It was a lonely night. The silver moonlight wandered everywhere in search of a companion but found none. It floated on the big house that stood there, on the trees around it, on the dewy grasses in its lawn and on the fences that enclosed it. It hovered around the house and made it look like a piece of silver rock jutting out from a heap of dark and black landscape. It looked so unfamiliar today.
The wind was blowing aimlessly around the big house when suddenly its big door creaked. A beautiful figure dressed in a white long frock emerged into the moonlight. Her dusky face shone against the black sky and the dark hills that stood far away. Her dark black eyes bloated in a tiny world of silver. Her flat nose and her rosy lips stared nervously at the shining moon. As she came closer a sphere of bright light glowed around her. This light was coming from the lantern that she was carrying in her hand.
She walked slowly and surely to the fence and stood there peering into the horizon. She then put the lantern on the ground and took out a crumbled piece of paper from the pocket on her frock. The paper was dirty and had been folded along all possible planes. It had something written illegibly. A spasm of agony travelled across her face. She looked below and was reassured by the bold signature at the end of the paper that read ‘Max’.
A cool gust of wind started playing with her long hair. The light from the lantern was threatened by the arrogance of the air. It started panicking. She didn’t seem to notice this struggle of the wick in the lantern. The flickering light danced crazily in her little eyeballs. But this was of no use. She only kept staring at the hills and the far-away lands that met the dark sky.
Far away where the sky met the earth, two shadows were trudging on briskly. From their soiled clothes and the serious expressions on their faces, one could very well infer that they were on an important errand. Their eyes never met. And their sight never rose up from the road. They kept pushing their way rapidly through the dull moonlight.
“How far is the base camp now?” asked the young man who was dressed in a black cloak that hung loosely on his body and had a black handkerchief tied around his neck.
“If only I knew where we were!” spoke the other carelessly and without even lifting his eyes away from the road. His hair was grey and the skin on his face sagged along deep lines. He held a cigar in his right hand and a small parcel in his left hand. By the stern look on his face and calculated movements, it seemed as if he was the captain of this mission.
“We have been walking since ages, pal!” said the young man in an irritated voice.
“Only two hours to be precise, Black!” replied the captain in the same indifferent manner as before.
“Dare call me that name again, Red! I will punch your face blue and black.” The young man shouted.
“I m sorry about it, Blackie!” The captain looked up for the first time with a smirk on his face.
The young man let out a loud bellow and pretended to punch the captain’s face with rapid strokes. The captain was by then lost in the roads. His hand held the parcel tightly. And after every step he smoked the cigar intensely. Soon a strong cold wind started blowing as they reached a low hill. Their eyes now being well accustomed to the darkness, they were able to see a big house bathed in moonlight and standing far away at the edge of the sky. Even from such a big distance they were able to make out the trees around the big house swaying laboriously in the wind.
“Do you mind resting here for a few minutes, Red?” asked the young man as his eyes surveyed the surroundings keenly.
“Do you think it is safe here?” said the captain, his eyes focused at the big house that stood far away.
“I don’t know why, but I think I like this place.” The young man said without thinking anything.
The captain turned around and looked in every direction. He then sat on the ground facing the big house. The young man joined him. The moon was bright and the streaming moon-rays made a bridge from the hill where they were sitting to the big house. For a moment they got lost in the glory of the moment and in the wake of the fatigue that they felt.
As they sat staring blankly into the hanging darkness, they saw a tiny light emerging from the big house. It advanced slowly and then stopped moving after a while. On straining his eyes a little, the young man was able to make out a woman carrying a lantern in the distance.
“Look yonder Red, there is a woman!” he said in a teasing tone.
The captain looked in the direction of the house and saw a tiny light shivering at the front of the big house.
“I wonder why she is standing there all alone in the dark!” said the young man, a small concern shimmering in his voice.
The captain did not reply. His eyes were numbly staring at the house and he was lost in some distant thought.
“Where are you lost Red?” the young man shook the captain.
The captain looked at him as if he had been awoken from a deep slumber. He glanced around and saw the big house standing with the same stance. The leaves of the trees rustled vigorously in the cold wind.
“Are you ok, Red?” the young man asked again.
“Yeah, yeah. I am all right.” said the captain, “Just was thinking about my home. That big house reminded me of my own place. It has been days since I have seen the face of my little John and Jill. And I wonder what weeds are growing up in my little garden. There is this anticipation, and a crude happiness, that I will be going back, after this job. That is so good a prospect.” He lighted himself a new cigar.
“It must be really good to have someone waiting for you. And more importantly, a place to go back to.” the young man said slowly.
“Of course, it is. That is what keeps me alive during the ugly days such as these. You know there are weeks when I think it is better if I was dead, but then the face of my little daughter gives me a deep pain of hope.” The captain blew a dense puff of smoke.
“But what about you, Blackie? Are you married?” the captain blew another puff of dense smoke into the air.
“No. It’s a bit different on my side.” Said the young man with lethargy in his voice.
“Different you say, Black?” asked the captain.
“A bit. And don’t call me that oldie!” the young man said sharply.
“You are not married? That is good man. You know once you are married you are done. There isn’t much left in life. But that doesn’t explain why you are still roaming the earth wild and free. You against marriage?” Another cloud of smoke rose up.
“Not exactly. But let’s say I didn’t have the opportunity to get married.” The young man tried to keep his explanation short and simple.
“Yeah, go on!” said the captain taking a huge puff of the cigar.
“You know I was somewhat attached to this girl. And we were hoping to get married. But it doesn’t work that way.”
“Why doesn’t it work that way?”
“One of the answers to that question may be destiny, though I do not believe in it. You know, when I took up this dangerous job of moving secrets across borders, I was sinking in debts. And after that everything changed.” The young man took the cigar from the captain and smoked it.
“That’s a typical story, mate”, said the captain.
“The worst part of the bargain was that now I had to meet this girl secretly for fear of being identified. But you know it doesn’t work that way.” The young man took a deep breath.
“Why doesn’t it work that way?” The captain asked immediately.
“That is because her parents were perfect cowards. They didn’t like my job- this job that cleared all my debts and got me three meals a day! Those cowards moved out of the town and settled in another. That was the end.”
“So you didn’t try finding her out?” the captain asked.
“Yeah I did. But it doesn’t work that way. Her uncle wouldn’t tell me where they had gone. That wretched man!” the young man said in an annoyed tone.
“That was the end I presume?” the captain asked with the cigar in his mouth.
“Pretty much. Only that her uncle agreed to carry a letter of mine to her after much persuasion.” The young man replied calmly.
“Go on.” The captain blew a dense cloud of smoke into the air.
“I think I wrote that letter very long. I had to. I told her that her uncle was so very wicked. Tons of sweet nothings! And I promised her with a broken will that one of these nights I would come to her door-step and steal her from the rest of the world. I meant it. But you know it doesn’t work that way.” The leaves rustled furiously in the wind.
“Man that is one of the things about this job. People treat us like criminals. Wish I could do something for you, chap!” said the captain.
A silence appeared from somewhere. The young man kept staring at the house lost somewhere in his past apparently. And the captain kept blowing up dense fume of smoke after smoke.
It was the rustling of the leaves that made the captain stand up on his feet. “It’s time we start on our mission again, Black.” He said and at once dashed towards the forest.
“Damn you old man, if you call me by that name again!” The young man said as he stood up and brushed dust off his clothes.
“So what should I call you?” asked the captain with a hint of ridicule in his voice. His sight once again got stuck onto the cumbersome road.
“Why, my name is Max!” said the young man and started walking away from the big house that stood at the edge of the horizon.