Szymon Jarosławski wrote this story for the Duckbill Workshop in Bangalore. Our thanks to Szymon for letting us use this for the blog.
Rahul was a pretty boy. But the sweetness of his face didn’t match with the bitterness of his behaviour. In fact, he was the most famous school bully. Lakshmi, John and Mohamed endured his mocking the most. But, the school was over for the time being and this summer holiday could bring about a change in this state of affairs. So decided the vindictive three and they pondered revenge strategy.
They slipped a love letter into his school locker. “I am head over heels for you, Rahul. Please come to the school’s swimming pool today at dusk. We will celebrate the last day of school together. Love, XXX”. Not being sure who his fan was, but convinced of his charm and allure, Rahul had an early dinner, grabbed a swimming cap and trunks and headed to the pool.
The revengeful three arrived at the pool a little late, but Rahul was no longer there.
“Look,” Moha said, “isn’t this Rahul cap floating on the surface of the pool?” The others agreed-it was a rainbow cap which matched perfectly with his beautiful face. But Rahul himself was already not there. Not even in the changing rooms or in the lifeguard tower.
They split into the four corners of the school yard, each yelling Rahul’s name with a worry mounting in the pitch of their voices.
“Is he setting us up again? Is it yet another of his tricks to poke fun at us?” John thought loudly.
“Aahaa!”, screemed Lakshmi,” come all here now! Horrible! I think I can see remnants of his cloths, they have been burnt, and the smell of burnt fabric is hovering over them and sneaking into my nose! And here! I can also see pieces of Yakshagana mask! Jeez, the pieces of the mask look so scary! Has he been captured by the forest demons?”
“Let’s get lost guys! Please! It’s getting freaky here. Rahul is taking fun of us again! reconfirmed himself John.
“And what if something horribly, horribly, horribly terrible has happened to him?! We have to follow the traces of his cloths and Yakshagana mask into the forest! Maybe we can still save him!” Lakshmi pointed at bits and parts of Rahul’s t-shirt lying on the ground which directed to a path leading deep into the forest.
You are right, nodded Moha and all four decided to save Rahul from something dreadfully, intolerably, disgustingly awful that might have happened to him, and maybe because of their spiteful plot.
Once they stepped into the forest, a thumping sensation stroke soundly their feet. Are these vibrations of Yakshagana ragas what we can feel on the ground? asked John. “Rather pounding of the feet of dancers”, replied Moha. “You mean d-d-demons?” reacted John anxiously.
“Look guys! Can you see the glowing in the far? Is it a fire?” said adventurously Lakshmi. “It must be a big one! A small fire wouldn’t give such a high radiance! It’s visible over the crowns of the trees and almost touching the sky! Hurry up guys! “
A few moments later they reached an enormous clearing, filled with a vast fire jiggling in a fervent dance.
“Look! Near that tree on the other side of the clearing! Isn’t it Rahul?! I can see him!” said Lakshmi and all four kids started shouting Rahul’s name, but the person they saw didn’t react. Swallowing the fear of the fire, they cautiously walked towards him, following the circular edge of the clearing.
But the boy who looked like Rahul stand petrified, gazing at the fire without reaction to them calling his name. “What’s happened to you, Rahul?” Lakshmi screamed while tapping the boy on his shoulder.
The moment she touched him, his body fell apart into a 100 of pieces of various shapes, like a rock struck by lightning. The four were shaken to the core by what had just happened, but they could only discharge a silent sigh of despair. “It’s not my fault!” defended herself Lakshmi bursting into tears.
“Welcome my sweet children!” a low but polite voice emerged from behind their back. “We are happy you have joined us in our yearly ceremony.” The four turned back and saw a group of countless demons wearing Yakshagana masks and hovering above the ground right in the centre of the vast blaze. They were unharmed by the fire and all had a sweet smile on their face.
“We need your help tonight” – a monster hovering in front of the assembly continued.”For our rites to be successful we need to transform a human being into a better person during this ceremony. We know that you have all suffered because of Rahul’s mockery. But he will no longer bother you with his nasty tricks. Tonight, you have a wonderful chance to transform him into a better person, according to your wish. Just collect the pieces of his body and reassemble them into a new Rahul, who will no longer be able to hurt you. Shall you start my dear?” The demon pointed at Lakshmi.
Without hesitation she recalled how awful she felt when Rahul pulled her plaits. And once, he even attached his chewing gum into them, so that her mom had to remove it with an iron.
“All right, I will reconstruct you without those nasty hands and also completely bold. I will also place a big scar on your face, made with a hot iron. You should have a lesson. “
The creature which emerged was so repulsive that all got a fright on seeing it.
