“Daju! Will you go to Shipgyer today?” Dawkit asked the taxi driver.
“I might, if I get the gas cylinder”
“Ok, keep one seat for me please” she shouted at the rear end of the Savari Max that drove past her leaving a cloud of dust behind.
Dawkit covered her face and got back to breaking stones. She broke stones for a living. It wasn’t as bad as it sounded, for the Border Road Organization paid the laborers well.
“You going home today?” her friend who stood nearby sifting the sand asked her.
“Yes, mother has sent a word, she is not well but I’ll come back in the morning” Missing work meant no pay and Dawkit could not afford that.
Dawkit anxiously looked towards Mangan, which was the biggest bazaar in the north district of Sikkim, it was also the district headquarter and all the important offices, hospitals, post office and everything that were of any importance could be found there. The grey dusty road divided the hill in two halves; the forest was greener towards their extremities on the either flanks and remained in a grey haze in the middle.
Shipgyer was a tiny village in Dzongu, a land reserved for the indigenous community of the state, a sacred land of the Gods nestled up in the mountains. A kacchha road led up to it but only one taxi plied that road, whenever it fancied.
The inhabitants of the village had to go to Mangan bazaar for their supplies but it was an ordeal getting there. The one vehicle that ferried the people had quite an eccentric fellow for a driver, he would come and go as he pleased. The villagers had to bribe the man with chang (local brew) or chicken to ferry them and even that would not guarantee that he would bring them back in the evening. Sometimes he would come back after days at a stretch, but the villagers were used to this eccentricity so whenever they went to the bazaar they would locate his taxi and load their supplies and rations in it and then walk home with just some bare necessities and medicines if any.
The rations would arrive at the driver’s whim and fancy but arrive it would and save for a drink or two everything else could be accounted for.
“What if the taxi doesn’t go today?” Saili, her friend asked Dawkit.
“What else? I’ll have to walk” Dawkit knew the taxi wasn’t coming today for it was already five in the evening.
“Okay Dawkit, be safe” her friend bid her goodbye.
“I will” Dawkit looked towards the hill where she had to reach, it was far and arduous walk uphill.
It was almost five thirty now; she hoped to reach by eight thirty or nine at the most.
She started walking in the last light of the day; the birds were hurriedly getting back to their nests to retire for the day. A tempo of bird calls of various nature had filled the air, there were incoherent singing in the branches above her head and a kind of scuffle inside the bamboo thicket next to the stream that flowed along the path, the screaming of mynahs overpowered the commotion to a great extent but now and again the soulful cuckoos of the Koel bird could also be heard, the cicadas and the crickets, the buzzing insects and the tree pies all rendered the otherwise lonely walk an exercise in ample gaiety and galore.
The night had come swiftly as she walked uphill, the birds and cicadas had all gone silent save for an irregular hoot of an owl and the tapping of the beetle. The water provided for the much-needed groove in the background raising the tempo whenever it met with a gorge. The forested path cracked beneath her feet being amply strewn with dried leaves and branches, she had lighted her pultho (lamp) a while back, it had been a little more than an hour now since she had started walking but the path did not seem to have reached the half way point as it should have from what she last remembered.
“It must have been more than six months since I last walked this path” she tried to remember for her own benefit.
She sang a few songs but soon gave up as it made her breathless and hindered with her progress.
It was eight pm by her watch now, she had been walking for two and a half hour, and she stopped to look at the amount of oil left in her lamp,
“Dawkit!” Someone spoke in her ears like a soft whisper, she jumped with fright.
“Ho! Hello! You scared me! I did not hear you coming behind me!” it was Pemba, a man from her village his house was close to Dawkit’s mother’s house, she felt relieved to have met someone on this lonely uphill path.
“I had heard you were not well?” Dawkit enquired of her old neighbor.
“Yes I had gone to the hospital, I am not too well.” He replied. He did not look well even by the light of the torch. His eyes looked sunken and black, they had a hollow look about them, he had lost considerable weight, and maybe he had some festering wound there was a waft of disagreeable smell of pus and chlorine that reminded her of hospital.
“I am glad to have met you anyway, how are you feeling now? You don’t look very good, what exactly had happened?” Dawkit felt a rush of new energy for having met someone to talk to on this forest path. They talked as they walked with Dawkit leading the way.
“I had fever for two months” Pemba replied.
“How are your wife and children, Pemba, it seems such a long time that I met anyone from the village?”
“They are good, I think Pem Diki will fail this year, she is not too good in studies”
“Oh! I thought Pem Diki had left school after she failed the class last year” Dawkit seemed surprised.
“No, she goes to school” Pemba informed her.
“I think I met your family last winter wasn’t it when we had come to celebrate Namsoong?“
“Yes” Pemba ascertained that fact.
“How is my mother? Have you met her lately?” Dawkit asked.
“No, I was sick”, answered Pemba.
“That is funny”, thought Dawkit, he lived almost next door to Dawkit’s maternal house.
They had reached the point from where the uphill path had to an end and they would have to descend to the valley into the village, it was about ten minutes walk downhill.
“Where are you coming from at this hour?” Dawkit was worried for his health for the foul festering smell had become overpowering.
“I don’t like it here, It is stifling, don’t know why they buried me here” Pemba answered from behind her in a strained rasping whisper.