The weariness of the years in distress that had hung upon his soul seemed to shed in an instant of their meeting. The girl asked with a coy smile “Are you going to say something?” Xandu woke up from his reverie to the reality of earthly existence and replied with some hesitation “I am Xandu. I come from the village of kosi near Dvipur. I just met your father today in the forest.” The girl looked at her father and asked “And you must be lost and father brought you here. No?” Goshalak gave a stern look and berated her for being so immodest to the guest and said “Maya, just go and help your mother in the kitchen. We have a guest to take care off and it is our duty to make him feel at home. Off you go!” The girl ran towards the kitchen and vanished behind the wall. Xandu seemed puzzled and asked Goshalak “Could I ask you something?” The man raised his eyebrow and gestured him by hand to go ahead and speak. ” you knew, that Maya was in the market. You saw her too. Then, why did you ask your wife about her whereabouts?” The man took a deep breath and began with all seriousness “You know, Xandu, when you are a father, there are many things that change in your life. The concern of your children is foremost, and especially so when you have a daughter. She is beautiful and young, as you may have noticed already, and I need to make sure about certain things for her well-being. I needed to know, if her mother knew or not about her whereabouts. I am a bit overly protective when it comes to her. The life of a young girl is not an easy one. There are many who have eyes set on her. I am the man of the house and the protection.” Xandu approved of his answer by a nod and said “Don’t you feel she should be married and then you would have one less of a worry?” Goshalak looked at him with slight indignation and did not say anything. There was this awkward silence again.
The woman came out of the kitchen and asked the men to wash their hands and feet before sitting down for the dinner. They went outside and the girl brought a pitcher and some soap for their ablution. It was Xandu’s turn to go first -one of the privileges of being a guest. The girl leaned a bit forward so as to ease the flow of water on his hands. Xandu, could not help but notice the beautiful neckline of her dress along with the nice and firm curves that were contained within it. The girl noticed and changed her stance, making Xandu feel ashamed of himself. He lowered his eyes and started to rub his hands in a flurry. Maya was amused by his behavior and was biting her lips to stop her from laughing. After washing his hands he dried them with the cotton cloth and went inside the house. The plates were placed on the floor and the men sat squatted behind them. They were served food by the woman and Xandu began munching right away. Goshalak said “We say a little prayer before we take food. However, I understand you must be starving. Please, go ahead while I say my prayers.” Xandu felt miserable and stared at him with blank eyes. The man said his prayers and began eating in silence. Xandu craned his neck to see if the women would join them and then asked “Your wife and the daughter aren’t going to join us?” The man replied with indifference in his voice “They will eat in the kitchen once we are done. They know their duties well. You, please tell if you need anything?” Xandu now dug his attention on his plate and was gulping down the sweet buttermilk like there was no tomorrow. A huge burp came out inspite of him and he looked around like someone else did it. The man beamed with much amusement and said “Drink slowly or else you eat a lot of air; and it has only two ways to come out. I am glad it didn’t pass through the other end.” Xandu was again feeling like a wretched who had been accidentally invited to be a guest. When the dinner was over, the man asked him about what he would like to do? Xandu didn’t say anything and it seemed that he wanted to lay down and rest a bit.
The redness of the setting sun gave its hue to the sky on the western horizon and the birds were returning to their homes after a day of scouring for food. The night gently tiptoed behind the retiring day. This was night unlike others. He was staying with a family now. But for how long? The voices in his head began to clamor again. The quest was taking a sort of backseat and the girl smiled at him with playful suggestions in his mind’s eye. He shook his head and looked around to see if she was there. The man had gone out to the tavern for a few sips of toddy with his friends; that would help him sleep like a child. Xandu found the girl sitting outside and drawing something on the ground with a small twig. He walked up to her and stood over watching as she drew. Maya, without looking up said “Why do you feel so embarrassed all the time? Just act natural. I didn’t want to make you conscious at that time, but it was … leave it. Tell me, what were you doing on this side of the forest? Your village is on the other side, right? ” Xandu blew out a heavy gush of air in comfort, only to unsettle the hair on her head. Those were really jet black , thick and sleek; that seemed to be well taken care of. The loose strands of hair now covered her face and she let out a giggle without a care for how would it affect Xandu. “It is alright. You are not doing things intentionally. Please do not be embarrassed now.” she said as she looked at him. Those eyes seemed to alleviate all the nervousness that was churning wildly inside him. She stood up and moved a bit closer. He was still staring at her and with a slight shyness said “You know, you should not make a bun of your hair. Let them flow and they would look more beautiful on you.” The girl was not looking at him now but was staring at the ground and told bashfully “I am sorry but I have to go now. Mother would be expecting me inside.” And she ran away. He watched her run, her svelte figure moving gracefully through the air as if she was a fairy flying on her wings.
The Sun had left his duty and had gone to sleep in his home beyond the horizon. The night had finally arrived and the sound of chirps and rustling leaves in the balmy breeze filled the air with that all too familiar rhythm that induces sleep. The creatures of the night would be on the prowl for their hunt deep in the forest. He came back to his cot and lied down to sleep. He was wondering how would it be, if he was spending this night in the forest? A shudder went though his body and said it all. His resolve was waning in strength. Something inside him was changing. He did not want to accept that yet. He was just a guest. He would be moving soon.