he had gone away abroad for higher studies.

In those days before email, she used to wait eagerly for a letter or a post card. But they were very few and far in between. Living as he did  on a scholarship, telephone calls were obviously out!!

She wondered when she had stopped waiting…

Ankit was moving. “It is so hot” he muttered. His T. shirt was wet. He was sweating. She took out a napkin from her bag and started wiping his forehead.

“Don’t worry he will be fine” said Subhash looking at her.

The rain seemed to have slackened a bit. The driver was getting out of the car and was fiddling with the engine. Alok  had moved on  to the driver’s seat and was trying to start it. After a few attempts the engine started. The driver came back inside and they were on their way. Silence, once again seemed to engulf the people inside.

They rode on like this for about half an hour before they came to a road block. There were police patrol vehicles with their flashing lights blocking the way.

“What happened?” asked Alok rolling down his window

“There has been an accident sir. The rain caused a land slide  pushing two cars down the slope” said the constable motioning them to take a detour through a smaller lane. There was a traffic pile up inside the lane taking them more than twenty minutes to get back on the main road.

“Terrible day!” muttered the driver as he spend on towards town.

“Are you from this town?” asked Alok finally easing up enough to start a conversation with the passenger in the back seat.

“ No. Like you I have also come on a holiday” he said speaking to her husband for the second  time.

“ Alone?” asked Alok curiously.

“Yes” he replied.

Riya felt tempted to take the opportunity to ask him if he was married. But something held her back.

So, they went back to being silent. She closed her eyes trying to blot out the memory of the man sitting next to her. But images of a tall young man with crows feet under his eyes kept disturbing her. He was bringing two glasses of tea to their table at the canteen. There was loud music playing in the background adding to the noise. Yet, their silence has bound them together.

She started as she heard the honking of cars. They were in town.

“Where can we drop you sir?” asked Alok turning back .

“Oh you can stop here. I will get down” he said.

Ankit was completely awake now and was looking at the new occupant of  the back seat curiously.

“Thank you “ he said as he slid out of the door. He looked back once more at her before ruffling Ankit’s hair and saying “Bye beta. God bless you” .

The door slammed shut and he seemed to melt into the street outside.

“Nice fellow” muttered Alok as they drove on.

Their holiday was now almost over.

“Only one more day left ” she thought with a sigh.

She hoped that she would not run into him again in town. She was not prepared to deal with the turbulent feelings that meeting him like his had aroused.

But she need not have worried.

The newspaper reported the next day that a land slide in the Kakrapur highway had pushed two cars down the cliff. There had been no survivors.
Among the six people who had died, had been a Dr. Subhash Chandra from Bombay!!

<div style=”text-align: justify;”> This post has been written for <a href=””>Prompt of the Month</a>; a feature of <a href=””>Writer’s Ezine</a></div> </div>