The Mist

The Mist

Varsha put on her earbuds, connected them to her iPod, laced up her running shoes, and got out of the house. She loved to run in the deep woods that were conveniently located very near to their house.

Varsha had COMPLETED her MPhil in english literature and started work, teaching at a local college. She lived with her parents and a brother in this small town in Himachal Pradesh.

Soon she had left the bustle of the town and had entered the grove and set a comfortable pace, her legs kicking up rhythmically and keeping time with the music.

She loved this time of the day. The sun had just appeared on the horizon, the dewdrops, shining wetly on the leaves, and the violet-tinged mountains hulked far away.

She could hear a koel’s plaintive cries, overriding the music on her iPod.

She stopped in her tracks and removed the earbuds, so she could relish the melancholy trill.

The sunlight slanted onto the path, illuminating the woods in an unearthly light. With a happy contented smile, she continued to run.

She was in the deepest part of the woods when suddenly a mist appeared and obscured her way. She slowed down but soon could not see anything beyond her immediate vision. She remembered that there were some treacherous bends around there and was worried about continuing with the run. She stopped and stood around, confused. This had never happened before. There would be a slight haze once in a while and it would fade out into the day, as she continued. But this was something different.

Suddenly she heard the sounds of another runner. That too was a first. Usually, she hardly met anyone,  at this time of the day. Somedays, she had seen a few villagers riding their bicycles with some fresh produce in baskets or small boys with sticks in their hands, herding sheep. But she had never met another runner in these woods.

Unsure, Varsha waited on the road. At first, she saw a blurry form, jogging at a fast pace, emerging out of the mist. She realized it was a young man in a smart tracksuit and good running shoes. As the mist shifted, she could see him. Tall and well-built, with a mop of unruly brown hair falling over his forehead, he was strikingly handsome. His eyes, piercingly dark but friendly and warm, were looking at her curiously.

He paused and asked “Hey, Is everything ok? Can I help you in any way?”

She smiled and said “Hey, I am fine. I am from these parts and this mist seems so sudden. Even though I have been running here for a long time, I have never seen anything like this”

“Same here. This is the first time I have ever experienced fog like this here…”

Varsha asked in a hesitant voice “Do you think we should wait for it to recede before continuing?”

“Oh yes. I remember this road takes some sudden bends around here. So I guess we should wait out this mist.”

They soon found a log of wood lying a little away from the path.

She said in a slightly hesitant voice “I am Varsha and I teach english literature at the local college.”

He extended his right hand and said “I am Rahul”.

They made themselves comfortable on the rugged tree trunk.

Varsha opened her bottle, took a swing of water, closed it, and said in a whimsical voice, “This mist is so surreal. For some reason, I feel as if I am in a dream.”

He quipped “Like the one Scarlet O’Hara finds herself in, on the day Melanie dies?”

Without missing a beat Varsha continued “And realizes that she had all the time been in love with Rhett Butler and not Ashley.”

Both of them smiled at each other, with an easy affinity that bonds two book lovers.

In between swigs from their bottles, they talked about the novels they loved, the music they enjoyed, and the places they wanted to travel to.

He listened to her intently, replied to her questions after thinking about them, came up with witty repartees at the right moments.

The rough bark provided uncomfortable seating, but they did not notice. The topic had moved to movies and both of them realized that they liked the same kind too.

During a lull in the conversation, they noticed that the mist was thinning down.

Rahul stood up, reluctantly, picking up his bottle “Got to go.” He hesitated as if he did not want to leave.

Varsha too stood up, screwing the lid of her water bottle tight. She did not want him to leave. There was so much more she wanted to tell him. So much more she wanted to know about him. She wanted to ask him for his phone number but as she was not carrying her mobile, she knew she could not store it.

Both of them looked at each other silently.  Some relationships are like that. You only need an hour to achieve the feeling that you have known each other for a lifetime.

Rahul waved at her and left. She thought he stood for a moment looking at her at the turning before disappearing.

As she drained the final drops of water into her mouth, she suddenly realized that it was Rahul’s bottle. Their canisters must have got switched.

She did not understand why her heart leaped up with joy at this realization.

She immediately picked it up and ran to the turning. She could see the road stretching far away, but Rahul was not visible on it.

*************

Varsha lay on the bed thinking about the hundred different things she would tell Rahul when they met next. Her thoughts kept going to him every minute. How his warm dark eyes crinkled up when he smiled. The way he would wait looking at her to check if she had understood his witty comments and then laugh with her when she did. How his wavy hair kept falling on his forehead and how he would sweep it to one side with his fingers.

She got up to get some water and happened to see herself in the mirror. She realized with a sudden start that she had a goofy smile plastered on her face and that her cheeks were red.

She knew that face. It was the same one her friends would have when they were in love.

