Home and not alone

Leena Hazarika | Updated on October 30, 2020

Dusk arrives: I, too, began collecting little branches from the shrubs. I cannot recollect for how long I stayed there   -  ILLUSTRATION: LEENA HAZARIKA

A village girl out on a joyful errand ends up having some unexpected company

The musical call of the koels woke me up from my afternoon nap. While my father was busy preparing for Goru Bihu by cubing vegetables for the saak, my mother was frying the first batch of sugary rice cakes, whose aroma engulfed the entire house within seconds.

Beta, you need to go and fetch some branches of wild hops before it gets dark!” my grandfather spoke out the moment I walked into our kitchen.

“Yes, Koka, I am going now!” I idly took out a cloth bag from the wardrobe.

Picking up wild hops has always been my thing. As a child, I would go with my grandfather but since he is well into his 90s now, I am solely in charge of the task.

Yesterday, during our lunch recess in school, Sukanya, my best friend, informed me that Munin uncle from our village had an untouched plot of land overrun with wild hops. And, so, after a lengthy conversation, we planned to visit the place at around four in the evening.

As per our plan, we met near the three-way intersection of the main road, and then we walked almost an hour towards the north end of our village. By the time we reached the plot, the sky had turned crimson.

“Let’s hurry up. It’s going to get dark soon,” Sukanya said, as she rushed off towards the far left corner of the land. I, too, began collecting little branches from the shrubs. I cannot recollect for how long I stayed there, but when my bag filled up, I looked back to find myself all alone in the dusk. I called out to Sukanya numerous times, but she didn’t answer. In the meantime, it was getting darker and darker. Besides the stridulant chirps of the crickets and the little twinkling fireflies, the atmosphere was uncomfortably quiet.

“Maybe she has gone back home!” I thought to myself and quickly walked towards the way out. There were no signs of any human dwellings nearby. The plot was located in front of a wide rice field followed by dense woods.

Nonetheless, just when I thought that I was all alone, I heard a faint rustle behind me. I turned back and flashed the torchlight in the direction of the sound but, except for a few shrubs swaying in the wind, I didn’t see anything. I cursed my own lack of courage and continued walking towards my village.

The wind was slowly getting more powerful and I could see streaks of lightning far away. My small torchlight fought against the engulfing dark, and I hastened my pace.

“The Bordoisila has finally started flying back to her mother’s place,” I muttered to myself.

I had nearly covered half the distance when I heard the same rustling sound again. Although this time it was coming from the woods on both sides of the trail. When I swiftly directed my torchlight towards the sound, my body trembled with fear and my legs felt wobbly. I started sweating in true panic when I noticed a massive human-like headless beast standing behind the bushes. My mouth went dry and the hair on the back of my neck gradually stood up when I saw those round sinister and white eyes on its chest. They were glaring at me.

I don’t know how long I stood there, but all of a sudden, when the creature darted away into the woods amid outbursts of numbing laughter and menacing shrieks, I came to my wits and started racing home.

But to my horror, the shrieks continued, and, out of nowhere, a blinding light appeared in front of me. By that time, I was already so frightened that I screamed at the top of my lungs and fell down on the ground. I could feel nothing but sheer terror. However, to my utter surprise, a warm hand stroked my head and a familiar voice spoke out, “Where were you? I have been looking for you all around the village. Your grandfather and mother are getting anxious. Let’s go! You are getting more mischievous day by day.”

It was my father. I opened my eyes and stared at his concerned face for a moment before embracing him. Later that night, when I told my parents about the strange encounter, they told me that when my father went to Sukanya’s home looking for me, she told him about our plan. But her mother didn’t let her go, and consequently I went there alone. Though I was not entirely alone.

Leena Hazarika is a writer and artist based in Assam

Published on October 30, 2020

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