Rian slowed down for a moment to catch his breath, leaned against the rocks and watched the other tourists pass by him. He came here every year, this time, during the summer holidays for so many years now that he may have lost count. The city of Saputara, situated right at the border of the state of Gujarat, was not one of the places people would die for but then again, this place had become a secret Mecca for him since that day.
He looked at the faces of the other tourists, some of them tired already, having second thoughts, others taking it up as a challenge against nature and racing ahead until their lungs gave up. He remembered his trip, back so many years, he was one the challengers. He came on a solo trek trip and this place was on the first evening in their itinerary.
The Suicide point, as their guides had called it and the entire group had laughed. And then they had started their ascent. The group has begun a speedy ascent but a while later slowed down as most of them ran out of their breaths. Rian went on without stopping and soon was out of sight. He was a typically introverted nature, he avoided groups but he could become a nice company to some. However, in this trip he wanted to extend his boundaries, make more friends, be with different types of people, but so far then he had been out of luck. As he reached the top, people became scarce. A very few actually make it to the top then, he had thought to himself. That day was different. The fog was thicker than usual. The sun had barely come out of the clouds and the day had already started getting darker. He had looked around, there was nobody around. There was a broken bench on a slightly raised platform, a light pole stood up bent from middle, stooping over whoever would pass by, like it wanted to tell its secret to anyone who would pass beneath. There was a circular shed too, but a part of it had flown off in the strong winds. All in all, the few non-living residents of that place seemed to have their own tale to share. He felt a strange sense of belonging. A few metres ahead and he would reach the top. He inhaled the air deeply, the place was so desolate yet so serene.
“You seem to be a loner.” Someone had whispered from behind. He looked back and had seen a girl about his age. She was wearing a white frock, quite unusual dress for a trek experience.
“Why would you think that?” Rian had smiled at her.
“Why you left your friends all behind!” She had widened her eyes as if in surprise.
Rian observed her, in the foggy melancholic backdrop she seemed to stand out. The evening breeze of the hill whooshed through her long straight hair. She was wearing a cute white cloth hat that fluttered with the breeze. She was also wearing a tiny backpack that seemed to contain all her necessary items. “I am on a solo trip here, so I don’t really know them.” Rian replied. The girl nodded gently.
“Are you alone here too?” Rian tried to extend the conversation, pushing his boundaries had been his ultimate motive in this trip.
“Yes!” she smiled gleefully.” I come here every year at this time, this has become more of a ritual now, over the years. Oh! By the way, I am Sara.”. The girl extended her hand.
Rian addressed himself and shook her hand. Then they had resumed walking. “So why do you like this place so much that you come here every year?” Rian asked her.
She smiled to herself “I don’t know I get a sense of belonging here, the smell of the fog, these benches, this place, feels like I am bonded to this place.” Rian didn’t understand but he didn’t pursue the matter further. The last thing he wanted to do was to scare somebody away with his curiosity. She went on “Do you know this place is called suicide point? “
Rian smiled “Yeah! our guide told us something like that.”
Sara turned towards him, “Why you don’t seem to believe him, do you?”
Rian shrugged. “I don’t think a place as beautiful as this should be called something like that. I mean people may have jumped off from here to die but people kill themselves all the time. It’s just unfair people should remember this place with a name like that. And it’s strange how people are drawn to such names too.”
Sara smiled again. “I like the way you think, you know, I have seen so many people come here to click photos just to post creepy captions about this place, like this place makes somebody want to commit suicide. No wonder you are up here all alone. You don’t think like the bunch of people down there.”
They had reached the top, it was scenically beautiful. There was still some time until sun down. “Here let me show you something.” Sara took his hand and led him near the unbounded area of the cliff. Then she extended her hands out wide and closed her eyes as if any moment now her mystical wings would emerge and she would fly away. Then with her eyes closed she stated walking towards the edge. Rian gasped but just before he could interrupt her, she said “Don’t worry, I am not jumping off. I have done these plenty times now.” Then she opened her eyes and looked at him, with a wicked flair in her eyes. “You are a scaredy cat” and she laughed again. They sat down on the bench just in front of the unguarded area. Rian kept looking at her; there was something so lively about her and yet she seemed so distant. Rian shook those thoughts out of his mind. They continued talking and pretty soon they heard some other voices, they were others from his camp who made it to the top. He called out to them and asked Sara to join them but she hesitated, “I should go now, I have had my moment”
But Rian would not agree. He wanted her to meet everybody, he said “Wait here, I will bring all of them and then we can click photos too and put creepy captions on social media.“ Saying this, he left and ran to his mates.
One of them spotted Rian. “Hey buddy, where are you up to! You just vanished after some time, we thought you had already jumped off until we came here.” he said jokingly.
