I buy Mary her favourite blueberry ice-pop and in return she untangles my ear phones' wire.
As Michael Jackson pierces my eardrums, I allow the wind to rush in from the now opened window. Countryside winds are necessary evils like transpiration for plants.
When you're extremely concious about your hair being perfectly combed, the way you like it, but the rose scented wind outside tempts you, you have to roll down the windows and permit the wind to wrestle your hair only to savour the delicious odour. And yes, it IS worth it.
Family trips may sound too cheesy or even monotonous but when it's the countryside you must forget where you're going, who you're going with, where you get to pee and you may even visualize yourself as the protagonist of a cosy novel who is bound to meet some adventure.
Mary droops on my shoulder every now and then. She slept during our argument on who deserves the seat by the window (the left window was blocked by picnic baskets and handbags and crisps) and then I showered her 5 year old mind with "Big brother gets it all" harangue and so she gave up mimicking elephants and lions to irritate me and slept.
Dad applies breaks of our rugged picnic van to an immensely uncomfortable stop during which I am shoved inside Mom's back seat and it messes my hair more than the wind did within 45 minutes.
We pile out for a quick eat-up because Mary smudges car seats with mayo everytime we eat in the car so Dad officially banned food in car except crisps which still creates a huge mess anyway.
It doesn't take us longer than ten minutes to eat and drink and shove the crumbs away because Mom is an ugly sandwich maker and Dad keeps on shouting "MOVE!" through his rolled up newspaper which he stores for solving Cross Words.
It's weird how to every beautiful cottage leads an extremely bumpy road.
As we take our bumpy gravel path, snaking through cul-de-saced pine trees, I roll up the windows and somehow try to pat my crazy hair down and then it's like we've entered the Goldilocks Town. There are a bunch of wooden cottages, pretty as a picture, interlaced heavily with red and white roses. I scoop the sleeping Mary in my arms as one of the caretakers of the cottages unbolt Cottage#4 and I lay her down on a bed as soft as Baby Bear's.
I help Dad and Mom and the ginger caretaker named Phil (I have a strong habit of asking for a person's name the first thing even if I tend to forget the next day, which I seldom do), haul the luggage inside Mom and Dad's cottage and then later in mine and Mary's.
We've been on the road for six hours, excluding short breaks, which has tired Mom and Dad so they decide to have indoor tea while I pour mine in a paper cup and walk outside.
The air is as crisp and sweet incensed as earlier and I inhale deeply, gulping the tea that is certainly brewed on logs as the taste suggests.
I figure that only two other cottages are occupied since there is only one car other than ours under the shed.
It's weird how I spend several hours in the woods, either lurking aimlessly, reading or scrawling in my journal without feeling weary.
Mary, unbelievably, continues snoring. The countryside is so tranquil,she's turned sluggish. Mom and Dad do not come out of their cottage and I don't bother checking in either.
I'm sitting in the garden on a lawn chair when Phil comes and seats himself next to me. We talk about school and where I came from and the weather. Then his phone rings and he tells me the guests at the other cottage needs assisstance for a sick person and I smile at him, "How unlucky to fall sick on a vacation."
The night creeps in and I watch the sky till the last of pinks and blues are blandished skillfully by the silvery black of the night.
We have our dinner under the moonlit sky, the cheesiest/butteriest cheese I've ever eaten and the most tenderest chicken fillets to which Dad refers as "This dinner is the superlative form of all the good words" after which Mom feels a bit irked but soon we're guffawing at Mary's silly acts as she attempts to finagle me to trade her small piece of cheese with my bigger one.
I again brag about the ascendancy of big brothers and so Mom cuts hers in half and gives the other piece to her.
I tell Mary a bedtime story that almost like always remains unfinished as she miraculously falls asleep again and I turn over and shut my eyes.
The pinks of the sky finally escape from the the dark prisons and so I crawl out of bed, comb back my hair, pull on a white sweater and head out, leaving Mary in bed.
