'What are you doing?'
Shreoshi asked her daughter,the moment she came to the verandah of the cottage.
They had lodged themselves in this cottage. They meaning she,her daughter Jhilik, her husband Bhairab.
Bhairab being what he is, had taken his camera and went out quite early in the morning.
They were not even wakeful then.
Only she felt Bhairab taking his camera bag from the bedside table, kissing her forehead and their daughter's, and softly whispering to her ears,
'Going out for awhile, would be back before lunch...taken the cell ...'
Now it had turned eleven almost.
They had taken breakfast.
Shreoshi checked the packets of dry food and found Bhairab had taken cashews and biscuits and peas.
Finding Jhilik happily swinging her legs sitting on the verandah with her doll and singing a tune, Shreoshi felt relieved.
Not everyone is known to her here.
They had been staying here for two days last.
From here they had planned to go to another place.
'Come here, let me dress you up...'
'Are we going somewhere?'
'Just would take a walk... till your dad comes back...'
'Yes...but couldn't be reached...might be due to lack of connectivity in these areas...'
Half an hour later they started walking.
Shreoshi heard that there is a village a few kilometres only away from the cottage where they had put up.
They started walking.
At eleven thirty the sun was still young.
Thin and sharp beams of rays were slipping through the foliage and the trees.
Jhilik was singing a John Denver which narrates the story of how sunshine on shoulders could make someone extraordinary warm and happy and how it could bring tears of joy in eyes.
Such a lovely thing, specially to relish when one would walk through the forest.
Shreoshi was thinking about that as she looked at her daughter.
Walking a few paces ahead of her, swinging her hands, picking up wild blossoms, finding them as she was, on the way.
They came to a village.
Like all villages of these regions, the huts were made of timber and bamboo.
Flowers in pots or broken buckets could be seen at almost every cottage, either hanging by ropes from the roof or kept on the verandah.
At a place they found little boys and girls playing.
She was watching them running and giggling.
Shreoshi took her daughter's left hand into hers.
The flock of the children were running, laughing, humming.
Shreoshi held her daughter closer.
After all an unknown territory.
Suddenly a boy much older than the group, came with four or five boys of his age and size.
They looked excited.
The newly arrived group said something to the younger flock of children.
Shreoshi couldn't make out what they had said to each other.
But soon some more people gathered.
The children were dragged by their mothers to their huts.
The group disappeared within a few minutes.
A sudden unexpected lull.
Shreoshi couldn't understand what had happened.
'Hey! Sister, what happened?'
Shreoshi asked a woman who was dragging a boy towards home.
She had a girl tied with a cloth at her back.
The woman looked at her.
Then to her daughter.
She signalled them to follow her.
The woman pulled her by hand.
Shreoshi in turn pulled her daughter.
They hurriedly went into a hut, supposedly the home of this woman.
Even before they could realise anything a strong wind started to blow. Shreoshi felt that the cottage would be blown off as it started making creaking sounds.
The cottage with its door and window closed would have been fully dark had not there been a small taper kept hanging from a hook.
The taper was trembling too.
The boy clung to the woman and his sister was sleeping in her mother's arms, oblivious of the raging storm that shook the cottage.
The woman was gently patting her daughter and even in the howling storm, singing.
They seemed to be accustomed to the uncertainties of nature.
Jhilik had shrunk into Shreoshi's body, tightly holding her.
Her face was flushed.
Shreoshi was also very much anxious.
She was thinking of Bhairab too.
She tried calling him.
But couldn't get any connection.
She knows Bhairab being a hardcore wild life photographer, knows more survival strategies than her.
He had been to different wild terrains.
Sometimes alone even.
Still, Shreoshi couldn't fully make her mind free from anxiety.
After say, fifteen minutes the storm started receding.
The howling decimated.
The woman and her son were constantly watching Shreoshi and Jhilik.
They smiled when they saw how relieved Shreoshi and Jhilik became as soon as the storm ceased.
The woman asked her son something.
He climbed up a small ladder that was kept in the room of the cottage.
Now Shreoshi noticed that they had a separate wooden ceiling attached to the roof.
The boy brought something down.
The woman opened it and by her hand beckoned Jhilik towards her.
Jhilik looked at Shreoshi.
Shreoshi smiled and her let go.
Jhilik came back with a little piece of something.
It was shining even in the half darkness that plunged the room.
Shreoshi picked it.
A small statue of Lord Buddha.
'But we got nothing to give you in return...'
The woman looked at her with her smiling eyes.
She nodded her head sideways.
Shreoshi and Jhilik coming out of the cottage waved goodbye to the woman and the boy.
They were standing at the door.
Just then Shreoshi's cell started ringing.
'Hello! Where are you?'
'Ar bolo na...ja jhorey atkey porechilam...jai hok bhogobaner rokhkhey benchey firechi...ami ei dukhlam cottage ey ...tomra kothay?'
('Don't tell me...was stuck in such a storm...anyway, the God saved me...just returned to the cottage... Where are you people?')
Bhairab was huffing and puffing as he yelled.
'We're okay...and just two minutes...we'll be home...'
Jhilik was wiping the tiny statuette of the Lord Buddha given to her by that woman, by the end of her frock.
Shreoshi turned back.
The woman and the boy were still standing there at the door.
'Wishing you all the goodness of life!'
Shreoshi said, flashing a smile of relief and happiness.
The boy yelled something.
It sounded like 'Ule'.
Later in the evening when Bhairab was uploading the pictures he had taken to his laptop, munching chips and fries,
Shreoshi asked him,
'Achcha...what is the meaning of ule?'
'Ule? Never heard any word like that...'
He was trying to edit and adjust the color differentials of a photo.
'I know...its Juley...meaning Welcome'
Jhilik suddenly quipped.
Both Bhairab and Shreoshi looked at Jhilik, astounded as they were.
'How come you know that?!'
'I know...there's a girl in our school, who often says that to us the first thing we meet in the morning at school...her father is a mountaineer.'
Jhilik said while playing with her doll, quite easily, almost nonchalantly.