Friday, November 12, 2010

Final Story

“They shut me up in Prose—
As when a little Girl.” -- Emily Dickinson.

In the corner of her treehouse, Emily thought about the colour of hunger. It was noon, and she had been up at the crack of dawn. She had not eaten breakfast, and she could see the bilious yellow vapour thickening around her. Her tummy rumbled, and she patted it twice to quieten it. It would not do to be heard.
A fat cicada fluttered past her like it was on a mission. Emily was tempted to whisper to it: “Family: Cicadidae, suborder: Homoptera, many genera.” She said it in her head.
Theo had had yet another spell. He was raving in his room. Mummy was running all over the house fetching things while Daddy stayed in Theo's room, looking at him with a supremely silly expression on his face. Emily had slipped out unnoticed. She had on her favourite powder blue jumper that day, and a red ribbon in her hair. She grew restless and climbed down the tree. Her trainers squelched in the mud as she ran the length of the farm, so she had to take them off until she reached the gate that led outside of the farm. Emily loved running. She ran like the wind -- her mother said it was a delight to watch her, she made it look so effortless. She had run in the 500 m Young Survivors Marathon and had beaten everyone else by a huge margin. All the families that lived on the Kwai Delta had come to watch, and those few families that still had children had enthusiastically participated.
Theo had said she made him imagine those airplanes that Daddy always talked about, the ones Daddy had flown before petrol had run out. Theo had flown in some of the very last airplane flights still open to the public before they shut them down completely.
She thought of Theo as she ran. And as she thought of him, she ran faster and farther from the farm. She didn't notice the people looking at her. She didn't even notice the gradual darkening of the sky, the gentle raindrops that began to fall. Emily could see Theo when they were both younger – Emily only five, and Theo twelve. Theo never raved then, he played football and laughed and had scabs on his knees. This one time, on his birthday, he had woken Emily up first thing in the morning, put her on his shoulders and taken her for a run around their old house. Emily was slowly feeling the pain in her legs, and she realized with a jolt how dark it was, how worried they all must be. They must be looking for her. A knot began to rise up in her stomach. She turned around and began to run back twice as hard, ignoring the pain in her legs, ignoring the rain falling steadily on her head.
You might say it was the stopping that changed everything. As Emily hurried home, her marvelous toes barely touching the ground, she began to slow down to stop for a second. Her six long braids were unraveling, and she paused to tighten the ribbon that tied them together. Pema and Rudy, who were there while it happened, described it as a quick flash of light that disappeared in a second, having hit Emily squarely on the head. Emily had then flown in the air and immediately crashed down with a dull thud. All Emily remembered was feeling like she had been hit by something big, and strong, and being sore all over after she regained consciousness.
She woke up in her own bed, surrounded by her anxious looking parents and about fifteen other people, including Pema and Rudy, who had helped to bring her home. Mummy had been peering at her with the special expression that was usually reserved for Theo when he had one of his “spells”.
Healer Rubart said that it was nothing to worry about, no bones had been broken, but the people who kept milling about her kicked up such a fuss that you'd think she was on the brink of death. Pema's mother had had an anxiety attack right there, in the living room, while several of the other adults had crying spells. Emily overheard a great deal of muttering while she pretended to be fast asleep.
“Only about twenty seven of them left...” “You know we can't have a baby, we've tried so many times, but the Healers say that the radioactive damage is too great...” “This is a risk we simply cannot take again, Fael. Why was Emily running around outside?”
Emily felt that familiar knot in her stomach again, so she opened her eyes and looked out of her window. The azalea bushes fluttered in the breeze. “Genus Rhododendron, family Ericaceae: many cultivars,” she said to them, and drifted off to sleep.
When Emily woke up again, she was conscious of another kind of muttering. “Little girl, one of the last...I heard the squealing inside her head.” The voice sounded like someone rubbing two pieces of gravel together. She was puzzled by this. Was this Rudy's father, with a cold perhaps? She peeked but could only see Theo quickly leaving her room.
The mutterings followed her wherever she went. The adults were all concerned for her, and Mummy and Daddy were at their wit's end making sure she was always within eyesight. She was never scolded; she was never ignored either. Emily began to tire of the constant attention. She couldn't shut the door to her room because she'd worry them. She couldn't go for a walk because she'd worry them. Theo didn't even rave anymore, attention was never diverted from both of them for a minute. Theo just threw himself into history books and his maps and diaries of the Old World. The knot in Emily's stomach grew tighter every time she walked into a room and her parents abruptly stopped talking. Emily missed running. She wanted to feel the wind in her braids.
Not wanting to send her off again, Mummy allowed her to have short walks within the boundaries of the farm. She was always to stay within the fences and must be accompanied by someone if she wished to go out.
She had gone out that day. It had been a glorious looking day. Her brown skin had paled to a light biscuit colour, but as soon as she sprinted in the sun she glowed. That's when she heard the mutterings again. She was so fast she couldn't figure out where they were coming from. Whoever they were, they'd leave in a while.
She ran the length of the farm and back again, and still she heard them. This was really annoying. Couldn't she be left alone even for a moment? She had worked herself up to a proper eleven year old girl's rage tantrum now, and was ready to scream at whoever would listen. She stopped. It was that gravely voice again, and it seemed to be coming from the woods. Really, it was one of the strangest voices she'd ever heard. “Eagle girl...hear our story. Tell your kind to leave the Kwai...” “Leave peacefully, and seek other islands in the archipelago, and you will not be harmed...”