“I will do it better,” said Moha. “He kept giving me painful kicks in my butt. I’ll take away his legs and I’ll make his butt large and red like in a monkey. “
Again, the monster which came out was so revolting that the four kids covered their eyes with the hands and could only observe it through holes between fingers.
John also had a lot of grief about all the mocking which Rahul had done to him and attempted to reconstruct him deformed according to his wish. But this time, instead of remerging as another handicapped creature, Rahul diffused into the air like a powder and took a shape of a Yakshagana demon.
“That’s enough my dears. You have done a wonderful job. Our rite has been successful and Rahul is one of us now.” the demon said with delight.
“How come!” Lakshmi shrieked. “You have cheated on us!”
“Why do you say so my dear?! We asked you to transform Rahul into a better person and you had three attempts. Each time the person who emerged was more appalling than Rahul himself. You all pitied him and wanted to change him into a better person, but none of you have forgiven him his deeds. We know, this lies in is your human nature.”
“My dear”, he continued with a grin, “people would rather try to change themselves than forgive each other and so we gather yearly in this forest to perform the ritual and we have a new fellow joining us as a demon each year. We all used to be humans but each of us had a friend whom we hurt and who wanted us to become someone different. But now, as you can see my dear we are all alike so we cannot hurt each other. Even the fire cannot hurt us and a smile is always on our face. Conversely! We love the searing touch of the fire on our skin!”
“Ssssssearing!” repeated other demons with joy.
On hearing the choir of demons chanting the sound, John got so scared that he backed away and run at full pelt back to the school yard.
“Oh no, I’ll never forget Rahul, I’ll never forget what has happened to him because of us. I’ll dream nightmares about the demons and the ugly incarnations of Rahul which we created according to our desires. I wish I had never wanted to take revenge on him” lamented Lakshmi. “Can anything be done to bring him back with us?”
“Hmmm”, demon’s eyes went up and to the side in search of an answer. “There is indeed one thing that can be done my dear, but it doesn’t require any action from you”
“I don’t understand! How can we bring Rahul back with us without doing anything? Lakshmis’s voice attained its highest register.”
“Well yes my sweetheart, you can. In fact you must stop doing something. You should stop holding your grief towards Rahul and stop wanting to change him according to your wish. Only if that happens, Rahul he will come back to his human form. But, if you cannot let go of those feeling, the memory of demons will remain within you and your nights will be restless.”
“Restlesssssssssss!”, repeated other demons with pleasure which sent shivers up the spine of the kids.
Hastened by the terrifying sound both Lakshmi and Moha shouted towards the crowd of demons, hoping that Rahul will hear them: “I f-o-r-g-i-v-e y-o-u!”
As they opened their mouths a disgusting puke of resentful memories started to pour out and into the giant fire in the centre of the clearing. They vomited straight in the blaze, getting rid of the most hurtful, disgusting and deep-rooted resentments they were holding towards Rahul’s behaviour at school. The fire was razing all the barf and the earth beneath absorbing the ashes. After they threw up completely and no more bile was coming out of their mouths, they felt a great relief in their stomachs and a feeling of lightness in their heads.
One demon emerged in front of the fire while others backed away in the rear. “I forgive both of you too” he said as his mask started to resemble Rahul’s face.
Other demons were so moved by the scene that streams of tears started flowing from their eyes, pumped in abundance by moaning and sniffing ejected from their stomachs. They all wished they could reconcile with people who had wanted to change them, just like has just happened to Rahul. Their torrential tears started forming a pool of water which slowly quenched the enormous fire, and multiple torrents ejected from the clearing in the four corners of the world.
The demons got carried away by the water in various directions, each by a stream fed by his own weeping. They all swam to find people who had once turned them into demons and with whom they wanted to exchange transforming hugs of forgiveness. These people would soon have a chance to let go of the anguish of stagnant memories, restless nights and demonic voices about people whom they had wanted to change.
“Good luck!” yelled happily the three kids to the demons as headed back to the school yard while holding their hands.
“Wait, where is John?” noticed Moha. “He must be hiding in one of the lockers in the changing rooms by the swimming pool”, made a joke Lakshmi, “scared and reviewing in his head all the horror which he has seen in the forest.”
“Poor him!” responded Rahul. “I am feeling so fresh and spacious inside, as if there was a vast rainbow arching across my body.” he continued spreading his arms widely. “Let’s go and tell him how it all ended. Maybe he didn’t have the courage to face the cruelty of his own thoughts, but he too deserves to feel what I am feeling right now!”
They found John weeping at the school yard and Rahul reached the arms towards him for a hug. With their eyes closed, they both could see now an inner rainbow lightening the insides of their bodies in spite of the night.
The other two joined Rahul and John in a circle by holding their hands and the rainbows expanded even more and merged between the kids. The past has been flushed the past into the past and a fresh ground emerged for the experience of the present moment – the beginning of the summer break.