An Incident in India

                                                                                                              

Armand Charest, 1998
Armand Charest

         Matthew Bainbridge stomped to the poolside chaise longue, sat down clumsily and with a deep, exasperated, silent roar laid the crutches aside. He hoisted his plaster-sculptured leg and placed it, cautiously, onto the end of the recliner. The attentive waiter brought a cool drink and, sitting back, Bainbridge relaxed with a sigh of rejuvenation. All was well in the world once again, he reflected. The happy sounds of the frolickers floated around him as his mind drifted back to recent events in his life. He shifted his leg, very gingerly, to relieve the pain. Drowsing a bit as the sun beamed down, radiating peace and serenity, he mused, “Summer, did you really exist? Where did you disappear?”

          “I say, Yank, what’s the significance of that inscription on your cast?”

          Matthew came awake instantly, tried to focus on the stranger’s voice. He blinked once or twice, counted to four and then screwed his eyes shut. He gave himself a few more seconds, then unlatched them once more. This time his eyes stayed open and found the voice. Peering down at the farewell message:

“A notre rencontré!
Love, Summer”

was a pair of steel rimmed glasses that failed to distort owlish blue eyes beneath black, bushy eyebrows. Those warm eyes scrutinized Matthew’s injured leg with a kind, concerned look.

          “You tripped over a rock while ogling a beautiful woman, no doubt.”

          “Hello, there. No, I broke the bloody leg in a downhill crash off a mountain while traveling through South India and an Angel of Mercy left me a cryptic message of reassurance “

           The friendly inquisitor clipped off a rejoinder: “The two of you will meet again?”

          “I certainly hope so. Who knows?”

          The stranger’s eyes opened wide. His deeply cleft chin jutted out belligerently.

          “Mountain, mountain, did you say mountain, Yank? Are you sure about that? Did I hear you say that correctly? As far as I know there are no mountains in South India. It’s all flat country. Perhaps you’ve had too much sun.”

          “Please sit down and I’ll tell you all about it. My name is Matthew Bainbridge. I’m on a round-the-world trip and I’ve been in India for a while. I’m from New York City.”

          “Glad to meet you, Yank. My name is Thomas Atkins. I was born right here in Bombay.”

          Matthew gave the visitor a keen appraisal. His upright bearing and broad shoulders made him look taller than he really was. An old fashioned tan pith helmet from the English Colonial days set at a rakish angle shadowed a dark complexioned face. A neatly pressed tan bush jacket pulled over matching trousers made him look like the typical British colonial. He was tapping a rich leather-riding crop against his leg. At his throat, showcasing the whole splendid, sartorial display was a gray-silk foulard embroidered with small animal figures. Thomas sat down, laying his crop on the table.

          The sun had climbed to high noon. Well-manicured lawns and colorful gardens surrounded the hotel on three sides. The fourth side looked out on a wide beach. It was the beginning of the Indian summer, that three-month period when the sweltering inhabitants of the sub-continent anxiously and fervently scan the skies for signs of the life-giving monsoons.

           A wind blew in from the Arabian Sea bringing a wisp of cool moist air, replacing its oven-like, searing breath that scorched and blistered the land for nine months of the year. However, the hotel guests seemed comfortable enough as they were well protected from the sun by huge, colorful umbrellas. Swimmers cavorted in and around the pool. It was a festive atmosphere.

          Thomas grew quiet and pensive, his right hand cradling a gin & tonic, as he waited patiently for Matthew Bainbridge’s strange tale.

          “We Americans know so little about India. The meagerness of our knowledge comes from paying more attention to movies like ‘Gunga Din’, ‘Gandhi’ and ‘A Passage to India’ than to writers, such as: Kipling, Masters, Forster, Scott, Naipul. We misunderstood Nehru, respected Gandhi, and we applauded, admired and adored the Saint of Calcutta. But, by and large, the Indian sub-continent has always been a mysterious, far-away place. So, I decided to see the place for myself. I flew in from Bangkok to Bombay, shuttled back east to Madras, took a local flight south to Modurai and then bused around the remote and romantic South all the way to Cape Comorin where I experienced the thrill of wading at the junction of three major bodies of water.

          On my return to Modurai, I asked the hotel clerk if he knew of any coastal resort where I could go for a few days to re-energize the old system. He recommended a mountaintop called Kodaikanal and suggested a hotel, the Carlton House. To make the situation perfect, Thomas, he said it could be reached from a nearby bus station.