Emily stiffened. Who could it be? Rudy and Theo playing a trick on her? “Theo? Rudy?”, she called, not moving from her spot. “Stop it, you're creeping me out.” “Little girl...eagle are the last of your kind...tell them you will be the first to go.” Emily dashed into the trees without warning. She would catch Theo and give him a piece of her mind. She sprinted straight into the woods and ran around in them looking everywhere for a sign of him.
She found no one. The mutterings rang in her ears as she sprinted out of the woods and back into her clearing.
“Who is it? Speak up!”
“It is us, eagle girl, we are the spirits that make up all the life of the Kwai.” Emily thought about the colour of fear, and saw its dirty green hissing motions in the air towards her, for she realized that it was no human voice she was hearing. She turned and bolted in the direction of the farmhouse.
It was Emily who didn't want to leave the house now. It puzzled her parents, but nobody complained. Yet she couldn't get rid of the voice. It seemed to be everywhere she went. She was petrified of it. Where Theo would have ranted, she whimpered. Her alarmed family did all they could to comfort her. The voice persisted in trying to talk to her, and most of its intimations were dire warnings. Emily never answered.
It was only when it started making active threats that Emily considered telling. It was a Saturday, and the voice had been silent for the night. In the morning, as Emily made her way back into her bedroom after breakfast though, the voice told her Pema was in trouble. “The foolish girl plucked azaleas yesterday...tell them, eagle girl, their old ways are not welcome here...she will see...”
In the evening, Rudy and Amir came running to the farmhouse, and told them that a lichen-laden branch had fallen over Pema's head an hour ago as she played in the garden. Healer Rumbart was already at their house, trying to revive her. They all rushed to Pema's cottage, where her family was distraught. Watching Pema lying on the bed with a big bandage wrapped around her head hit Emily like that cursed branch of lightning had hit her three weeks ago.
That night, she spoke to the voice. “What is it that you want from us? Answer me!”
“We told you, eagle girl, we want you to take your kind and leave the Kwai Delta...take your big ships and find another island..there is no place for you here...”
There was a full yellow moon in the plum coloured sky that night, and Emily didn't get a wink of sleep. She negotiated with the voice all night. It was cryptic and implacable, and merely repeated itself over and over again. Emily tired of trying to coax it to change its decision or reveal more information, and shed tears at the break of dawn.
Talking to the voice had made it disappear. Having communicated its demands, it no longer muttered to Emily all the time. She ran the conversation in circles around her head, and the only conclusion she reached was that the voice and its power were both real, and that it did not want them on the Kwai. As the days went by, Emily began to relax. Maybe it had listened to her plea for compromise and peaceful co-existence after all.
It was not until Pema was found dead the following weekend that Emily thought seriously about the voice again. She had been out in the garden alone, waiting for Rudy, so they could both walk to Emily's farmhouse and take history lessons from Theo. She was found lying on the ground with an azalea blossom clasped in her right hand, and a heavy branch that seemed to have hit her head and rolled off her lifeless body.
The funeral had a quality of desperation about it. There were only twenty six children in the New World now – this was unlike the sensation of reading of a child's death in the newspaper that would have characterized the Old World; people knew each other, and a large family deeply mourned Pema.
The next few weeks took on a nightmarish quality for all the citizens of the New World. No children played outside, all the adults were supremely vigilant. Emily was seized by the kind of dilemma her eleven year old mind was not equipped to handle. And then Adam's body was found floating down the Ayumba stream. Some ivy was wrapped around his neck, which bore strangulation marks. This was the sort of hysteria that had seized people while the Old World was in the process of ending.
When Rudy passed away, Emily could wait no longer. She gathered her family in the living room and told them everything about the voice. Theo and Mummy looked very alarmed, and Mummy began to hesitantly talk to Emily, “Emily darling, you haven't been quite right since the accident...”
“This has happened before,” Emily's father quietly interjected. “This happened to me in the Old World, when I was a field biologist in Polynesia. It was very close to the end, and this voice was haunting me, telling me I needed to do something.”
Red panic and purple relief weaved in the air around Emily.
It was a good thing that Emily's father was one of the foremost explorers in the Kwai archipelago expedition. The dead children and the peculiar circumstances under which they had been found strengthened Emily's case. The people were desperate for any solution, if it meant that no more children would die.
The whole community went into the forests of the Kwai Delta the following morning. It was wrapped in a menacing silence and punctuated by streaming sunlight which permeated the darkness of the forest. Determination hung thick and brown around Emily's person.
All that was left of the human race settled itself on the forest floor. If any had doubted Emily before this, the strange song humming in their heads as they sat in silence converted them irrevocably. They knew not how long they sat there, with that strange and beautiful humming buzzing in their ears. Each seemed to be conversing silently with the spirits of the Kwai. The ivy slithered around them, and the lichen glistened with dew. Emily sat in the center, and the song that grew into a crescendo in their heads burst forth from her lips at a counterpoint. It was a colour none of them had ever seen before. They could not have named it had they tried. It engulfed her completely, until she was only a deep gravely voice singing that strange song. The very trees seemed to be singing to the sky. As the song and the colour began to engulf them all, the diminuendo of the strange music lulled them into the depths of peace. Perhaps the unnamed colour was that of the most beautiful silence never to be heard again.

Shreya Sanghani

Note: The Emily Dickinson quote was just a prompt for the story. The story has nothing to do with it as such.

1 comment:

Tamasha said...

I love this so much. <3