Her Only Love

Written by Mustofa Munir |
Published on:

On a sunny morning of December Robin arrived at New Delhi airport. From New Delhi he flew to Srinagar and then to nearby wetlands where thousands of migratory birds gathered at that time. He was doing a Ph.D. research work on the behavioral pattern of migratory birds along the belt of Himalaya.

After spending one week in the wetlands near Srinagar Robin boarded the plane for his next trip to Darjeeling. He took his seat and grabbed his laptop from the back pack, looked into some of his saved observational data on wetland birds and slowly sank into them. It was noon then, the jet plane touched the runway of a small, clean, less crowded and only airport nearest to Darjeeling. He disembarked from the plane and felt a bit chilly out there while walking down towards the airport building. Someone should be in the lounge to receive him and escort him all the way to the cottage as it was prearranged in his trip. He saw a man holding a small placard displaying his name on it. He was in his 40’s, healthy, medium height and fair complexioned. Robin proceeded towards him, introduced himself and shook his hand.

Then the man greeted Robin respectfully in Indian custom. ‘Namashkar, sir.’

And said, ‘I’m Rakesh. Our Manager, Mr. Akhil has sent me to receive you.’

‘Thank you for coming, Rakesh.’ Robin sincerely thanked him. Rakesh took the pushing cart from Robin’s hand and led him near to an olive-colored Land Rover parked there in the parking lot. He put the bag and back pack softly in vehicle’s rear luggage space. With Robin in the front seat he started the Land rover and began driving through the hilly terrains in an aura of silence.

At one time Robin asked Rakesh, ‘How long have you been working in the tea garden, Rakesh?’

 ‘It’s almost three years I’m working here as a factory store keeper and also as a care taker of the cottage.’ Rakesh replied.

‘You have then two jobs.’ Said Robin smilingly.  

‘That’s right, sir.’ Rakesh admitted.

Momentarily he added, ‘My wife and daughter help me sometime in taking care of the cottage. We cook for the guests who want to eat with us.’

After an hour, driving forty miles through zigzag narrow road of the hills, they reached the destination.

Rakesh stopped the vehicle. Robin stepped out and found himself standing in front of a small charming hilltop country cottage. The white cottage had terracotta tiled roof with a front verandah guarded by wooden railings in deliciously rich mahogany color. Rhododendron creeped up entwining the bamboo framed arch in front of the stairs with some pink flowers. The sun shone through the trees – junipers, pines and acacia had grown behind the cottage on the edge of the hill. The awesome beauty of the mountain Kanchenjunga and the hills around simply amazed him.

Rakesh grabbed the bag. Robin with his backpack followed Rakesh and walked down few yards over a narrow brownish gravel path edged with nice garden herbs. Rakesh ascended two small stairs of the verandah, then unlocked the door of the cottage for Robin.  

Rakesh wanted to check the rooms once again. Robin sat on a sofa in the drawing room. He was tired, needed badly a cup of hot tea. He looked at the window covered with double panel blue curtains, the inner curtains remained drawn, allowing daylight to enter while rendering the awesome view.   

Robin heard the approaching footsteps on verandah, then a short knock on the door. He got to his feet, walked to the door and opened it. A woman in smiling face with little shyness was at the door. Before Robin could say anything to her she greeted him the same way Rakesh did and then asked gently ‘Is Mr. Rakesh inside? I’m his wife.’  

Robin hurriedly greeted her back and said, ‘O yes. He is inside. Please come on in.’ He stepped aside to let her in. Rakesh found everything was okay in the rooms. He came in and introduced his wife with Robin. ‘This is my wife Binti.’    

Robin smiled at her and said, ‘Nice to meet you Binti!’

Binti asked Robin what kind of food he would prefer to eat everyday including breakfast. Robin told her briefly about the items of the food in his daily meals till his departure. He included a Nepalese dish in the dinner for one night. Binti liked that and noted down everything what Robin just told her in a note book.    

Rakesh handed over the key of the door to Robin and asked him when he would like to eat his lunch.

Robin needed half an hour for his shower. Binti nodded and agreed it was fine with her.  

Then Rakesh informed Robin that his daughter would serve him lunch as he had some jobs to do in the store. Robin appreciated and thanked both Rakesh and Binti.  

They left. Robin locked the door, went to the bed room. He opened his bag and put his clothes inside the closet. The bed was neatly arranged, a folded white clean mosquito curtain was hanging there from the ceiling just above the bed. He noticed the furniture in the house were all mahogany and classic looking.  

The logs in the fireplace were still burning, casting a warm, flickering reddish glow to spread its warmth in the entire house.

He entered into the bathroom. The tub and the towels were dry. When he turned off the shower the house went quiet. That silence seemed to have been thickening unless he heard the sound of a knock at the front door. He quickly put on his pajama and shirt, ran for the door and opened it. She was a girl. Robin looked at her. Her eyes met his eyes. Her ebony black hair was parted in the middle, a silky bunch fell just below her cheekbones, half covering her dark chocolate eyes, the rest was drawn back and knotted into a chic chignon behind her neck. She smiled and lowered her eyes. Robin smiled back and greeted her cordially. She softly said, ‘I am Hina. I brought your lunch.’  

