‘But why did you leave your place? My apologies,’ Neel said adjusting his glasses so that the sunrays perfectly outlined his frameless spectacles, ‘but I still don’t get your point.’
Parvati chuckled. Her coal black eyes sparkled with excitement as she recounted her good old days. Few years ago, she would have shed tears at its memory, but now she had grown stronger and wiser. ‘The Black Mountain,’ she said simply.
Neel couldn’t help but notice the slight pink shade taking over her sunset yellow skin. She was rustic, like the clay doll he once admired at the Paleolithic museum. If he seemed surprised, he hid it well. ‘I see… Was it another cursed mountain that your people dreaded?’
‘He was not a cursed!’
‘Sorry… I didn’t mean to-’
‘They makes it very sweet down here.’ She sipped the cardamom tea from her cup. ‘The tea.’
The gentle breeze swayed her rough, brown tresses. Even from a distance Neel could see that her palms were calloused. ‘So, you don’t like being here?’
Almost after five years of living amidst the bustling life of the plains, Parvati was an expert in identifying sweetened, polished and oily words which people directed at her, to take advantage of her ignorance. However, Neel was not one of them. He was one of the few people who frequented the library, whose attitude matched the intention. ‘Me does not have a choice.’
Neel laughed. ‘Do you know that your intellect is much higher than many long-time city dwellers?’
‘Of course, it is!’ She beamed with pride. ‘No one have lived a life like mine.’
‘But of which you speak very little?’
‘No one asks.’
‘Okay, let me be the first person to ask you Parvati,’ said Neel with a smile playing on his well-groomed face. ‘Tell me about your life in the mountains.’
With raised shoulders and her eyes wide open, Parvati edged forward to recount her story. ‘Neel, me did not lived in the mountains… Me lived with the mountains!'
Satisfied with the effect she had created on her interlocutor, Parvati continued. ‘The Back Mountain protected me. Even from the distance, me could feel his spell drilling through the darkness and reaching me through the thick greenery that surrounded.’
Neel chuckled, hinting remorse. ‘You felt the spell!? Amidst the chaos of the city, it so hard just to catch a glimpse of a verdant stretch of trees!’
‘Hooyah! And when morning came, me would take my basket woven from roots and shoot away, waking the sleeping squirrels and hedgehogs. They was always very lovely. They trailed me everywhere me went.’
‘They sound like faithful friends, unlike the villagers who abandoned you and fled when the lightening hit the summit,’ said Neel.
‘Ohhh yeah! They was my faithful friends. Every day me would wake up and walk through the thorns that grew all over the unkempt path. Me would grab some wild berries and digest some of them on the way, keeping the rest in the basket for the remainder of the day. The hedgehogs are troublesome creatures. They sneak away the berries when me doesn’t see them.’
‘Do they?’ Neel was surprised by the active life Parvati had led, which he had thought was impossible in the remote wilderness. ‘In my school, we were not allowed even to share our lunch with our friends.’
Parvati sniggered. ‘Me doesn’t understand your school system. It’s peculiar.’
‘It truly is! But let’s have my story for another day. Today is your turn, young lady.’
‘Right,’ said Parvati. The pink returned to her cheeks. ‘Me would reach the peak by mid-day accompanied by my friends- the squirrel, hedgehogs and sometimes even the silver rabbit! While my friends played near the stream, me would sit on the cliff from where the Black Mountain was visible. He was magnificent. He stood the tallest of all and glittered in the sunlight. Even the wind lost its strength when it passed him. All my friends were terrified of him. They says he give them bad dreams. But me doesn’t trust them. For me, he is the vanquisher of all evil.’
Neel rested his chin on his folded knuckles. ‘Does the Black Mountain talk to you?’
‘Talk to me? Nah..,’ Parvati edged closer, careful to not let anyone catch her words, ‘He talks IN me.’
‘You know what, Parvati?’ Neel lifted his tea cup from the table and sipped it. ‘Your answers never fail to surprise me!’ Watching Parvati shrug behind the steam, he continued, ‘So, what’s your story?’