          After a four-hour ride up a twisting road in an ancient bus, we arrived at our destination. The first impression made the whole trip worthwhile.

          Yes, Mr. Atkins, there is a mountain in South India. It sits in the middle of the hot plain and reaches an altitude of over seven thousand feet. Its top is heavily forested and, until recently, was the home of tigers and other wildlife. The British discovered the spot in the 1840s and turned it into a summer retreat for their families, excluding all Indians. As I walked to the hotel, the coolness of the weather felt invigorating after the scorching heat of the flat country.

          The Carlton House was an imposing building. A peaked roof soared skyward pointing the way to heaven. A flagstone walk led to upscale, classy oak doors opening into a sumptuous lobby containing red upholstered chairs and sofas. Interspersed among the luxurious furniture were well- crafted coffee tables of rich mahogany and escritoires in the Chippendale style. Along the walls hung paintings depicting various aspects of Indian life.

          I walked to the registry desk sinking to my ankles in thick, plush, gold carpeting. I was impressed, my friend. All in all I remembered Shakespeare’s exclamation ‘to gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to—“

          “To throw a perfume on the violet,” chimed in Atkins.

          “Exactly. Beyond the lobby was an elegantly furnished lounge, featuring a long, well polished, brass edged bar, handsomely made arm chairs covered with red leather, clustered around glass-topped cocktail tables. Huge picture windows provided splendid views of a large lake upon which boaters lazily and happily floated.

          I ambled through the pub and strolled out upon the patio, wandering between tables hiding beneath large chromatic canopies. At the railing I looked back at the cut terraces, holding tables and chairs, that climbed several levels and visualized scenes from the past and the present: well dressed ladies and gentlemen enjoying Sunday tea seemingly without care; exotic scenes overwhelming impressed tourists; lovers making plans for the future. I sighed and turned away.

          As I re-entered the lounge, I stopped abruptly. Hanging on to the end of the bar, seemingly for dear life, was a tall well-dressed Indian lady. Sporting my best-concerned look, I walked over quickly and inquired if everything was all right.

          She answered in a soft, melodic voice: “I’m fine. I am just exhausted from the airplane ride and the long trip up the mountain. It was a killer. That driver was a wild one; he hit every pothole.”

          “Please sit down. You look like you could use something to drink. I’m Matthew Bainbridge and I’m from New York City.”

          “My name’s Summer I’m here to enroll my son and daughter in the International School next door. They both have outgrown the local schools.”

          “We chatted for a while, exchanged pleasantries. When the dinner bell sounded, we both went into the dining room.

          Thomas, old boy, you would need to see this hall to believe it. First of all, it was huge, but tastefully decorated, lit by concealed light. Against the far wall was a display of dishes that would have delighted the most fastidious trencherman. On display were every imaginable Oriental, Indian, and European foods. Behind the tables stood attentive servers, dazzling in their red coats, white pants and black boots. I believed I was on a movie set. The aromas energized my taste buds. Unable to make any specific selection, I selected a bit of everything. Summer did likewise.

          “I know about Indian hotels. They can be quite comfortable,” quipped Atkins.

          “During the meal I was able to study my Indian companion. Her long dark hair framed an attractive face, open and intelligent, although stress and fatigue from her recent journey gave her a somewhat haggard look. She ate with gusto and so did I. The food was that good. After the meal she excused herself saying she needed a good night’s sleep.

          The next morning after breakfast she registered her children at the school. Then we rented a car and toured the area. We spent much time at the local bazaar checking out the colorful products made by Tibetan refugees: woolen sweaters, mittens, gloves and scarves. The local golf course was probably the world’s highest in elevation. Summer talked me into taking a boat ride upon the lake; it was a very informative and pleasant tour.

          After dinner that night an orchestra played for the guests. The band leader was a grandson of an English officer married to an Indian woman who had held a similar post in the colonial army. He conducted extremely well, quite sensitive to the dancer’s preferences. I still remember the wonderful music. Summer proved to be a superb dancer after she overcame her initial reticence while exclaiming girlish joy whenever we executed a tricky step. As the night went on, the music became mellower and more enchanting as our sentimental Indian Glenn Miller anticipated our every moods. I blotted out the world, concentrated on my partner. From time to time a look of sadness flitted across her face. I wondered why but I did not ask. I had no desire to break the romantic mood. We danced more intimately. Summer did not object. She placed her head on my shoulder, hummed a few words from time to time. At intermission we strolled out upon the terrace.

