- 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
“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?”
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.”
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
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.