‘Please come on in. Thank you so much for bringing it.’ Said Robin.

She stepped in and walked slowly towards the dining room with a polished glittering aluminum tiffin-carrier in her hand.

Robin sat on a sofa in the drawing room. He waited for Hina to finish setting the table for his lunch. She had a kind of understated beauty, so enchanting, she was unaware of her prettiness. She was not overly tall, dressed in her Nepalese attire as her mother did with only exception of colorful beads she put around her elegant neck.  

A cold wind blew in. Robin suddenly noticed the front door was left ajar. He was hesitant to close the door. It was his first day, he thought it might not be welcomed by the conservative society of the remote village while a young girl and a boy alone in a house and the door was closed. Probably she left it ajar willfully. The winter wind was dashing through the door. Robin had to ask her ‘Door is ajar. Can I close it, Hina?’

 ‘Pease do.’ She replied. And regretfully said, ‘I’m sorry. I forgot to close it.’

‘It’s Ok.’ Robin quickly approved her and then closed that door.

She warmed up the food again in the microwave, set the table neatly, smoothly and properly. 

When Robin finished his lunch she told him she would be coming next morning to serve his breakfast. Robin appreciated her, ‘Thanks for everything you did.’  She responded to his thanks, ‘You’re very welcome, sir.’ And left the room. 

Her speaking in English was eloquent. He considered her to be a high school going girl.

At the evening Rakesh came with tea garden manager Mr. Akhil Mainali. He was a nice guy. In his thirties he looked younger and smart. He inquired about Robin’s overall comforts in the cottage. He told Robin the tea estate was situated at an altitude of 4,500ft, covering an area of 750 hectares with balanced ecosystem. After a while Mr. Akhil left. Rakesh set up the table for Robin’s dinner for that night. After the dinner Robin asked Rakesh, ‘Tomorrow morning by 8 O’clock I will go out in the forest for watching birds. Do you know which spot in the forest would be best for me to go first?’

‘Yes sir. I do. I will bring a tea garden worker tomorrow morning. He will lead you there.’ Rakesh assured him.

‘Thank you Rakesh.  That will help me a lot and save my time.’

Then he opened a map of Darjeeling forest and placed it on the table. They both looked into the map and found the spot that Rakesh just mentioned. Rakesh got up, said good night to Robin and went home.

Next morning Robin woke up early and went outside, strolled for a while around the cottage. He got back in and sat by the fireplace. Hina knocked the door and opened it with her key. They greeted each other. Robin felt she effused a refreshing ambience in the room. He ate his breakfast that she brought from home. While putting down a cup of tea on the table in front of him she inquired ‘How was your dinner last night, sir?’    

‘It was good.’ Replied Robin, then after a little pause he asked her, ‘Do you go to school, Hina?’

She smiled and replied, ‘I appeared in my final school exam one month ago. I will be admitted into college soon.’

‘O that’s great! Delightedly Robin exclaimed. And then said,  

 ‘What do you want to do after you graduate?’

‘I want to be a lawyer.’ she softly replied but with a tone of confidence.

‘That’s very good.’

Robin looked at his watch, he needed to be ready for his first day of bird observation in Darjeeling forest.  

He told Hina ‘I have to take few things in my back pack. Your father will be here any time.’

‘Can I help you?’ She asked Robin. He thought for a second, and then replied, ‘O yes. You can.’

He went to his bed room, opened the bag, took out a list from his pocket, gave it to Hina and said, ‘Just tell me the items in the list one by one and I’ll put them in my back pack. Ok?’

She nodded her head that she understood. He packed them up in much lesser time than he thought.

Robin thanked her for being so helpful. She was glad too. She felt something deep down in her heart, what, she didn’t know.

Rakesh came with a local man as Robin’s guide. Robin stepped out, waved Rakesh and Hina and walked down along the narrow tea garden path with his guide behind. As he passed by the gardens he saw rows of well trimmed green tea bushes rolled up and down over the hills in a wavy pattern. Women workers were plucking tea leaves. As more and more deep he entered into the forest he was engulfed by a silence, that silence after each bird’s chirping became more intense.  

Robin returned when sun was setting over the hills. His first day was satisfactory. He located a virgin habitat for migratory tree birds there, caught few birds and ringed them in the legs for tracking their movements.

He passed one week in the forest at the foothills of Kanchenjunga. That night in a tranquil silence of the forest he leaned on the sofa relaxedly and thought about Hina—a flawless intimacy was created between them during the last few days, their treating each other in formal manner had dwindled greatly. She was no more like a girl who served him and in return received his appreciation with thanks. They laughed and talked, simplicity and sanctity were there. Seldom had they touched each other’s hands but that happened unintentionally. Robin took that lightly but Hina could not. Their intimacy resulted in a deep-seated guilt-less emotional attachment and it was the reality.

