Radha cursed the dead public telephone before ramming the receiver in its stand. She walked out of the booth forcefully. But, unfortunately, force was not something the environment allowed. She slipped on the slush and landed mercilessly on her back. She cursed even more vigorously, but it drowned in a new wave of thunder.
She picked herself up and walked gingerly to a small group of people gathered near a bus.
"How long will it take?" she asked the nearest woman.
"No idea. They are planning to lift the bus out of the puddle. But we don't have enough people for that. Looks like we'll be stuck here all night! Not many people travel this way nowadays. I told my husband not to plan this trip in the monsoon! But he never listens..." she ranted on.
Radha checked her cell phone again hoping to catch some signal, enough to make one, desperate phone call. But it remained blank.
Her village was just under a kilometer. But she didn't dare walk. A lone woman walking through the forest in the night was, best case scenario: a hot gossip topic, which would shame her whole family in the eyes of the villagers; worst case scenario: she didn't want to think about it!
Yes, it was much safer to wait where there were enough people.
"Radha!" a man called out from behind her.
She turned around but could not make out the caller in the darkness. He called out to her again. It was a familiar voice-
"Shekhar?" she asked tentatively, just when a fork of lightening across the sky dramatically illuminated the man for a fraction of a second.
A collective gasp went out from the small gathering.
The man had an open wound on his forehead and blood was oozing out of it frighteningly. But what was even more frightening was that he kept walking briskly as though unaware of his terrible wound.
"What happened?" asked Radha dazedly.
"You'll know when you go home," he replied quietly, "Its nothing serious. Get your bag. Lets go before it starts raining again."
Radha got her bag from the bus and they started walking.
"So what happened? Dad called me and asked to come immediately. But he didn't tell me what happened..."
"You'll know when you go home," he repeated solemnly.
Radha panicked. "Its mom, isn't it? Did she have an accident? No, it must be her heart! She always had a weak heart!"
"Your mother is fine. Her heart is fine too. I checked yesterday."
"Like you'll know! You are just a village doctor! God knows how many times I've asked dad to get mom to Bangalore for a specialist treatment!"
Shekhar smiled. "You haven't changed much."
Radha started to feel guilty but she chose to ignore it.
"So what happened to you?"
"Oh! Nothing," he said, touching his wound. "Just slipped and hurt myself. It'll be ok. So how is college?"
They walked quietly for a while. It had begun to drizzle when Radha noticed something wierd about Shekhar. The rain drops seemed to pass right through him! She was about to ask when another lightening fork displayed his bloody face and she swallowed her question.
Shekhar noticed her staring at him.