          The air was cool so I placed my arm around her. She leaned against me, shivered a bit.”

          She started talking: “I remember such a night as this in Bali, standing with my husband in a similar setting observing the lights’ reflection over the lake. We thought our wonderful life would go on forever. It was our last vacation together.”

          “What happened, Summer?”

          “A short time after we returned to our home island an oil well blew up and Rudy was killed.”

          “I’m terribly sorry,” I replied.

          “I remained quiet as she sobbed softly. I could hear the music quite clearly, so after she stopped crying we started dancing again, sidestepping the tables and chairs. Somehow, Thomas, and I can’t quite explain it adequately, we came together in a kiss, softly at first, but then more insisting, more demanding. Perhaps it was the atmosphere: a lovely lady, a lonely man, a romantic setting. I like to believe it was the coming together of two lost souls seeking comfort and solace as only people can give each other. We clung together for a long time. When I felt Summer withdraw, I stepped back, remarked softly, ‘I have no intention of apologizing. I enjoyed that too much.’”

          “There’s no need to apologize, Matthew, I enjoyed it also, but it is too soon for me to have a relationship. I must explain something. My real name is Salender. My family owns a plantation near Munnar in the High Hills of Kerala. I was educated in America. I am bound by tradition to take over management and remain in India. “

          “I interrupted. ‘Surely you can make up your own mind about your future. You are a westernized woman, not bound so tightly to tradition.’”

          “She replied, ‘Yes, that is true to a certain extent. India is at a crossroads. It must accept modern technology in order to survive in the industrial world. That’s why young Indians go to schools in the West. But it also wants to cling to the past. The caste system divided the people into occupations that helped to promote order and stability to a great extent in our society. Everyone knew his place. Parents arranged marriages. Surprisingly, it seemed to have worked out well in many cases” She paused, touched her Tiki as if for re-assurance, “When I met Rudy at Stanford, an engineering student from California, we fell in love. My family opposed the marriage, but since I am a Nambutiri I could marry a non Hindu.

          I, like India, am also at a crossroads. I am caught between the new and the old. As a widow I could not remarry if I followed Orthodox customs.”

          “Once again, Thomas, I interrupted,” ‘Summer, that is an unfair tradition. You are too young to remain alone.”

          “I need time to think, Matthew, time to re-orient myself. I should retire for the night. Thank you for the great dancing.”

          “I escorted Summer to her door. We both were hesitant about saying goodnight as if there was something left unsaid between us. We kissed again a soft, lingering kiss full of tenderness and faith. After getting a nightcap, I returned to the patio for one last stroll and remembrance of that kiss. All was eerily quiet. I strove to hear the melancholy shriek of a Bengal tiger or the bellow of a rogue elephant. The air became chillier as the fog drifted in from the lake, turned the tables and chairs into ghostly forms, enshrouded the bobbing boats and docks with a wraithlike sheathing. I shivered involuntarily and went back to the company of humans.

          By ten the next morning we were packed and ready for the trip down the mountain. I made Summer sit on the left side of the car. That would place her next to the hillside, away from the edge of the road. I don’t know why I did that, an intuition perhaps. In any case it probably saved her life.”

          Thomas coughed politely and interjected himself in the narration: “When I lived in Surrey, I knew someone named Summer, a beautiful lady, but that was a long time ago. So far, Yank, you’ve described a wonderful odyssey to a Shangri-La on a distant mountain peak. Maybe it’s time to get to the nitty gritty of the story. I’m crazy about adventure stories. Get on with it, please.”

          “Patience, old boy, It was you who doubted the existence of that mountain, remember. That’s why I had to take this roundabout way to prove my veracity in your mind.”

          “Quite right, Matthew, quite right. Please accept my apologies. Go on with your tale from the hills.” He combed his fingers through his salt and pepper mustache and softened his words with a big grin that showed a set of pearly white buckteeth. “I’m on tenterhooks here wondering about your lady from Kerala. You were quite correct in your concern for her. As you were saying, you started down the hill.”

          Bainbridge paused for a moment collecting his thoughts. Atkins produced a pipe and, sitting back, proceeded to light the boiler of an artistically curved meerschaum. He looked at Matthew expectantly, an enigmatic smile playing about his lips.

