‘Ahh… and here I was wondering when will you start complaining! Now you are behaving like yourself. Like a typical woman!’ Roshan said mockingly, trying to get up.
‘What do you mean typical woman? Men don’t feel thirsty or what?’ Snigdha’s tone was rebellious.
‘OK OK… I give in. Your wish is my command Madam. I will right away go and get you a pitcher of water!’ Roshan said dramatically bowing.
‘You have a bottle or something?’ Snigdha asked.
‘Yup.’ Roshan inserted his hand in the pocket of his voluminous Phiran and took out a metal water sipper.
As he climbed out of the ditch, Snigdha felt a p—k of fear. She called after him,
Roshan stopped and looked back, the light behind him making him into a silhouette, his expression inscrutable.
‘Be careful’, Snigdha could just utter these words, suddenly her throat clogged with worry. Roshan looked at her for a few seconds, and then nodded before jumping out.
After Roshan’s departure, Snigdha sat on her haunches and brought her backpack closer hugging it as if it would give her strength. She unzipped one of the outer pockets and took out wet tissues. Wiping her palms and scrubby face, she applied an antiseptic cream on her scratches. She felt better after that. She leaned on the tree and pondered on the events of the day and found her thoughts get arrested on Roshan. She had never in her life met a man like him. So sure of himself, so strong and confident, so sharp and clever and so irresistible. She felt her heart flutter with the memory of her body lying so close to him. In any other circumstances, probably, she would not come even five feet close to any man after her bitter experience with Vikas. But with Roshan her instincts were perfectly uncontrollable as if she was helpless in her reactions and responses towards him. She felt drawn to him since the very beginning, even when she thought of him as a terrorist. Now her thoughts dwelled on his background. Was he married? Or perhaps engaged? He said he’s been living in London which means he must be living a fairly free and sociable life. His suave personality would attract women to him like honeybees. Who could ignore his rakish smile and s-x appeal? When he had the power to make Snigdha breathless, it would be fairly easy for emancipated women of the world to express their desire and attraction for him. A successful journalist, rich and famous, drop-dead gorgeous, charming to the hilt, what more could any woman want?
Snigdha sighed and tried to take her mind away from his image. Looking around she saw that, the ditch was not very deep but enough to hide them. She could feel an eerie silence outside. Suddenly, she realised that it was long since Roshan had gone to fetch water. How far would the pond be? Is it possible that he had been caught? The thought made her shiver in fear. She must go and check. Scrambling to her feet, Snigdha slowly climbed out, putting her feet on the tree root and catching hold of some plants growing on the edge. As she came out, she could see that it was mid afternoon, and the weak rays of sun played with the snowcapped trees. The jungle looked a little rundown what with the foot marks making dark ridges on the ground. The silence was broken only by a bird hooting somewhere hidden in the leaves or bushes. She turned around here and there to see Roshan but she could see no sign of him. Panic gripped her. Although she hadn’t heard any gunshot or footsteps, she was not sure which direction he had gone and whether he had been caught or not. Seeing huge single marks of shoes on the ground going towards the left of herself, Snigdha slowly started walking in that direction. She spotted a hazy figure in the distance and felt relief wash over her. As she was about to approach the figure that was enveloped in mist, she stopped dead in her tracks. The man turned around and walked closer. He was not as tall as Roshan and was wearing a light coloured jacket over loose denims. Her eyes transfixed on the menacing AK 47 hanging from his shoulders. Before she could turn and run in the direction of the ditch, he grabbed her by her scarf and jerked her towards him.
‘Where are you going? I have to take you to the chief.’ The man said in broken Hindi and dragged her towards thick jungles.
‘Leave me alone.’ Snigdha stopped before saying anything else and started struggling, trying to free herself from his hard grip, her eyes looking frantically for Roshan.
‘Looking for your saviour? He will be killed now. Shot in his head. And you will be punished.’ The man leered at her.
‘But we can go to the chief a little later. I think you have some use for me.’ The man was now looking at her insultingly, his eyes roving over her body making her skin crawl with fear and revulsion.