I race across the rose garden back to the cul-de-saced path. I spin and weave in and out the tree trunks. It's beautiful.
The trees, the smell, the golden rays, the melody of the birds, the joy that the place instills in me, the countryside.
Everything is beautiful. And then as I continue spinning like a happy child in rain, I see something even more beautiful. I see bright golden curls. This golden is more brighter than Sun rays. As she flicks her head sideways, her curls swing along her body. She bends down and plucks a large grey mushroom. My vision is dizzy from the spinning and I stand as quite and still as I can till it stables.
She continues rotating the mushroom between her thumb and forefinger, unaware of my presence. Then slowly, I beckon toward her as she brings the mushroom closer to her nostril and sniffs.
"It's beautiful but smells ugly". Her voice is accented, melodic and sanguine
"You see me?" I ask, suprised.
"Am I not supposed to?" She raises her eyebrows, then turns her wide pale blue eyes toward me.
"Not when you're facing forward" I smile, showing the dimple on my left cheek.
"Did you realize we had a power cut last night?"
It's utterly bizarre how she asks me such a random question. It's like a dialogue in a movie that doesn't sound right.
"I'm sorry I didn't. I slept deeply."
"It was really dark so I sneaked out and then I stared at the sky so hard. Did you notice the skies are clearer in the countryside and we get to see more stars?"
She shoots another question at me.
"Certainly. I'm a keen observer".
"Then I walked inside the car shed and accidentally turned a lever down and the power came back".
"Lucky for us" I laugh.
"I love it"
She twirls her golden locks around her index and crunches the gravel under her shoe sole.
"So, what's your name?" She asks enthusiastically.
It's a messed up story. The one where I'm playing the protagonist. It's very unusual of me to not ask for her name and it's even more odd for her to steal my line.
"Ian, and yours?"
"I do mind".
"There's a story to my name and it's not a very nice name".
"I'd love to hear".
"No, not here".
She grabs my hand and leads me to another gravel path that is shadowed thickly by sleek pine trees. She keeps on clutching my palm till we walk and walk and walk and then there's this huge mass of detritus, a few fallen leaves and overhanging lush curtains of vines.
We push through them and there it is.
Heaven on Earth.
She lets go of my sweaty palm and indicates me to take off my shoes.
We share a giant flat rock and kick off our shoes and carefully walk over the small pebbles that continue to pinch my heels but we're nearing the beautiful flowing stream and it's getting even more glamourous and exciting.
Then we dip our feet in and it's ice cold.
I squeal a little but she seals her eyes tight and clenches her fists. She stands as still as a sculpture and I make sure my breath is real hushed so she wouldn't be bothered. The sun is right behind her and it ignites her tranquil mannequin, igniting her hair. It's a very uncanny situation and to make it even more strange I notice a tear unclinging from her lower lash. She abruptly sweeps it and smiles.
Then we cautiously move toward a giant rock in the middle of the crystal water, the multicoloured pubbles biting our feet as we step over slippery stuff, unidentifiable under water.
Then we heave down.
"The story now".
"Yeah. My dad is obsessed with the stars and the moon see?"
"And he told my mom he wanted to name me halo. Like the moon's halo okay? But she thought it was weird so they came up with aura which still felt weird then they settled on a name which is even weirder and I have no idea how this one felt less weirder but it did and so they named me Pewter. The Pewter halo of the stars you see?"
"I think it's a beautiful name."
"Not when it's YOUR name".
"I'd like it to be MY name."
"Won't do", she grins, tilting her head, her curls now dipping in the water.
"If I were them, I'd name you Goldilocks".
"They couldn't have."
"You have beautiful hair."
"Yeah, I chose them carefully".
I laugh. She's the weirdest person I've ever met.
"My grandpa would be worried."
I figure her grandpa would be the sick person Phil was talking about.