          “So we started down. The driver appeared competent and the car reliable. I saw no reason to worry. Summer and I relaxed and made plans for a steak dinner in Madras. We admired the exotic scenery, the constant chatter and screams of the parrots and other birds whom I had never seen before. All went well. Summer remarked: ‘This is better than on my first trip.’

          “The driver stopped the car about halfway down so we could stretch our legs and take a drink of water from a roadside spring. We chatted for a while with other travelers when suddenly out of nowhere, a troop of grinning, growling, grunting monkeys descended upon us, clambered over the hood (bonnet to you,Thomas), climbed up on the roof, crawled under the car, scrambled through the interior, checked the baggage, inspected everything. At first we looked on the performance smilingly, but soon we became concerned and after much yelling and arm waving we succeeded in shooing them away.

          We reentered the car and started on our way, but a few of our rude adventurous simian rascals continued to cavort about the roof. In an attempt to dislodge them, the driver piloted the car in a zigzag manner. Eventually, the mischievous imps fell off, but as the driver maneuvered to the left the car brushed against a tree and a huge snake nose-dived onto the hood. Summer screamed. I became apprehensive, too stunned to say anything. The cabby recoiled in terror, cried out and wrenched the steering wheel to the right. The snake thrashed and squirmed on the hot surface. It seemed to be just as startled as we were. I yelled to the driver to slam on the brakes on the theory that the sudden stop would send the reptile flying off.”

          “Yank, what kind of snake was it?”

          “I don’t know. All snakes look the same to me, mean and nasty. I hate them. They give me the creeps.” Matthew glared at him, dared him to interrupt once more. Tom glared right back with a sardonic look on his face.

          “All right, all right.” Matthew huffed testily, “It was a gigantic python or cobra.”

          Atkins guffawed.

          Bainbridge did a slow burn. “If I may continue…

          The snake’s startled face pressed against the windshield, its tongue flickered out, its beady eyes squinted at us, its tail oscillated at a rapid pace, and when its head lifted and flared out, the driver did the only thing that a normal person could do.

          He panicked, threw up his hands in fright.

          The slewing action of the car had brought it to the edge of the road. I looked out the side and saw nothing but disaster staring us in the face. The driver realized the danger, started to turn the wheels to the left, but it was too late. Fate suddenly played us a nasty hand. Lumbering up the road was a big army truck, shifting and grinding gears, loaded with supplies. With nowhere to go we froze in place. My premonition exploded with a vengeance. Like an old, tired, beat up prizefighter the car slid over into the abyss. I don’t know what happened to the snake, but it was irrelevant at this point. Fortunately, the wheels had been turned in such a way that prevented the car from toppling sideways and, as a result, we headed down hood first.

          I looked at Summer. She blanched, but said nothing. I knew exactly how she felt. I braced my feet against the back of the front seat and Summer did likewise. We barreled down the hillside accelerating quickly. By this time the cabby had regained his composure and in a courageous fashion maneuvered skillfully around rocks and trees. I kept silent not wanting to break his concentration. But he could not avoid everything. The car bounced and jounced over innumerable bushes and stones. I could hear scraping noises as the car rolled over unseen obstacles. Metal stresses caused it to shriek like run away banshees. The driver turned to look at me. All the blood seemed to have drained from his face. His eyes rolled in their sockets. The fall seemed to go on forever. Summer’s eyes were wide open searching mine for reassurance. I shook my head in despair. I kept looking for a break, anything that would stop our fall and avoid complete disaster.

          We got the break, but not in the way I had imagined.

          Over on the left loomed a huge rock. I yelled to the driver to turn his wheels in that direction and to jam on the brakes, so that we would skid sideways against the boulder. It was our only chance. He spun left, but just then two unexpected things happened. The left wheels hit a log. The car caromed upwards. Summer screamed in terror as her door flew open. She was propelled outward. I reacted instinctively. I grabbed the back of her sweater, and yanked her back inside. My legs twisted under me in an awkward position. The car smashed onto the rock. I sailed against the right hand door dragging her along. She fell on top of me. My head collided with the door. I heard a sickening, snapping sound. A voice from the depths of hell screamed in pain.