“No!“ Rian cried. “But I want you to meet somebody here”, and he pointed at the bench they were sitting on. The guy narrowed his eyes and held his close to his forehead as if to focus, “Where? I see nobody there?”
“Look there!” Rian turned. There was indeed nobody there. Sara had left.
Every year since then he would find himself drawn to the same place again and again because of her. They sat long hours until sunset and talk about everything. Rian felt free with her, he could share anything with her, she would understand him in ways nobody ever could, so well that she even knew what he left unsaid. But in return how much did he know her, Rian wondered, they had almost never talked about her specifically, except that she used to come there at that time every year. He did not even have her cell phone number, how strange. He may have asked her a couple times but everytime she would drop it saying that if we exchanged numbers we would stop meeting here and then our special little rendezvous would cease to exist, consider this place as a small vacation we gift ourselves every year, an escape from reality. “But we could meet more often and see more of each other” argued Rian. “And where is the fun in that then?” replied Sara.
“Fun, yes the fun is indeed in the secrecy. The feeling of adventure, mystery.” Deep down Rian liked it that way and then he would not pursue the matter further.
But this year was a little different. Rian took out his hiking water bottle and sipped. This year he was determined, and somehow a bit agitated with himself. What has he been doing all these years fooling himself to meeting a stranger he knew nothing about. Stranger? Yes, she was a stranger who knew everything about him and he knew nothing about her. A friendly stranger who listened to him patiently but that’s it. That’s all she was, a perfect stranger, more of a friendly faced stranger. An acquaintance.
Rian put the bottler back in the bag and continued walking. He could see the top now, his heartbeats fastened. This is not the first time he was going to meet her, why was he feeling so nervous then. He strained his neck a little to look beyond. She was there already. Today she was wearing the same white frock that she was wearing the first day they met, years ago. She was sitting on that same usual bench near the suicide point, swinging her legs looking at the houses beneath that were barely visible due to the fog. But the fog was much clearer today, in fact they could see the red sun peeking beautifully from the clouds. He went to her, his hands suddenly sweaty.” Hey, how long have you been here?” Rian asked as he stood beside her.
“I don’t know, feels like forever now,” Sara replied smiling gleefully. “So, go ahead shoot your questions.” Rian started and then tried to compose himself a little. Sara continued looking away.
“I don’t understand Sara.”
Sara looked at him and he noticed she looked very pale today, her eyes were so cold, her lips a bit whitish and tightly pursed. She was not as lively today as she used to be.
Rian continued, “Well then, I don’t know what gave me away but yes I have been wanting to talk to you about something. But I am having trouble realizing where should I start” Sara smiled and waited.
Rian cleared his throat and prepared himself. “Who are you Sara? I mean after all these years suddenly I realized I don’t really know you. We meet here every year, talk about everything but we never talk about you. Today you tell me all about you.”
Sara smiled again, “See, that was not so hard.”
Rian stared at her blankly not knowing how to react. His questions seemed even more foolish, now that he said them out loud in the open. He looked around, there were fewer people today than usual, even someof the regular hawkers were missing today. He looked back at her sincerely, the red and orange rays of the sun were falling directly at her face now, her eyes. The pupils of her eyes had shrunk revealing more of the light brown iris.
“Why after so long Rian, I knew someday you are going to come up, but I have to ask, why now?”
Rian was embarrassed. “After I went back home last year, I ran into one of the guys of my camp and we started talking and catching up and all, and I happened to mention you. And then he got all weird, saying that what he heard after all is true, me going back to see someone every year. And I said of course I come here to meet my friend and he asked me ,well, if I loved you or something and I said that there’s nothing like that and then he asked if I had any photos of you and I realized that I had none. So, he began surfing through the social media and we couldn’t find you but then I knew you were not into social media so much. He asked me your number but I didn’t even have your number and I told him about our pact how we will meet just here every year and nowhere else. That’s when he got all suspicious and told me if I realized how it looked from the outside. Me meeting a perfectly unknown girl every year, whose picture I didn’t have, nor her number, nor her address, nothing. And I said that’s the fun. But he didn’t like the idea and he asked what date do I normally go and again I said there was no fixed date and this is approximate time period and a little here and there was okay with us. So, he asked if you were there every year with all the little here and there and I said yes of course. We have met every year. Now he was clutching to his hair saying I was sick and I should consult the doctor, that you aren’t who are. And all that got me thinking…” “Who I am after all?” completed Sara. She was watching himall this time, as he struggled hard to explain and understand what was happening to him. She wrapped her arm around him and tried to comfort him but he shied away at her touch. “Please stop doing this to me, Sara tell me what I should know. I can’t keep fooling myself for the rest of my life. It’s like I am still stuck at that camp from years ago.”
Sara sniffed and wiped her tears. “Okay then, I don’t think you are ready but you do deserve the truth.” Rian looked up, he could see she was determined now and he prepared himself to hear everything that was coming next.
