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“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;”
They stood at the entrance of the building; the same group, at whom I had screamed at in the morning. I felt as cold as ice.
Would they try taking revenge for the day’s episode?
I looked around and saw the professor locking the gates of the building. I hurried to him.
“Sir, could you please give me a lift, till the entrance of the college, please? I can find a rickshaw from there”
He looked perplexed at me, “But I stay in this building… And I don’t have any vehicle here at the moment”.
The group was watching us, so I jumped to the next option. “In that case, would you be able to make a call for a taxi/rickshaw please…”
“Sorry dear, the rickshaw stand at the entrance does not operate this late in the evening and taxi stand is far out in the city….” Then he looked behind me at the boys and continued, “But, I am sure these boys will be able to give you a lift.” He then proceeded to call the group I was avoiding. “Boys, please give this lady…”
“It’s ok, Sir..” I interrupted, “I am sure I will be able to find my way out myself”.
I turned and started walking towards the dark road leading to the exit.
For few minutes, I stumbled across the dimly lit road, bordered with heavy forest of trees, praying that I can make it home safely. I heard the roar of motorbikes behind me. I started walking faster. As the sounds of bikes neared, I shivered.
They crossed me one by one, each of the bikers turning to look at my face. I could not judge their expression in the darkness, besides I concentrated on not falling in the uneven road and kept my expression neutral. It would not do good to show them how terrified I was.
As the last one disappeared into the darkness, I relaxed a bit. After all, as someone said, there is nothing more dangerous to man, than man himself. Now, I only had to worry about somehow making it to the entrance, where I hoped for some sort of transportation.
Again, I heard the sound of a motor bike, this time it was from the direction I was heading. Were they coming back? I got worried. I saw the leader, alone on his bike. He circled around me, once, and stopped in front of me… forcing me to stop in my tracks.
“Lady, this way is not safe for you to go hiking at this hour. These surrounding forests are infested with all kinds of creatures, especially slithering ones. We really don’t feed them enough to ensure that they leave our guests unharmed...” a small smile playing up on his lips as he saw me looking around carefully.
I did not respond, or return his smile. I was not sure what his intentions were, although he seemed to be speaking the truth about the forests.
He continued,” I am a part of this host college and it is my responsibility to ensure that our guests are well cared for. If anything happens to you, I will also be a part of the blame. So please, allow me to do my duty and give you a lift your accommodation.”
He sounded so polite and decent, so unlike the impression I had this morning or few minutes back. Should I accept his help? Will he take advantage? I looked at him doubtfully. Did I have any other option?
His smile became more pronounced, “Listen, this is a bike and I am the rider, there isn’t much trouble I can do, with you sitting behind me. So get any wrong intuitions out of your system and climb on. Besides, I’m late… my mom gets worried if I reach home late. ”
I had to smile at that point, “Mama’s boy” I said as I let my guard down for a second. Slowly I walked around to sit behind him.
“This is the second time that you have mentioned her, today.”
“Oh! So you do have a sense of humour! I thought you were the most serious person I have ever met in this life” He said laughing again as I sat behind him.
“I was planning to tell my sis, that I have finally met a woman would never laugh at my jokes…”. He revved his bike and we rode out into the night.
It was good that he came back for me; else I would have been lost for sure. The road to the entrance was longer than I assumed, with many diversions and halfway through, the street lights were not working. Hence, we were riding a bumpy road in pitch black darkness with only the headlamp of the bike showing the way. But strangely, I was no longer afraid. He was into non stop chatter, with little response on my part. He went on about everything, his family, his friends, the description of his college and crowd and minutes just flew by.
“Where are your friends?”, I asked as we finally crossed the college gates.
“I sent them away”, he replied, “in case you thought we were planning a group kidnap or assault!” He laughed, and I joined in.
In this way we went through the closing streets of the town. In the short drive to my destination, I saw the night life of the huge town thought his eyes, heard some funny stories of the road side vendors, rickshaw drivers and so on. Before I knew, I was enjoying the evening thoroughly.
It was when we reached the women’s hostel, where our college group was provided accommodation that I realised that I never actually told him where I wanted to go. Surprised, I got down from the bike and turned to him with a question, “How did you know where I am staying?”
He smiled sheepishly, “Well, as I said, being a part of the host college, we have to ensure the whereabouts and comforts of our guests’ right?”
Understanding the implication, I replied laughing, “ Or rather the comforts of the guests from the girls’ college, right? Very impressive” I teased him. And then a little softly, I added, “I am sorry about today morning. I kind of took out all my frustration on you guys ….”
“Please don’t, we kind of deserved it” He said, “I came to know only later that, she din’t perform, because of us”. He shook his head.
“It is all a part and parcel of such events, so… forget it” I consoled. “Besides you kind of made up for it right now, by bringing her friend back safely.”
“Oh really?”, he said with a wide grin, “I was hoping you would ask me to come inside and ask her forgiveness”. We both stood there laughing and continued for few more minutes pulling each others legs.
And then wishing each other good night, he watched me till I reached the lighted entrance of the hostel, and rode off into the dark night. It was then that I realised, despite chatting non-stop for almost half an hour, he never mentioned his name or other particulars, and I never introduced myself either.
No one in the hostel had noticed my absence; it is like that during festivals. After the first day’s events and competitions, the whole night was spent with the preparations for the next day. We hardly found time to sleep and freshen up. That night I thanked God for the beautiful turn of events and smiled myself to sleep.
During the next two days of festival, I met him many times. He would be seated with his friends and would wave and smile at me as I passed. The gesture was always returned by me. Sometimes, he would pop up totally unexpected from behind me, to chat away for few minutes of our free time. He would only pick times when I was alone, to give me company. We would talk of upcoming events or past disaster performances. I enjoyed listening to his punch lines and funny comments about anyone who caught our attention. Time flew in this manner. I used to be so caught up in his expressions that I never used to realise till much later that I had forgotten to enquire his name yet again.
The Day of Grand Finale arrived, the results were announced and we rejoiced in our overall Trophy for the highest number of medals. As my team celebrated and prepared to leave for our home town, I searched for him everywhere. I turned at every sound of motorbikes, or loud laughter, hoping to see him somewhere smiling. But, when our College Bus started on our return journey, I was left with a heavy heart for not having an opportunity to thank the ‘merely player’, who made that Youth Festival, the most memorable in my College Life…