A Smile from the past and other stories




She sat, a small neat figure, on a seat in the gardens near the main bus stop, absorbed in the book she was reading. Anyone glancing at her slim figure might have taken her to be a girl. Hatless, like most English women, however, her silken, snow white hair proclaimed it otherwise. Her skin, rose-petal soft and hardly lined, was set off by almost startlingly blue eyes.

She had now been in Kashmir for over a week, and the fresh breezes and beauty of nature were penetrating and reviving the whole system, after the burning heat and dust of the plains. An out-of-date time-table had informed her that her bus came an hour earlier than it actually did. Her enjoyment undiminished, however, she sat spending the intervening time deep in the book she was reading.

Photo3 p. 53

A bus halted at the near-by bus stop and disgorged its passengers. They were a motly crowd, mostly Indians, with a sprinkling of Europeans , an elderly American couple slung with cameras and field glasses, and a tall boy, English by his appearance, who somehow stood cut from amongst the others.

After a brief glance at them, the reader turned back to her book, till a voice beside her made her look up. The tall boy was standing beside her.

Excuse me !” he said in a voice which at once proclaimed him to be English, “But do you happen to know when the next bus goes to Pahalgam ? The chap I asked seemed a bit vague, but perhaps he didn’t understand me “.

I believe they go every hour “, replied the woman, smiling up at him pleasantly, “but only went a few minutes ago, so I’m afraid you’ll have some time to wait “.

Then I might as well employ the time profitably by eating my lunch”, grinned the boy. “Do you mind if I sit here ?”

Of course not ! “ the woman smiled back, making room for him on the seat. “Have you been in Kashmir long ?” she continued pleasantly.

Only a couple of days. It’s marvelous, isn’t it ? Makes one feel like stopping here for the rest of one’s life !”

She nodded, “Yes, I suppose most of us feel like that. I say it to myself every time I come “.

You’ve been here often then ?”

About eleven or twelve times “.

Gosh ! Then you could put me wise on some of the things I ought not to miss “. He hesitated. “That is if its no bother and you have the time “.

Yes – it’s all right. My bus doesn’t come for another half hour at least, and it will probably be late anyway. No thanks , “ as the boy proffered his packet of sandwiches. “I’m supposed to be having lunch with friends in Srinagar”.

For the next twenty-five minutes they poured over maps and guide books together. They were not talking like old friends and had exchanged names – Nichola Arnett and John Preston. It was difficult to believe that less than an hour ago they had not even met.

Suddenly John straightened up, looking at her hard.

Hey !” he said. “Haven’t we met before somewhere ? I don’t seem to feel that we’re meeting for the first time somehow “.

Nichola looked into his puzzled grey eyes.

yes – I rather feel like that too, “she said slowly. “But I can’t think where “.

It couldn’t have been in this country”, the boy continued. “Since I only arrived two days back “.

May be it was on a plane or in a bus in some other country ?”

Could be, I suppose. But the feeling I get is that I know you quite well. The way you talk – the way you cock your head on one side when you ask a question. He blushed suddenly. “Anyway I feel this isn’t the first time we’ve met, and I only hope it’s not going to be the last “.

She smiled. His sincerity was beyond doubt. It is flattering to those who are no longer young, to be sought out and still be found attractive to those who are.

May be we shall meet at another bus stop !” she said lightly. “You never know

I didn’t mean that “, he said seriously. “I meant I want to go on knowing you. I’d like to have you for a friend “.

She studied him for a moment before answering. How as it that this boy seemed so very familiar to her. His infectious smile –the way he threw his head back when he laughed. He reminded her of someone in her past……

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