          The earth and sky spun around; colored lights danced by, discolored, diffused; shadows flitted in front of my eyes, flowed away, flashed by again; a face, at times contorted, at times shapeless, at times amorphous, appeared and reappeared. A sepulchral voice intoned: ‘Matthew, Matthew, speak to me. Hang on to my hand. Help is on the way. Stay with me.’ “The face and voice faded away, came back and then faded away completely. A black hole opened up. With a feeling of well being, I went down gratefully. The pain disappeared. The light failed me.”

          Atkins sat up straight. A strange glow gleamed in his eyes. The meaning of his agitation escaped Bainbridge’s attention at the moment.

          “Slowly, I floated out of the dark pit and unlocked my eyes. I tried to make out the shuffling of feet, the murmuring of voices surrounding me. I had lost all sense of time and space. My head throbbed incessantly, my leg pained me, my lungs labored for air, my ribs ached. A face that I did not know appeared, concerned and serious. I tried to orient myself but to no avail. I could remember nothing. I’m dead, I thought. I’m in hell. Then the blessed blackness enfolded me in a blissful euphoria once again.

          I was suspended in midair. Dark clouds scudded past. I felt hot, cold, then hot again. I could feel myself turning gently, peacefully, in a strangling, impenetrable web. When I started tumbling head over heels, a strange voice muttered: ‘This is no good, pal, no good at all. You’re going down for the final count. Come up, Come up.’ “I argued with the voice. Where is up? Damnit, leave me alone, leave me at peace.” ‘Someone is waiting for you up there. Remember Summer?’ “Don’t remember any Summer. Nobody’s waiting for me. I’m alone in this insane world. Seemingly against my wishes, Thomas, I swam in the up direction, moving my arms and kicking my legs. I can’t make it, I cried. Summer, help me. I can’t break through that web. I kicked again. Lights swirled about me in random patterns, began to break through the smothering murkiness. As the fog cleared, the constellation grew brighter, more focused. I swam toward it. The illumination became so intense that it forced my eyes open.

          I looked about. I was in a hospital bed. Two faces peered down at me; one I knew, one I did not. The stranger’s visage was olive complexioned, but his smile was beautiful. The other face was very familiar.

          “Hello, Summer, where have you been?”

          “Hello yourself. Welcome back. Stay with us this time. You’ve given us an awful fright. Keep hanging on to my hand.”

          “Where am I?”

          “You’re in the Modurai hospital. Do you want a drink?”

          “You don’t happen to have any sour mash, do you?”

          Summer smiled, brought me a drink of water. She raised my head to help me drink. The smell of soap and of her subtle perfume brought me back into the real world again. I was deeply touched by the misty look in her eyes.

          “What’s my leg doing up in the air? Why do I have such a headache?”

          Just then the second person in the room spoke up: “My name is doctor Patal. Your leg is broken in two places. You have a brain concussion and a few broken ribs. Otherwise you are in good shape, considering.”

          “Thank you. It could have been worse, I guess.

          Summer, what happened after the crash?”

          “The driver was not hurt too badly, so he scrambled up the hill to help the soldiers from the truck rig up a stretcher line.”

          “And what about you, are you all right?” I inquired solicitously

          “I’m fine. You saved my life twice. For that I thank you “

          “The nurse came in and gave me some pills. This time I slept with no demons chasing me.

          When I awoke, it was dark outside. Summer stood at the foot of the bed holding a bag in her hand. “Hello again, angel. Looks like I slept a long time. What’s in the bag?”

          “Summer winked at me and with a sly grin opened it. To my surprise it was a bottle of Kentucky’s best product. It jolted me. In a gruff voice I asked her where she had gotten such a prize.”

          “That’s my secret. Well, do you want some or not?”

          “Yes, yes!” I croaked.

          “She rinsed out two glasses, filled them with bourbon, walked to the bed, took off her shoes, placed her legs next to mine and gave me a glass. We raised them in salute. Thomas, it was a long night.”

          Bainbridge paused in his narrative as Atkins refilled his pipe. “Yank,” he clipped off, pointing his pipe at me animatedly, “that can’t be the end of the story. It’s without an ending.”

          “I got the full details from the doctor the next morning. Summer was not there and neither was the bottle.”

          “’You were unconscious for three days,” Dr. Patal remarked, ‘The lady did not leave your side the whole time.’ “He anticipated my unasked question.” ‘I do not know where the lady went. She left no address.’

          “How did I get out of the car? Why doesn’t some one tell me the most important detail?”

