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 of Dance of the cosmic whales.

Dance of the cosmic whales

“What did you see?” the old man enquired. His voice deep and solemn, “speak up, girl.”

“I saw a, a whale. A whale made of stars, swimming in…nothing.” mumbled the little girl. She didn’t look into the eyes of her interrogator. Her eyes were fixed on the twilight.

“Child, I’ve lived in these mountains for years. So many lonely years, to…to see this. My sanity girl, give me back my sanity!” the old man howled with bitter laughter which frightened the little girl. Her shoulder shook as she began to cry silently.

“No, no. I am so sorry!” the old man cleared his throat and kneeled down in front of the little girl. He patted the little girl’s head with an oversized palm. “There, there. Don’t you cry, sweetheart. I wouldn’t hurt ya. I can act a little crazy sometimes, sorry.”

The little girl looked down at her feet and rocked on her heels, sniffling every now and again.

“I promise, I won’t do it again. Forgive me?” he apologised in a gentle and sincere manner.

She finally raised her eyes to look at the old man and smiled. The moonlight glistened on the traces of snot and tears left behind. The old man gave her an old handkerchief to clean her face with.

“Wanna come inside and have a cup of hot cocoa?” he asked, gesturing towards the small wooden cabin he called home. “It’s freezing out here.”

“Sure.” she whispered, blowing her nose on the handkerchief. Her voice was still shaky from crying.

“That’ll be lovely.” she added, louder this time.

They headed towards the door of the cabin which stood only a few steps away from them. The old man held the door open for the little girl to pass through. He might’ve minimised his contact with civilisation as much as possible but he never forgot his manners. She thanked him while he closed the door and hanged his jacket and scarf. Then he gave the little girl a blanket to wrap around herself and told her to make herself at home. She took a sit on a small armchair in front of the fireplace while he made the hot chocolates.


My writing goal at this stage is simply to write anything so that it becomes a part of my everyday routine.

Loss

I glanced at the reflection of the clock hanging on the wall above my desk. Great, I am going to be late for school again. I quickly adjusted my hair, grabbed my backpack and rushed outside.

The street was quiet in this early morning. A car passed silently every now and again. There were light gray clouds floating in the sky above. It was drizzling. I wasn’t bothered by the cold raindrops falling on me as I walked towards the woods. The temperature was comfortable and I welcomed the occasional chilly breeze.

Even though I knew I was going to be late, I didn’t bother rushing. Instead, I decided to take a shortcut through the woods. There was a clear dirt path which lead exactly to the back entrance. It is usually locked but the fence surrounding it is low enough for me to climb safely.

I reached the woods and paused to appreciate the fresh air coming from it. I am not usually into nature but there was something about the woods today. It felt alive and dead at the same time. Droplets of water were dripping from the vibrant green leaves of the trees. The greenness made the place appear very alive. However, except the sound of the dripping water, the place was dead quiet.

I continued walking on the muddy path, silently cussing at myself for wearing white trainers. I stopped in front of a puddle and stared at my own reflection. My thick black hair was slightly out of place. It was parted sideways as always, but some shorter strands of hair invaded my forehead. I pushed them back in place with my left hand. My dark gray eyes stared eerily back at me.

I started walking again. The woods felt unusually secluded today. Then again, it’s never really a busy place. The cold breeze felt sad as it came and went, making the leaves move ever so slightly. The wet leaves appeared as though they were weeping. Raindrops continuously dripped from them.

Relief washed over me when I reached the lake in the middle of the woods. It was only a few minutes walk to the school from there. While I was passing the lake, a voice stopped me, ‘are you leaving?’

The voice was soft and sad. At first, I thought the person wasn’t talking to me. But when I looked back I saw a girl looking at me. She looked both young and old at the same time. She was soaking wet. She gazed at me with deep set eyes filled with sorrow.

‘Are you alright?’ I asked.
‘How can I ever be alright? HOW? They don’t know! They will never know!’ She started sobbing.
I was seriously concerned at this point. Was she crazy? Was she in danger? ‘Who won’t know what? Are you in danger?’
She stopped sobbing, gaining more control now. ‘I am sorry. It’s just that nobody wants to help me. Will you help me? Will you listen to my story?’

I knew I shouldn’t be talking to strangers and I was already late for school. But I couldn’t just leave her. She appeared distraught and ill. There was something helpless about her. What kind of human being would I be if I abandoned someone in the middle of the woods?

‘I couldn’t go out for work that whole day because of the war outside. Neither could he return with food and money. I had two children. Twins. A boy and a girl. I loved them more than anything. Just like any other mother would, maybe more.’ She sighed and took a moment to stare at the sky. I wondered why she was telling me this. Her face appeared very pained and I didn’t have the heart to interrupt her.

She continued, ‘The weather was exactly like this. We had no food in our little wooden box we called home. My children went hungry the whole day and never complained once. They were such little sweethearts. They would tell me, ‘Don’t worry mummy, daddy will bring food for us soon.’ I couldn’t just let them starve. They were only four!’

‘So, when it was getting dark and there wasn’t any sign of him returning, I went out to search for food. I sneaked into the military camp in this woods where they had more than enough food. I knew it was a risky decision but I was desperate.’

Poor girl, I mean woman. She is not from here, I guess. Wait, she said this woods. There was a military camp here? When was this? I thought to myself, feeling a bit confused.

‘I stole some of their food. But someone saw me and raised the alarm. They blocked my way out. They chased after me and I ran as fast as I could. And I never saw them again.’ She finished and started sobbing.

I was confused. This must have happened a long time ago. I couldn’t remember hearing about any such events ever taking place. But my heart swelled with sympathy for the poor woman. Her countenance was so distressed, it appeared as though she carried the world on her back. Maybe she mistook this woods for some other place. ‘I am really sorry about your loss. I believe the police can help you find your children.’

She suddenly grabbed my shirt and shook. ‘Oh my babies! Tell me what happened to them? Will they ever remember me? Will they know that I didn’t just abandon them? Did they survive? Did they live a full life? Did my husband return? Would he know I didn’t just leave them? Would he tell my babies how much I loved them? Would he? Tell me! Please!’ She pleaded, sitting on her knees and sobbing uncontrollably.

I didn’t know what to do. Nothing I could say would lessen her grief. So once again I suggested going to the police to which she answered ‘Don’t you understand, I can’t!’ I was more confused, ‘Why not? How did you escape from the army camp?’

She looked at me with red, swollen eyes. ‘Because I never did. I didn’t surrender myself to those animals. I chose to die with dignity. I drowned here.’

It took me a few seconds which seemed like an eternity to process the information. Wait if she died then…this must be some kind of joke. Then why was I filled with dread? Her hands were so cold when she grabbed my shirt before, I could still feel the coolness.

‘We named the girl Lina Ashdown and the boy Keith Ashdown. Someone should remember my lovely babies.’ She said smiling a bitter smile. Her face became paler than ever. She stared at me with those heavy, melancholic eyes and vanished into thin air.

I was too much in shock to do anything at all. All I could do was stand and stare at the empty spot where she once stood. My brain only registered the word Ashdown. Ashdown. My name was Delilah Ashdown.