Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 14, Part 1
Sophie and Damini walked out of the building where the Learning Community met. Behind the building was a large ground and in the center of the ground stood a bright large yellow top festooned with streamers and large helium balloons that floated in the blue sky. "A Circus!", Damini exclaimed with joy. "Sophie, are we going to the circus?" "If you like", Sophie said, smiling at Damini's obvious delight. So the twosome headed towards the yellow top.
As they came closer, Damini saw that there were statuettes and gargoyles placed around the circus enclosure. The gargoyles were frightening but they were also funny in a weird way. Damini asked Sophie what they were since she had never seen anything like these near circuses. Surely, circuses were meant to invite children in, not frighten them away.
"Why don't you ask them?", Sophie said. Damini looked at Sophie incredulously - a gargoyle could speak. And then she remembered the Water Connoisseur and the other animals that could speak.
Before she could say anything, a particularly frightening gargoyle that looked like a frog with the head of a ram and was positioned right behind Damini said loudly "Surely you do not think that we are dumb?" Damini jumped out of her skin. Figuratively of course. Turning around she told angrily, "You did not have to frighten me!!!" "Is that not why we are here?", one statuette that looked like a tiny, frail woman with the head of a butterfly asked timidly. Quiet tentative she stretched out her proboscis and then curled it back up, as if she was afraid of frightening someone. A large one-eyed hippopotamus bellowed to the timid statuette "Stop behaving like you are still a novice". And then to no one in particular, he bellowed, "I wonder why they keep sending gargoyles who have not been completely trained. I think this entire new class is just too green." "They are interns", the frog-ram replied. "They still need practice." Damini just stood there looking completely bewildered. "Never mind them. Everyone!!! Back to black-level preparedness", the one-eyed hippo bellowed. The frog-ram, turning to Damini, piped up in a voice that was between a croak and a neigh:
"To go to the circus
"And how will you make me do that?", Damini asked, rather indignantly. "Well", Sophie interjected softly. "It is their circus, Damini. So you have to follow their rules. You will get the key to the circus only if you follow their rules. Besides, it will be a great experience, I assure you", she added. "Yes", said the timid statue with a butterfly head. "This will help you face your three greatest fears." "AAAAaaaaah!!!" bellowed the hippo. "Who told you to give the game away? Now what is the point of this whole thing?", the hippo stomped around. Then he stopped for a while and stared at Damini, his lips curling upwards and his eye twinkling with evil mischief. "You will have to go hug me if you want to go through."
"Don't you try anything funny now", Sophie said sternly. Immediately the hippo jumped to attention. He seemed petrified of Sophie. "Yes Ma'am", he said. "I was only thinking of the good that would do Damini, I assure you. Would not dream of harming her at all."
"All right Damini", Sophie said. "I must be off now. It was good meeting you. I am sure you will have a good time at the circus. And the other places you explore on Aipotu." "Oh!", Damini said, quiet surprised. She thought Sophie would come along as well. But Sophie gave her a quick hug and turned around to walk back towards the center. "Give my love to Filo too", Damini shouted back at her. Before she could mope at Sophie leaving, the frog-ram said. "Come along girl. We are waiting for your hugs." "You are supposed to say your lines in verse", Hippo thundered back at the frog-ram. "Don't push it hippo", the frog-ram replied. "I am not in a mood today. And on days such as this, it could be worse." "Well", Damini said to the Hippo, "if I have to hug you, I might as well begin with you." So with a sigh she approached the hippo, who stood stock still, and gave him a hug. Immediately, she was engulfed in a bright light and as her eyes focused to the light, she realized that there was a loud, vicious barking coming from in front of her. Immediately she backed away till her shoulders touched a wall. She was terrified of dogs. And as her eyes focused she realized that there was a large dog of some unknown pedigree standing about twenty meters ahead of her. It was at least as tall as she was. It was chained to a peg on the ground. She sighed at small mercies and then looked around to find her bearings.
She seemed to be in a long and narrow room. In fact it seemed more like a corridor. The entire corridor was lit up brightly. There was no opening except for a door at the other end. And the door was closed. With a vicious dog standing between the door and her, she found no way to get out. The dog continued to bark viciously and strained at his leash to get at Damini. It almost seemed that it would break its leash. Then for a short while it stopped barking and ran in the other direction. It strained at the leash in the direction that was directly opposite Damini. Then it raced back at Damini, barking viciously. It was drooling from its mouth. There was nothing for Damini to do. She was stuck. The hippo had got her now - for surely this was his doing.
Damini backed as far as she could from and dog and sat in the corner. As she sat something clanged next to her. She turned to see a rake with a very long handle clatter on the ground. It probably was resting in the corner and had slipped as Damini sat down. Damini picked it up, wondering if she could perhaps do something with it. But the rake was too thin and flimsy and the dog massive. She certainly could not use this as a weapon. She just sat down quietly. The dog continued to bark loudly at Damini and then followed a routine - running back and straining in the other direction, towards the door and then running at Damini and barking loudly. Damini just sat quietly - knowing there was nothing she could do. Her heart had now stopped racing and she was beginning to become calmer - as calm as a young girl who feels she has been taken prisoner can be.
And then she noticed it. She noticed it when the dog ran back towards her, barked, clawed in the air and then ran towards the door. Close to the door was a bowl. It certainly was a bowl of food. The dog was hungry and it wanted food. And to get the food, it was clawing at Damini - telling her something perhaps. Damini had to get the dog its food and she would be free. But the task was daunting. She was mortified of quiet dogs, harmless dogs. Here was a huge beast, drooling - and she had to get past him to his food. It was not going to happen. She sat back again.
But there was no way out. She had to do it. Quietly, she steeled herself and got up. She walked towards the dog - tentatively. When she was about four feet from the dog, it reared up and attempted to jump at Damini. The leash held him back. His jaws snapped a few inches away from her mouth. She gasped and threw herself back. There was no way she could get past the dog.
She slunk back to her corner. This was a strange beast indeed. It was hungry and yet it would not let her help it. Maybe, it was protecting its food, she thought. Sighing deeply, she let her hands fall. She put her head back, closed her eyes, resigning herself to the situation. And then, when her hand touched the wooden rake, it struck her. Of course. That was why the long rake was there. Quickly, she jumped up and picked up the rake. She walked up as far as she could go and yet be safe from the dog, dropped to her knees and then stretched the rake out in front of her. Swinging it, on the floor, she felt the other end touch the bowl. The dog was perhaps used to his exercise and did not bother her. In fact, it had now begun to yap excitedly. Quickly, Damini pulled the bowl towards the dog, but making sure that it was along one of the walls of the corridor. As soon as the bowl was within reach of the beast it leaped on to it, as if it was a rabbit that would escape. The bowl overturned and the food fell on the ground. But the dog just lapped it up. As soon as the dog was focused on the food, Damini stood up and began to slink towards the door. The dog did not even look up. She crossed the dog, and then with a sigh she ran towards the door. Reaching the door in a few running strides, she grabbed the knob. But it would not turn. She pushed the door, but it would not budge. The door was locked. She had gone through all this trouble for nothing. She was exasperated, frustrated, angry. Completely drained, she turned around. The dog had finished eating and now wagged its tail and woofed playfully. It looked at Damini for a second and then went back to finishing some crumbs that were left on the floor and to licking the bowl. As it licked the bowl, there was a metallic clink. There was a key hanging from the dog's collar - the key to the door.