Ajay shivered a bit as the breeze brushed past his skin gently. It was still dawn. They had decided to start quite early as it would be difficult to climb once the sun came out. The fresh unpolluted air kind of lightened his mood as they trudged on silently. Vinod lead the way, followed by Ramya, then Navneeta and then Ajay. One good thing about trekking was that it took away all your breath – you hardly had any left to talk. One could enjoy the serene silence. The monsoon had just ended and the hillside was lush with greenery. One could hear the twitter of birds chirping away merrily. Ajay felt a kind of oneness with the nature.
His reverie was halted by a sudden grating sound: a human voice. “I think we should stop here and have our breakfast.” He looked at Ramya in irritation. But she did not seem to notice. Soon they were seated on the hard dry ground. Navneeta took out the bread packet from her knapsack and handed out slices to everyone. After the strenuous walk, bread with cheese and fresh vegetables tasted heavenly.
“This is fun. It feels so much like an Enid Blyton adventure”, Ramya gushed. “Maybe we should call ourselves the adventurous four.”
“Who knows? Maybe some smuggling activities might be going on in the hills. Let us keep our eyes and ears open.”
Ajay groaned. Once Ramya and Vinod started this Enid Blyton talk, there would be no end to it. Reading the school books was itself such a chore. How could these guys spend so much time on non-school books and talk about them with so much excitement as well? He tried to ignore them and focus on the bread.
Ajay gave out a sigh of relief as the breakfast came to an end and they were back on their path. The sun had fully come out by now and it was blazing brightly. It had been a good decision to start off early. The sound of birds had ceased. The heat had possibly caused the birds to beat the retreat. The breeze had also stopped. There was complete pin drop silence.
Suddenly Vinod yelled. “Look there.” They all looked in the direction Vinod was pointing. There was a small hole in the rocks.
“That must be an entrance to a cave. Let us explore.” Ramya was glowing with excitement.
Navneeta looked a bit unsure. “I have heard there are usually bats in caves.”
“Come on, Navneeta. Don’t be a wet blanket. Why are you scared of bats? Bats are just mice with wings.”
“Well – I am scared of rats!”
“A typical girl.” Ramya’s nostrils had flared up. “We should have let you stay at home and play with your Barbie dolls.”
Vinod looked towards her. “Come on, Navneeta. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. We are with you. We won’t let the bats harms you, will we, Ajay?”
Somehow Ajay also did not like idea of bats hovering above him. But he did not want to show himself a weeny in front of Ramya and get ridiculed. So he said bravely, “Yeah – I and Vinod will just swat them away like mosquitoes.”
Vinod eased himself into the hole, followed by Ramya. Navneeta looked back hesitantly at Ajay. He gave her a reassuring nod. He felt a kinship with this girl for being a victim of her best friend’s fancies.
She gingerly dropped in and Ajay followed. There was limited light inside and it became darker as they moved further away from the entrance.
“This is so exciting,” Ramya squealed.
“This is so exciting. This is so exciting. This is so exciting.” Eerie echoes engulfed them.
“Please don’t Ramya,” Navneeta whispered.
“I think we should go back. It is dark to see around us and the pathways are getting too complicated. We might get lost in here,” Vinod whispered.
“Don’t worry. I have come prepared,” said Ramya. She put a hand into her bag and brought out a flash torch and a piece of chalk. “We will keep marking the walls of the cave as we move ahead. We can follow the chalk marks back."
She switched on the torch and the cave lit up. Vinod nodded his head in approval. Ajay shrugged his shoulder. Navneeta’s face looked pale. They walked on ahead for a while. Then Vinod suddenly stopped. All the others gathered around him. Right ahead of them was a thick blanket of smoke like a cloud. They could not see through it despite flashing the torch through it.
Ajay did not like the expression on Vinod and Ramya’s faces. Navneeta spoke what was in his mind. “I think we should turn back. That seems like a dead end.”
She could have as well told a dog to stay away from the bone than tell this to Vinod and Ramya. Vinod spoke up. “I want to see what is beyond the smoke. You both girls stay here. I and Ajay will go ahead and investigate.”
Ramya pouted and was about to speak up when Navneeta stepped closer to her and clung on to her hand. She looked for a while into Navneeta’s frightened eyes and held on to her tongue. Ajay wished he could also hold on to Vinod’s hand and stop him. But that did not work with boys. Vinod had made up his mind. He had to follow after him into danger or lose his friend’s respect. He chose the former.
One moment they stepped into the cloud and the next moment they found themselves in bright day light. In front of them was a busy street of a city filled with shops.
Picture Credit: http://s0.geograph.org.uk/photos/78/44/784483_4036a735.jpg