Suva remained on the cold tiles in her grandmother’s room, alone. She looked over to the bed which looked empty. As she moved closer to it, however, she saw the thin frame of what used to be the old lady, all crumpled and hollow, so thin it looked as if it could be blown away and scattered with a only a small gust of air.
Kajol the maid walked in, as if she knew, and covered up the old woman as if she were still alive but only cold.
“Do not worry, I will look after you,” she said to Suva. She went about straightening up the room, putting things away, dusting, turning things off, switching things on.
“Would you like to go to school today? Can you manage or do you think you want to stay at home?” she asked Suva, never pausing. She continued to pick up things from the floor and sweep away the dust with her broom.
Suva struggled to think. She had not slept and the sun was appearing through the netting which covered the large glass doors that opened out into the garden.
Orange and yellow, promising to be fierce, it set fire to the horizon first, then the forest, then the pond and then finally the garden.
Suva’s eyelids felt heavy. She mumbled something about not being able to go to school today and almost was too tired to make it to her own bed. Kajol caught her just as she fell and helped her into her sheets.
Gently she moved the hair away from Suva’s face and kissed her lightly on the forehead, before finally placing the patchwork blanket made by the old woman who had just died, over Suva’s shoulders. Sleep was a blessing, she thought, as she left the room to finish the rest of the tasks for that morning.
It was difficult to say whether Suva’s mother was aware that Death had come and gone in the early hours of that morning. She did not stir. The funeral arrangements were made with as little fuss as was possible. Suva would not remember much except the actual passing. She longed to see Frog and the goddess again.
A few days later, Suva asked Kajol about the bracelet, remembering her grandmother’s story.
“Wait there. I will bring it,” was her reply.
Suva expected Kajol to have lost it or apply some kind of special condition before she handed over the precious jewellery to a child, but there was nothing of that sort and so Suva waited and watched.
When Kajol returned, Suva felt an unexpected new nervousness. Actually having the bracelet in her hands would make all of this, all of the strange things she had seen and experienced, real. She would know for sure that she had not been dreaming or hallucinating, as she sometimes told herself that she might have been.
It shone strangely in the light, in Suva’s hands. It felt reassuringly heavy as she slipped it onto her wrist. And warm. It felt warm to touch too. The pearls were a silvery grey and had that iridescent sheen all pearls did, she supposed and yet, she knew they were tears. Each one was slightly different to the last, all solid salt water droplets of varying sizes and shapes. Some pearls were so small that they could have been grains of rice, whilst others were as big and round as a pea.
“I’m glad you’ve got it now,” Kajol said, “I wasn’t comfortable keeping it with me. It sings at night, you know? It takes me a long time to fall asleep when all I can hear are the crickets and that thing!” She nodded towards Suva’s wrist and walked away quickly; she still had the evening meal to prepare.
Alone in her room, Suva held the bracelet up to the evening sunlight. She watched the rainbows dance on the surface of the pearls. She tried to listen for the singing but all she could hear were the birds and the insects which filled all her evenings.
Her mind wandered to that time when the fairy pinched her on her cheek and thought she could see the shape of it in one of the pearls. When she blinked, she could no longer see it. It was just a trick of the light and the shadows, the tiny imperfections of the tears she held up to the sun.
Suva placed the bracelet back on her wrist and closed her eyes. Leaning back on her pillows she felt the sun pleasantly warming her body, from her toes to her belly. The ceiling fan was off, winters in Calcutta were like perfect English summers, and the evenings were too cool to need fans.
Was that singing she could hear now?
Suva opened her eyes and blinked hard. She could still hear the musical buzzing. It wasn’t coming from her bracelet though.
She turned her head slowly to the right and saw what could only be described as a perfect ring of fairies holding hands and swaying. They smiled at Suva as they sang and one or two nodded.
Suva was holding her breath as she watched, gasping for air when her brain forced her to inhale.
Tiny, perfectly formed humans, they seemed to be, although their clothes seemed to be stitched to allow for wings and an extra pair of arms.
For over a minute Suva watched as the tiny creatures danced and bowed and smiled and sang until they all bowed a final time and waited for Suva to address them, as they knew she wanted to.
She blew on them instead. All her instincts drove her to dismiss the little beings as if they were dust. As soon as she did so, her hand went to her mouth. It was terrible mistake, she knew.
They flew back in surprise, as if a gust of November wind had taken them by surprise. They flew closer to her face, angrily buzzing and zipping around her head until Suva stopped trying to bat them away and stood with her eyes scrunched tight, screaming the word, ‘sorry’ over and over again through clenched teeth.
