....Back on the bus, ticket in hand, she looked for her numbered seat. Franca wasn't there yet, but she didn't worry, she would turn up. She found her place in a row of three. Sitting by the window, an elderly Indian woman with white hair was looking out. There was a bundle on Maria's seat.
"Excuse me! Excuse me," she said, but the old woman ignored her, as if she were deaf.
Maria took the bundle and put it on her legs. This time, the elderly lady looked at her; she was beautiful, petite, with regular features and smooth skin, her hair held in a long white braid. Maria smiled at her, showing her her ticket, but the woman turned back to look out the window. Just then, Franca got on and came to sit next to Maria.
"These seats are narrow, eh?" she said, trying to settle down, but she could hardly fit. "It's a good job that we are all slim!" she added.
Wearing almost identical saris, one pink, one red, with almost the same height and build, they could easily have been sisters. To keep her long hair tidy during the trip Maria, who was only slightly taller, had gathered it in a braid, like Franca, and this added even more to the illusion.
Behind them sat a pretty western girl with reddish hair and green eyes. She wore a long skirt and a beautiful hand embroidered waistcoat over a thin white shirt. Franca turned around and asked if she knew how long it would take to get to Manali.
"Seventeen hours, if all goes well. We'll arrive tomorrow morning at eleven o'clock… perhaps," replied the girl.
"What?" the girls exclaimed at the same time....