Part 1 is here: http://moodymusings95.blogspot.in/2014/04/the-practice.html
Several uneventful weeks passed and Ayush was beginning to feel at home in the hamlet. The villagers were simple people; they respected him for his service and welcomed him with open arms into their fold. For his part, Ayush had grown quite fond of them and began spending his free evenings with the young lads over a game of cricket.
On one such day, He only had to work half the day and they began their game after lunch. One of the boys, Arjun, seemed to be in a hurry. He explained that his sister required his help that evening and excused him from the game. His hesitation and dalliance was sufficient to intrigue Ayush who questioned Arjun further.
"Need some help, son?" he inquired.
Startled that his discomfort was obvious, he quickly composed himself and gave an amicable smile. Ayush was not to be fooled, he insisted on accompanying Arjun and they proceeded a slight way off the main road.
Jamun trees lined the pathway and Ayush could see the rooftops in the distance. They walked quietly and Arjun stiffened as they approached the row of houses. The third house on the lane stood out among its peers with its clean frontyard, freshly painted facade and a small garden at the entrance with the customary Tulsi that is present in every Indian household. Arjun walked towards the house and ushered him inside. He motioned Ayush to have a seat in the verandah overlooking the garden and went indoors.
"Arjun, why are you late? Don't you know we need to go to the top of the hill? Hurry up!" a voice wafted from the interior. The voice grew louder as the owner approached nearer and though the woman sounded angry, there was a sweetness in her voice that overshadowed the anger.
Ayush perked up at the voice and looked around expecting a face to the voice he had just heard but none appeared. He wondered why he was here. He didn't have a strong reason and yet he didn't think it would matter. In the small world that he now lived in, very few things mattered.
"Akka, I'm coming. There is a guest in the house, stop shouting!" came a voice from another corner of the house.
Ayush smiled at this and wondered where this sister was. Her voice seemed intriguing enough. He thought about his college days; it all seemed like another era. Although he had waited through those years, the woman of his dreams never appeared, nor existed for that matter. He decided that work would be his companion and plunged wholeheartedly into healing people. He wondered if he would ever...
His reverie was cut short by the appearance of a young lady, presumably in her twenties. He stared in shock at the face. It was the Face in the forest. The face he had glimpsed just once, but etched forever in his mind. She was tall and beautiful without being imposing. Her movements had grace, fluidity and elegance. Her attire was simple and understated, yet she looked perfect.
She smiled at him but a questioning look implied that he state the purpose of his visit. Ayush regained composure but realized the foolishness of his purpose. He was at a loss for words and managed a weak smile.
"I'm Ayush. I work at the local hospital in the village. I moved into the village about two months ago." he began.
"Ah, yes. We have heard about you. Arjun has mentioned you often. I believe you play with the boys in the evening." She replied. Her diction was perfect and she spoke with a refinement that seemed unusual in this region.
"Actually, Arjun seemed a little off-color today.. So I decided to drop in and make sure everything is fine." He explained, knowing that he sounded rather silly. He was still in a daze; he couldn't believe that he had finally found the Face.
She smiled broadly, as if she understood his predicament. It puzzled him, but she said nothing more and excused herself indoors to fetch refreshments. Arjun appeared at this moment, with a bagpack and sticks in hand.
"We are leaving towards the summit of Indragiri. You may come with us" Arjun announced to a startled Ayush. Seeing that everything was proceeding in extraordinary fashion, he saw no harm in a trekking on the nearby hill. He seemed appropriately equipped for a short trek and he had nothing important to prevent him either.
"Sure, if you would like me to." he replied.
She appeared with a tray of biscuits and a glass of water which he gladly accepted. They ate in silence and then proceeded outdoors. He realized that in his dazed state, he had forgotten to ask her name. Being tongue-tied was a new feeling and he felt helpless. She sensed his gaze and turned towards him.
"I'm Aarthi. I guess we have met before." she said, with a glint in the eye that unmistakably reflected a smile. He could only stare wide eyed at this damsel.