The ball rolled and stopped near my feet. I picked it up and looked around. A small chubby faced boy came running up to me and asked for the ball. I smiled and gave it to him. We, Divya and me – I holding her hand – walked to the park where the kids were playing and sat on the bench there. Divya is my neigbour and my dearest friend.
We sat there, watching the kids playing. Under a bush sat two small girls. I couldn’t see them clearly. They may be playing or perhaps chatting. I looked at Divya, but she was not looking at me but was gazing into the distance. Seeing the girls, I was reminded of my own childhood and of that fateful night.
It was a calm night. Divya and I were sitting and chatting near the well, when, we heard a strange distant crying sound. We both immediately fell silent. Listening intently, we heard it again. We looked around us but could see nothing. I being the coward among us, immediately rose up to go inside and call Mom. Divya, ever the brave and adventurous, stopped me and said,” Lets see what it is”. We started walking towards the source of the sound.
Directly behind our houses is a small paddy field with a canal for watering it. We usually play in fields during the day. Beyond that, there is a small hillock. The face of the hillock is covered with thick overgrown bushes. It doesn’t have a proper path, just a small track – a clearing among the bushes. No one comes to this place, and we have gone there just once before and that too on Divya’s insistence and ensuring that nobody from both our families is watching us. But since I was very afraid we didn’t go far. Just tried climbing and very soon returned because, I was “whining” as Divya put it.
That night, the sound was coming from the direction of the paddy fields. We walked through the fields to some distance, but could not find anything.
“There is nothing here, let us go back”, I whispered to her.
She rolled her eyes and gave me an ‘oh-my-god-this-girl’ look and I fell silent.
She said, “You wait here. I will go and get the torch. It is too dark.”.
“No, I will also come with you. I won’t stand here all alone”, protested I.
“Ok, ok”, said Divya impatiently.
And we walked to the backyard of our house. She asked me to wait by the well, while she sneaked back into her house. Standing alone, I started seeing bizarre forms what with the darkness of the night and the faint moonlight playing games with shadows and hearing weird noises,. I shut my eyes tight, sat by the well chanting “Rama Namam”*, fearing that any moment some ghost or demon will pounce on me, and waited.
Soon Divya returned with the torch. I still didn’t consider it a good idea to venture out into the darkness. But Divya was all the more insistent. She tried to allay my fears saying that it was only 8:30 and we will be back by bedtime. I thought of what will happen if one of our mothers found us out. She consoled me, saying that – their serials will finish only by 10:30, besides, we had had our dinner too. So they will not look for us for at least another two hours. She finally cajoled me into the quest of the mysterious sound. But the sound had, by now, ceased to come. We simply walked through the fields, looked everywhere but could not see or hear anything.
When the sound was not heard for quite some time, even Divya seemed doubtful and when I started my “whining” again, she almost agreed to return. We were about turn back, when we heard that fateful sound again – crying sound – but much nearer, this time. It seemed to be coming from somewhere near the hillock. I didn’t want to go near that place but one look at Divya told me that she was determined to find the source of that sound even if that meant climbing and going to the other side of the hillock. So I thought it wiser to keep mum.
We slowly walked from the fields to the bushes. As we walked, the bushes grew larger, and we heard the sound more clearly. I don’t know how long we walked. The terrain was becoming steeper. Once I fell down, my leg had got trapped among some bushes. The thorns in bushes scratched me and I started crying. Divya immediately came to me, sat by me and consoled me and the we continued our quest.Soon we came to a flat area in the mound, looking down we saw a pool of water fed by the water flowing out of the side of the mound on which we were standing. Looking down the pool we saw it forming into a small rivulet .Beyond the pond we saw a few crosses standing. We guessed that it must be a graveyard. It was quite cold now and I was shivering. The sight of the burial ground filled me with fear. From the beginning, Divya had looked quite calm and seemed to be enjoying this hunt in the dark. But the sight of the grave had brought on a slight fear in her too. We were so engrossed with the crosses that we actually missed out the real reason why we were there. We again heard the cry and this time it was right below us. We looked down and the sight that met us was a most unusual one.
