Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 1, Part 1
Sharad's shrill voice startled Damini. The cotton and wool elephant staring back at her looked different from the one that was speaking with her a moment ago.
`Damini, we are all ready to go", Sharad shouted as he ran into her room. Entering her room, he stared at her for a second and then turned around shouting, "Mummmmy.. Damini is not ready yet".
"Damini, get ready beta", Mummy's voice wafted up. "You do not want to be late for a picnic, do you?".
Sharad made a face at her, pulled her hair and ran out. "Mummy!!!" shrieked Damini, more as a necessary response to being teased than because it hurt her. She sighed and swung her legs off the bed. She was not really looking forward to the picnic. None of her friends would be there. Aarti had gone to visit her grandparents and Tina was ill. The rest of the children who would be there were Sharad's friends. Well at least Sharad would not spend the whole day teasing her. She loved Sharad and liked to hang around with him. But an older brother could sometimes be such a nuisance.
"Damini", her mother called. Damini could sense her mother's impatience and began to change. "Coming Maa", she called down. A blue pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt would do. Putting on her sneakers, she grabbed Ollie, the stuffed elephant and ran down.
The afternoon sun was high and glared down. However, only the most lithe beams filtered through the leaves of the large Banyan tree as the leaves danced in the breeze - first blocking one beam then another. Squinting as she lay on a cushion of soft grass at the trunk of the tree, Damini could make the beams change colors and form webs. The raucous yelling of Sharad and his friends playing cricket reached her from a distance. Her mother and the other women had gone on a walk along the river. Damini lay in this undefined region between sleep and wakefulness as her eyelids played with the sunbeams of their own volition.
The sunbeams began to form shapes of their own. The rays intertwined to form a spiral ladder - almost like some pictures she had seen in Sharad's biology book - and then reformed into a net - like a web of a large spider. Ollie, who had been lying quietly by Damini, swung his trunk and jumped onto the web. Whoever has seen an elephant hop knows that it can't be done. But then very few folks have seen a stuffed elephant hop by itself, anyhow. Immediately the web began to rise.
"Ollie", Damini shrieked. Before she had time to think what she was doing, her hands grabbed the rising web. She was not sure what surprised her more - that Ollie was going away without her or that a web formed of sunrays was moving. But she surely could not let Ollie take off by himself. And yet, as she looked up, Ollie stood unperturbed and confident, as if he knew where he was going. The web had now begun to rise faster. She looked down to see the treetops moving away. Sharad and his friends had become specks on the field. The river curled around the hills. The ground was far away and she was frightened.
"Ollie" she shrieked. The stuffed elephant looked down and seemed surprised to see Damini hanging by her fingertips from the web. "What are you doing here?", he asked partly irritated and partly worried. He used his trunk to pull her up. "I couldn't very well have let you go alone on this weird web", Damini replied using the tone she had heard her mother use when she was displeased with Damini.
For the first time she looked carefully at the web she was standing on. It was made of golden strands that would result if you carefully froze the sunbeams. They seemed very strong. Through the center of the web passed a golden beam as thick as her father's wrist. It seemed to pull the web up like an elevator and hissed and groaned under the strain.
"Where are we going, Ollie?", Damini asked, awestruck. "We are headed to Aipotu", Ollie replied. "We should be there shortly, though one can never be sure since it moves with the winds". The air had become colder now and Damini was happy that she was wearing a pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt and not a frock as her mother had suggested. Frocks were for small girls, she thought to herself. Neither Aarti nor Tina wore frocks any more. She was ten years old now. The web had now begun to pass wisps of clouds that seemed like cotton that flew out of the pillows when she had pillow fights with Sharad. Damini stretched out to grasp at them but they passed through her fingers. Ollie looked at Damini and smiled. "Didn't you know that clouds are made of water vapor?" he quizzed. "Of course I do", Damini replied, trying to sound mature.