They were happy that they were to relieve a set of comrades who had done their job.
It was a treacherous climb and the journey was to last till the next evening. Cold winter with intermittent snowfall added to the torture.
If only someone could offer a cup of tea, the Major thought, knowing completely well that it was a futile wish.
They continued for another hour before they came across a dilapidated structure which looked like a small shop. It was locked.
It was 2 o'clock in the night and there was no house close to the shop where the owner could be located. In any case it was not advisable to knock any doors in the night for security reasons.
It was a stalemate. "No tea boys, bad luck" said the Major.
The Major told the men to take some rest since they had been walking for more than three hours now.
“Sir, this is a tea shop indeed and we can make tea. We will have to break the lock though,” said one soldier.
The officer was in doubt about the proposed action but a steaming cup of tea was not a bad idea. He thought for a while and permitted for the lock to be broken. The lock was broken.
They were in luck.
The tea was prepared and it brought great relief to all in the cold night. They were now ready for the long and treacherous walk ahead of them and started to get ready to move.
The officer was in thought. They had broken open the lock and prepared tea and consumed biscuits without the permission of the owner. The payment was due but there was no one in sight. But they are not a band of thieves. They are disciplined soldiers.
The Major didn't move out without doing what needed to be done. He took out a Rs. 1000/- note from his wallet and kept it on the counter, pressed under the sugar container, so that the owner sees it first thing when he arrives in the morning.
He was now relieved of the guilt and ordered the move.
Days, weeks and months passed.
And then one day, it was time to be replaced by another brave lot. Soon they were on their way back and stopped at the same shop, which was today open with the owner in place. He was an old man with very meager resources and was happy to see fifteen of them with the prospect of selling at least fifteen cups of tea that day.
All of them had their tea and spoke to the old man about his life and experiences in general, selling tea at such remote a location.
The poor, old man had many stories to tell all of them, replete with his faith in God.
"Nahin Sahib, aise mat kaho, (No sir. Pl don’t say that) God actually exists. I got the proof a few months ago.
"I was going through very tough times because my only son had been severely beaten by the terrorists who wanted some information from him which he did not have. I had closed the shop early that day and had taken my son to the hospital. There were medicines to be purchased and I had no money. No one would give me a loan from fear of the terrorists. There was no hope, Sahib.
"And that day Sahib, I had prayed to Allah for help. And Sahib, Allah walked into my shop that day.
"When I returned to my shop that day and saw the lock broken, I thought someone had broken in and had taken away whatever little I had. But then I saw that 'Allah' had left Rs. 1000/- under the sugar pot. Sahib, I can't tell you what that money was worth that day.
Allah exists Sahib, He does.
"I know people are dying every day here but all of you will soon meet your near and dear ones, your children, and you must thank your God Sahib, he is watching all of us. He does exist. He walked in to my shop that day and broke open the lock to give me the money I desperately needed. I know He did it."
The faith in his eyes was unflinching. It was unnerving.
Fifteen sets of eyes looked at their officer and read the order in his eyes clear and unambiguous, 'Keep quiet.'
The officer got up and paid the bill and hugged the old man.
"Yes Baba, I know, God does exist - and yes the tea was wonderful."
Fifteen pairs of eyes did not miss the moisture building in the eyes of the Major, a rare sight.
And the real truth is that any one of us can be a God to somebody....