Vermillion


KumKum’s eyes absentmindedly fell on the red sheen of those high heeled shoes over and over again.Those lovely red color shoes right out of a fairytale. Then in a flurry forgetting the urgent world she pondered over the shade… blood red …mmm apple?….mmm tomato… red chilli ….. As if nothing else was worth noticing in that  place.

The mansion was filled with activity, songs, gossip, giggles … hassled faces … happy faces..leisurely faces …beautiful faces….smell of marigold and vermillion.It was a different world .Mesmerising, captivating ,enchanting. The grandness of the house and the precious interiors made her feel she stepped into a palace. Yet the moment that pair of red shoes  captured her attention everything else blurred.

A sudden nudge from Ramesh , her uncle, brought her back to her purpose. He had already unravelled the henna boxes and the fragrance had  started romancing with her nostrils.The precious oils and the meticulously picked henna leaves that were tenderly treated and converted in the most exotic and magical paste .Ready to transform dreamy bridal hands into vermilion splendour of a hopeful exciting future.

Kumkum’s family was well known for their henna quality and their artistic flair for decorating bridal palms .No wedding of any significance in the town went without them. They were a traditional must for ‘Mehendi ceremony’. This was Kumkum’s first visit to a ceremony. She had been learning the art of preparing the henna paste and drawing the mesmerising patterns through those well stuffed cones. They were six of the family  at that rich Mehendiceremony .It was several hours work. The bride was a priority and her henna was to be extra special. So of course it was her uncle who was to make the patterns ,he was the best .Kumkum was given the duty to help in making cones and keeping the henna fresh and applying the oil dabs for better results. Though she was expecting to do a few hands of the relatives of the bride while she left home that day. But somehow now  the thoughts of vermillion were replaced by an alien royal redness.

She had seen heroines in movies wear such elegant shoes and dance . How they managed to do that was mindboggling for her. Perhaps it was some ‘ special effect’ as the hero’s stunts. Such high heeled shoes can’t be real, she had convinced herself. Those red pointed heels had shattered her theory completely. Though in a pleasant way to her surprise. No less than unexpectedly discovering the eigth wonder of the world. They belonged to the bride and when she wore them and walked without support or tripping, Kumkum was overtaken by a strange urge . Her feet went tingly.

She was happy when the bride retired to her room for the henna to be applied  on her feet . Kumkum accompanied her with her uncle and aunt. She stayed there after the design was done to apply the oils . She didn’t mind that her uncle did not offer her to apply any designs on the relatives. She was too preoccupied with her desire. The shoes lay near the door below the curtain oblivious of the secret admirer.

The vermillion had started peeping through the  shrinking dried  crusts of the deeply green henna. The oil still glistened on the bride’s palm. Kumkum scrutinized her palm and adviced  “ You should scrub off the henna and do not wash with water for a deeper color”.

The bride smiled at her and “ You know a lot about henna. What is your name ?”

“Kumkum”

“Do you go to school?”

“Yes… eigth standard…..

“What do you want to become when you grow up?”

Kumkum was a little taken aback. That was a novel query for her. Before she could answer anything the bride was called by some elder of the family. Kumkum started wrapping up the things . She capped the oil bottles . Collected the henna cones and as she was doing that  she felt tingly in her feet again. The bride did not wear her shoes when she went out because of the henna on her feet. Their was no one there and now the desire was too strong to ignore.

Kumkum moved towards the door as if hypnotized by those royal red shoes . Her heart was pounding but she had to be quick before the bride comes back. She put her right foot in the shoe and as she tried to get her heel in and  suddenly she felt a surge of adrenaline. She was lifted up on that pointy heel. She inserted the left foot without delay in the left shoe .A little wobbly though she had risen to a couple of inches taller then herself. The inside of the shoe felt strangely comfortable and cool. She dared to take a step ahead with her wobbly knees when she heard the foot steps. Now the thrill was replaced with fear and her mind got tangled between the thrill of stepping ahead and the wisdom of pulling her feet out . Before she could resolve the conflict she felt a sudden sharp pain in her right ankle as it twisted with a jerk.

Her eyes watered a bit and her face was flushed with pain but she ensured to be back to her earlier spot. She slowly gathered her things and bid goodbye to the bride who smiled back at her unaware of Kumkum’s littled adventure and accident.