Did it mean she was in love, then?  She was the one who had refused to make an account on any dating app when all her friends had multiple ones on multiple apps. She had tried explaining to her best friend, Shalini, that she did not want to go looking for love. Rather, she wanted love to come looking for her.

Looks like fate had listened to her and sent Rahul her way. Now her job would be to find him. It should not be too difficult because he had mentioned that he was from around.

************

She took up her phone and clicked on Facebook and entered his name. But because Rahul was a common name, and she did not know his surname, there were more than 1000 hits. Some of the profiles did not have photos too. She knew she was not going to find him there.

She went into the kitchen, looking for her mom. She noticed that some onions were lying next to the cutting board on the kitchen platform and her mom was making tea.

She found a knife and began cutting the onions, ignoring her mom’s surprised looks.

She asked in a conversational tone “Mummy, I remember you telling me that Pinky aunty’s son from the USA was going to visit? Did he come?”

Her mom replied in a playful voice “Oh. That’s why you want to come and help me in the kitchen?”

Varsha pretended to be offended and said “It’s you who always complain that I never take interest in your life.”

Her mom poured tea into two cups and handed one over to her as she replied “Pinky had found a girl for him without his knowledge. When her son realized her agenda he canceled the tickets. Pinky wants to……”

Varsha lost interest in the conversation.

************

Varsha took her phone up and massaged her friends’ Whatsapp groups. “Girls. I met an interesting guy called Rahul. Some 5ft7 in height, fair, dark eyes. Mostly from our part of the town. I need to ask him about something. Do any of you know anything about him?”

Most of her friends were curious about him. Some of them asked for an intro when she finally found him. Many from the group asked if he was single. Other than that she did not get any useful information.

Varsha searched for her brother and found him sitting in the verandah, focussed on his phone.

When he noticed her drop next to him, he asked irritably “What?”. Varsha knew he had a soft corner for her friend Shalini. So she told him in a nonchalant voice, “Shalini had met this guy called Rahul somewhere. It seems he left some documents behind and she wants to return them. She thought you would be able to trace him with the help of your contacts”

He had stopped typing and was looking up from his mobile. “Ok. Send me his details I will check.”

Two days later he came up to her angrily. “Are you guys playing a prank on me? I have searched everywhere. There is no one in this town answering that description. Why are you…..’ He stopped suddenly when he saw the consternation on her face. He saw how her eyes suddenly filled up with tears and she looked crestfallen.

“Varsha, who is he? Why are you so upset? Is there something I must know?”

She ran into her room and shut the door.

Why couldn’t she find Rahul anywhere? Didn’t people say these days no one could remain anonymous because of social media? Did Rahul exist or was he a figment of her imagination? Maybe the whole incident was a dream, then?

She went to her cupboard and pulled out her clothes and threw them on the bed. His water bottle lay exactly where she had stashed it- behind her clothes. The green-capped one with a small sticker with the alphabet ‘R’ stuck on the lid.

No. It was not a dream or imagination. Rahul was real.

***********

She was running along in the same stretch. A month had passed and still, she hadn’t found Rahul. She had been timing her jog to the exact minute, passing through the same part of the woods at the same time, hoping she would find him.

No success yet.

She found the log of wood they had sat on. Her mind had elevated the piece of log to that of a shrine. She bent to touch it as if she wanted to ascertain its reality. She sat on the side he had rested on. With a sudden rush of self-pity, she began feeling sorry for herself. Her eyes filled up with sudden tears.

Varsha thought about how she had not been able to get him out of her mind. She could not share her story with anyone because they just wouldn’t believe her, would they? What could she tell them anyway? That she had met a very handsome guy in the woods and had fallen in love with him but did not take his phone number? Even though he was supposed to be from her town, she could not find him? After more than a month of searching, he remained untraceable? It sounded laughable even to her.

She sat on the log in the woods, with tears in her eyes, and wondered why the hell was he was not trying to find her? Did she misread his feelings? Did he even remember her?

************

What Varsha didn’t know was that Rahul existed in another universe just like ours. That he was searching for her there, despairingly and frantically, his feelings and experiences almost mirroring hers. He had fallen so much in love with her that he was desperate to meet her. But none of his searches had been successful. And yes! The only tangible proof of having met her was the water bottle that had got exchanged.

***********

What both of them did not know was that for some strange reason, both their universes had opened up to each other with the misting, for a brief amount of time, letting them meet for a fleeting moment.

Once the mist disappeared, their universes had separated making them invisible to each other.

***********

Glossary:

Scarlet O’Hara, Rhett Butler, and Ashley Wilkes are the important characters involved in a love triangle in the famous classic ‘Gone With The Wind’.

Multi Universe Theory: According to Quantum physics, the simultaneous existence of many universes, has good scientific proof. This theory states that there are many parallel universes where people exist and are having lives mirroring our own.

I have taken the liberty of using this science to make two people from across the multiverse fall in love with each other.

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