What the old man heard

“How’s the cocoa?” the old man asked before taking a sip of his drink. He sat on the carpet close beside the fireplace.

“It’s delicious.” the little girl grinned. Her initial reserve slowly disintegrated as she got more comfortable around the old man.

“So,” began the old man, “do you wanna tell me what you saw?”

“Wouldn’t you rather know where I am from?” the little girl offered.

“Oh, yeah that too. I thought you’re gonna tell me all that along with whatever you saw.” the old man’s eyes sparkled with suppressed anticipation.

“Okay. I will.” the little girl gulped down the last bit of her drink and put the mug down on the small table that stood beside the armchair.

“I live with my aunty in a village close by. I go school there too. And I come to the forest a lot to play with my friends.”

“I figured you must’ve came from the village.” the old man interjected.

“Aunty always warned me not to go too deep inside the forest.” guilt washed over her small face.”My aunty has to work late sometimes. Janesha sneaks out of her home and we run to the forest to play with the fireflies.” she continued, trying not to think about how much trouble she was going to be in. “There’s a magical lake too, if you go a little further. We throw rocks at it and it glows!”

“My aunty’s going to be late tonight and I finished my homework and chores early. There was still light outside, so we thought we could go inside the forest a little more than we usually do. We were hoping to find some cute bunnies. Oh, or deers with horns like glow sticks.”

“Don’t they tell you kids tales about the dangers of venturing out too much?” the old man shook his head with disapproval. “Back in my days, they told us there were wolves who smelled brats as soon as the sun began to set. They would devour our bones if we went anywhere close to the forest after dark.”

“No, Ms Diya taught us we don’t have wolves in our forest.” the little girl stated as a matter of factly. Her face suddenly became alive with excitement as she recalled something, “but they tell us stories about an invisible line that only appears…”

“…once during a full moon every decade when the flowers with obsidian petals appear.” the old man finished. “They still tell you that, huh.”

“You know that story!” the little girl exclaimed, “I always wonder what happened to the boy.”

“Well, I never heard of no boy in the story.” the old man said, straightening his legs on the carpet.

“But that’s the best part!” she didn’t hide the disappointment in her voice. “You know, the boy who saw the flowers and followed their trail into the forest.”

Everything about the old man hardened for a moment. His grey eyes became cold and distant. He got up and walked towards the window, lifting the curtain to look at the moon. His features softened and his eyes regained their sad undertones.

“Do tell me more about this boy.” the old man urged, letting go of the curtain. The sudden change in his behaviour confused the little girl but her eagerness to tell the story made her pay no attention to it.

“They say the boy woke up in the middle of the night to relieve himself. But when he got out of bed he saw the window was open and the moonlight was especially bright. Slowly, he peered out the window to see a trail of flowers with petals the colour of obsidian growing all the way from his window and disappearing into the forest. He went to wake his mother up and when they returned, there was nothing outside other than darkness.” she paused, her eyes wide as if she was hearing the story for the first time.

“His mother told him he must’ve dreamt it and closed the window shut. When morning came, his mother realised the house was too quiet. She went to check if the boy was still sleeping. When she went into his room, she found an empty bed with no sign of her boy. The morning sun poured in through the open windows. At first, she thought he went outside to play but then she spotted a single petal lying at the edge of the bed and she knew. She knew that her little boy was gone.”


A Continuation ofΒ Dance of the cosmic whales.
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