- Outside the fern cave, the sun was still out; the butterflies still flitted about in the big blue sky. They came to rest on the orange wild lilies. She did not see them through her tears
Her mother was very good at embroidering and knitting. Today after her morning bath, her mother dressed her in a pair of white woolen slacks with lime-green specks and a matching sweater
Feb 26, 2017-He was a lean, tall man with a big black moustache, in his late twenties. He had a full head of black hair, almost a mullet but not quite. His skin was swarthy and you could not call him handsome. He was just a tall man.
She was a little girl of just three. She had short straight hair and a sweet baby face. She liked picking flowers and spotting animals in the clouds. Her father taught her that.
Her mother was very good at embroidering and knitting. Today after her morning bath, her mother dressed her in a pair of white woolen slacks with lime-green specks and a matching sweater. Mother had knitted them on a borrowed knitting machine.
On her feet the little girl wore flat white shoes with a red bow. It had a strap to keep it in place. She liked them because they were soft and squishy inside. She jumped around in them in the yard, trying to catch leaves falling from the trees. The fall air was filled with her happy squeals.
He was a prodigal son coming back home from the city. If he had lived a notorious life there, no one knew anything about it. There was some rumor of him going to prison among the village women, “Petty theft I hear…” they whispered, but his doting aging parents and good nature of the village people hushed up any remnants of the rumor over time. He lived further up from her house. In the mountains, houses are built like that; you are either above or below someone on the hill. The gravelly main road passed by the small wooden houses meandering like a snake. As you went about your errands, you could say a quick hello to your neighbors or chat or gossip in length.
Mother was washing clothes in the yard. The fragrant yellow climbing roses on the wooden gate perfumed the air. The afternoon sun shone like a fried egg sunny side up.
“Washing is best when the sun is out,” thought mother. She was enjoying the day subtly smelling of laundry detergent and roses. She had to hurry, the evenings usually got windy.
He was walking down the village when he saw the mother washing clothes and the little girl playing in the yard beside her. The washed sheets were fluttering on the line.
“Namaste didi!” he cheerfully greeted mother, smiling broadly.
“Oho! You are busy washing clothes I see,” he observed giving a friendly smile from under his thick black mustache.
Mother looked up from her washing and greeted back,
“Namaste bhai! Oh yes! Today I’m really busy. Where are you headed?”
“I am just out for some fresh air didi,” he replied eyeing the little girl happily playing in the yard.
“Looks like you have no time to play with your daughter today?”
“Oho bhai, today I don’t even have time to eat, your Bhenaju has gone to the market!”
“Do you want me to take nani out of your hair for sometime didi? I’m free today. Let me take her for a walk around the village while you do your chores without worrying,” he suggested offhandedly.
Mother thought about it for some seconds and asked her daughter, “Do you want to go for a walk with uncle nani?
The little girl was tired of catching leaves and also tired of looking at mother working; she said yes.
With a few words of caution to uncle about bringing her daughter back in an hour, she sent the uncanny duo off while she rushed to finish chores inside the house.
“Where shall we go?” he asked softly. He offered the little girl his long index finger. “Shall we become thieves and go into the neighbor’s vegetable patch and pull out some sweet radish?” he whispered naughtily, his eyes twinkling.
She giggled with glee.
She took his long index finger and together they walked towards the village. She forgot mother as she followed her chatty willing companion.
He took her up towards the direction of his house at first. Everyone in the village was out doing something or the other. Beating rugs, knitting, washing clothes or eating oranges in the sun. It was a rare sunny day in the mountains.
Everyone saw the duo and greeted cheerfully “Oho where are you two going on such a fine day?”
“We are going to steal some radishes!” she said truthfully; everyone laughed.
“Bring me some back ok nani?” teased Kaila baje, the village old man, laughing toothlessly.
The two continued on their walk. He took her up from the village, out towards a dirt road that led to another village. They chatted like two monkeys. He gave into her every whim; picked her flowers along the way and even let her pull his mustache. He was the most charming companion.
The narrow dirt road was quiet. A few yellow butterflies flitted to and fro. She squinted her eyes and tried to follow their flight until they went out of sight into blue sky. On sides of the road, ancient ferns and bright orange wild lilies walled the hillside.
