Once there was a young boy who used to live in the shadows. While he was alive, the same shadows horrified him, they haunted his dreams. But now, in death, they provided him sanctuary and he wasn’t afraid of them anymore. It is really fascinating how one’s perspectives change once they are dead. Lingering among the shadows, he watched his friend, a little girl with cheeks of milk scent which stayed even after countless washes. He hated milk, but that scent was something he adored. That was the scent of home.
While he was alive, they used to run to the field while either of their mothers bickered out of their many frustrations. They laid down under that big Mahogany, fearing it’s big seeds holding within, a peculiar type seed of aerodynamic shape, which when dropped traversed rotatory pathway, but when licked- why would they ever lick it, they too didn’t know- imparted a revolting bitterness. There, in that shade, they hid each other in an embrace or in dreams till silence fell in their households. Then they’ll go back, sit together near the kerosene lamp that emits suffocating yet aromatic fumes, make shadow dogs and shadow birds, find out if their pencil lead is as melty as mothers’ red ballpen fillers creating abstract plastic structures all over the red oxide floors- a scientific temperament which sooner or later invoked an overt teacher-y wrath. They, in secret, roll a sheet of paper into a ‘cigarette’, light it, pretend they are the leaders of the ‘Thalassery Underworld’ and watch tiny insects come and immolate themselves in the flame. After their mothers make them eat whatever rudimentary meal they have prepared, the children will pick up the burned remains of the insects and bury them underneath the then infertile mango tree and bless them to be reborn as fireflies. They too wished to die and be reborn as fireflies. Two small fireflies that flew together shedding light in some other lost kid’s dreams.
In the dead of night, insomniac, the duo will sneak out to the nearby stream where they catch fish with towels with large holes, which provided the fish with enough leeway to escape the nightmarish and muddy brandy bottle fate. There, while wondering at the zig-zag motion of ‘Ezhuthachans’ on the moonlit waters, they planned their escape. She knew the way till the Thalassery railway station, they only had to find a clever excuse to fool Gopi Ettan of the rusty and green Ambika bus. From there what? She had no idea. He knew how to take a bus ticket and much to his pride, a train ticket too. “You just go to the window titled “tickets” and say, two tickets to Kozhikode. It’s that easy”. Since they both didn’t know how to get down at Kozhikode and what to do after that, their plan was in a state of eternal dormancy. Their planning almost always ended in the girl’s graphic narrative of the multitudinous “child snatchers” living in Kozhikode railway station who take unaware children, scoop out their eyes and make them beg in bus stands, railway stations, and carnivals. The graphic account, needless to say, scared the lives out of both the listener and the narrator. Demotivated and scared they’ll run back to their house, holding hands and too afraid to even look back at the rustling of leaves which was apparently made by a child snatcher, observing them. Jumping on to the bed, disregarding the callousness of the one who filled the cotton, they’ll cover themselves with a blanket and another one for extra safety, and lay hugging each other. As their eyes drooped shut they promised each other to run away one day, evading every child snatcher. They kept promising each other every day. They even made the same promise when the little boy fell ill out of an unknown disease. The little girl tended to him as he laid, struggling to breath.
“Get well by tomorrow. Day after we’ll run away”
“I have money for tickets”
“Snatched from Teacher’s bag?”
“I’ll sleep now. Day after tomorrow we’ll leave”
“Don’t be scared ketto, I won’t let the child snatcher take you”
That evening, while the boy was rushed to the emergency room, the little girl kept herself occupied packing their Scoobee-Day bags for their grand escape. Lots of Balarama, two packets of Horlicks biscuits vallyachan had brought the other day, one umbrella since the teacher needed the other one to get to school, and three or four inlands to write to their mothers. She was worried if she had left something unpacked when their mothers had taken the boy to the pyre. The little girl didn’t understand the meaning of that empty bed. Or the swollen eyelids of their mothers, she assumed it was the fumes of the kerosene lamp. “On edthuu? We have to go fishing.” The lack of another pair of hands at the towel was a blessing for the fishes at the stream, but after a while they too got sentimental and voluntarily entered the drooping, mishandled towel the little girl had put up. As usual she put those fishes in a cheap brandy bottle, careful not to close the cap too tight. But that bottle and fishes were going to be the latest victim of Aysha, their cat. She told Aysha, “Don’t eat these fish. Chekkan varumbo, enakk ith avan kodkkanm”. Needless to say, Aysha paid no heed to her sentimentalities and as soon as the girl left, Aysha attacked that muddy Courrier Napoleon bottle and those fishes with a pure feline indifference. At night, as she buried the incinerated insects, she asked them to send a message to her friend.
“Tell him the bag is ready”
Living in the shadows he often tried hard to extend his arm and touch her, to pinch scare her, to kiss her milky cheeks and say something. It pained him to see she had to hide herself. At the peak of sentiments he tried to get out of the shadows and run towards her. But all of his attempts were, needless to say, futile. They belonged to different worlds now. But there was a doorway. An option for him to visit her. Dreams. He tried to hug her in her dreams. But her dreams were bright, full of hope and devoid of eye scooping child snatchers or incinerated insects. How could he, a shadow could inhabit such a dream world. He tried and failed. Tried and failed. Again. And again. And again. Teardrops like black pearls rolled out of his eyes and disappeared into the indistinguishable background. The much he wished, the much he cried.
Years passed by, the world stayed indifferent and cruel. The girl’s dreams became less and less bright. Ominous creatures bearing faces of men haunted her dreams. The boy watched, helplessly, his dearest friend crying herself to sleep. He wanted to lay beside her, hug her and promise they’ll run away. But how could he!.
One day, in the darkest dream, the little boy visited his friend. She recognized him. They hugged, like how two estranged sunbeams find each other after multiple reflections on the ocean. The girl still had that packed bag.
“I ate the biscuits, ketto”
“We’ll buy more. Because you ate, you’ll get one and I’ll get two”
“Vaaa… let’s go”
The sun was brighter than usual the next morning. Anyone who watched was blinded for seconds. Sunlight slowly started filling the world. Cars, buses and trains lay floating on the light. A drowning rooster let out a lament. The room too was flooding. All the items swam in the light. The world outside drowned in a shining tsunami of pure indifference. Slowly, slowly the tide receded. And the drowned, laid motionless and bloated. The sky witnessed the cleansing and blushed purple. At the horizon, where the tide receded to, was a boat, made out of paper with careless crayon marking. In that boat, sat two shadows, and slowly they merged. The last of the light vanished in the horizon, gone as it came. For a second, darkness fell. The lost souls, who were gazing at the horizon, saw two little dots of light flying away. Two fireflies.