Then I realize I came here with my parents and they too would be worried so I snap out of the story and we decide to head back.
I ask her if we should race to the rose garden and we do and her fair round cheeks burn red and she runs extremely out of breath like an overweight child and so we stop. Her grandpa is waiting for her along with her mom so I wave at her and go on to find Mom, Dad and Mary.
I find Mom and Dad savouring buns and tea in the Sun room and I tell them where I've been. Mary looks like she's going to cry. I tell her she couldn't have walked such a long way anyway. Mom and Dad instead takes Mary on a walk and I tell them I'd rather read a book.
I continue sitting in the Sun room, the Sun rays warming my back.
"Done eating?", she slithers behind me and takes a seat.
Before she answers, Phil comes in and tells us that there's been an issue in the electricity feeders and we'd have to turn down the lever repeatedly up and down for the power to come back. We tell him it's not a big deal and that he shouldn't worry about it.
"We'll play questionnaire. If one of us wouldn't be able to answer, we'd have to turn down the lever okay?"
"Turning down a lever is the only punishment you came up with?" I ask.
"It's rusty and hard to turn down." She whispers.
She's sitting right infront of me, her curls hanging by her sides, her eyes wide, her lips pursed. She's beautiful. Perhaps, the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. It's silly how I have the urge to reach out and touch her hair but I don't. We play rock, paper, scissor to decide who's going to ask the first question. She beats my scissor with her rock.
"I love asking questions".
"Okay, so my question is," she tilts her head, "Are you enjoying your trip here?"
I did not expect such a question and it sounds really lame but I tell her I am and then it's my turn and in order to not take long I ask her the same question.
"These days are the best-est of my life. I've never been merrier", she chants. It's like she's singing when she talks.
"What would you want to do if I say this is the last week of your life?", she asks as we stroll across the garden.
It takes me a while to figure this one out.
Her gait is melodic and springy and she keeps her gaze forward. I look around. The bloomed roses, the crisp wind and the golden curls.
Then I reply, "I'd love to spend it here".
It makes her eyes dart toward me and she shoots me a smile as wide as her eyes.
"That's a nice answer Ian. You're the most witty person I've ever met".
It's strange how my answer lights her face and she paces closer to me as we walk.
"My turn. Where are you from?" I ask.
She purses her lips and smiles tightly.
"I'm not sure".
"What do you mean?" I laugh.
"Why'd you want to know?"
"Perhaps to track you down or meet up when our holiday's over".
"I'm not sure where I'll be when holiday's over. I'm travelling."
"What's more beautiful than here?"
"I'd know when I'd see".
I feel uncomfortable.
I wonder if it's the first and the last of our days. I realize I'd love to see her again but I don't insist further.
"Whose turning down the lever?" I joke.
"Me of course" she smiles.
"I win", I pump my fist in the air.
I can't sleep well. Mary's snoring softly. I can hear the grasshoppers chirp. The lamp light is dim. I keep on turning in my bed.
She has made me uncomfortable. I keep on conjuring the back of her head in my mind. The way she always walks closer yet ahead of me, her butter curls bumping behind her.
The power goes out. It makes me smile. I pull on my rubber shoes as fast as I can and run out, across the garden, under the heavily starlit sky, toward the car shed.
It's like her silhouette is lined by the pewter aura from the stars above.
"Pew-ter" I chant as I near her.
"I was thinking if I should turn the lever down later".
She points toward the sky. It's beautiful in the dark. She tells me we should walk to the stream. It's dark and a bit scary but not that dark and scary so we do.
It's a very quiet night or maybe every night is quiet in the countryside. I can hear her breathe, can hear gravel being crunched.
We don't talk on the way.
The moon glistens well above the stream, reflecting through the ripples.
We sit on a rock near the water.
Pewter tells me she wants to dip her feet in and I tell her she'll catch a cold but she insists," I don't really care, it's on my wish list".