“Nani come with me, I will show you a hiding place!” he whispered to her excitedly.
Up above them at a distance, they heard a cow moo twice.
He led her up the side of the hill where people had trampled and made a rough path, close to the main road. Fern leaves, dry grass and prickly twigs caught on her sweater and pulled her hair. She held tightly to his long fingers and followed. He walked in a couple of long strides and stopped in front of a hidden hole in the thick fern thicket. She grinned as she saw the hole open up to a big roomy space made up of ferns.
“Is this the hiding place?” she asked looking up at the tall man.
“Yes, go in!” he urged her, smiling gently and nodding encouragingly.
Still holding his finger, she entered into the fern-cave walking on soft dry grass inside. He crouched down and entered after her.
She looked up at the roof of the fern-cave. Sunlight trickled in through the many spaces between the leaves and shone down on her face like golden threads. It was cooler in there.
“Basabasa nani,” he urged. Please sit down.
Both sat cross-legged on the soft ground of fern leaves and dry grass. She giggled in the secret hiding place that smelled of earth.
“You know what would be great here?” he whispered.
“What?” she whispered back.
“What kind of game?” she inquired, a smile forming at the corner of her mouth, her eyes round and bright.
“Hmm if you take off your slacks for me, I will take you to pull the radishes after! How does that sound?” he suggested, as if it was the best game ever.
“Why?” she asked, little afraid, slowly getting up. It wasn’t what she expected.
“I just want you to do it only once,” he urged, gently tugging at the woolen slacks with the lime-green specks her mother had knitted.
All the time, he looked at her face encouraging.
She looked down at her slacks and the man trying to pull them down; they were getting dirty in the fern cave sitting on the dry grass.
“No” she whimpered in a small voice, tugging her slacks up while he tried to pull them down.
Something didn’t seem right.
She was not supposed to take off her clothes.
She didn’t want to.
She wanted her mother.
Uncle was still urging her to open her slacks one time only, gently promising they would go and pull some sweet radishes after.
She, truly scared now started crying with terror.
“No, no, I want to go home!” she brawled.
She wanted to go home to mother. Uncle urged her not to cry.
“Nani be quiet!” he whispered desperately.
She was just a child and did not understand how her friend had suddenly turned scary, even though he spoke softly and gently.
Suddenly outside on the dirt road, some murmurs of people’s voices could be heard.
“Ko chha? Who is there?” a man’s voice demanded loudly.
“ Is that a nani crying?” asked another to his companion.
They had heard the child crying from within the fern thicket.
“I think it’s coming from inside the thicket.”
“Let’s go and see who’s in there!” decided the first voice urgently.
As soon he heard that, uncle shot out of the fern cave and scrambled up the hill, undetected, hiding among the thick fern foliage leaving the little girl inside.
The men turned out to be monks from a nearby monastery. They came to the hole in the fern and saw a little girl, her face red and dripping with dirt, snot and tears.
She was still holding her slacks tightly and crying.
Outside the fern cave, the sun was still out; the butterflies still flitted about in the big blue sky. They came to rest on the orange wild lilies. She did not see them through her tears.
The monks walked her home. She saw mother’s washing fluttering in the breeze like prayer flags. Moments later, she would spot mother and run into her arms
crying and telling her how uncle scared her.
Mother would console her with soothing words, kisses, and caresses and tell her not to be afraid. But mother would let the cries of her traumatised daughter turn into a secret. She would never tell father, nor to any soul in the village for fear that her daughter’s reputation would be ruined forever. For fear that her father and the villagers would maul the man to death and people eventually would point fingers at her daughter.
“No harm was done, all is well, thank God for that,” mother would decide. She would handle everything.
The three year old knows it’s a secret now. She will never speak of it.
It will remain in her mind, like a scar from a bad fall, a visible reminder. When she becomes a woman and thinks back at the incident, understands what happened, she will wish she did not have this one memory.
She will go through mountains of clothes in her lifetime but she will never forget the white woolen slacks with the lime green specks that mother made.
Published: 26-02-2017 08:50
- Fern cave