‘Me never counted the days. Everyday me would climb the peak, talk to him and get back to my cabin with the baskets full. No one came looking for I and me stopped expecting. Me owe them none after all. Me realized that the nights became longer and longer and the morning grass remained wet with dew well until mid-day. Fruits became sparce and the brown puppy taught me to fish.
‘Me continued my visits to the peak. What else was left for I to do? Me had never felt sadness in all those days since the villagers abandoned me, until one day-’
‘When the mountain disappeared?’
‘Me reached the peak as usual and cleared the protruding branches out of my way, only to be shocked by the white void that stared at me. The was no sign of him. Me saw no sky, no abyss. The white screen swallowed everything. Me sat on the peak until the Sun went down. My friends kept nibbling my toes, signaling me that it was time to leave.
‘Me returned the next day and the next… Me started counting the days for the first time. Ten days went by and still there was no sign of him. Me stopped climbing the peak.’
‘You never climbed the peak again?’
‘Nah… Me went again. One day, me was boiling some herbs for lunch when the squirrel popped through the window and tumbled into my dishes. He would not leave me to clear the mess until I followed him. “Why are you taking me to the peak?” me asked. He jumped over the branches and ruffled the leaves, showering dew drops on my face. “Has he returned?” me asked and he squeaked in returned. Yoohoo…! Me raced against the wind and reached the peak. The grass had since grown enough to tickle my knees. Me pushed aside the heavy branches and found him once again, as dark and magnificent as ever.
‘But this time, he was not the same. A portion of his crown was missing. Me just thought it was the rain that slashed it away. Me began my trip once again, returning to my happy days. The missing portion of the crown never worried me again.’
‘Hmmm… So, the mountain never disappeared again?’ asked Neel in matter-of-factly way as if he knew the answer already.
‘Hooyah! It did! But me was no fool this time. Me knew he would return when the Sun began his North-ward journey!’
Neel sniggered. ‘So, you found out that it was the winter fog that hid the Mountain?’
Parvati tightly pursed her lips until they turned white. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but that was not my concern.’
‘Well… What was?’
‘Every time he re-appeared, there was a big chunk of him missing.’
‘Really!?’ gasped Neel.
‘Hmmhmm… And the fourth time he disappeared, he never re-appeared. All that was left was of him was a pile of black stones. On the same night of his disappearance, the entire mountain echoed with the clink and clonk of metals. The monsters had come to our place too. Me ran with my friends and reached the town. Me slept under a street lamp with my friends. When I woke up, me was alone. My friends were gone.’
‘And you found yourself a job as a librarian?’ asked Neel.
‘Hmmhmm…’ mumbled Parvati.
‘You never went in search of your friends?’
‘Why would me go when me doesn’t have enough for myself?’ said Parvati. ‘They took care of me in the mountain. Its me who needs them not the other way round.’
‘So, it was in the library where you learnt to speak and write?’ asked Neel.
‘Me had all day! What else me could do?’
Neel smiled. ‘No wonder you are brilliant!’ Neel had finished tea and he noticed Parvati’s was empty too. ‘Listen Parvati, I am late for my afternoon session. I really have to leave.’
‘Oh yeah, so will me.’ Parvati smiled as she stood up to leave. She glanced around nervously and the pink returned to her cheeks. ‘See you soon, Neel.’
Outside, a woman was waiting under her hood, with a squirrel and an oddly silver rabbit placed inside what appeared to be a basket made of tree barks. A brown dog ran around her in circles. ‘Well?’ she asked as Neel appeared in front of her.
‘She is as sane as you are,’ declared Neel.
‘I am a renowned psychologist. I know it from the way people speak. Rest assured, Parvati has an intellect superior to most of her cohorts. How else could she have survived the harsh mountain as an adolescent, all by herself?’ Neel looked down at the woman’s pets. He was still not sure who this woman was. But there was something familiar in her brown eyes.
‘I shall leave for now,’ said the woman and left before Neel could ask her anything.
‘What a strange world!’ muttered Neel and trod down the slope, towards his clinic.