At five in the morning, the summer sun was already peeking its way through the tall rubber trees in the hills behind our house. The morning fog was perpetual in these parts. I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window and listened for sounds. Sounds like perhaps a trapped elephant or a wounded lion. The only movement I could see was white shrouded people, like ghosts in movies, moving in the distance, somber and quiet. Squinting my eyes further I could make out they were nuns on the way to the morning mass rather than ghosts. All of a sudden there was a noise and I saw a murder. A murder of crows took to the skies as if startled by something. I kicked at the pile lying next to me. My cousin Sunil, he was wrapped as if in a shroud under a thick blanket. Thankfully he stirred. Another kick and an irritated face appeared from under the pile. The good morning greeting was the choicest expletives of the mallu language. “what’s wrong with you? It’s not even light outside”. Then a sign of recognition appeared on his face. “Do you think something’s there?” he asked. I just gave a knowledgeable smile and bolted out of the bed and started running towards the hills in the backyard. Sunil knew the look and started after me.
I was running as fast as my eight year old naked feet could. Haha, I’m gonna get there before Sunil and if it’s a lion I’m gonna claim it mine and take him to Trivandrum. And anyways the lion wouldn’t like the Kochi climate. It’s too humid. What good will the sea do to a lion. In Trivandrum you have hills, forests are just a small distance away. And best of all there’s the zoo just in case he gets bored and feels like seeing his other friends from the forest. Running and thinking simultaneously could be extremely injurious to your health. I found this out quite early in my childhood then and there, as I was flying head first into the ground, brought down by a thick root hidden beneath the undergrowth of touch-me-nots, wild grass and fallen rubber tree leaves. By the time I got to my feet ignoring the red liquid oozing out of two cuts on either knee, Sunil had caught up and was threatening to overtake. I started running, my lead cut down drastically.
Every summer my parents used to drop me at with my grandparents in Pala, a small hill town in mid Kerala. Me from Trivandrum and Sunil from Kochi would be there during summer vacation for two months of un’adult’erated bliss. And by unadulterated I mean free from all the irritating intrusions of adults. Other cousins would visit sometime during the two months but for brief periods of a week or two. It was just us and the grandparents, who were themselves past adulthood and in their second childhood.
Sunil was fast but in normal case he wouldn’t overtake me but I guess the pain in the knees was slowing me down. What remained now was the climb up the hills. The undergrowth was thicker and the morning dew had made the ground slippery. ‘Caution’ was still underdeveloped in the brains of eight year olds. We kept running and I soon realized that Sunil had taken a slightly different path and was ahead of me. Crap.
By the time I reached the top Sunil was there looking down at the hole that we had dug the day before to catch lions that might be roaming in the adjacent forests. A three feet deep round hole covered with newspapers on a frame of twigs, and sprinkled on top were green grass and dried leaves, it was the result of a whole days work. It was another thing that the forests adjacent were the rubber plantations of our neighbor Kuriachan and the nearest lion would be in the Trichur zoo, two hundred kilometers away. But logic defied the minds of eight year olds. Rather minds of eight year olds defied logic.
From the look in Sunil’s face I knew something exciting had happened. But it was more shock than excitement. Oh goody, perhaps there were two lions. Now I’ve got to convince him to let me keep them both. But what I saw in the pit made me realize that both of us would be lucky to see the next morning. There was no lion in the pit. Instead the one year old kid of Chippi our goat lay their looking up at us. It wasn’t on its legs and from the look of it we both knew it had broken its leg. Chippi and its kid were tied to a jackfruit tree the previous day for grazing and in the evening it was our responsibility to bring them down to the shed near the house. I guess in the night the kid must have freed itself somehow and walked into our Lion pit. Did it not know that it was meant for lion’s alone? Stupid goat. Now the terrifying Lion that threatened to eat us up was none other than our Grandfather. We would have to explain a lot of things starting with the broken leg. The little goat while wandering around had nibbled at the trunk of several rubber trees. Sure as hell we knew we would be dead when Ichachan (that’s what we called our Grandfather) found out. We carefully pulled the kid out of the hole and checked her leg. There was no way it could walk down the hill. Carrying the little goat between us, our minds were working overtime thinking of ways to explain the condition to Ichachan. A hundred excuses, explanations shifted across the mind. Considered, discussed but discarded. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill we had our story ready. Practiced and perfected by the time we entered the house. At the end of it let’s just say that eight year old minds never let you down and we lived to see the next morning.
NB: Apologies to Sunil. I know you were the one who always used to wake up before me and sadistically kick me in the ass till I woke up. This is my revenge J