• Pragya Pai

The Forest Path

She was running down the familiar forest path, the wind in her hair. There

were twigs and yellow leaves strewn on the forest floor. The path was lit by the

few sunrays that managed to cross the canopy. To a newcomer, the path would

look dingy, unwelcoming. But not to her- this was her home, her childhood. She

had come here everyday before her family had to move to the city. It had been

three years since she was last here, three long cruel years. But she didn’t have

to suffer the pain of separation anymore, she was home now.


“Wake up! We’re there!” Maya rubbed her eyes as her younger brother

shook her awake. She had been having the same redundant dream again.

“Relax, we’ve just entered the town. It’s still another half hour drive,” her

mother’s voice came from the front seat.

“I love the city,” commented her father. “But nothing can compare to the

serenity of our old house. Are you happy to be here?”

“Yes!” squealed Dhruv.


Maya quietly looked out the window. They had just passed through the

small market. She rested her head against the window and felt the gentle bumps

of the rough road. Coming back here felt bittersweet. Although she was happy

to see her old home again, it wasn’t the same. Nothing had been the same since

the past thirteen days.


The family parked the car outside a neatly kept house, not very big, but

huge as per the standards of the town. Dhruv bolted inside the moment the door

opened. Maya hung back and helped the housekeeper bring in their suitcases.

Once the luggage was brought in, and the door was closed, she looked at the

room and heaved a sigh.


Her mother was staring blankly at the family portrait hung on the wall

opposite to the entrance, they had taken the photo the day before moving. The

four of them and Maya’s grandmother looked so happy together.


‘It’s okay,” her father said soothingly as he put an arm around her. Maya

felt her eyes cloud up and wiped the tears away.


Wanting to be alone as she mourned, she decided to go to what once had

been her room. She made her way upstairs, past Dhruv who seemed to have

found his old toys and was making a racket. She pushed open the wooden door

to reveal a modest bedroom. The table was empty, the drawers were locked.

She found some old clothes in the closet. Pulling the curtains open, she let the

sunlight pour in. The plant she had sown when she was five had grown to a small

tree now, it’s branches almost reaching up to her window.


She looked towards the horizon and saw it, the small cottage at the edge

of the forest. Her grandmother’s home. Her grandmother had been the one to

take care of her every day. As school got over, Dhruv and her used to go the

cottage and stay with her grandmother till the evening. Maya and her

grandmother had done all kinds of fun things together- they baked, played

games, read books. Her father used to complain that Maya’s grandmother was

spoiling the kids by doting on them too much. Her grandmother had always

replied with the same answer, “It’s a parent’s job to discipline the child and it’s

a grandparent’s job to make it harder for them.”


“Maya,” she heard her mother calling. As she arrived downstairs, she saw

the tea laid out. Her parents were talking to the housekeeper.

“We haven’t moved anything,” said the housekeeper. “I locked up the

house as per your orders.”


“Can we go to Grandma’s?” Maya asked.

“Not yet. Your father and I are busy. We’ll go there tomorrow,” her

mother answered.

“I want to go now,” Dhruv chimed in, his mouth filled with cookies.

“We can go on our own, it’s not like we haven’t done that before. And we

were younger then,” Maya added.

“The house is empty, sweetheart. Are you sure you want to go alone?”

“Yes Mom.”

Maya met her father’s eye pleadingly. He sighed and gave her the keys.

“Take care of your brother. And call if you need us.”

“I will.”


And so, Maya and Dhruv set out towards the cottage. There wasn’t a soul

to be seen, the cottage was at the farthest corner of the town. The dusty road

that they were now walking on had once bustled with activity as people visited

Maya’s grandmother. Lost in reminiscing about the past, the two arrived at the

cottage. As she unlocked the door, Maya felt Dhruv’s hand slip into hers. She

gave him a squeeze and they entered. Everything was exactly as it always had

been. Her grandmother wasn’t a big fan of change. The furniture was as

organized as ever, the floor was spotless, but the house felt strange without the

old lady who was warmer than the sun.


“It doesn’t feel right without her,” Maya heard her brother mutter. “And

it never will again.”

She gave his hand another squeeze. “Atleast, we got to see her a week

before she…left.” She remembered the last time the grandmother had visited

them in the city.


The siblings sat there in silence for quite some time, lost in their own

thoughts. Their grandmother had been their closest confidant, their dearest

friend and their favourite family. It had been a hard loss. An entire chapter of

Maya’s life was over, and she would have given anything to read that chapter

again.


After about an hour, Maya gathered her wits and saw that her brother

had fallen asleep on the sofa. She quietly made her way to the back door and

slipped out, into the forest. She felt her eyes clouding up again; this time she let

the tears fall. The path that had once been hers, which had welcomed her with

open arms whenever she came to it wasn’t the same.

It wasn’t familiar anymore.

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