It was around midnight and the full moon enveloped everything in a silvery light. One could hear the soft cackle of the stream running merrily down the slope. The stones in the stream that worked as footholds glistened like marbles in the moonlight. The stream cut right through the dense forest. Since it was the less traversed of the paths, its beauty was untainted.
The crying, however, that drifted in and out above the cackling stream did not seem in sync with nature’s harmony. The cries were soft sobs, heart-rending, like a child trying to pacify herself after the loss of a favourite doll.
There was a little girl sitting on a precariously placed piece of log that connected the two banks of the stream. The sobs seemed to be coming out of her being. Her head was tightly secured in between her legs, giving just a glimpse of her blackish-golden hair. Even though she was sitting in the middle of the forest, her bare feet were clean. She wore a mauve coloured frock which moved in the gentle breeze.
After several minutes, she held her head in the direction of the breeze to let it dry her wet cheeks. The little girl had a round face, with big round eyes that were red with tears. The breeze seemed to be in a mischievous mood as it kept tossing her hair around till she took them and made a bundle on her head with what looked like a pink kerchief, much to the disappointment of the breeze.
After a beat, she slowly got up and started walking towards a near-by alcove. She appeared to be a pro as she wove in and out of the many holes in the old log. She deftly avoided the pitfalls and with a jump, landed near her backpack. She sat down beside it, opened it, removed an apple from its depths and began to eat. She seemed in no hurry.
At first glance, she appeared to be eight or nine. On a closer look, one realized she was not more than four. What was a girl of such tender age doing in a forest at this hour without any supervision?
No one need have worried though as it appeared that Mother Nature had taken it upon itself to protect the hapless child. Her head resting on a soft mound of grass, the breeze enveloped her in a warm embrace as she fell asleep.
When she opened her eyes, her mother and father were peering anxiously at her face. She saw them and burst out crying. Her mother embraced her and tried her best to pacify her. After all her tears were shed, her mother picked her up and took her to the garden.
The garden was in full bloom with splashes of reds, yellows, pinks, and purples. Mother choked back a sob as she remembered how her elder daughter loved the garden when it was like this. It had been her favourite place.
She gently placed her daughter on the bench and waited for her to speak. It was some moments before she asked softly, “How did you find me mom?”
“I knew you would be in the place where you and your sister often went for your little picnics.”
Finally she exploded, “Mom why did she leave me? Was she angry because I took her doll? I would have given it back you know. She could have just asked.”
With tears rolling down her face, Mother embraced her daughter and said, “No sweetie. It had nothing to do with you. You know she was very ill. It broke god’s heart to see her this way. So he took her away to a safe place where she could get all better.”
At the mention of her sister getting better, she said hurriedly, “So you mean she will come back?”
Helpless but not wanting to delude her daughter, she said, “No darling. Your sister has gone some place from where she can never come back. But you know what; you can always go visit her. You just need to close your eyes and imagine her. That is something no one can ever take away from you.”
This seemed to make sense to her daughter as she nodded her head several times. She then got up and went to look for her sister’s watering can. She filled it with water and began to water the plants, just like her sister used to. Intent on getting it right, she did not notice her mother running inside the house to hide her tears.
She didn’t know where she was. It looked like a garden but much bigger than what they had at home. She kept walking, looking for something, she didn’t know what. She reached a circular park where there were swings and slides and a small sandbox.
There was a lone figure swinging in one of the swings. With a jolt she realized it was Kiya. She ran to where her elder sister was merrily swinging.
“Roms…you found me!” said Kiya, jumping from her swing and landing lightly next to her younger sister.
Looking around, she asked, “Where are we Kiya?”
“I don’t know Roms. This is your dream. I was hoping you could tell me.”
“I think we are in that zoo. Where mom and dad took us once…remember?”
“Yes of course. No wonder it looks so familiar.”
There were so many things Romi wanted to ask, share and tell she didn’t know where to begin. She was about to say something when Kiya said, “How are you Roms?”
With that, both of them hugged each other, teary-eyed. For a long time, they just held each other, finally finding the anchor they had so desperately needed.
After some time, Romi asked, “How often can I come here Kiya?”
“As often as you need it Roms. Remember, all you need to do is close your eyes and think of me…I’ll be there.”
“How is this place Kiya? Do they let you play? Do you have any toys? Do they give you food to eat? Do you…”
But Kiya interrupted her sister’s tirade of questions and said, “I am very happy here. Don’t worry about me. It is lovely here. And I don’t need to eat any of those awful medicines now. I am all better – no more headaches, no more pain, no more doctor visits…I am as good as new. And I want you to remember me this way…always.”
