Chapter 1 : The First Encounter
It was a fine morning. While I waited for my school bus, I thought about the wonderful day I was going to have today. I was ten. It was Aditi’s birthday. Aditi was the most popular girl in my class. I liked her and wanted her to be my friend. So I had decided that I would surprise her with a pretty gift and then may be she would become friends with me. My parents had not started giving me pocket money yet so I had to make do with something from home. I had spent the whole evening thinking about the right gift for her that I could find at home. Then I realised my parents kept some antique stuff locked in the attic. I always found them enchanting. I decided that any of those items would be perfect. But procuring it was difficult. My parents did not keep the room locked but I was strictly instructed not to enter the room. They never told me the reason why so I would often argue with my mother who would tell me to wait for the right time. But the birthday present was a pressing matter and I could not wait for the right time. I devised a plan. The only way to go in was to wait till everyone had gone to bed and then sneak into the room. I thought that had my parents really wished to keep me away from the room they would have kept it locked.
I was very excited with the prospect to find a gift that I did not eat at all at dinner. My mother used to make me have my dinner earlier than others because she said I was young and I needed more sleep than the adults. Not eating did not help. My mother became worried that I might be ill and fussed over me more than usual. She even suggested that I sleep in her room that night. It took a lot of reassuring to let her leave me alone in my room. It might have been around midnight when everyone went to sleep. I waited for another half an hour before I could go on my mission. This was the first time when I was going to do something which was not allowed. My heart was thumping and my stomach made such noise that I thought it would wake up everyone. My blood raced through my veins. I silently crawled through the corridor. Then, I thought that crawling might help me hide if anyone wakes up. I reached the stairs that led to the attic. I looked around to see if anyone had woken up and then ran up the stairs as quietly as I could. I slowly pushed the doors to the attic room and entered stealthily. I was so nervous that I had half hoped that someone would be waiting for me up in the room and I would be caught. But the room was as silent as the moonlight which crept through the window. I looked around the room. There were many mysterious and old objects piled up in every corner of the room. In the center there was a large table with one leg missing. Its missed leg was replaced by a column of books arranged in order to support the table. On the table, there was still a larger pile of all kinds of odd things. They looked ancient as if dug from some archaeological site. For a moment I forgot why I was there and began to take in the beauty of things that lay neglected there. It was beyond my comprehension, then, that why these beautiful things did not adorn our otherwise simple sitting room. There were two beautiful lamps with illustrations of what I thought Arabian nights, a pair of beautiful hand crafted jute elephants, an ancient sword which shone in the moonlight as if it had just been taken out of the forge. An owl hooted nearby and I became aware of my purpose in the room. I decided to pick something from the table and to my delight on the left corner behind another beautiful music box lay a beautiful silver chain with a locket which was encrusted with small stones which looked like rubies. It was perfect. I took the locket and hurried out of the room. The journey back was difficult. I crossed the stairs and the hall easily but when I reached the door of my room I heard my mother’s voice.
“What are doing out of your room at this hour of night?”
I turned around and was sure to be scolded. I realised that I was standing in the dark and my mother might not have noticed the locket in my hand. I quickly passed it in my pocket and said
“I was hungry so I thought may be I could find something in the fridge mom.”
“I knew you would be hungry sooner and later. What did you eat?”
“Nothing I went halfway but was scared so came back.”
My mother started laughing and said “Come with me.”
I obeyed her and went to the kitchen where she served me a chapatti and curry. I ate in silence. I could feel that her eyes were on me. She had suspected me or not I did not know but I dare not look in her eyes. I was scared that if I made eye contact with her she would know what I had done. After I finished my food she escorted me back to my room, put me in bed and kissed me good night. I was happy. I had the perfect gift for Aditi and my mom didn’t know that I had sneaked to the attic. I slept soundly till my mom woke me up in the morning. Sun was shining through the curtains. I looked at the clock in my room. I was late. I could not miss school that day. Before my mom could say anything I jumped from my bed and ran toward the bathroom.
After an hour, I was standing at the bus stop. My mother had insisted on accompanying me to the bus stop. She was sure that something was wrong with me. I had never shown such eagerness to go to school before. I prohibited her from coming saying that other kids in the bus would laugh at me if my mother accompanied me to the bus stop. I felt like a grown up then. Those were the happiest days of my life. I had no worries in the world. I was like the wind which blew wherever it want. But wind is also directed by other factors and I was too young to realise that.
