By: Shruti Sawant
She was being careful. She remembered what Mummy said, ”Stick to the footpaths. The Cars might kill you.” She followed the line of tiles on the pavement. The bite of the Sunlight pleased her. Gracy Miss said that looking directly at sunlight hurts your eyes. So, she did. Rather, she tried to. It did hurt. She liked the way it stung. It reminded her of the way she felt when she flicked her fingers across the candles on her 10th birthday cake.
She realised she was deviating from the line of tiles. She didn’t want to upset Mummy. What if a Car killed her? Mummy would cry. She corrected herself. Stuck to her path. Still walking, she was patting every tree on her way, like saying ‘Hi’ to passing friends at school. She had patted 14 trees so far. Before she could pat the 15th, she felt wetness on her shoulder. A bird had pooped on her. She felt irritated and then she felt amused because she had never felt irritation before. Irritation seemed like fun. Is that why Daddy chose to be irritated everyday at dinner?
She plucked a leaf and cleaned her shirt. She returned to her line of tiles. She paid attention to them and nothing else. She kept tracing the tile she was supposed to step on next. She could see what shoes and pants everyone was wearing. She wasn’t impressed. Why would anyone wear brown shoes with black pants? Out of so many colours, why chose the most boring ones? She looked at her red skirt. There was a peanut sized stain but the already red fabric weakened its intensity.
And then it happened out of nowhere. One moment she was concentrating on her next tile, the next she was gaping at the dwindling distance between it and her eyes. The next moment she felt a spike of pain in her left knee.
A hand approached her. Big, hairy, dark. The hand attempted to pick her up. She bit it. With all the hatred she could muster in her flimsy jaw. And then she began running. The taste of salt and metal in her mouth reminded her of a dark crevice in her memory. Her knee protested, threatened to give way. She accepted the challenge. She ran faster. Every step magnified the pain. The burn in her knee was welcome. She ran till she sensed the relieving sanctuary of the familiar streets of her house. The relief though, was always tainted. She opened the gate.
Predictably, her feet hesitated. Her brow moistened. The pain heightened and spread. But this time, she didn’t revel in it, because, this wasn’t the pain that made her feel alive and whole; the pain of cutting a slice of a perfectly iced cake, the pain of bending the spine of a new book.
This was the pain that made her want to collapse into herself. Every step she climbed towards the door of her house, she realized, was one step closer to a ravine. She could never foretell when she would be dragged down. Every time she crawled her way back up to the edge, everytime the sunlight appeased her hopes, the rocks under her feet slip and heaved her down into nothingness.
Right now, astonishingly, she realised, she was still holding the sunlight in her hands. She gazed with gratitude at the golden doorknob. She felt its smoothness. She imagined the glorious creaking the door would make as it ensconced her into security. With a prayer on her lips, she turned the knob. In the next instant, the iciness of terror crept up her calves. The shards of sunlight fell through her trembling fingers. The door didn’t open. She heard his voice, “Mummy’s away, Anna. She wants you to stay with Uncle Fritzl.” The ravine claimed her yet again.