Reluctantly, Suva sat down on the tiger skin and was at once struck by the warmth and softness of it. She fell into the familiarity of listening. She was receptive once again. Her anger was washed away and she accepted the strange man with matted hair who needed to tell her a story.
“There was once a girl who lived in perfect happiness with her mother and father in a cold grey land, seven seas and thirteen rivers away. The cold and the grey did not touch them, for when they were together they created colours and warmth beyond anything the eye could imagine or the hand could ever touch.
But one day, tragedy befell the family. The mother, beautiful but frail, fell ill. It was as if she was cursed. Where she once laughed, she now cried out in pain. There was nothing anyone could do. The father, usually so sure, was filled with a hopelessness he had never felt before. What could he do? Doctors could not cure his wife, they could find nothing to explain the pain and the tears. Some people said that the little girl needed a mother but the little girl did not notice. She was entranced by her father who could weave magic with his stories and who could make dragons and fairies appear with just a word.”
Suva listened in disbelief. This was her story but it was wrong. Her mother was happy, always happy while her father was with them. Nevertheless, she could not interrupt. The man continued.
“One day, the father sat down in secret and spoke to the girl’s mother. ‘What is it, my love? This is no physical pain. Why are you so sad?’ The mother, whose eyes were so dark and which reached so deep into her father’s soul simply pointed to her belly and then looked at the girl. He knew then and understood.”
Suva did not understand. What did he mean?
As if hearing the question in her thoughts, the man continued, “the mother wanted another child but could not have one. She could not explain why she needed another child so badly, only that she felt a pull so strong that it forced her to call out in pain. For months and months she would not tell another soul. She would only weep, clutching her stomach in pain. You see, when the girl was born, there was a complication which meant that the mother had to have her womb removed. She could never carry another child again. At the time, the new parents were so grateful for the miracle of life, twice (you see, the mother should not have lived but they begged and begged for both of their lives, mother and child) that they promised each other that it mattered not that there could not be a second. And for a good few years, perhaps four or five years, this was true. Remember, the colours and the warmth?
One day, however, something Evil entered their home. He did not have a name and barely had a shape but he was there, walking amongst whispers which fell from bitter aunts and twisted neighbours. He came because he could not stand the happiness these people feasted on every day. They had cheated death and they were not paying for it, not as far as he could tell.
He came when they least expected it, when the child slept and the man smoked. The mother was reading a story about a wronged wife and she tutted and clucked at the sadness of the woman on the page. Oh, how smug, she was, thought the Evil. ‘You too, have been wronged. Not by your husband, mind you. Fate has wronged you, my darling,’ whispered the Evil, ‘You will never have another child. The child who sleeps without a care in her heart, robbed you of this simple right. The child who is the light of your husband’s world has robbed you of his love too. Do you notice how he barely looks at you anymore? He is not concerned with you anymore. You are no longer a priority to him. She did this!’
The mother tried to swat the Evil away but it was of no avail. Night after night, the whisperings haunted the mother and there was nothing she could do.
Eventually she succumbed and was overcome with guilt and anger and then guilt again. For a long time, she could not look at her daughter, the one who had brought her so much love and laughter. For many months all she could feel was a hole filled with bitterness. Hands grew out of the hole and clutched at her heart and her mind and the pain grew more and more unbearable.
One day, after she confessed, after she admitted that this desire and hate made no sense, she agreed to talk to a doctor who was skilled in helping people who suffered thus.
As you can imagine, the Evil could not have this. He could feel his power loosen and he became smaller, but then he had another idea. He was Evil, after all. He had no limits to what he could do.
He whispered one last time, into the ear of the mother and was most insistent that he had a cure for her sadness. All she would have to do was to kill the girl. It was that simple. Once she was gone, life could return to the way it was before she was born. The mother could return to being the woman she once was. The father would love her again.
She did not understand. This was not right. She looked at the little girl and saw her for what she was. She was her little girl. She was her bundle of stars and planets and hopes and dreams and all of a sudden, the whispers stopped, the Evil was gone. He was banished through the window he came through. He could not stand it! He threw himself against the wall and lay broken on the floor. After a while, he flew up the rooftop and howled. How could he lose when he was so close?
There was nothing for it. He would take the girl himself and the mother, in her confusion would blame herself. That is what he would do.
But it was harder this time, to get back inside. The windows, though open would not let him in. There must be another way, he thought.
He called from outside. ‘Little girl, little girl, let me in. I have a secret to share with you. Or better still, come outside. Come up on the roof and look at what the night sky holds.’
The little girl was asleep but she heard the whispers. She rubbed her eyes and looked around her room. There was nothing there. She went to her window and saw a little bird. It was like no other bird she had seen before and she certainly could not name it. It came so close, its orange beak was touching the glass. It tapped and hopped on the sill outside, beckoning and charming the little girl until she opened her window as wide as it would go.
Gingerly, she stepped outside into the cold. She could see her breath as she puffed her way across on the outside sill. There was no plan. She was simply following the bird which hopped up higher on a ledge she had never noticed before.
All at once, the door slammed open from inside the room and the girl’s father stood in the doorway, holding his breath, in case any movement would cause his little girl to stumble and fall.
The little girl turned and looked. She realized then what she had done and was all at once, afraid. She would not be able to get back inside without help.
“Daddy,” she called, her voice, barely above a whisper.
“I’m here, don’t move,” he replied. But as the father moved closer he began to hear the whispers too.
“You can have the girl if I can have you. Surely that would work? What have you got to lose? There’s nothing left for you here now anyway! Can you do this one thing for your family? They’ll be better off without you. You know that.”
“Would they?” he asked. This was the worst thing he could have done. For, once he engaged the evil in a conversation, he could never win. The only way to defeat evil was if you did not acknowledge it, did not give it the space to breathe in your thoughts. It could always find a way to use your thoughts against you.
“Yes, they would. They need to move on from you, with space to love each other. You will only get in the way. Your wife needs to see your daughter for the wonder that she is and your daughter needs to see the love your wife has for her too. Right now, the girl thinks she is unloved. Is that any way for a little girl to grow up?”
“No, you’re right.” And with that the man, the father and husband stepped into the darkened room and walked to the window.
“Hold my hand,” he called to the girl. I’ll help you back inside. And she came and hugged her father tight.
“I did not know what I was doing. I was following the bird. I’m sorry, Papa,” the girl sobbed into the man’s shirt.
It did not take long to settle the girl into her bed. It was simply moments before she was asleep, breathing peacefully into the neck of her favourite toy. The man stayed in the room the whole time, watching the rise and fall of her little form. He had made up his mind and had made his peace. He couldn’t bring himself to kiss his wife goodbye, though. It was possibly the one thing that might have persuaded him to stay.
Silently, he stood up and walked towards the open window once again. He climbed out onto the sill and stood. For a moment he faltered, when a breath of wind tried pushing him back against the wall.
“Remember your promise,” whispered the Evil.
And with that, he stepped off into a void.