‘No. Let me go!’ Snigdha hit his feet and shins with her shoe clad feet. He grunted in pain and slapped her hard with his free hand. Reeling with pain and shock, Snigdha could taste blood on her tongue where his palm had hit her soft lips. Moaning and struggling, Snigdha still tried to fight him. By this time, the man had managed to drag her towards a cluster of thick trees and tall grasses. He pushed her on the icy ground and jumped on her, pinning her flailing limbs with his thick legs. Snigdha felt breathless and numb with fear and shock and was desperately trying to think what she could do to push him away, or hurt him so that he was unable to molest her. The man guessed at the direction of her thoughts because he grabbed her hair, causing her instant pain, and with his other hand tore at her Phiran neck. The thick wool tore, revealing her soft cotton top inside. The man’s hands groped her neck and got lower, making her go weak with fear and repulsion. His hard fingers were gripping her throat and before he could paw her further down, he was wrenched away from her body and pushed on the ground. Snigdha saw Roshan’s face twisted in fury while he hit the man with his booted feet at places which made the man roll with agony. Snigdha got up clutching her torn Phiran front and looked at the man rolling on the ground groaning with pain. Roshan took out his gun and lifted it, when Snigdha said fervently, ‘No Roshan! You can’t kill him!’
Roshan threw a glance full of anger and impatience at her before lifting the gun and hitting the man on his head with the butt. The man’s body shook for a second then was still. Roshan knelt and checked his pulse.
‘He will survive albeit with a massive headache and bad bruise.’ Roshan said in a clipped voice. Turning towards her, he saw her state of clothes, and her trembling body, her bruised face and said tersely,
‘When you women can’t handle such situations, why don’t you for once listen to what we advise you.’
‘But… but I was getting worried and thought maybe you have been caught… ’ Snigdha started guiltily.
‘And what if I had been caught? Would you have rescued me?’ Roshan barked, his expression hooded, dark eyebrows rising with exasperation.
‘Not really, but Roshan… I had to check…’ Snigdha gained courage.
‘Enough Snigdha. You have caused enough trouble. Do you realise what would have happened if I hadn’t reached on time?’ Roshan pushed his hands in his hair and turned away, his body taut with tension.
Snigdha stood there feeling guilty, sorry and terribly uncomfortable. Suddenly, the shock and tension enveloped her and she started trembling madly. Clutching her torn Phiran to her chest, she slowly turned around and stumbled towards the ditch.
Roshan followed her and as they reached, he stopped her by keeping his hand on her shoulder.
‘I am sorry for shouting at you. But you make me feel angry and impatient with your irresponsible behaviour.’ Roshan’s said in a gruff voice.
‘I know. But it’s not my fault that I’m stuck here in midst of danger and death!’ Snigdha said in a dejected tone.
Roshan turned her towards him and looked at her somberly for several seconds.
‘I think we should leave the place as soon as possible. If this guy can loiter around, others will not be far away. We must cross the jungle before its dark. After that we have some more miles to cross. Hopefully, we will find a cottage or hut where we can take refuge. But, at the moment, we must hurry.’ Roshan said urgently, his hand gripping her shoulders lightly. Snigdha nodded. Roshan jumped inside the ditch to take her backpack and his scarf.
‘Your lip is bleeding.’ Roshan said pointedly. ‘Do you have antiseptic or something…?’
Without saying anything, Snigdha rummaged through her bag with one hand, taking out the antiseptic. She also found a hair clip which she pinned to her torn Phiran neckline, feeling relieved now that it was pinned neatly. Before she could apply the ointment, Roshan stopped her and offered her water.
‘Just clean it once’. Roshan’s gaze was gentle.
Snigdha took some water in her mouth and gargled, wiping her lips with a wet tissue. As she took out the ointment, Roshan’s hands took the tube from her and he gently applied some ointment at the corner of her lips. Snigdha suddenly felt shy and awkward and dropped her lashes, hiding her discomfort, yet feeling tremors of reaction travel down her body. Roshan silently applied the cream and capped the tube before giving it to her. His expression was inscrutable, face blank. Her backpack was hoisted by him on his shoulders.
Soon they started towards the direction he mentioned, their walk brisk, quick and careful, lest they slip while walking on the now melting snow.
She lost track of the time, and could feel darkness descend fast and cold, like a thick blanket shrouding everything in deep blackness. Roshan’s hand went inside his Phiran, and out came a thin, pencil torch, its straight golden beam, illuminating the path directly in front of them.