Just as the rays of the sun were breaking through the early morning sky, three little pairs of feet touched down on the well-used wooden floors of the village homestay.
Nestled among the leafy foliage of the surrounding hills, the house that had been cut into the cleft was a peaceful respite from the frenzied town center a few miles away. Wrapped in thick woolen coats the children made their way out of their beds. The routine was automatic. Rise. Bathe. Pray. Eat. And within thirty minutes they were on their way to the local train station in the valley.
The trio delighted in their daily morning jaunt and looked forward to meeting their father briefly at his railway office cabin. As the village station master, their father was the finest man they knew and each morning his face was the last one they saw as the train left the tracks to transport them to school.
This morning however was unusually silent and as they made their way along the path the white peaks of the majestic Himalayas appeared as if a splendid painting in pristine hues of white and azure was carefully being unveiled. Around them, the green terraces and trekking trails grew brighter as the children skipped along oblivious to the captivating beauty of nature’s early morning exposition.
Finally they reached the station. As they made their way up the muddy path to where the little cabin stood, a sense of bewilderment washed over the oldest boy. Where was their father’s cabin? Where was their father? Had they taken a wrong turn along the way? Impossible.
Thirty minutes later they were still the only ones at the station. No trains arrived. No people rushing by. No signs of their father.
Time passed by.
As the trio tiptoed along the tracks like tightrope walkers without a harness, they noticed that large chunks of the hillside had rolled away. The valley below looked broken and exposed. Around them, the jagged edges of bent metal from the shattered train tracks rose up like giant blades glistening in the morning sunlight. Something strange seemed to have happened whiles they slept last night. The valley was now a ghost town.
Twelve hours later, the oldest boy lit the kerosene lamps and hung them up to illuminate the dirt path that led to their cottage. There had been no sign of their father that day.
He clutched his little siblings tight. They were asleep now and as he watched them inhale and exhale he found himself matching his breath to their beat. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Perhaps father wasn’t coming home after all. Perhaps when the world was convulsing violently last night his dad had been brave enough to go out and see what was happening? Perhaps when the soil rolled away from the cliff it took father with it.
Perhaps he would never see his father again.
There was nothing more he could do tonight. Nowhere he could take them. So he leaned against the patio railing, clutched his siblings tighter and swallowed back the tears.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.