‘Why are you wearing your wedding ring turned to the inside of your palm?’ he asked, surprised.
‘Because we’re in the bus, and I don’t want anyone to take notice and steal it.’ She replied.
Thinking of this as “one of her things” that no one understands, he did not ask another question.
They were both going away for the long weekend to celebrate her birthday. It was a planned trip but a part of this was a surprise for her. They had taken a late afternoon flight to another city and had planned a bus ride to their destination. The bus ride was 7 hours long & they had to spend the night in the bus.
They were both cuddled up in their seats. He was very uncomfortable because his legs hurt and he couldn’t do anything about it as there wasn’t enough room to stretch. But he was happy to see that his wife was sleeping soundly like a baby. And the next two days were all about her.
The bus arrived at the destination a couple of hours before the estimated time. It was 5:15 of a cold windy December morning. They stepped out of the bus and as he was waiting to get their luggage out he saw her looking at him sheepishly.
‘No, No. I’m not telling you where we’re going. Just wait for sometime we’ll be there.’ He said while walking away towards a taxi.
He murmured the name of the hotel very softly to the taxi driver explaining him where to go & ensuring that his wife does not hear him.
She did not. Until the taxi driver loudly confirmed the name of the 5 star they were going to.
She started jumping with joy & he just smiled shyly, walked up to her, took her hand and gestured her to sit inside the taxi.
‘I knew you’d take me to a wonderful place, this is so amazing! I can’t wait to be there. Thank You, baby.’ She kissed his cheek.
They were going to a 5-star located on a beautiful hill top far away from the city. It was surrounded by hills with tall trees on three sides & a river on the fourth. The steep road to the top was enchanting. The driver kept them entertained throughout by telling them stories of a few wild animals that often come out in the open.
It took them around 20 minutes to reach the grand hotel. With a lot of security checks they reached the lobby and were welcomed by a live panoramic view of a beautiful valley just about to welcome the dawn.
They were greeted with a hot cup of local black coffee. He did not like coffee, but he made an exception this one time.
‘Can you see the earthy colours they’ve used in doors? I so like it. I wana’ do something similar when we buy our own house.’ She told him.
‘Yes. For the seventeenth time you’ve told me now.’ He replied.
They walked around the huge lobby, took a few pictures and waited for the front desk manager to inform them about their room. Fortunately they got an early check in.
It was going just the way he had planned it.
Around 7 AM they checked into their cottage. It was a beautiful huge room with a comfortable looking bed facing the same beautiful valley they saw from the lobby. It was so quiet that he could hear her breathing.
He simply hated early mornings & wanted to catch some sleep. But she insisted that they take a shower & go for an early breakfast soon after. He agreed only if she’d go shower before him & let him nap for a while.
He had just shut his eyes to catch some sleep when he heard her softly whisper his name in his ear. He woke up with a jolt.
‘What???’ He screamed. There was no answer. He looked around, there was no one.
He yelled out her name. For like five seconds he looked scared and worried & then softly called out her name.
‘In here, almost done!’ She yelled back from the big bathroom attached to the back of the cottage.
He looked around, sort of re-assuring himself of something. He tried to get some sleep when she walked with her towel wrapped around her saying, ‘Wake up, you got to go shower.’
‘You won’t let me sleep, will you?’ He said.
‘Get up…’ She tried to pull him out.
He got ready in about 20 minutes and they left for the restaurant to eat their breakfast. It was about 8 in the morning. The walk to the restaurant was scenic & quiet. They got the table out in the open where they ordered food. It wasn’t very cold now; sun was shining with a cool gentle breeze, trees swaying & leaves making a rustling noise.
He kept observing her enjoying her favorite breakfast, eggs & croissants and her new found love for black coffee. She kept making small comments on the scenery, on the food, on the hospitality of the staff, on his shirt, on her birthday & anything under the sun. He kept making small jokes about her and every point she was trying to make. They were having a really good time.
He was also avoiding work calls because he wanted to give her his full attention.
After a good deal of time at the breakfast table they decided to explore the hotel. They walked around. Sometimes hand in hand. Mostly she was walking behind him, trying to catch up. There were all cottages around. Open spaces, so many trees, very few people. They walked towards what was called an activity area.
The activity area was designed for guests to unwind & engage in gaming activities. It had a pool table, an X-Box, a few board games to play with. He asked her to play pool with her which she instantly agreed to.
‘Don’t let me win, you know I learn fast.’ She said.
They played pool a couple of times; they played tennis on the X-Box. They played a few board games & then she got tired.
‘I don’t like the way that manager is looking at us.’ She told him softly. ‘Let’s go’
‘But he’s not looking at us at all.’ He replied.
‘Can we go? I’m tired please.’ She retorted.
They walked out and went to take a look at the infinity pool where they’d decided to spend their afternoon. It was magnificent. It was a large swimming pool, with a view of the beautiful valley. It had a small Jacuzzi on the side of it.