Romi didn’t want to ask any more questions. She sat her sister down, put her head on her lap and closed her eyes. She was happy.
Nine years later
Romi was a teenager now…a teenager with a secret. A secret called “Kiya.” Not even her closest friends knew of the secret world she inhabited with her sister. Her mother could venture a guess which would have been accurate but her daughter was happy, socializing and decent in her studies; so what if she “met” her sister. Though her visits had reduced in frequency with her growing age, she still returned once or twice a month to see Kiya.
While Romi grew, Kiya remained the same in the strange world she regarded as her home. She was still the eight year old Kiya who had met Romi nine years ago.
One afternoon, while her mother was working in the kitchen, Romi came to her and said, “Mom, can I talk to you?”
“Sure honey.” Mother knew what Romi wanted to talk about. In order to make it easier for her, she asked, “Is this about Kiya?”
Romi’s eyes became big with surprise. Thankful, however, for the opening, she took a deep breath and plunged into the story. After she finished, she noticed her mother was frowning.
Regretting her decision to confide in her, she was about to laugh it off as a joke when her mother surprised her by saying, “I sort of know all this. What is the problem?”
Romi looked at her mother incredulously and said, “So you believe me? You don’t think I am mad?”
“Why on earth would I think like that? Of course I believe you.”
Smiling for the first time, she said, “The problem, mom, is that I am tired. I still love Kiya and remember her fondly. But I am tired of this little game that she and I have been playing for so many years.” She paused.
“She hasn’t grown in these years and whenever I visit her, I feel frustrated. We don’t belong in the same world anymore mom. She doesn’t understand…when I tell her…it just…I can’t…” Romi stopped. Tears of anger, guilt and frustration threatening to overwhelm her. She hugged Mother and started crying.
Wanting to ease her daughter’s guilt, Mother said, “Roms you are not being selfish by thinking these thoughts. I want you to know that okay?”
Romi nodded, grateful she had confided in her mother.
Romi was moaning in her sleep as her mother was wiping the sweat on her face and trying to wake her up while her father was hovering around the bed. With a final scream, she bolted upright on her bed.
Father asked, “What was it honey? Was someone trying to hurt you?”
“Mom she’s gone…Kiya is gone.” She said as she collapsed into her parent’s arms. “I know why it happened. God is punishing me for all those things I said to you. Mom she is gone. I searched for her everywhere. I couldn’t find her. Dad, I am such a bad person. She and I are being punished because of my stupidity.”
They did their best to pacify her but it was hard for Romi to believe their words. It was her father’s claims that maybe she would return the next day that made her finally go back to sleep.
But Kiya did not return the next day…or the day after that…
Two months later
“Roms…there is good news,” said her mother excitedly. “We are going to have a baby!”
“Wow…congratulations mom!” said Romi, though her heart wasn’t in it. Lately, her heart was rarely into things. She had become listless and withdrawn. Her mother had been sure this news would have brought her smile back but it did not have the effect she was hoping for.
Father wanted to say something to his daughter. Something intelligent that would rid her of her guilt and grief but nothing came into his mind. He wanted to scream. They had taken the counsellor’s advice who had said maybe a sibling would bring her “back.” But it did not seem to have brought her back. He was just glad it hadn’t pushed her away.
Eight months later
It had been a difficult pregnancy but the day had finally arrived. Her parents had often discussed if the baby would be a boy or a girl. Romi had not participated in these discussions. She didn’t care either way…though she would have liked a brother, if for no other reason than he wouldn’t remind her of Kiya or how she had lost her sister.
The entire morning, Romi avoided visiting her sister. She could already feel resentment flaring in her chest and didn’t want an innocent baby to be subject to feelings she had no part in. She wasn’t afraid that the baby would replace her…more like try to replace Kiya and Romi would have none of that. But when her mother finally asked, “Don’t you want to see her?” she couldn’t say no.
The nurse took her to her baby sister’s crib. With some trepidation, Romi peeped into it, hardening her resolve. But what she saw nearly made her scream and cry out loud.
So this is where Kiya had vanished…so this is what God’s plan was since the very beginning…he was just waiting for Romi to ask him for it. Though her baby sister looked nothing like Kiya, they had the same eyes. Romi smiled despite herself. Her baby sister was rather cute and chubby. Romi laughed.
She put her hand next to the baby’s and let the tears fall…the baby, sensing a presence, reached out and closed its small, fragile hand around Romi’s finger…
Romi had finally gotten her life back.
Header image sourced from: clipartfest.com