She had no idea what it was like to ride a fat bike, but soon enough she found out. And perhaps a bit too late. She whizzed past age-old trees lining the left of a narrow two-way road, down and down past puzzled indigenous people squatting by the wayside, past roadside stallholders holding out woven bamboo baskets, past slowing cars negotiating treacherous corners.
Speed is exhilarating.
Up in the highlands, it pays to heed speed limits down to 30 km/h or even 20 km/h at sharp bends, as a fall from a bike would cost a limb or two… and a head-on collision with an approaching truck—which happens every now and then—would cost lives.
But going along with gravity is ecstasy.
Plunging off the highlands spells death. Plunging off the highlands in a bus, car or a motorbike triggers a search party. Plunging off the highlands on a Fat Bike summons not a single muscle of rescue efforts, for no one would have a clue where the rider had vanished. For there were too many corners on the winding roads of Cameron Highlands. Unmarked, and unattended bends too, with a lack of barriers.
The weightlessness of being is what matters.
Much of the forest is impenetrable. Stoic alpines line the edge of the dense vegetation, as old as Father Time.
Things seem to stand still in the mossy forest. As if the spring in a clock had popped out and time had stopped. If that is the case, then, sins committed should then remain there infinitely. Or would sins be erased as soon as rain washed over the carpet of forest moss?
An on-coming Land Rover was overtaking a vegetable-laden truck, and in doing so, was headed right at her.
Skid. Screech. Honk.
Take my hand and come this way.
The lure of danger added a deep bass to the symphony in her heart. The seduction of forest fell on her as she took his hand and heaved up a step on a slippery boulder engulfed in lichen. He ducked to avoid hitting the precious Pitcher Plant and she followed in his big footsteps, not even stopping to take a photo of the flower. It could have been an Instagram winner.
The voices of the trekkers drifted away as they followed another guide, all well ahead of her and her jungle man.
Sucking the water from the moss on the branch, he closed his eyes, and inhaled. Spellbound, she did the same. The taste of water was like no other as it was pure and raw and fragrant. Her mind spun with happiness.
When she opened her eyes moments later, she saw no one but a green landscape of soft, wet, velvety green-lined tree trunks this way and that, moss dripping from the high branches, moss smothering the low boulders, moss on the soil. The air was still and damp.
With short and shallow breaths, she looked around and saw nobody. Surreal green it was. So quiet. She buttoned up her white shirt to the collar for warmth.
Then a rustle.
What happened next? Read the rest of this short story when She Never Looks Quite Back by Mallika Naguran is out.