‘We must come here in the evening. What’d you say?’ He asked her.
The manager at the pool walked up to him & said, ‘Sir it will get crowded. Why don’t you come now? You can have the pool for good two hours just for yourself.’
He looked at her & she agreed.
‘I forgot my swimming suit.’ She told him sadly.
‘I’m sure we can rent it out here. I’ll go enquire.’ He walked towards the manager. The manager pointed to a small store on the top floor next to the spa.
He took his wife to the store to look for a swim suit for her. She kept looking around for a while & then found a black one piece. She went to the counter to pay for it when he stopped her.
‘Don’t you wana go try it out?’ He asked her.
‘Oh! yeah!’ She replied and walked down towards the changing room. While she was gone he explored the store around, took a few pictures of the pool and the surrounding area. He found some time to go to the spa & fix an appointment for the next day.
It was almost 20 minutes & she had not returned. He looked around & saw a lady manager next to the changing room. He walked up to her & asked if she could go inside & find out what was going on. She immediately went inside & walked out after 5 minutes. Sir your wife is still in the changing room should be out in 5 minutes.
‘Okay.’ He was confused. She never takes so much time to try outfits.
After 10 minutes, his wife did not return. He started to lose his patience.
‘Could you check again, please?’ He requested the lady manager.
‘Sir, there she is.’ The lady manager replied pointing to a lady walking out of the changing rooms.
‘No, no! That’s not her. That’s not my wife. Could you check again?’ He requested. Now, almost, losing his mind.
‘I’ll go check again sir.’ She replied.
She came out in 2 minutes. ‘Sorry Sir. There is nobody inside.’ The lady manager told him.
‘Why don’t you call her up?’ She suggested.
This time, he was totally confused. Not being able to say anything.
‘I. I don’t think she has a phone. I mean she didn’t get her phone here.’ He replied.
He walked up to the manager at the swimming pool, ‘Have you seen my wife walk out of here?’
‘No Sir sorry, I haven’t seen your wife.’ The manager replied.
‘She was wearing a white long dress; you must’ve seen her around somewhere?’ this time getting a little angry.
‘I’m sorry sir; I did not see your wife.’ The manager replied.
He went around the activity area, the lobby, the restaurant, his room. Entire time, accompanied by the lady manager.
‘Sir we could speak to the desk manager & ask the staff to look around?’ She asked him.
‘Yes, let’s go please.’ He replied.
They reached the lobby and now all of a sudden the beautiful panoramic view looked glum to him. He stood there, looking at it for a few seconds when the lady manager called him to the front desk.
He walked up there to meet the front desk manager.
Before he could say anything the front desk manager greeted him, ‘Hi Sir, How have you been? It’s been a year since we saw you last?’
‘A year? Really. Ok.’ He looked confused. ‘I don’t know where my wife is, she went to the changing room and it’s been three hours I can’t find her. Could you please put the word out and ask your staff to look around?’
‘Your wife checked-in with you? Let me see what I can do. Why don’t you take a seat I’ll be back?’ The manager replied.
He looked at the manager and slowly walked away to the outside of the lobby and sat on the stairs facing the sad panoramic view. A sad gush of feelings just poured in & his eyes became watery. Feeling a little embarrassed he held himself together & wiped his eyes and pursed his lips so as to stop himself from breaking down.
The front desk manager went to the corner & made a call. After 10 minutes he came back to the desk looking straight out in the open at him.
The lady manager observed & walked up to him. ‘Sir what happened? Did you inform the staff to look for his wife? This is unusual, what if something wrong has happened to her? All of us will be held responsible. How can we help?’ She looked worried.
‘We can’t help’ He replied.
‘What? I don’t understand?’ She was confused more than worried.
‘That gentleman visits us every year. It’s been four years. He came here with his wife the first year. After that he comes alone, and then in the middle of the night calls us about his missing wife, or sometimes at the restaurant, this time he lost her at the swimming pool.’ He told her briefly.
‘What do you mean? I really don’t understand?’ She asked.
‘We’ve heard a couple had an accident on the national highway that day when he left with his wife 4 years back. I was a junior manager back then. I don’t know if my boss followed that news. I’m certain it was this guy. I feel he comes here to re-live the last moments with his wife every year. He always books the room they stayed in, Room 203. If you tell him he checked in alone and make him understand, he will quietly walk away. It seems like he waits for us to tell him that his wife did not come with him. He just needs to hear from someone else that he came here alone. This visit every year could be his way of remembering her, maybe.’ Saying this, the front desk manager walked away from the desk and outside towards him.
‘Sir, can I have a word with you?’ The manager asked him.
‘Yeah, sure,’ He said. ‘Umm, you know, it’s alright. Sorry for the trouble. My wife is back in the room. I must go check on her.’
He looked straight into the eyes of the manager. They both knew that this was an absolute lie.
‘We’ll be checking out tonight. Thank You.’