“My family“, she began, “were one of the partner owners of the chain of resorts called The Toran Resort. I grew up here. I had everything that other girls of my age ever dreamt of having, my own Disney themed room, wardrobe the size of living room, every colour shoe and finest brands of dresses. I was just everything to my parents and they were the same to me. When I was eight, I was sent off to a boarding school in Dehradun. I didn’t want to go but my parents urged me, saying that they wanted me to learn living on my own. I was very young then but yet I knew something was not quite right. My parents would never send me away from them willingly. I resisted so much but, in the end, I had to go. In the beginning they used to come to visit really often, every month but as time passed on their visits became infrequent. But we still used to talk everybody. Sometimes papa skipped talking to me saying that he was really busy and I never used to like that. Well, that is how it continued for some time. Then, one day, I still remember the date, it was 15th of July I got a call but not from my parents, it was… from the police. I was to come as soon as I can. My father’s secretary Mr Patel made all the arrangements for me to come home. I rushed back but when I reached, I couldn’t see anybody neither mom nor daddy. Only a bunch of total strangers roaming around in my house tramping everything, rampaging and clicking photos. My entire home was a total mess. I asked for my parents but nobody would answer. Finally, a burly looking man in police uniform came to me and held me. His hands were very rough and his mouth reeked of something so bad, that I felt like throwing up. He held me firmly and I didn’t like that and then he began speaking. I couldn’t really catch up because my mind was in reels that moment, all I could see was that his eyes were very, very, red. Like blood red. Then he took my hand and started leading me somewhere. We got into a vehicle and it took me somewhere. When I got out my stomach turned, they had taken me to a morgue. They took me inside and they were two stretchers covered with white sheet. I didn’t want to go any nearer but the man forced me. I resisted but he was very strong for me. He brought me near those stretchers and removed the sheets from them. They were there… Mom, Daddy…” Sara trembled visibly as she continued “They were there, not moving. I cried so hard, I screamed but they wouldn’t wake up. Why would they not wake up? The officer kept asking me the same question, ‘Do you recognize them as your parents’ but I couldn’t answer. I tried to run away but they caught me and then I think I fainted.
The next thing I remember I was in a hospital. There were these tubes inserted in my hand and some liquid was dropping through a bottle in these tubes. When my head became a bit clearer, I got up removed those things from my body and peeked out through the only window in the room. I saw another one of those police officers standing outside my ward. Then I heard loud footsteps from the hall like the shoes typically worn by the police. I rushed back to my bed and inserted those tubes back and pretended to be still unconscious. Some people came in, along with the doctor. The doctor checked my pulse and everything and reported to them, that I was stable now and I would wake up any moment now. Then they started talking among themselves that I was the only thing alive that was stopping them from getting what they wanted. They wanted the entire share that my daddy held in the business. They said they had to remove me too but very cunningly because the media is watching their every step. They shouldn’t attract bad publicity or they would lose the case. Then they gave instructions to the doctor and left. The doctor left as soon as they left and the police standing outside my room went along with them to get further instructions. I knew I had to act fast, they were going to kill me very soon now. And without much further thinking I drew down the blinds and left the ward. I knew I didn’t have much time but I couldn’t afford to run because that would attract attention. I went inside the changing room and dressed myself like a nurse. That was like the oldest and the only trick that came up in my mind. I kept low and reached near my home. There were still people in my house and I couldn’t be seen by anyone now. I waited until every soul including the servants of the house had left. The police had kept one of its officers posted behind but that was okay. I sneaked in, changed and packed in everything that a sixteen-year-old girl can think of as necessary to survive, loose cash, comb, couple dresses, some biscuits and wafers in this bag of mine and left.” Sara paused and brushed her bag. Then she continued, “I knew it wouldn’t be long now that would realize that I am already gone and obviously the first place they would think of searching is my home. So, my home was the least safe right now. But where else would I go, there was nobody I could search, all daddy’s and mom’s parents were evil, the police were evil too and I didn’t have any friends here. I kept walking and finally this place came to my mind. I used to come here with daddy every Sunday. He told me that this place kept him healthy with all the climbing up and running down. So, I came up here, obviously there was nobody here then but once in a while some patrol officers come by just to check if there is any illegal activity going on. But that night nobody came. I snuggled inside one of those circular sheds and waited for sun to come up. The whole night I kept thinking what was I supposed to do next.
All this time they were protecting me, they knew something bad was going to happen long time ago. So, they sent me away so that these dirty people couldn’t reach me, But would I do now. All I had in this world was them, no other relatives that I could trust. Looking at what happened in the hospital I doubted if anybody I knew could be trusted after all. I could not go back down and I couldn’t stay up here for the rest of my life. I felt helplessness, sorrow and then I felt anger why would anybody kill my parents for some money. Is money really that important? But who was I to judge? I had never known poverty but neither had those greedy pigs who wanted to kill me. If they found me, they would either force me to give up my daddy’s property or kill me.”
