"Awwww, look at this...So cute," she said pausing at the picture of a sad looking motherless kitten. "Cute like you!" I added, pinching her cheeks.
She pinched my cheeks back, harder.
"I will send you the low-res files by mail, you do your sorting and send back. I'll edit and send the hires images," we talked shop. Just then one of the workers appeared.
"Dada, come to our room. We cooked some food, just try," he invited.
In their little room, they treated us to fried bamboo shoot and yes, small freshwater fish from the catch of the evening - all done on woodfire.
In a cottage little away from ours, a few young couples were chilling out. One of them came up to me: "Hey you got ciggies?" I gave him one. "Come join us," he invited.
"She aint well, you know," I said, pointing to Krisha, "so we are just keeping it low!" They were Marwari tea planters from Tinsukia district and regulars at this Camp.
The river flowing with ferocity howled away below. It was our last night two-gather - the last time probably we were sharing a bed. If things were to happen it had to be tonight. Or never.
But then oh, she was in the middle of her periods! She might not be up for it. Never mind, at least I could just have her head resting on my chest, I could run my fingers through her hair, or maybe we could just lock our lips - those little expressions of affection. We had a great trip and wouldn't it be nice to celebrate its end with a liplock at least, no?
Lying next to her face up in the narrow bed, I stared at the bamboo ceiling, as she settled for the night, her back to me. How was I supposed to make a move?
"Hey, cutiepie turn over no. Let me cuddle you and sleep!" I found myself saying.
"No, Nish, I am not feeling well," she said, moving an inch away.
Yes, she said.
"All right. Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite!"
"Good night!" she sighed.
Of course, it was disappointing. She came all the way and we had been bonding over the day and sharing the bed by night - three nights in a row and yet....
Women! So difficult to understand. I got up from my bed and drank some more Old Monk!
Next morning the owner of the Camp called.
"Aare stay back one more night. This will be on me. No charges!" he offered.
But with no bloody promises, no f%$#*^g hopes, no mother f%$#*^g expectations, I politely declined. Didn't wanna suffer another night of nothing.
Later Pulu, the owner, took us to a photo gallery inside his campus. The pictures on display were unearthly. Exotic flowerscapes, snow fields, mountains lost in mist and mythical yeti like animals. All shot after arduous treks by travellers from England, Germany, France and the US. It was Pulu who organised these treks. He has guides to escort; Roing just a base camp.
Back on the wheels, back on our way to Dibrugarh, I drove in silence.
"You so quiet?" she asked.
"Nothing," I said, "just focussing on the road!"
A long pause.
"You wanted to make love to me, na?" she said turning her head to look at me.
"That would have been nice," I said, "it would have been the icing on the cake!"
"Sorry I disappointed you!"
"Ah no, your company was good enough, you helped me see things which I couldn’t have seen myself." I said, adding, "Our work assignment got done too!"
She looked at the road ahead for a while, lost in thoughts.
"Maybe I am not ready...Maybe it will take me a while..."
"I'm sure your marriage is rocking. That's why you weren't keen," I said. "Why should you stray really!"
"Actually you're right. Amar is great guy and he is great on bed. He is a full blooded Punjabi after all," she said.
"And honestly I haven't been too close to any guys. Amar is the only guy I have slept with," she continued. "And you're the only man I have gotten this close to!"
"Well, you better stay away from me then," I joked. "I'm not good for your marital health!"
"But you are creative, more like me," she said. "Amar is an IT guy, he doesn't have too many interests."
"Oh certainly you don't want your man with too many interests!"
And thus, our drive landed us at a landmark bridge, which at 9.15 km is the longest in India. When Dhola–Sadiya Bridge (also called the Bhupen Hazarika Setu), over river Lohit opened a year ago it was quite a tourist attraction with everyone flocking there. Connecting northern Assam with eastern Arunachal Pradesh, the bridge had a market nearby, but there was nothing now.
Krisha's next plan was to visit Majuli, one of the largest freshwater islands in the world.
"Come na with me!" she said.
"I have to complete a few stories; got deadlines," I lied.
Without the possibility of any sizzling chemistry between us, I wasn't quite upto going. And I was too lazy to work hard on building one.
Reaching Dibrugarh, I helped her get into a bus to Jorhat from where she would take the ferry across the Brahmaputra to the island of the Vaishnavite monks.
"Bye," she said, hugging me.
"Bye and stay safe," I said petting her back.
Our eyes met for a moment. I might be wrong but I thought I saw droplets forming in the corner of her eyes.
Will I travel with her ever again?
I don't think so.
PS: So dear reader, my apologies. I made you go through thousands of words, but nothing happened! I tried, you see!