Kallar Ghat was hardly motorable. Landslides left nearly two scores of people dead and a few more missing. Many remained buried inside their vehicles after a chunk of the Ghat road caved into the valley.
I had to get to Lawrence School, Lovedale. She had to be shifted to a Coimbatore Hospital, the hostel matron said. The fever was not abating.
The road turned better after the 13th hairpin bend but still had to travel some distance. My throat was parched, my beard was itching and I needed something badly to drink. I spotted a small tea shack and immediately stopped. The drizzle started again. Keeping the engine of the Maruti Gypsy on, I stepped out landing into a puddle and almost twisting my ankle.
Inside the shack. I noticed a man seated on a long bench, reading a Tamil daily. A heavily built woman was blowing her lungs out to keep the wet charcoal burning in a muddy stove, apparently cooking Idlis for breakfast. Her short sweater failed to conceal concentric rings of flesh around her hips.
Now, the drizzle was a steady pour. She returned to the counter and asked “Tea?”
“Black, please.” I replied.
My companion on the bench added “without”, meaning sugar free for him.
I peeked into the newspaper he was reading.
“It is an old paper, Sir. Since last week, we are not getting anything from down. And, by which route you managed to come up?”
I replied “Kallar Ghat.”
He looked shocked “In that car?”
“Very courageous, Sir, but foolish. That route is not safe until the rains stop. Where to? Ooty?” he enquired
“Lovedale” I replied, looking intently at the pictures of half-buried vehicles dangling precariously on ridges.
Handing two steaming glasses of black tea, the lady went back to check on the progress of her Idlis.
“If you can wait a few minutes, you can have hot Idlis.”, she added.
But I had already walked back to my car after leaving a 10 Rupee note below the glass.
A sheet of rain followed by a squall sprayed into the shack blowing out the fire in the mud stove. She cursed. The man shielded his face with the newspaper. She caught the glass tumbler before it tipped over to retrieve the ten rupees note.
She noticed bloodred fingerprints on the frosty glass. The man saw that too. They rushed outside. A silhouette was seen getting into a mangled gypsy and bolt away as if in a hurry. There were neither footprints nor tyre marks, just a puddle of blood where the apparition had stood before.
They looked again at the picture in the newspaper of a dead man in a half-buried Gypsy. Their voices refused to scream.
Earlier that week…
I panicked when the matron from her hostel called. “Sir, it is better to transport her to Coimbatore.’
But Kotagiri Ghat was clogged with traffic pile up. Should I risk taking the alternate route? Kallar Ghat was hardly motorable.
Idly– A south Indian breakfast delicacy made of steamed rice batter
Kallar Ghat and Kotagiri Ghat– 2 major routes, Ghat roads, to hill station Ooty from foot hills of Coimbatore district
Photo By: Craig Whitehead
This is an entry for Five00-7, a writing event hosted by ArtoonsInn. Check out the event prompt and guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/five00-7/