They stopped eventually, chittering and chattering in grumbling tones, amongst themselves when one of the fairies, or whatever these little creatures were, addressed Suva directly. The rest of them fell silent.
“We show ourselves to you at great risk and you insult us by trying to blow us away! Why would you do that?”
Suva bowed deeply, from her waist. She did not look up as she spoke.
“I am deeply sorry for offending you, your Royal Highness,” began Suva, “My mind, and every instinct that I have, told me that you and your people were not real. I’m not sure why I blew but I do know that I regretted it from the moment the breath left my mouth. Please forgive me.”
The fairy who had addressed Suva, was indeed the king and he was deeply moved and charmed by Suva’s little speech.
“We forgive you, little one. You must be wondering why we are here?”
“Yes indeed, your Royal Highness. I have no idea why you would see fit to visit me at this time.”
Suva wasn’t sure why she was talking like this but somehow had a feeling that it would be extremely unwise to insult the little fairy king further. She was still bowed and looking at the floor when she felt a tiny sensation, much like a kiss on her cheek.
“You may get up now, little Suva,” whispered a voice in her ear.
Suva straightened up and looked again at the ensemble of little flying creatures gathered in her room.
They wore their gossamer wings proudly on their backs, as they fluttered restlessly above the surfaces they chose to stand on. Each little fairy, with their pointed faces and ears had two pairs of arms and two pairs of wings, long like that of dragonflies. Their bodies were long too, almost like stick insects but they resembled humans more than any creepy crawly Suva ever saw. They were the height of matchsticks and about as thin and each one was so very beautiful. Their skin shone, much like the pearls on Suva’s bracelet but with hues of pink and peach and brown and black. Their hair was long and tied in intricate braids, even the king and the other males, and Suva wondered at how ugly and clumsy she must look to them.
“We are here to take you to where you must go. Come.”
And with that the fairies flittered and frolicked excitedly back and forth until Suva followed them out into the garden and through to the forest.
“There’s a story, you have heard it, I am sure,” called the king as he flew ahead of Suva. She found it difficult to see the fairies in the light but could just make them out as tiny orbs of stray sunlight hovering just above eye level and always ahead. They grew clearer in the darker green light of the forest and they were easier to follow, to Suva’s relief.
As they flew, they sang and Suva knew at once that this was the singing and buzzing Kajol Didi had spoken of.
“What story?” asked Suva, intrigued.
“The story of Tara and her adopted daughter.” The king was slightly out of breath at this point and finally rested on Suva’s shoulder, as she followed the rest of the fairies. He did not mind that Suva did not turn her head to look at him but he could not help but pull on her earlobe from time to time, in excitement.
“No, I do not know this story. Will you tell me?”
“Yes, once we get to headquarters. There is someone there with whom you must meet.”
The rest of the conversation fell away in Suva’s memory, and she could never remember it when later she tried, but the feeling of excitement and relief remained, as did the smell of the forest fruits and foliage.
Eventually the undergrowth grew thicker around them. Where leaves and branches would only occasionally brush against Suva’s body or face, now they had to be moved away and Suva would have to step through vines which would sometimes wrap themselves around her legs or arms, ensnaring her in tangled trailers, and pulling her back.
She found that if she did not think about the scratches and bruises and obstacles, but moved as if she were water or air, and not solid at all, she could avoid the traps and trips set by everything around her. She ceased to look at things individually, and they became whole, she with them and suddenly the journey became much smoother.
Soon they stopped. The fairies flittered and twittered and their king alighted ceremoniously, again with a small bow and Suva bowed back. She looked around her and saw that she was in a clearing in the forest. A perfect circle of trees formed a natural kind of stage. In the centre of it all was the great fairy king himself who stood now upon a perfectly placed rock. The rock rumbled and tugged at the ground, the earth shook and all the fairies hovered still and quiet until it eventually sank into the ground revealing a great hole, as black as night.
They all hovered above the ground before darting into the blackness they really should not be a part of. Surely hey belonged in the light, thought Suva. Even the king had gone, she noticed. Suva felt she had no choice. She followed suit and stood above the hole. The trees watched patiently Suva made up her mind to lower herself down.
What approach should she take? She wondered. Should she jump? Should sit on the edge and lower herself down. As she looked into the hole, where she stood, she could see nothing but blackness. There were no dancing buzzing fairy lights.
Suddenly she felt a gust of wind. She felt pushed and there was nothing she could do but fall, legs first. She was Alice down the rabbit hole and wondered if the story was not made up after all. Nothing now, would surprise her.