The day had been pretty much uneventful for the pair of friends. Not much of the catch was worthy of mention. O.G began to wonder whether they had lost the knack for hunting, after all it was not like they were young anymore. But Shankaran Nair was not willing to give up. There was no way they were returning home without some decent game. It had already begun to get dark and they decided to settle for the day. Shankaran Nair set himself to prepare their dinner for the day - wild boar. O.G sat watching as Shankaran Nair expertly cut the meat sprinkling salt and turmeric over each piece. He envied Shankaran’s energy; at 72 he was still as fit as a fiddle. He could walk for miles without getting weary while O.G would try to catch up panting short of breath.
Earlier they had competed with each other to get the maximum game but lately O.G had begun to accept defeat hands down. The nature of the trips had also begun to change. It was not all about hunting and enjoying themselves, they had become times when both of them shared their sorrows and worries. For O.G it was the increasing loneliness he had begun to feel as he grew older. With relatives as devious as hunting jackals around, waiting to pounce upon his wealth the day he breathed his last, O.G felt extremely forlorn. For him Shankaran Nair was a very lucky man with a family and grandchildren, maybe it wasn’t the best of families but at least he had one.
He thought of how no one understood Shankaran not even Janaki. If there was something constant about their trips earlier and now, it was Janaki. He could not remember of even one such trip when her name had not come up. Every time he spoke about his wife, the passion and love for her had always been evident in Shankaran’s eyes.
Shankaran Nair had his misgivings but O.G understood they were faults that could have been easily altered only if Janaki had taken the time and patience that was required of her. Once when Shankaran Nair had got an opportunity to go abroad to Europe to work as an advisor it was Janaki who discouraged him due to her silly fears that he would bring home a second wife- a white lady as she had put it. O.G also thought of the times when she had openly insulted Shankaran in front of him as well as his other friends. Shankaran Nair however never retaliated and maintained his composure throughout such embarrassing episodes.
O.G particularly remembered the period, when Janaki had come down with the pox. It was Shankaran, who stayed awake day and night, taking care of her without hesitating the slightest bit. He was not afraid of catching the pox himself. Instead he would sleep next to the shivering Janaki holding her tight to keep her warm. She would push him away weakly cursing him in her feeble voice until she fell asleep. A recovered Janaki repaid his love and care by putting a price on it; she gave him a hundred rupee note for his services.
In spite of everything Shankaran still loved and cared for Janaki, but lately had become afraid to express it. He smiled awkwardly each time she cursed him. To him they were the only words she uttered to him and therefore very precious. He could not think of getting past a day without hearing those words from her mouth, they were as sweet to him as her music.
“I think there is a lone elephant in the area. It would be wise to shift from here as soon as possible," said Shankaran bringing O.G out of his deep thoughts. O.G nodded picking up his bag and rifle while Shankaran stuffed a small can with the cooked meat.
They moved into a safer part of the forest where they settled down after having dinner, they pulled out their mats and lay down staring at the sky that was partly visible through the branches. After much thought Shankaran Nair said,
“I don’t think we’ll get lucky this time, I feel we should leave for home. What do you think O.G?”
“Just my thought,” replied O.G with a smile.
“Well then let’s not waste anytime, let’s pack our stuff and begin immediately; we should then reach home by tomorrow evening,” said Shankaran Nair.
O.G wondered as he hiked down the hill whether there would be another trip again. There was this haunting feeling that they would not come again. The hooting of the owl in the background underlined his feelings.