I might have been twelve then, a short skinny girl with shoulder length curly hair, the kind which can be seen often in cartoons. Every morning, mom used to put two easy piggy tails, which would curl up as soon as the comb leaves them, making me to look like the poor hideous dogs showed off by royal ladies, unlike my cousin, who was sixteen then, four years older than me and a model of beauty from every angle. She was everything that the family was proud of and me, the opposite. On holidays some relative would spot me in the muddy fields running behind some frogs and playing in the dirty water and they would drag me to my sober mother, who would worry out loud about finding me a groom. I never cared, romance was and is not my strength any way. My dad who visits us only once in an year, never took notice of this either. All of those cosmetics and beauty products that he brings would soon reach my cousin, and she would present herself to the mercy of them, making her look prettier, while I ran about showing off my tan wearing some long and loose shirt of my brother, that made me look like an inflated balloon when I ran. Any mischief in the family and hands would unanimously point at me, I was the villain and she the damsel in distress.
In spite of all these, we were friends, and I think she liked me too, why else, would she take me in confidence to be her watch whenever she met her boyfriend. It was biggest and only secret that we both shared, and I knew that would create a lot of commotion in our lives, he was her senior in school and a Muslim, but if exposed to parents the thing that I mentioned at last, would become the first and only reason to avoid it.
Every Saturday, when school was only a half day event, me and her would stealthily, walk deeper into Vincent uncle’s rubber plantation, rather than towards home. By the end of the plantation, was the unmanned and uncared government property. The shrubs and trees grew freely in there giving it a forest like appearance and in the start of this forest, behind the bushes, they met and I was supposed to protect them from others, by signaling when some one came. At first it was a thrill, a big responsibility, but soon it wore me out as there was no one coming that way to watch out for, so slowly I set my attention to the insects and animals adoring the habitat.
On one such Saturday, it was a greenish yellow frog that caught my attention and I leapt behind it forgetting my cousin, it went deeper into the forest and I ran on its heels, until it feel inside a swamp and when I jumped in, I missed the water and hit myself on a wooden log, balancing for a second and then falling inside the knee deep puddle. Unable to move, I shrieked in pain hoping my cousin would hear me, to my astonishment she never came, she might have gone home, forgetting me, I sighed. But sooner I heard foot steps behind me and as I turned to look, I spotted five men walk towards me, one of them helped me out of the puddle and enquired if I was hurt. Though the pain was unbearable I didn’t cry. He helped me wash the legs in the nearby pond and carried me into the direction they came from. I studied him in that time, he might be in his late twenties, for he looked much older than my biggest cousin brother who is studying in college. He was lean, but strong, he carried me with ease, the hollow cheeks and the narrow and sharp eyes, and a lopsided lips weren’t the combination of beauty, but of power and that was visible in his mannerism.
He carried me into a small hand made clearning, and made me sit in a wooden bench and gave some hot tea. As I drank, I scanned the place with my usual curiosity, the pain had already gone back stage in my mind. This place was a hand made clearing, with few benches under the trees and a small stove to make hot tea, and few news papers. Others who came to my rescue now joined the few people gathered there, it looked like a meeting, I recognized few, I smiled when I saw Srikuttan’s father, the man who worked in our plantation; he hesitated but gave me a meek smile. The whole environment was disturbed, and people kept gazing at me with suspicion. Some one shouted, “Isnt she S.I (Sub inspector) Rajan’s daughter.. ?
I laughed and said, “Ayyo, I am not rajan uncles daughter, I am his niece, my dad is in Dubai.” ending with a proud happiness of correcting them. Another voice from the crowd cried out, “Do not tell any one that you saw us here, If you do then that is all..” The “Here “ was stressed and some how I felt that he would kill me if I told any one, I nodded in fear. My rescuer, who I think might be the leader, gave a stare that shut the others. He then inquired if I can walk, as I nodded, he helped me and walked with me until the edge of Vincent uncles plantation and motioned me to carry on, I didn’t wait to look for my cousin, I went a few steps, but came back and assured him that I wouldn’t tell any one. He just smiled.
