The Hike Uphill
Laila huffed and puffed as she hiked uphill, her face covered with a slick mix of sweat and dirt. A few strands of hair that escaped from the grip of her hair tie stuck on her cheeks.
The poles felt heavy in her tired hands as she reached the summit. Newer models that flooded the market were much lighter but she preferred using the ones dad gave her a decade ago.
‘Steady, Laila, steady. Take short steps. This is not a sprint. Balance yourself properly,’ he would mutter instructions as they came to the trail when she was a little girl.
Her shoes were blotched with dirt here and there. It had drizzled last night. Laila had almost cancelled the plan but then she decided to come. How could she not? It was the last Saturday of the month.
The winter sun shone brightly. Its familiar warmth making her feel welcomed. Laila looked down. The valley sprawled lazily. Over the past few years it had stretched both in length and breadth, encroaching into the green of Rhododendrons.
She let her hair lose and unzipped the padded jacket, sighing audibly. The hill was her hide out. Dad took her there for the first time when she was thirteen and had a falling out with her best friend. She cried the whole week before he forced her out of bed onto the dirt trail.
‘What a beautiful day’, she said to no one in particular. The chill threatened to penetrate her bones; she liked it nevertheless. The rays of the sun drummed lightly on her skin.
Laila sat on one of the smaller rocks. The quiet of the place hummed sweetly in her ears. She took out a tumbler and sipped hot tea from it, staring at the horizon.
She could hear her giggles and see her younger self running around as dad stretched under the trees. A smile spread through her face.
The way up was tough but the way down was much tougher, or so she had always felt. There was this danger of slipping. Once she had toppled down at a particularly cunning bend and hurt her leg. Dad had to carry her on his back for several kilometres. She hated being a burden to him but he laughed all along the way, saying it reminded him of her childhood.
A forked road marked the base of the hill. The straight one, led to the valley and the one to her left, led to the world outside. Her father had taken the same to run away in the middle of a dark, moonless night.
By the time she reached home, her legs felt leaden.
She went straight to the backyard and brought out a shovel. Digging a shallow pit in the centre, she threw all her hiking equipment into it – poles, boots, the bright green nylon rope, her backpack, the thermos flash she always carried. She then soaked it all in gasoline and threw in a lit matchstick.
Once the things were set ablaze, Laila went in to wash the remaining euphoria of her hiking trip away.
Having paid back every single penny of the debt he left them with, she needed no more reminder of her father.
Nazia Kamali: “I am a reader, writer, and teacher. I have also worked for the local news journal Harbinger India for several years. My work has been published online on Indus Women Writing, the Whorticulturalist, In Parenthesis, A Room of Her Own Foundation, as well as offline in anthologies by Cape Comorin Publishers, PCC Inscape and Other Worldly Women Press.”