Aman took a few steps ahead and pointed to his right. “Here, this is the place where I saw Daniels last. I could hardly see anything. So I presume he must have crossed an empty stretch, beyond which lay his house.”
“Where did Daniels say he was going to?”
“His resting place.”
“Come, I’ll show you his resting place,” the stranger said and waved his flashlight.
Aman gasped in horror as he stared at what lay in front — three neat rows of graves!
Aman’s face ashened as he stepped back.
“Come, let’s go. On the way I’ll tell you how Daniels died.”
They walked slowly even as the mist enveloped them in a haze of cold.
“Daniels was quite right when he said he had retired as the head postmaster. He retired 40 years back. After his retirement he chose to settle down in Landour, a place where he had spent most of his life. His wife passed away the same year that he retired. His only son, Jeff, was in London and kept writing to his dad asking him to join him there. But the old man was adamant. He lived alone. But he did not lack company. He was a sociable fellow and made friends easily. His best friend, and neighbour, was Fred Jacques — a decade younger to him but they shared many common interests with Daniels. Every night after dinner they would walk from their homes close to Char Dukan, right up to Devdar Woods and back again. Daniels more often than not would talk to Jacques about his son and his family and show him photographs. Jacques, who was a bachelor, enjoyed sharing his friend’s happiness.
One evening Daniels was carrying a bunch of letters with him. He was planning to read out to Jacques bits and pieces from various letters which would show how his grandson and granddaughter were becoming smarter with each passing letter.
They sat down under the shade of a lamp post and Daniels began reading. Just then there was a sudden gust of wind and the entire packet flew from Daniels’ hands, across the road, and landed on the slopes. Before Jacques could react, Daniels, jumping over the short parapet, had landed on the slope. And even as Jacques watched, Daniels began sliding. Jacques crossed over, grasped the parapet with one hand and, with the other, grabbed Daniels’ hand. The ground was wet and Daniels was slipping. They struggled for a while and then Daniels cried out, “Let go, Jacques, there is no way you can hold on.”
“I shall hold on as long as I can…I shall never let go…,” Jacques replied, panting under the strain.
The two friends struggled for a few vital seconds and then followed each other to their death.
They had reached a crossroad. The stranger stopped.
“Okay, friend, we part here. You go straight and you’ll reach your destination in 10 minutes.”
After a couple of steps Aman stopped. There was something not quite right with the stranger’s story.
He turned back. The stranger was still standing, staring at him. The moon had finally appeared from behind the clouds and was shining on the stranger’s face. He was smiling — a strange, almost eerie kind of smile that curled his lips but didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“I’m Jacques,” he said and started walking towards Aman....
■ The end