I went to the clearing after two days, when my legs were better, but nothing and no one could be seen, no benches, no tea pot, and no men. I was disappointed but came back again the next day to get disappointed again. On the third day, I was lucky, I found him sitting alone under a tree reading a big book. He looked up with an alerted glance but when he saw me, he smiled, and looked down at my legs, I smiled and waved them effortlessly conveying him that it was alright. I sat near him while he was busy in his book, I played with the “Kuzhi aana” an insect that had popped up from the ground. After some time, just like the previous encounter, he walked me to the end of the plantation.
Not many words passed between us, but it was a pleasure to sit with him, some how that made me powerful. I met him after 10 days, and this time, there were many people than the one’s I saw on the first day, he was giving a speech to them in an animated fashion, and when people saw me, some frowned in disregard, and some murmured, creating a buzz.. but he continued nonchalantly, and people hushed soon, listening to him intently. They discussed a lot of things, I understood nothing, some one mentioned my uncle, the Sub inspector and my interest grew, when he saw that, gleaming in my eyes, he politely walked me away from the crowd. He didn’t warn or threaten, but I understood that I was not needed there and walked home in silence.
After 3 days, Muthuchamy, a plantation owner was attacked by a group and uncle was busy with unraveling the secret behind the attack, I overheard him say that it was a well planned conspiracy, he was happy secretly, crime scene in a calm village was not a daily incident, it was his time to show off like the icons in the movies, but he was far too old and fat for it. So he just hoped for a promotion. Somehow I connected it with my saviour and his group, the thrill of excitement to be involved in the conspiracy enticed me, and my mouth was shut and sealed as I promised.
None of them were captured, and the leader and his whereabouts were unknown. I kept going there every day, at times with my cousin to meet her boy friend and at times alone, but never got to see him or his accomplice. After about twenty or more days, I saw him, with two other people, I ran and clung on to him, with the familiarity and happiness. He responded with affection, not caring the warning words from his friends. He said he was hungry, I was sad, I ran home and fetched him some bread, his friends were gone by then, and he ate the bread with greed. “What will I do without you my little angel?” he asked and kissed my hand. I giggled, for he was acting like my dad now, who would say such things only to please me, knowing very well that I wouldn't be impressed.
We sat silently in the clearing for some time and when the sun began to calm down a bit, he bade me good bye, I thought that he would not walk with me this time, because of the danger, nevertheless he walked with me. When I was about to go, he caught my hand and said, “do not come again to see me, I wont come anymore and it is not safe without me…” I knew he meant those words, and before I could answer, sound of boots filled the air, I saw my uncle and few constables running towards us, when I turned, he ran and hid behind a overgrown bush and motioned me to hush and walk on.. I obeyed and walked towards Uncle who was running and has not noticed me or him. Uncle was half surprised to see me there, “what are you doing here? Where are you coming from?” he enquired, his voice, his uniform and the secret that I was saving everything made me perspire like a waterfalls. He looked suspiciously narrowing his eyes he bend down, standing face to face with me asked again “Did you see any body here? And….. what are you doing here… NOW?”
My fear was apparent and he knew that I there was something that I am hiding, my eyes involuntarily ran towards the bush, and back to uncle and my lips quivered, trying to say something, but nothing came out. He looked in the direction of my gaze and like in a slow motion walked towards the bush shooting stern glance at me once in a while. Everything went silent, except the birds and insects that were not scared of uncle, then within few seconds, a shriek of feminine cry ran through the forest, as I peered I saw someone run away in opposite direction and then my uncle emerged, and his left hand was fiercely holding my cousins long beautiful hair. She kept shrieking and wailing. He muttered few bad words and dragging her towards the house. The constables were paralyzed with shock for few seconds and when the truth sunk in, some of them were shocked and others smiled under their breath, and walked excitedly to reach the village as fast as they could and unleash a scandal. In the commission the reason for this parade was forgotten and a smile of relief set in me. I turned around to look for him, when my uncles booming voice rang, “Come home you little devil.. Were you protecting her..? how long have you known? come fast wait till I get my hands on you..” he walked with my cousin, his voice trailing behind..
I ran behind him, I knew mother would protect me, after all I was a small child.. may be I just need to shed few tears and even if he bet me, it didn’t matter now, I turned around and saw my friend behind a tree with an amused smile, before running home, I winked at him, and he winked back..