Hina and her parents lived in a bungalow down the hill, not far from the cottage. In the cold foggy morning she came, opened the door with short knocks. Robin was in the drawing room, he lifted his eyes from the laptop, looked at her and said, ‘Good morning.’

Hina returned his greeting with pleasant smile.

With a pink woolen shawl she wrapped herself that morning, it adorned her with a genteel personality. Robin had to admire her striking prettiness. ‘You look so graceful this morning like a rhododendron flower, Hina.’

She turned bashful, could say nothing but laughed and escaped to the kitchen, saying ‘Let me bring you a cup of tea.’

It was the first time Robin expressed his feeling to her that way. He ate his breakfast. They talked and laughed. When she laughed the tone of the room turned glee and jubilant. He enjoyed those moments and so did she.

Robin went to the forest that day and returned as usual like other days. At night he felt an irritating burning sensation on the left side of his neck. In the mirror he saw his neck had a reddish mark with a tiny black dot. When and how it happened he had no idea. He washed it with isopropyl alcohol, applied antiseptic ointment on it from his first aid kit and went to sleep.

Hina came next morning, found Robin in the bed. She thought he slept late at night.  

She called him when breakfast was ready. His eyes were closed. He muttered something she could not hear. She got closer to him, shook him lightly, ‘Wake up, babu?’ Robin hardly opened his eyes, saw Hina in front of him, then murmured, ‘Call doctor.’  

Those two words were sufficient for Hina to realize Robin, her babu was seriously ill. She put her palm on his forehead to feel his temperature. Then she took out her mobile phone from her small pouch that she carried always with her, started calling her dad and mom, and informed them about Robin’s grave sickness. Robin was taken to the hospital in Darjeeling town. Treated and released after three days.

 Mr. Akhil came to see him, inquired about his health and wished him speedy recovery. Doctor advised him to take complete rest for two weeks, he was referred to a specialist for further treatment. Robin felt he had to return home before anything adverse could happen to his health. He called and rebooked his flights from Darjeeling to New Delhi, and from there to his destination in U.S.A.

Hina, Binthi and Rakesh, they all took care of him, stayed nearby him and immensely loved him during his sickness. Hina stayed with him all those days till he fell asleep in the night. She was closer to him than before, that devotion contained her completely.

In the foggy twilight dusk Hina slowly walked down on the gravel path and arrived at the cottage. She opened the door. Her appearance made Robin very happy but an air of melancholy surrounded him immediately. That night Robin was in the bed leaning against the pillows after eating some light meals. Hina gave him a glass of water and a pill to swallow as prescribed by doctor. He put the glass slowly on the bedside table and looked at her face. Sitting in front of him on a chair she looked back at him, tried to read his face. Robin never thought on the eve of his departure he would suffer such an emotional ordeal. He knew Hina too was in deep turmoil. He could have left that place with usual smiles, showing his thankfulness and appreciation to Hina, her father and mother.

Controlling his emotion Robin said very softly, ‘Hina, I’m leaving tomorrow. This afternoon I had to rebook my tickets to go home. I will let your dad and mom know about it right now. Your dad will drop me at the airport.’

 A soft light from the bedside lamp poured on her face. He saw her fair-complexioned face turned white and bloodless. A severe jolt and surprise had engulfed her.

A silence prevailed for a few seconds then in a low, broken grim tone she asked, ‘Aren’t you coming back, babu?’

The question she asked him from her yearning heart was so honest and undisguised, he felt any word of negation in his reply might hurt her feelings terribly.

Yet he had to reply. Every word he placed very placidly.

’I’m not sure, Hina, when I will be back. I’m afraid.’

Again some moments of silence overtook them. Then Robin started talking, ‘I’m leaving hurriedly because some complication might show up in my body. I need a thorough checkup without delay. That venomous spider-bite might cause serious problems later on.’

 ‘Oh, no.’ exclaimed Hina.

Robin continued, but his voice had a choked sound.

‘But one day I will come here to see you, then you are a lawyer or a professor of laws in some University. That day you will find me how happy I’m.’

Hina’s heart was wriggling inside, ripped, on the verge of tearing out. Suddenly she stood up, bent down over Robin’s feet, grabbed them by her hands, rested her face on his feet and then started sobbing uncontrollably. Bewildered, bereft, broken-heart Robin didn’t know what to do, then slowly pulled her up, drew her nearer to him in his chest. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Holding her in his bosom with both hands Robin cast his gaze forward in the emptiness of the room, his unseeing eyes filled with tears.    

Copyright © TravelDailyLife.com

Author: Mustofa Munir
Professor Mustofa Munir writes poems and short stories. He is the published author of four books.
My External Website (External Website Opens in New Window)


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