It was a busy day as Ravi had been transferred to another city. The city was unfamiliar and strange for him. Now he was moving through an unknown place.
Having no friends and relatives beside him, he felt hopeless. After reaching his apartment provided by his company, his legs had become numb out of the hectic travel. Another day he placed each and everything thing in its most suitable place. There was nobody to talk to him. He would lie down in the bed all the time and sometimes sat on his armchair with eyes shut trying to pacify his mind.
The gloomy, monotonous surrounding and the utter silence seemed to him like a monster trying to devour his body and soul, as he tried to keep his eyes open to save himself from any such fear.
After spending one week peacefully, he decided on a splendid jaunt in the city but unlike others he liked places which are full of greenery and vegetation. He thought of moving through terra incognita like an alien, to explore the uncharted and unmapped.
On asking native people he came to know about the jungle which was around 50 miles from the city. Since his childhood days he was a nature lover and always desired to wander in a jungle to see its grandeur. Big and old trees had always charmed his naive unripened mind.
The beauty of the city dazed him and the sunset on the Riverside stunned him every time he stole a glance at it. After working six days straight he felt extremely worn out and decided to refresh himself. Next morning he woke up early in the morning after his breakfast he left home at eight o’clock in the morning via bicycle.
On his way he felt like a flooded river flowing with its strong water ripples and sometimes like a wind with a soothing aura, speeding very slowly.
After two hours of constant ride he felt dehydrated and exhausted and bathed in his own sweat. It was ten o’clock but luckily the Sun seemed very kind as it was not as bright as it would have been in his own city at this time.
There was a juice seller near the road side, after seen only plain roads about 10 kilometres he stopped suddenly to have some orange juice. Drinking a full glass of fresh juice which seemed a thirst quencher, he was now more energetic towards his journey although at this point he felt somewhat quandary as he was sceptic about going alone, now his excitement was vanishing slowly as he was going ahead.
After he covered some more distance, he suddenly saw an old lady at the roadside.She was walking very hardly and was unable to go by foot, she was asking for a lift.
Raju was on a cycle almost 25 kilometres from the city, so he was not in a mood of offering lift to the old woman. He was very tired and considering his decision of exploring jungle as wrong, now he wanted to go back as the time also was not allowing him to go ahead.
The old lady insisted Raju to give her lift to her home. He was in a dilemma. That place was very far from the city and not a single house or even a shop was visible.
He asked the old lady about the jungle. “Aunty, is that jungle a vast one?”
She avoided the question and offered him a cup of coffee and a short talk with him at her place.
“I will tell you everything about the jungle and the ways to explore it.” She added, “This forest is like an ocean of trees. If anyone tries to go alone, he will not come back on his own. It is like a labyrinth, but I can help you if you want to peep into this beautiful, mysterious jungle.”
He was very confused, he thought twice but his reply was a no because it was already 2 o’clock by his watch and he was running out of time.
He replied very hesitatingly, “but I have to go back home now, it’s already late. I am riding since 8 in the morning.
“Oh lord, poor boy. My heart goes out to you,” she said very sweetly. “Look at your face, you are so tired, your eyes are turning red out of weariness. You should come with me, it’s not a child’s game to ride a cycle for such a long distance.”
She ordered him to go with her. “You would not be able to ride anymore, trust me.”
“I am just like your grandma,” she said.
After meditating for almost ten minutes he agreed to go with her.
Because of his upbringing he was feeling very afraid to go with a stranger at such a deserted place.
Raju told her to sit on the back seat, she almost jumped on the seat as she listened to him.
His hands shook out of her sudden jump and excessive weight.
But eventually he felt that the weight became very light, and the cycle ran very fast without much help of him. He was quite astonished, in perplexities he reached very soon near a hut.
Its walls were made up of soil and painted with cow dung. The paintings on the walls was very clean and beautiful. That was single hut he could see, anything else visible were the old big trees with broad trunk, some trees were touching the sky telling the story of their grandeur.
He asked her with surprise, “Aren’t you scared living here alone?”
Her heavy laughter created a frisson in his heart.
She laughed so hardly that tears came rolling out of her eyes.
“I am not alone,” she said fearlessly. “These trees are very friends of mine and much more beneficial and loving than selfish people like us.These trees are giving you everything but think what you can give them.”