I waited for the classes to start. Whenever it was some student’s birthday our class teacher would call that student to the front of the class and then the whole class would sing the birthday song. After that the birthday boy or girl would distribute chocolates and students who brought gifts would hand them over. It happened the same way today. When my turn came I gave the locket wrapped in a brown paper which I had torn from the back of a children’s magazine. Aditi smiled and said thanks. After this the teacher called Aditi back to the front of the class and asked her to open the presents. It was a proud moment for me. I knew nobody would have given her something so pretty as my locket. I waited for her to open my present. I could already hear the gasps and awes of other students. After a few pencil boxes and fancy hair clips Aditi picked up my present and began unwrapping it. I could not wait to see the expression on her face when she saw my present. And what happened next was so sudden that I could not understand it completely and it took me almost an hour to realise what had happened.
What I later understood from my class teacher when she was trying to narrate the incidence to the doctor in our school that the moment Aditi touched the locket she started screaming as if she had touched something on fire. She fell backwards and convulsed. After a while she fell silent but her body was burning with fever. Her hand was tightly closed around the locket and whatever the teacher tried Aditi did not let it go. She was immediately taken to the hospital wing where she now lay unconscious. For some strange reason everyone believed that it was the locket which had done this to her and as a result I was asked to wait outside the principal’s cabin while my parents arrived. I was ashamed and scared. Not because of what had happened with Aditi but because now my mother would know what I was upto last night. I knew the locket could not have done anything. I also touched it last night but nothing happened to me. I waited for what felt like an eternity. When my parents arrived they went straight to the principal. Our principal was a middle-aged woman who was stern but also motherly. My class teacher was also inside the cabin and she narrated the whole incident before my parents. I was scared to death now. My mother knew. They called me inside. First thing my mother asked was
“Are you okay Anvay?”
I nodded. My mother saw the dried up tears on my cheek. She asked me “Where did you get the locket honey?”
I could merely mumble “attic”. I don’t know if my teacher or principal saw this but I saw my parents exchange a significant look. She now turned to my teacher and said “So you say that it’s because of the locket that the little gilr is ill now?” My teacher said “Yes”
“But how is it possible that nothing happened to my son when he touched it?”
“He must have done something to it before packing it.”
My mother smiled politely and said “He is a ten year old boy Miss Chatterjee. A ten year old boy can not possibly do something so wrong to cause such a pain to someone. I am sure you are not suggesting that my son knows black magic.”
Miss Chatterjee fumbled for words and for the first time I raised my eyes to look at my mother. I was surprised that instead of scolding me for stealing she was defending me. My mother then said “Can I meet the child?”
My principal asked Miss Chatterjee to take her to the hospital wing. My father remained behind to talk to Aditi’s parents when they arrived. I tagged along with my mother. I could sense that things were lightening up. After Miss Chatterjee led us to the room where Aditi lay unconscious, for some strange reason she left us alone. The doctor was also not in the room. My mother sat beside Aditi and put her hand on her forehead and began murmuring under her breath. I did not know what to do. I did not know what my mother was doing. Before I could ask anything something clicked and the locket fell out of Aditi’s hand and she opened her eyes. My amazement was beyond expression. I just stared foolishly from my mother to Aditi. I was brought back to my senses by the arrival of Aditi’s parents. They were a set of most kind looking people I had ever seen after my parents. Aditi’s mother came running beside her and kissed her on the forehead. She asked her if she was ok to which Aditi nodded positively. She then turned toward my mother and said “You must be Anvay’s mother. I am really sorry. You and your son had to go through so much trouble. I don’t know how can Miss Chatterjee blame a little boy for what happened to Aditi.”
My mother smiled and said “Oh it’s ok. She must have panicked. Who in their right mind would say such a thing.” And they began chatting about what may have caused Aditi’s sudden break down. I stood there silently watching while my father too began a conversation with Aditi’s father. Soon after the principal came and apologized to both our parents and said that both of us could take leave for the day. Aditi was taken by her parents and I followed mine to the car. In the car I thought that my father might have noticed what I had done and scold me but he didn’t. He seemed to be in an unusually happy mood and asked me if I wanted ice-cream. I wanted to look like I was repenting so I refused. However, I could not contain my curiousity and said “Dad you know mom is a magician!”
My mother laughed and said “No I am not.”
“Yes, you are. What you did in there in the hospital wing was magic mom. How did you do that?”
“Oh honey, I didn’t do anything. I just prayed for her.”
“No mom. You were not praying. You did magic. I heard you were chanting something.”
“Anvay, shut up. There’s no such thing as magic. And I was praying.”
“No mom, there is magic in this world. There is magic everywhere. You don’t believe me but what you did was magic. May be you don’t know it yet. May be you are a secret magician and someday somebody will come along and tell you about your powers.”
Both my parents started laughing. “Oh, honey you and your stories. But listen, next time when you need gifts for your friends you will ask me and will never go to the attic in future. Ok?”
I was silent. I felt ashamed of myself. I could not speak. The gulit of having lied to my mom enveloped me again.
“Yes mom. Ok.”