‘As the swing arced higher, a fairy’s wand brushed my hair’

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Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

I have a surprise for you!” my sister Rani announced with a conspiratorial wink, as I came to the breakfast table, drawn by the aroma of toast, fried eggs and fried chapattis. Six years old, I was wary since I never knew if she meant a good or nasty surprise.

The stillness of the morning air was a harbinger of the heat to follow. But it was still early enough that the crows with their raucous calls were looking to scavenge from the garden outside. After we cleaned off the table, we ran into the garden to explore. The marigolds were bright in the morning sunshine and the pale green cabbage butterflies hovered delicately over the blossoms and dragonflies buzzed overhead, their diaphanous wings as finely spun as silver gossamer.

“There is a fairy in our garden,” my sister said, her eyes brimming with excitement. “What? Are you sure? You are making this up, aren’t you? Just to tease me?” I asked. “No, I really mean it. She is beautiful and kind and will not show herself to anyone but me. But I did beg her to meet you and she has agreed to touch you with her magic wand, as long as you promise to do exactly as I tell you.”

I nodded, anxious to please. For so long, I had wanted a battery operated car I could sit in and drive around. Perhaps, the fairy would get me one.

My sister was quite the tomboy — taller and stronger than me. As we neared the great swings, I felt a little uneasy. I was not good with heights and was quite scared of falling off the swing if it went too high. I never dared to stand on the seat. I was quite content to sit on it and push it as far back as I could, digging my heels into the ground.

“Come on now. Hurry up,” my sister commanded imperiously. “Remember now, you have to keep your eyes shut or the fairy will not touch you with her wand.”

I jumped on the seat and shut my eyes. My sister stood, towering over me, as she started to push with her body, knees bent to thrust forward better. Each time she pushed the swing a little bit higher. Pretty soon we were doing wide arcs of a hundred and twenty degrees. My heart was racing. I kept my eyes shut, praying I would not slide off the smooth worn plank of the seat.

The wind rushed at me, as the swing arced higher and higher. “I see her now. Keep your eyes shut. She is coming towards us,” Rani said.

And lo and behold, a soft feathery touch of a fairy’s wand brushed my hair lovingly. I was ecstatic and also terrified. It was true. The fairy had touched me!

That night I was so excited I could hardly sleep.

For the next few months I had to do all sorts of favours for Rani. I also had to lose every fight. To reward me, she would take me to the giant swings to feel the fairy’s gossamer touch.

One day, my curiosity got the better of me. I had my eyes shut the whole time, but as the grand moment approached, I could not resist opening them. All around me I could see the branches of the gulmohar tree in a green blur. The orange yellow blossoms were bursting with the heat of the summer. And the tiny green leaves grew thickly in fronds

Just as the fairy touched my head, I opened my eyes just in time to see a large green frond brush my hair.

I was both embarrassed and angry. My sister thought it was the most ingenious prank she had ever pulled. She roared with laughter, tears rolling down her face, as paroxysms seized her uncontrollably, making me clutch the seat in terror.

She added this to her arsenal of blackmail and I never really trusted her after that day.

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