She was staring at him as asking for a reply.
He was very frightened and her eyes with the silent atmosphere was chilling his bones.
He replied, “Nothing.”
He thought that the old lady might be angry at him because he had not helped her on her first request.
“Sorry Aunty,” he said in a shivering voice. “I did not help you immediately.”
“Oh that’s fine,” she turned her face on the other side keeping her back on his face. “That’s what we all do when we see someone in need. We all are poor and pathetic. Leave it. Come inside and I will give you some rice to eat.”
Inside the hut each and every thing was made up of wood. Chairs, mattresses a small bed and even the utensils in which she offered him rice was wooden.
After some rice she made coffee and offered him a cup of coffee. The cup was so beautifully painted that he couldn’t resist myself from asking her. From where have you bought these mugs.
She laughed again, “Oh that’s made by me. The whole wall paintings and other paintings you see here is made by me only. On the walls very minute details were painted of marriage ceremonies.”
He said, “So you are an artist. But why do you live here away from the people?”
“It’s a long story,” she said, “I have been living here for almost eighty years. When I was married the days were pleasant, everything was so beautiful. I always loved to serve my family and husband in all possible ways but when I was not able to have kids even after ten years of my marriage, I was beaten and thrown out of my house. They called me witch, barren,” she abruptly stared at him.
He was shocked seeing her face, looking so strange.
His hands become cold, though he tried to look calm but his heart was beating in his mouth and his lungs was coming out due to fear. His mouth was dry and lips stuck to one other, he wanted to go back.
After some moments of silence, she started again. “I was beaten to death so I ran to this jungle and these trees gave me shelter and motherly love.”
Although he was hesitant of interrupting her but it became necessary to break her talk.
“It was very cruel of them, they were really very coward and selfish. Your decision was absolutely right.”
Murmuring these two sentences he said to her with his legs wobbling, “I should leave now.”
Without listening to him she interrupted,
“Oh you can stay here overnight, I will provide you delicious dinner. Don’t take me for a stranger.”
“You are no more a stranger for me now,” he tried to convince her forcefully. “It’s already evening and today I maybe not able to see the jungle. So it’s is worthless to stay. A holiday is falling after three days that is on Thursday. I will join you to the adventure of the jungle on Thursday.”
“Of course,” she said happily. “I am very happy to know that but better come with a car or a scooter.”
She laughed again whole heartedly.
“I want to let you know one more thing before you go from here, I help every one who goes to the jungle from this route, everybody knows me because I am like a jungle map,” she laughed again.
“Ok then, I’ll come on Thursday,” he promised.
She bid goodbye with her eyes full of hope and blessings.
Raju came home late and ordered some food and fell asleep as soon as he lay down on the bed .
He was counting the days. Each and every second was very long.
He was laughing at his fear that he felt with old lady. There was nothing to fear he thought, she was such a pure soul who was abandoned.
Wednesday night was less sleepy for Raju.
Next day he woke up very early and got ready to go to the jungle.
He took a scooter which he rented and started his journey.
After riding 20 to 30 miles he was not getting the point where he had met the old lady.
He thought of the juice seller and started searching for him, after covering some kilometres he saw the juice seller and asked about the old lady, who lives alone in the forest.
Giving a lot of stress on his memory he tried to recall some details of the old woman.
He said, a lady was found roaming here and there near this deserted area but these years nobody has seen her.
He thought maybe the juice seller was new in this area thats why he was not able to tell the address.
Now without losing hope he started riding again and after going quite far from the city, he was now getting nervous but suddenly remembered a turn. He took a turn which was familiar of the route which he has covered with the old lady.
But going some kilometres he became hopeless as he didn’t see any hut.
He was very tired physically and exhausted mentally.
He saw a huge peepal tree and sat down in its shed, meditating what to do next.
The whole journey was going to be worthless as his search was incomplete. Now he was thinking of the old lady and the journey became secondary for him.
He was meditating on what happened with him on Sunday, where had she gone.
He cried vehemently, “Where are you, jungle map?”
His own voice echoed through out the jungle and came back to him.
Anupama Mishra currently lives in Varanasi. Her poems have been published in Literary Yard, Best Poetry and Spillword. Image: Forest Edge, Wassily Kandinsky, 1903