I am on the edge of a rock, half-bent, clambering on a mountain, trying not to fumble, is when I see her coming along the far invisible lines of the road. She is alone and she is walking towards me. I am alone too, and I halt for a second and gaze at her distinctive, but alluring braids. I tell myself, I will wait for her. I don’t wait for anyone, for I am a solo traveller. I meet and greet people, share my experiences, listen to theirs, and then part my ways with a goodbye, and sometimes with just a smile. But I will wait for her, I tell myself again.
She is being chased by the local kids. She politely tells them, “no”, every time they try to sell her tea or coffee. These kids are street smart and quote one price to the locals and something entirely different to the foreigners. Kim, a fellow traveler, calls one of the chubby kids, “cheeky”. That’s one word I have not heard in a very long time, I tell her. It’s just an English way of calling someone that, she concludes.
Anyway, she is here, two rocks away on a tricky descent, unalarmed and uncaring (about her clothes and her safety).
“Do you need a hand?” I ask.
“Yes”, she says, and extends her arm and I pull her up.
“Thanks”, she says.
She is not petite or feather weight, she is just the right amount of curves, tucked inside the right body type. In fare assumption, she’s next to my kind of perfect. This rock where we are standing, isn’t big enough for two people, neither does it have a plain surface or something to rest our backs on.
“Do you want to climb up a few more rocks?” I ask her.
“Actually”, she says, “That’s exactly what I was thinking”.
So I take the lead, one rocky step at a time. She is almost on my back, quite close and I can feel her warm puffs on my neck. In fact, if she was any closer, she’d be glued tenderly to me like a baby bear – hugging me and trusting my ability to choose the right steps.
I am not a trekker or an explorer of the secluded realms, but sometimes I dare, and sometimes I wear sports shoes for the same reason. She on the other hand, is bare foot; no slippers, no shoes, just plain ashy feet with a cut, wrapped under a Band-Aid on her big right toe. Everything is different about her; her clothes are tattered, but she doesn’t look deprived. Her pants are green and chipped in a pattern, almost like an expensive fish net. Her tank top is off-white and skin tight, revealing more than just the stripes of her bluish bra. She has dark purple streaks running till her shoulders at one side and burgundy, wine-red wavy streaks on the other.
We are at a bigger rock now; the view is clearer, the sun is red-angry above the horizon and the locals are playing drums. This rock is crowded, there are a lot of tourists, some with kids, some with a guitar, and some with their iPods. We look at each other;
“Further up?” she asks
“That’s exactly what I was thinking”, I say.
She lets out a half unsure giggle and we climb to the corners of a rock. From here, we can’t see anyone; it’s just us and the sounds of drums echoing off the rocks somewhere down below. And around us, we see people’s names and hearts engraved everywhere; on bedrocks, on far off cobblestones and mountain rubbles.
“It’s pathetic”, she complains, “Why do people do this?”
“I know”, I say “who are these people carrying weapons on dates?”
She is unsure, whether to laugh at what I just said, or say something conclusive, but instead she chooses to say, “Periza”,
“What?” I am puzzled, “I am not sure, what she means”
With a “Z” and not an “S”, she says, “That’s my name”, and looks away.
“Nice to meet you Periza, where are you from?” I ask her, without introducing myself.
“No, I mean where were you born?”
“Mumbai”, she repeats herself.
She doesn’t look Indian, nor does she have an Indian name, but her accent makes me believe whatever she tells me.
“My dad is from Iran” she feeds by intrigue “and mom is Indian”.
“Okay” I say, holding an urge to say something mousy.
She doesn’t ask my name or where I am from. She perhaps doesn’t care and I am a bit disappointed about that.
“What do you do?” I ask her
She folds her pants till her knees, and above her left thigh, through the cropped diamond shaped cuts in her pants, I see on her shiny leg, a fresh wound with a hint of an internal injury; blue and red, still somewhat bloody.
“I design accessories,” she replies, “I have a store … on fashion street? You know?”
“How did that happen?” I ask her, without paying much attention to her words.
“This?” she laughs, like I said something funny, “I fell off, on the streets, last night. I was riding a moped, it was dark and I may’ve been on acid”. She says that with an amateurish pride.
“Does it hurt?” I ask
“No, I have had worse” she continues, “… and Rumi, you know him? He said, “Wound is the place, where the light enters you” and I know…he did not mean it literally, but you get the drift. Don’t you?”
I nod and keep quiet. She is quiet too.
Some of the local drunk people appear out of nowhere and want a picture with her. “Thanks bro”, she mocks them “but I am Indian, harass someone else”.
They leave and she lights a cigarette and offers me a drag. I am not a smoker, but I don’t want to say no to her. She soon lights another one, then one more, then one more – the whole packet. We smoke without talking. The sun has gone down now and people with drums and guitars and iPods have left us alone. I can hear crickets and frogs in the bushes, I can hear the silence of the night and the bubble tone of her keyboard, as she types on her phone and laughs at something. I see the moon rise, and I see, through the clouds, thousands of stars that outline the dense galaxy that we are a part of. It’s been almost two hours and we haven’t spoken to each other, but we both are awake. I can hear her breathe next to me.
“Do you usually not talk much?” I finally gather the courage to ask her.
“I don’t come here to talk” she says. She is as wide awake as I am.
I have no comebacks, or an agenda for the night. So I close my eyes and breathe and focus on it, hoping for her to say something to me, hoping for her to tell me that, this moment, right here, is amazing–but she doesn’t. Soon, I don’t know exactly when, but I fall asleep. I don’t have a bed or a pillow or a mosquito repellent, but I am relaxed and I feel one, with everything around me.
My eyes open, when a bright light agitates me. The birds are chirping and it smells like a fresh dawn. The sky is red, my clothes and my hair are wet, the dew has soaked my shoes too.
I look to my right; she is gone, I don’t know why or when, without saying a word. I am a bit disappointed and a bit heart broken. I collect my belongings and stand up to leave, is when I notice; something written on a piece of paper. I pick it up; there is a note, a message, a poem, I don’t know what it is, but it reads;
Good Bye Stranger!
Someday, we’ll meet again, maybe, this time, under the sunshine.
Someday, we’ll trace back this night, in the sands of time.
~ Love, Periza.
I keep the note in my wallet and climb down the tricky mountain, and I come back to my hotel and I pack up and leave; to the next destination, to the next mountain, to the next lake or a river or a hill, and I travel for years and I meet thousands of other people who I forget and I visit hundreds of other places that I can’t distinctly recall.
Except, this one time, I am at a restaurant, under the bright sky in the suburban hills of a distant mountain land, sipping the local tea and I see a familiar face from the far, bouncing towards me on an uphill.
It’s Periza; she hasn’t changed much, except her streaks have turned from burgundy and purple to blonde and silver. Her pants aren’t cropped anymore, they are tight and meant for trekking or yoga. She is with another man; Iranian, Israeli, Indian, I don’t know. They sit on the table next to mine. I hope that she looks at me, so I remove my skull cap and muffler. I am about to say hi to her, but I remember, I had never told her my name. So I smile at her, hoping she would recall my face or her promise or her note, but she looks away, as if she doesn’t want me to say anything in front of her man and feeds her crying three year old, a line of white homemade chocolate.