"Dont worry Keval, you'll be fine." Sanjay said while Aniket placed a hand over my shoulder with a reassuring grin. Me, Sanjay & Aniket were friends since our schooldays. We had a lot in common except for the fact that both of them were way far too adventurous than me. And now they were pushing me to accompany them on their trekking expedition in some remote jungles of the north- east. After resisting a lot of cajoling and lucrative promises I finally had to give in and we set out on our journey. It was well into midnight when we reached the hotel. The hotel manager made a pathetic face to express his helplessness as the kitchen had been closed hours ago.
"Then we have to do with whatever little snacks we have with us." I said.
"Yeah that will make us lighter and help us ascend the mountains." Aniket joked.
We picked up our luggage and started making our way to the rooms.
"You dont havd to worry, sir. I'll cook food for you."
The three of us turned to see a tribal man standing behind us with a sweet smile floating in his eyes. I felt relieved at the thought of having something to feed my famishing tummy.
"No, its okay. We can manage. You dont have to bother." Sanjay said to him and whispered in my ears, "How could we trust him? It may be some trap to rob us off our money."
"No sir, I wont charge anything. My mother has taught me never to let your guest sleep without having food. It is a sin."
I felt a bit low as the poor guy has heard the nasty comment that Sanjay had made about him. But the guy seemed not at all offended.
"Yes sir, he is Machu. He does odd jobs of the hotel whenever we face shortage of staff here. I assure that he is trust worthy." the manager said & we all nodded.
Machu had already lit up the fireplace in hotel's dinning room by the time we had freshened up. We took our seats on the enormous dinning table & Machu appeared with 3 bowls of steaming soup.
"Yummy!" I complimented him as soon as I gulped down a spoonful.
"Thank you, Sahibji. There is more to come."
Soon he laid a spread of delicious delicacies and we gobbled up all like starving refugees. Sanjay & Aniket retired to their rooms after having dinner. But I stayed back with Machu as I had developed a kind of affection for the golden hearted man. I sat on the sofa near the fire place while he settled down on the ground. He told me a lot of things about his the people of his tribe and life in the jungle. He also sang a few folksongs that the men of his tribe used to sing. I was tempted to have some more of it but had to bade him farewell as my eyes were heavy with sleep and we had to set out early in the morning.
As we were leaving the hotel in the morning, Machu came to see us off, "I keep roaming about in the jungle." He said, "Whenever you are in need of my help, beckon me silently but with all your heart. I will be there for you."
The three of us had a big laugh at his innocence. As I was about to get into the jeep I noticed a beautiful bracelet on Machu's arm with little bells hanging from it. The bells tinkled mellodiously every time he moved.
"What is this, Machu?" I asked
" This is a sacred bracelet which protects us from all the dangers."
A journey through the forest was altogether new and overwhelming ecperience for me. After walking for hours I was tired but ecstatic. I was busy admiring the beauty of nature while walking up the steep climbing. All of a sudden, I stumbled over a stone, lost my balance & rolled down into a deep crater. My legs were fractured and blood was spurting out from my head and face. I cried out to my friends for help as the pain was becoming unbearable with each passing moment.
"No, Aniket!" I heard Sanjay's voice, "We should not risk our lives."
"But Sanjay, he'll die if we dont do anything."
"Why dont you understand? It is very risky. Moreover, he's so badly injured that he'll die on his way to hospital.That's sure, then what's the point in risking our lives as well." Sanjay said in a cold voice.
"But he's our friend."
"Our lives matter more than friendship."
I heard their footsteps fade away on the path of jungle. The overpowering feeling of helplessness & betrayal added on to the caused by the physical injuries. Suddenly, the face of Machu flashed in my mind & I felt as if I had heard the tinkling of his bracelet & then there was black-out.
I woke up in a hospital with my legs on the cast. A heavy bandage had embellished my head.
"You are fine now." The doctor said, "Nothing much to worry. All you have to do now is to take some rest."
"Who has brought me here?" I managed to ask in a feeble voice.
"A barbarian from the jungle."
"No doc," I muttered as the doctor made his way out of the room, "barbarians are from cities."