On the bank of the pond was sitting a small cute boy. He was wearing a golden dress. There was a strange aura surrounding the small boy. We both were amazed. We had read a lot about fairies and goblins in Hans Andersen’s and Grimm’s fairy tales. But never thought we will actually see one. Near the boy were a number of sparkling beads. We didn’t know who he was. Divya pulled my hand and we started descending the mound and heading towards him. As we went nearer, we saw that he was very fair and handsome. He had dark curly hair. The boy was crying and his tears as they fell on the sand were glowing. These were the sparkling beads that I had seen earlier. Near him lay a golden ball. We went and sat beside him. Seeing us, he stopped crying, and smiled. We both felt pleased and smiled back.
We wanted to talk to him but both of us were spellbound by this wonderful sight that we just sat there looking at the boy. He offered us his ball. Divya took it and gave it to me. When I took it, I realised that it was not a ball at all, but some kind of fruit. The fruit looked delicious and suddenly I realised how hungry and thirsty I was. I went over to the pond and drank my fill and then called Divya also to come and have water.
“It must be very late”, I thought, “and everyone at home must be looking out for us. We have found what we came looking for and now we must return. I have to somehow convince Divya.” I then ate the half of that fruit and looked up to see that the boy was sitting on Divya’s lap and telling her something. It all sounded gibberish to me, but strangely Divya was nodding her head as though she understood everything he said. I asked her, “What is he saying Divya? Are you able to understand him? Which language is that? I am not able to understand him”. But she didn’t take any notice of what I said. Her eyes seemed to glow and she seemed to be in some other world.
I stood up to go to her, but felt dizzy and fell down. I don’t know what happened after that for when I woke up, I was in my room. My parents said that they had found me near the pond. It seems I kept saying in my unconscious state about a cute boy and Divya. They found Divya near the graveyard. She too was blabbering but no one could understand her.
I narrated the whole incident, or rather whatever I could remember, to my parents. From their faces it was obvious no one believed even a single word I said. Divya had completely lost her memory. She was not recognising anyone – her parents, grandparents, not even Ammu, her younger sister. She still seemed to be in a trance. I went up to her, tried to talk to her but she didn’t seem to hear me or see me. Seeing her condition I started crying, “It is that little boy! It is that little boy. He must have done something”, I screamed and between sobs I told her parents the whole incident. They consoled me and told me everything will be alright but it was apparent that they too didn’t believe my story.
I tried my level best to tell everyone what I said is the truth. Looking back, I realise, coming from a small kid, a story like this will never be believed. It would just be considered a fragment of imagination or that the kid is reading too many fairy tales.
She was taken to a psychiatrist, and was pronounced mentally affected. To this day, she is undergoing treatment. She was admitted to a Special Care Centre. In the last twenty years, she has improved a great deal. She started talking – asking for water, food etc. She smiles occasionally but is moody most of the time. But she has completely forgotten her past. She still doesn’t identify anyone. You will find her gazing in the distance, immersed in her own world. Is she waiting for that little boy to come to her ? I don’t know, all I know is that I have completely lost my dear friend who never used to stop chatting except to eat and sleep.
I take her out for evening strolls. Whenever the village fair comes, I take her to see the fair, hoping something or someone will trigger a reaction in her, some positive response will come, and she will remember all of us – fervently hoping and praying that my dear old Divya will return to me and chide me for “whining”.
After that incident my parents cautioned me not to mention it to anyone lest I be stamped a lunatic. The whole incident is still a mystery to me. Did we actually see all that or was I just hallucinating? My father said that when he found me, there was a half-eaten Guava lying beside me. Was that the golden fruit? Had the child in me imagined and painted the whole incident with colours of rainbow to make it appear surreal? But then how can Divya’s condition be explained? And how did I faint? A whole lot of questions to which neither me nor anyone has found an answer yet. All I can say is that this must have happened, for the whole scene is etched in my memory.
Suddenly something hit my feet and shook me out of my reverie, it was a golden fruit – the golden fruit. Terrified, I looked in the direction from which it had come, and I saw Divya sitting under a bush and small cute boy sitting on her lap. Her face had lit up, she was smiling, her eyes had shed that lost look and were glowing and she seemed to be very normal, and as I watched in horror, the boy started talking to her in some strange tongue and she nodding her head….
- Lakshmi Ananthasubramanian
*Rama Namam – a prayer verse praising Lord Rama