She buys me with her wish list excuse and we dip our feet in the ice chill water. It urges me to scream and I do. It makes her laugh and she scoops water in her hands and showers me. I yell at her. She's laughing hysterically and it makes her eyes shine brighter than they do in the Sun. I don't want to assail back because I know she won't stop till I'm wholly drenched so instead I extend my hand out to touch her hair. She ducks quick as lightning and I draw my hand back.
"You wouldn't really appreciate doing that" Pewter winks at me.
I smile a little. Most of the time, I don't understand what she's saying. Her gestures are clear and pellucid yet so undecipherable.
"Your lips are turning purple", she tells me.
"We should stop".
I want to say we shouldn't even have started but I suddenly recall her glittering eyes and harmonious laughter which makes me think it's worth it.
"Can you believe it?"
"Believe what?" I ask.
"I've tick marked everything on my wish list except for one. This was the second last. To dip in a cold stream at a starry night".
"Not necessarily. I could've done it alone".
"You can't say that after drenching me with water as cold as North Pole", I yawn.
A ripple breaks softly against the rock we're sitting on.
"But you like um", she pauses and tucks a wild curl behind her ear, "you lit it".
I smile silently.
"What's the last thing on your list?"
"You want to be a part of it?", she shoots me a mischievous smile.
"If you allow me to".
"Well, I've savoured the moon, the stars, a good laugh, the roses, a run across the garden, plucking mushrooms but I havent EVER savoured the sunrise".
"I can't get myself to rise early, it's just one of the reasons".
"I'll help you".
We watch the sky. She surprisingly doesn't know of any constellations except the Hercules so I spot them out for her. We outline them with our fingertips. I can't stop myself but stare at her face. It's lit with amusement.
When she doesn't know what to say, she bites the back of her thumb. When I don't know what to say, I stare at her hair.
"I've never been outdoors".
"You live under a bridge?"
"And now you're travelling?"
"Travelling, yes. I can't waste more time and I can't really bear more regrets".
"Where were you if you weren't ever outdoors?"
"Like the Goldilocks?"
"Like the sleeping beauty".
"On a scale from 1 to 10, know how much happy I am?"
"Indeed. You're with me afterall" I smile playfully.
"Two-o-six A.M.", she says, glancing at her wrist watch, "Let's head back, Ian".
"Let us stay".
"We'll miss the Sunrise"
"We'll stay here till it's Sunrise".
"Goodnight Ian. You've lit my life".
"Goodnight Pewter. It's been a pleasure".
I don't really remember what happened after that. No, we did not see the sunrise together. She may have. But when I woke up, I found her nowhere. I found she had left me a note on the giant rock beside me. She had used her fingertips and wet mud.
"I woke up and tick marked my last wish. Thankyou. And now I'm travelling. Somewhere beautiful perhaps. I bet you haven't ever watched the Sunrise yourself. P.s: You're wasting life. Make sure you catch it next time".
I stare at the rock long and hard. Then I notice something behind it. Something golden. Glistening. Golden curls. I bend down to pick up a golden hair wig.
Everything feels like a jigsaw puzzle, only it's not assembled.
I feel emotional and puzzled.
I feel sick.
I can't walk myself back to the cottages.
I sit on the rock and stare at the water.
It's weird how it's so hard to judge a person from almost anything.
We never know the surprises, the secrets being kept from us.
I feel a tear falling from my cheek, diffusing with the crystal water.
It's beautiful how some people have the ability to dig a significant place in your life.
It's a beautiful story how a girl who I barely knew left me with a tale so tellable.
As I sit on the rock, I say a little prayer for Pewter and I hope she reaches somewhere beautiful, safe and sound.
And quietly, I promise her to catch the Sunrise for myself the very next morning.
The dying girl and the beautiful countryside has taught me a lot in a few days.
You never know what adventure you're bound to meet when it's the countryside.
Believe in the magic.