He was lying down awake in his bed, gasping for air like every other morning for the past month. Staring at the ceiling, he counted down anticipating the end of the pain, but this time it never came. One quick shallow breath after the other, he pushed himself up on his elbows, and groaned annoyed at the sweat dripping into his eyes.
In his sleep, he was on fire. Now, his lungs burned like leftover charcoal. The flame was gone, but the white heat remained, a reminder and sign of the things to come. He couldn’t delay it any longer. Giaan reached for his wooden cane lying beside his bed, and whacked the side of the wall three times.
Rachna came rushing in through the door, her naturally large eyes widening to the size of serving spoons. Despite his condition, Giaan chuckled at the sight of his granddaughter’s panicked expression.
“Calm down, child. You look like a slow loris again.” he managed to wheeze out. Alarmed at the whistling sound of his voice, Rachna dropped to the floor, reaching around Giaan’s back with one arm and holding his head straight with the other. She lifted him up to a sitting position, and like an unruly wave, dread flooded her mind as she felt the body of her grandfather. It did not matter how much she fed him, the once burly man she knew was slowly shrinking like a starving dog. She could feel every single rib and vertebrae protruding from his back. As Rachna felt her eyes sting, she bit her lower lip, preventing the tears from escaping. Instead she focused on wiping the sweat off Giaan’s body with a damp cloth she prepared the night before.
“Rachna, take me to Umshiang” Giaan said softly, his voice still hoarse, but Rachna could hear the relief brought buy the oils in the cloth.
“It is time for you to learn the Art, my dear” Giaan interrupted. Rachna stared at him shocked, her words caught in her throat, and forming a familiar ball of pain. Any words she wanted to say, instead stuck to it, making each second that passed harder to breathe.
It was too early.
The next hour was a blur. She was sitting by the fig tree, growing beside the river, but she could not remember how she got there. Giaan was talking to her, but she could not hear him and she did not want to. She could not be here. She was not ready. Not ready to be alone again.
“No!” she interrupted her grandfather. A look of surprise crossed his face, before he smiled and gently touched her face.
“I will go and see your parents soon, but I can not go without teaching you first. The fig tree and you, my dear, have a lot in common. Both of you need to be guided in the right way, before you can carve out your own path. Trust the tree, and it will reward you with its strength. But most importantly, always trust in yourself. Do not doubt that we will be watching over you, my dear” Giaan finished with a heavy sigh.
Rachna knew she had to accept what was coming. It took all of her will not to run away into the forest. Instead, she wiped her tears away and touched the roots she would weave and care for the next fifteen years.
“Teach me how to make a living bridge, Grandpa” she whispered, already thinking of the path she was going to take.
This short story was inspired by a BBC episode of Human Planet I watched recently. Here’s the article that talks about living bridges:
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