Laying in my quilt, I saw daylight coming through the panes of my window from behind the curtain. The day had broken and deep silence followed. There was no sound. Every morning I am awakened by monkeys as they jump into my balcony from the iron rods extended from the wall. These iron rods must have been left as it is after completion of the house they were used to make the roof of this flat. Mr. Sharma, my landlord never made any effort to have this extension removed. So that became a favorite sitting place for the notorious monkeys. When monkeys jump from these rods to my balcony these rods produce an ear shattering noise.
I got up rubbing my eyes and looked for my footwear near my bed. The floor was freezing cold and chillness climbed up my legs as I put my bare feet on the floor. Sliding my feet into my footwear, I picked up my shawl to wrap myself and walked towards the door to the balcony. As I came out in the balcony, ‘Oh no!’ I was in a different world. The entire matter was wrapped in a white sheet of snow. It had snowed whole night and the sky was still grey. I looked towards the north. A thick cloud was rising up from the valley and was going to cover the entire landscape. I did not see any birds and not even monkeys. They must have found refuge in their trees or some old houses.
The bridle path below my balcony looked like a tiny glacier buried under snow. It was difficult to see its extent. I noticed someone’s footsteps on that.
‘Who must have come out in this weather?’ I thought. Government employees go on long leave during winter in the hills. Many of them save their leave round the year and make good use of that in winter.
Porters – ‘Khans’ as we call them, and I call them ‘vigorous Khans’ the lifeline of this town, do not start their work so early in this weather.
Shopkeepers open their shops around eleven in the morning and close them by seven o’clock at the maximum as they do not get any tourists these days.
Schools are closed because of winter vacations and reopen only in March. So no school children must have come out. Populating the town lessens to half in winter. I do not like to go away from the mountains because of my deep love for them. Every moment of my life I want to spend with them. I seldom leave the mountains, only when I have to, because of my guiding profession. Mountains change color every moment. Sun or rain, snow or clouds, summer or winter they attract me. I wish I could hug all of them and kiss them. I work as a freelance tour guide and spend a full day with my clients, but it is not every day. I keep a few days for me.
Anyway, I could not find out the person’s footsteps in the snow and came in. The previous night I had planned the next day’s program.
Electricity bill had to be paid as it was the last day. Then I had to go to the library to make some notes for my new article. Some important letters had to be posted for next months financial benefits. After that I was scheduled to meet the General Manager of Hotel Raddison and give him my profile. He was looking for someone to organise outdoor team building games for his staff members. I have been doing all that for some corporate clients so I felt myself as a suitable candidate for this casual job. In the evening I had to go to a local newspaper’s office to give my latest story to be published.
There was so much work to do but looking at the weather I started thinking about changing my schedule and stay-at-home. Who so foolish would like to go out in the knee-deep snow? I am sure no one was going to be there in the offices. I decided to stay-at-home and spend the day in my room, writing or reading.
‘Electricity bill can be submitted later with a minor fine. Staying at home at the cost of a minor fine was not a bad deal. Library remains open for seven days a week so I can go there any time and since I am the member of the library, I can have books issued any time’.
‘But what about those letters to be posted?’
‘Well roads are closed because of heavy snowfall so they are not clearing any mail. It is better to post them later otherwise they might get spoilt laying in the letter box’.
‘And my meeting with the General Manager of Radisson?’ It rang in my mind.
‘Well I can always call him and take an appointment for some other day. I am sure his staff would not like to go for any outdoor training program in this spine-chilling cold’.
‘But the story had to be submitted today to the local newspaper’s office isn’t it?’ Was another question.
‘No’ was my answer, ‘Today is Monday and they always receive articles and stories till Wednesday. So I have two more days’.
I had convinced myself completely to remain at home and it was sure that I was not going out as I saw no sign of life out except those footsteps. So I went to the kitchen, prepared a hot cup of tea and settled myself in the bed with my electric heater next to me. A book of short stories was laying on my side table and I decided to finish the story I had left in the middle last night. The suspense was yet to start.
I finished the story and the tea when the door bell rang. I was not in a mood to come out of my quilt but was helpless.
I opened the door and it was Sarita, my houseworker. Wrapped in a thin shawl and wearing slippers without socks, she was shivering in the cold. She comes everyday for some time for cleaning jobs in various houses in our area. Like many other casual servants, she goes from house-to-house to do the cleaning.
‘Why have you come in this cold weather? You should have stayed at home.’ I said to her.
‘We work on daily wages and no one allows us to be on leave Sahib. If we take leave people take off our wages for that particular day. She said, smiling at me.
‘Don’t worry, I shall not take away your salary. If you want you can come back after the snow has melted’.
‘You will not deduct, but what about others. Every one is not going to excuse me. In any case I must come out of my house and work for the better future of my children. If I worry about the weather then I shall be on leave for half the month’ and she entered the kitchen to start her day.
I went to my room, folded my quilt, switched off the heater and entered my bathroom to start my day.
When I returned in the evening the clouds had disappeared and the sky was full of stars.