Leela could feel a spring in her legs today. She could barely walk straight. Her shiny gleaming eyes shone brighter. She kept her school bag and ran and hugged her mother who was serving food for her. Her mother was also all smiles when she lovingly gave Leela her plate and said that she knew how happy was Leela at the prospect of spending the full week-end at her grandparent’s place. There was a big family re-union for this Diwali and everyone was very excited.
“Maa, we are leaving today evening itself for Appa’s house no?”asked Leela. Appa’s house was just an hour away from their place. The house was filled with Leela’s uncles, aunts and cousins. Leela loved being with all of them. She had a special affinity with Rishi, though. Both of them were all of ten years and even shared the same birthday. Rishi was Ballu Chachu’s son. He was a very soft spoken, affectionate and a bit shy , cute little boy. Ballu Chachu was just the opposite. He was loud, daring and severely lacking in patience. He could not stand Rishi’s timidity. He just could not fathom how his son, Rishi could be so soft hearted. Rishi dreaded his father and would shiver when called out by him. Leela’s heart would go out to Rishi when ever she saw him with Ballu Chachu.
Leela with her parents, reached Appa’s house late evening. Amidst all the greetings and hugs , Leela felt someone tugging at her hand. It was Rishi, with a face filled with love and joy. Leena slipped away with him, to join the gang of her cousins shouting and playing together. Time flew past and in no time everyone was sitting for dinner. So many people eating together, chatting away, sudden bursts of laughters, fascinated Leela. How often she secretely prayed to God, to make this her permanent home with all these people staying together! Dinner was over and it was bed time. The children slept together in a big room, with mattresses on the floor. Oh what fun! thought Leela. Someone came and switched off the lights with stern instructions to go to sleep. No sooner the back was turned, giggles, whisperings filled the room.
Suddenly some one gave out a scream of fright. There was a pin drop silence. Everyone was trying to see the cause of the frightful scream. There it was! A candle moving slowly near the wall. Sudden shrieks, cries, whispers erupted. Leela was motionless with her gaze transfixed at the candle. “ How could a candle move?”her brain was racing. Suddenly she felt something frothy on her palms. She started.Rishi’s ice cold fingers clutched on to hers. Hearing the commotion, some adult had come to the room and switched on the lights. No one could believe their eyes. A small turtle innocently, kept marching ahead with a candle stuck on it’s back. Red faced Rohit bhaiya sat there, solving the mystery.Rishi lay there with a foaming mouth. He had fainted.
Next morning, post breakfast, the uncles decided to have a cricket match with all the children. Appa’s house was huge. There were gardens with flowers, big trees, a sprawling field where they played all sorts of games like cricket, football etc. At the corner of the field was a well. Children were cautioned against going anywhere close to it. A thick rope, an iron bucket would be there for the gardener to use. The teams were made and the match started. Leela with two of her cousins, sat on the branch of a big mango tree to enjoy the game. The match soon became quite exciting. The last ball was left and Ballu Chachu’s team needed six balls to win. Ballu Chachu was the batsman. The ball was bowled and Ballu Chachu hit the ball with all his might. The ball flew high and far. All eyes were fixed on it. The fielders were all in position. The ball eluded all hands and fell into the well. There were shouts and cries to this unexpected end. The children were all jumping in excitement.Rishi also was one of them. Suddenly Ballu Chachu’s eyes fell on him. He raised his hand to silence everybody and announced with a sense of finality in it..
“Rishi will go into the well and fetch the ball.”
A hushed silence fell on the field. The adults protested and tried to rubbish away Ballu Chachu’s announcement. But Chachu was adamant. He came toRishi, held his hand and led him to the well. His decisiveness scared Leela who had been a silent witness to all this drama. Only God knows how she mustered her courage to run up to Chachu and plead him to let Rishi go.Rishi was white faced. Ballu Chachu put him into the big iron bucket and into the well, with the fat rope. Rishi was instructed to pick the bobbing ball from water and he was to be pulled up. Ballu Chachu proudly proclaimed how brave Rishi was!Amidst protests and fear,Rishi’s bucket went down the well. The children were not allowed to peep in for fear of fall. Ballu Chachu was only handling the rope. Ram uncle was to watch the bucket inside with Rishi. Everyone waited with abated breath. Suddenly Ram uncle shouted, “and Rishi has got the ball. Hurray!” Ballu Chachu gave a victory shout and started pulling the bucket back. Everyone seemed to have forgotten to breathe. All eyes were fixed on the well. Finally Rishi’s head surfaced and the bucket was pulled up. Ballu Chachu rushed towards him with pride welling in his voice, “Here comes my brave boy!”
He hugged Rishi. Rishi’s head just fell listlessly. There was froth all over his mouth. The lifeless eyes stared at him. The ball lay in his hand.