The next morning Kumkum’s mother discovered a mysterious bright red swollen ankle and was sure that some’ totka ‘ (black magic ) has been done on her child. Her uncle however took her to the doctor who applied a bandage . But her mother stayed sure of the ‘totka’ as Kumkum never complained and very often looked at her bandage and smiled.

 

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Chapter 2 : The Glow

 

 

The boy from the village tried to convince himself that it was a dream. But he failed. He prayed for his dead friend. The pale face did not haunt him anymore. Yet he was not truly happy .

The memory of the laughter slowly faded out. He yearned to hear it again. The glow voice and its sweetness also haunted him. There is only one way to know if it was a dream. He had to return to the forbidden forest .

Finally  on a random day when he could not handle the confusion anymore . He walked into the forest. He had no idea if he would find that place again. But he was a brave boy. He ventured. He wandered for hours within the forest almost reaching despair. Surprisngly he met no fabled ferocious creatures just miles and miles of dense forests. He realised he made a mistake. For a dream he brought himself to grave danger. Now he was truly lost. He was angry and tired and disappointed.

“Did you here him laugh again?”

“No.” The boy was looking at the glow with great relief and joy.

“I thought I had a dream. But you are real! Who are u?”

“Are you lost again boy?” the glow asked.

“Answer me!!” .He demanded impatiently.

“ I am lost too……….”

The first morning rays were touching the forest ground by now. The  Glow voice asked the boy to go back to the village and come again in the night.

Night after night the boy kept coming back .  He learned that the glow voice belonged to another world . A world of fires . She was a fire girl who got lost. As the days passed the boy grew happier and the glow slowly grew everyday to reveal to him a form similar to a girl’s. The boy grew fonder of the glow but as the happiness came back to him he returned back to his village life. He forgot to visit the forest sometimes. He slowly distanced. He had many friends but the glow creature just had him.

He forgot to tell her that she was his best friend. In his happiness he forgot to see that she grew sad. He forgot to say reassuring words to her when she missed her world .She was lost. He forgot that one day she would be found by her people and she would go  forever like his dead friend.

It happened.

Chapter 1 : The boy and the forest

Not too far away in time lived a boy in a village. A village near a forest. A dense dark forest filled with exotic creatures. There were strange stories about the forest and children were forbidden to go in there.

It was said ,far back in time  when the ancestors of the village had settled there, the wise leader of the clan performed  some ritual. It  made the creatures of the forest incapable of entering the village. There were stories about men who ventured into the forest and never came back.

The boy was young and full of life. He was strong and playful. He was happy. The year he was fifteen a dark spell fell on his best friend, his uncle’s son. He saw him die.

The boy went silent. And one day when he could not take the pain he ran towards the forest. His bare feet unknowingly ventured into the forbidden forest while the tears blurred his sight. As his limbs tired he began to realise he was in the forest. Fear crept into his heart that was already filled with pain. He experienced a silence he had never known in the boisterous village. Strangely he felt calm in days. The thought of his friend came to him again and he sat on a rock beneath a tree. The whole place was filled with trees and grasses and flowers. He realised he was lost. A numbness. His tired mind went blank. The darkness around mingled with the darkness in his heart.

As he thought of the pale face of his friend in death bed . An emptiness filled his mind . Then out of nowhere his mind flashed a happy memory when the two had sat under a tree like this and laughed.

Laughed! His friend’s  laughter echoed in his head. A smile appeared on his darkened face under the shadow of the forest. He was surprised. But before he could absorb the moment. Something startled him. He bounced back. Something glowed in front of his face. Something had lighted up his smile  and vanished. The smile vanished too. He was amazed and scared at the same time. Now the forest again started to occur to him. He was lost.

The glow came again. This time on his hand. “why are you sad boy?” . He heard. “who is this ?” he said with a hasseled voice. The sugar sweet voice could not scare him but he felt uneasy. Blinded.

“That was a pretty smile . I bet you smiled in several days!”.

The boy relaxed. “ I lost my friend. I lost my way. But I heard his laughter in this silent forest. All these days his pale lifeless face haunted me. But in this dark forbidden forest I heard his laughter again.” By this time the boy was so tired that he went into slumber just catching the last words of the glowing voice “Then you should come again to hear his laughter.”

As the morning sun teased his face. The boy woke up squinting his eyes. His head resonanting..’ then you should come again…..’ Suddenly in a flash the events of the night flooded him. The boy of fifteen found himself  in his house in the village.