Sara felt the rage surge in her all over again as she was reminded herself of those painful memories.
Rian was listening all this while holding over his breath, “What did you do then?” he asked.
Sara glanced at him and smiled to herself, “Why the only thing that I could do at that moment that would ensure that the bad guys didn’t get the money. I jumped right from there.” She pointed out to the famous suicide point.
Rian stood up, he could out believe what she just said. Sara stood up too. “That’s true Rian, I killed myself that day. Because that is the only thing that I could do back then.”
“What is your name, the full name?” Rian trembled.
“Sara Robertson,” Sara replied.
Rian remembered faint glimpses of this case. There was a great deal of heat going on about the famous Stephen and Maria Robertson, the owner of some hotel were brutally murdered by their partners and the entire matter was hushed up by the police but they had a daughter who was never found and since the entire property was willed to the daughter, the partners didn’t get a penny out of it. Some said the daughter was killed too and the case is still open if she was murdered too, others said she had changed her identity and fled away in Dehradun. Why Dehradun, now he understood. The partners lost the case due to benefit of doubt that the girl was assumed murdered. But all this was, Rian remembered, twenty years ago. He was very young then, some eight or ten years maybe.
“You are lying!” Rian cried.
“No, I am not. I never wanted to tell you any of this but you were very determined today and I could not keep in dark anymore.” Sara murmured.
Rian was still not himself, he couldn’t believe a thing. His head was on reels. He clutched his head and kept talking to himself,” Jumped so you are dead… dead. Dead, but I can see you, so you are a ghost. But I can see you and so can everybody, you can’t fool everybody.” He stood up and ran to a family who were busy clicking photos of their children.
”Hello sir.” He said trying hard to stay calm. “Can you click a picture of mine with my friend over there.” The man turned and said, “Sure” then narrowed his eyes and asked, “With whom?”
“Why… um… there my friend sitting there”, he said without turning around, too scared to do so. “No, there’s nobody there,” said the man now suspicious of Rian.
Rian turned, he could still see her staring sympathetically at him. “Oh! She left. She must be here somewhere.”
The man smiled. “Sure! Bring her when you find her, I will click good photos of you two”.
Rian came back too tired to try the same stunt again. Well, he thought, if this is some big practical joke, surely Sara couldn’t fool the internet. He sat beside her and surfed The Robertson case. The internet was tough to get there but he waited patiently and the page loaded. He scrolled through the images of person of interest and stopped right there. The very first picture was of Sara’s posing in the same white frock and the floral cloth hat, smiling. Sara’s heart pained as she watched Rian helplessly drowning in her reality.
Rian’s heart sank. He pulled himself and asked her one last time, “Why can I and only I can see you?”
Sara wiped her tears and said, “I don’t know.”
Rian nervously giggled “How can you not know? You are a ghost, one that only I can see. We must have some connection.”
“No, we don’t. And I don’t know why only you can see me. When I saw you, I just know that I was so drawn to you. I felt if only I could talk to you. I tried and you listened and that’s how it has been since then. I didn’t want to scare you off so I never appeared in front of your other friends of the camp and then you came back to me again and again. I never wanted to hold you back but I just never wanted that you move on from me. I am stuck here for eternity and you are my escape into the reality and I am your escape from it. Let’s keep it that way Rian. I know you want that too.”
“No, I don’t.” Rian stood up again. “I have had enough escapes. I never want to come back here again. You don’t understand. You may have decided to end your life, and that’s brave of you. Sacrificing yourself. But I still have mine left. I want to live my life. Fulfil my dreams. Have a family. Be normal.”Rian begged “Please let me go.” He clutched his head hard and squeezed his eyes shut.
Sara smiled. “I will never come in between you and your life. I love you enough to let you go.”
A moment later when Rian couldn’t hear any more of her, he looked up and she was gone. Vanished, like she was never there.
60 Years later
A teenage boy adjusted the weight of his hiking bag as he waited to catch his breath and then raced up the famous tourist spot of Saputara. He had an unusual speed as compared to other hikers around there. His hiking bag was old and ragged and torn too, from a few places but that didn’t bother him much. In a few meters now he would reach the top. He paused to look at the circular shed, it was repaired now, and people were using it as their rest stop. The bent light pole was also removed. He sipped from his old plastic hiking bottle and then resumed his walk.
“Sara,” the boy cried. “Sara, where are you?” as he reached the top.
“Oh God You really are a loner” Sara whispered back into his ear and hugged him from behind.
“Yes, I had finished living my life and I was wondering what to do next.” Rian laughed gleefully as the two walked up to their same old bench and resumed their lost chat.