The air was cold, but drops of sweat ran down our backs and chest. Our stomachs grumbled loudly. The helm of my skirt dangled as I waved enthusiastically at a plump rosy-cheeked baby on its father’s shoulders. Clutching its father’s shirt, the baby squinted its nose and eyes at the sun and giggled shyly. While smiling, we kept licking our lips and gulping as our throats were parched.
The golden sunlight glistened on the snow-capped mountain range on the horizon. A chilly breeze brushed against our cheeks. I slipped my smartphone in my co-traveller’s hand and tiptoed up to a spot under a large coniferous tree shedding golden leaves. I gently massaged my groaning stomach as I browsed through my friend’s snapshots.
Our eyes flicked around and heads rotated to take visual note of every aesthetic wooden café we passed. Our mental target was placed on the waterfall where we were heading, following which we would satiate our afternoon cravings at ease. That is until we were passing by a middle-aged woman who called to us.
A red polka-dotted scarf covered her head, and her gold spectacles reflected the bright sunlight. She pulled her black sweater closer about her as she proceeded to advertise her goods. Woollen socks and bandanas and a few mango drink tetra packs were on display. There was also a basket of golden apples by the helm of her green sari.
My companion chose the apples, and I followed suit. The woman began slicing the juicy fruits, pushing up the bridge of her glasses as she did so. Then she handed the fruits to us on a steel plate.
I looked at a slice between my fingers, the golden-green hue of the apple peel tingling the tip of my tongue. As my teeth sank into the fruit, the sweet and tangy flavour burst inside my mouth. A refreshing bout swept my head and limbs in an instant.
The sugar rush tugged at the social butterflies in us as we kicked up a conversation with the aunty. She told us about her nearby home village, and that the apples are from her own garden. Smiling gleefully with her buck teeth, she offered us two more apples (free of charge). Our hearts warmed, as we took the juicy fruits. We smiled back at her like a couple of school kids.
Before we realised the last apples tasted tangier, sweeter.
We continued along our way, cherishing the woman with a golden smile and golden apples.
On the way to Jogini Waterfalls. Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India.