          “The lady pulled you out. She did not want you to know for some reason of her own. When the car exploded, she covered you with her body.”

          “Was she hurt? Why didn’t she tell me?”

          “My friend,” the doctor answered in a small voice,” people just do not boast about those things. She was not hurt. Why, I do not know. It was another miracle. In any case you will be here a month. You should contact your wife.”

          “Thank you. I have no one but two daughters.”

          “I heard no other sound except the loud beat of my heart. She had saved my life, Thomas, and said nothing about it. But she did leave that enigmatic message on my leg. It had to mean something. I turned my face to the wall. After all I did not think it appropriate for anyone to see a grown man cry.

          So, here I am, Tom. My plane leaves in three days for the States.”

          The sun had disappeared below the horizon. Unnoticed by Bainbridge, a fog had rolled in, completely improbable at that time of year. But it was a pleasant fog, hugging both of them almost intimately. Atkins puffed away at his pipe, his eyes indistinct in the haze. Matthew’s leg began to ache again. He wondered about the strange mist, his visitor’s curiosity. The whole scenario intrigued him. He needed answers.

          “Mr. Bainbridge, I do not believe for a moment that you came to India just to see the temples. People come here for something else. They believe that the mystical Orient can provide answers to their problems. That’s not always true. Do you care to talk about it? Perhaps I can help.”

          Matthew Bainbridge sat quietly for a moment, hesitant, not sure if he wanted to confide in a stranger. But the kind, understanding look on his listener’s face overcame his qualms. He exhaled heavily: “His name was Jason, my only son. He was killed in Operation Desert Storm. We had not always been on friendly terms. Jason was determined to pursue a military career as a helicopter pilot and as a result we often quarreled about it. Our last meeting was not exactly loving and amicable. I regret that bitterly now. It adds to my pain; makes it almost unbearable. My wife passed away two years ago. You are the first person to whom I have confided.”

          Atkins replied in a sad voice: “I also lost an only son in a war. Ironically, I had championed that war; nevertheless, I died inside when I received the news. I was at the peak of my creativity, my writings were read everywhere. I had my detractors, but the public read me and respected me because I had something worthwhile to say. There were even towns named after me in the States. I ceased to function professionally for the last years of my life. Matthew, don’t let that happen to you. Get back in the game, lest you forget your humanity. Summer gave you a start. Do not disappoint her.”

          He stood up, held out his hand: “Well, Yank, that was quite a story. Why don’t you publish it? You can call it ‘Another Tale from the Hills’. Good luck and Godspeed.”

          To Bainbridge’s befuddlement, Thomas Atkins, a kind sympathetic visitor from -somewhere- adjusted his smartly tailored suit, smoothed his walrus style mustache, readjusted his pith helmet at an even more rakish angle, tipped his riding crop to its brim, smiled his most beguiling grin, turned around and disappeared into the fog.

          Bainbridge sat quite still, mistrusting his senses. He was sure now that an unearthly being had invaded his world. No sounds penetrated through his reverie. He felt alone, became alarmed. The fog turned clammy. Then it thinned out and finally disappeared. A bouncing wet ball against his leg broke the spell, brought him back to reality. “What have I experienced,” he reflected, “is it possible that I was visited by,– by–Kipling that gifted writer who panegyrized the glories of the empire and yet prophesied its passing, who loved India, who thrilled and delighted generations of children with his stories of adventure and intrigue? It did not seem possible. But isn’t this India mysterious, esoteric India where it is believed metaphysical phenomena such as reincarnation are the norm?

Bainbridge stopped thinking. He was exhausted. It certainly had been a long day! He found himself alone at the pool. When he heard the dinner bell, he picked up his crutches and hobbled toward the lobby. He paused for a moment, listened to the waiters bustling about preparing dinner, and to the musicians readying their instruments. The first notes made him think of a song he had heard from another time, another place that reminded him of Summer: “You came along from out of nowhere. When you return…” He looked up at the cloudless sky, observed the myriad of stars: “Good-bye, Thomas, wherever you are. Thank you for my life. Godspeed indeed to you.”

          Matthew Bainbridge was suddenly in a hurry to get back home. There were daughters and grandchildren to appreciate and a few writing projects to attempt. But first he had time to make a quick detour to find the answer to the cryptic message.

          He asked the desk clerk, “When is the next bus leaving for Kerala?”

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