The Enticement of Mayoori
by Yachna Tyagi
It was the summer of 1977. At the time I was five and my sister Mayoori was seven. Our parents had just returned from England and we were temporarily staying with our grandparents in the small town of Baishali for the summer. We were to stay here until our parents had sorted out living arrangements in the city and the new school year had commenced.
Baishali was a small rural town in North India where everyone knew everyone else. The town was a maze of homes with winding cobblestone roads that thoughtlessly intersected dirt paths.
It didn’t take long for my sister and me to attract new friends. With our incomprehensible British English and vivid Marks and Spencer’s clothing, we stood out like polar bears in the Sahara. Despite the language barrier, we managed to get by. After all hopscotch and Stapu were the same games with a different name.
Our days consisted of aimlessly wandering through the streets most of the day, returning home briefly only to refuel. Soon we became familiar with the small windy disorganized mess they called streets. One of the rarely frequented streets had a house we had nicknamed the forbidden house as it had a rust old padlock on it. Now this would have seemed pretty ordinary to most folks, but in a town where everyone kept their front double door wide open all day long this struck me as quite unusual. This particular house had a perpetual lock on the front doors which made the house more intriguing
Every afternoon after a quick lunch, we would hurry off to the market square to meet up with our friends for a game of hopscotch or darts. It was during one of those quiet afternoons, when the kids were playing stapu that I had first noticed the strange group of kids. Their fair complexion, golden brown hair and piercing dirty green eyes set them apart from the normal tan skin, black hair and brown eyes. They ranged from what appeared to my five year old mind, to be between the ages of six to thirteen.
They were extremely aloof. I never heard them talk. Not even to each other. They never approached us, but instead observed from a distance. We exchanged glances on occasion, but neither of us had the courage to approach the other. Each waited for the other to make the first move. Strangely enough none of our friends ever invited them to come join in our games either.
Then one day the unexpected happened.
Mayoori and I had hurriedly devoured our lunch and returned to our playground to meet up with our friends. As always we showed up well before any of our friends had arrived. I noticed the fascinating gang several feet away playing a game of darts. My sister was in the middle of drawing out a fresh course for our new game of hopscotch when one of the kids from this strange group approached her. I couldn’t hear what they said, but my sister returned with an update.
“They want us to come over to their house.” She said, excited at the prospect of becoming friends with these fascinating kids,
“Are you sure about this?” I didn’t quite like the idea of leaving my comfort zone and I couldn’t shake off the uneasy feeling I got when I heard about the sudden change of venue.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” my sister responded nonchalantly. Ever since our parents had left us in the care of our grandparents, my sister had taken on the role of decision maker; after all, she was a whole 18 months older than me.
“Maybe we should wait for Suman and the rest of our friends to arrive,” I suggested, hoping to stall our departure.
“No need. They wouldn’t care.” My sister was quite headstrong for her tender age of 7.
“Let’s tell grandma at least,” I implored
“She’s taking her afternoon nap. I don’t think she would want to be bothered. Wait! Are you afraid?” she asked after a pause.
I saw that look in her face-the wide grin, the teasing eyes. I didn’t want to be humiliated by her in front of these new kids. I decided it was best to just tag along quietly. After all, what’s the worst that could happen in this sleepy little town?
I held on tightly to my sister’s hand as we followed these kids down familiar streets.
Several minutes later we found ourselves standing outside the forbidden house. I couldn’t believe it. My sister beamed proudly, pleased with her decision of sacrificing an ordinary afternoon with familiar friends for the thrill of new adventures.
From inside, the house looked just as I had imagined it to be – structurally at least. There was a central courtyard with several rooms arranged around the perimeter. In the center of the courtyard, among some overgrown grass, stood a rusty water hand pump that looked like it hadn’t been used for ages. Wild flora had graciously claimed the cracks in the floor. I looked around to catch any sign of the presence of a grownup in the house, but couldn’t see anyone.
I tugged at my sister’s hand. “I don’t like this,” I said.
“You’ll be fine,” she laughed as she followed the children up several flights of narrow steps that led up to up to the third story terrace.
The kids skipped up the flight of steps with my sister in close pursuit. I hesitantly followed suit. All I wanted was to quickly finish off that game of hopscotch and return home.
What they did next was anything but hopscotch.
I stood watching in disbelief as they took turns jumping off the terrace and onto the hard courtyard below. Their landing had a strange dream like quality to it- light and soundless. Like a feather.
They would then come back effortlessly skipping up the steps for a repeat performance.
They motioned with their hands encouraging me and my sister to join them in this unusual form of fun.
This game just didn’t make sense. How could anyone jump off that height, land like a feather and not get hurt?
By now I had noticed that my sister was mesmerized by this game. She had joined them in the end of the queue, awaiting her turn to jump. I inched closer to her and clutched her arm.
“I don’t like this. I really think we should go home,” I said almost weepy.
“Scaredy cat, scaredy cat…” she teased as she crudely jerked my sweaty palm away.
It was now Mayoori’s turn. She stood at the edge, her toes aligned with the outer border of the ledge. She looked down at the kids in the courtyard cheering her on.
I felt a current run down my legs, my heart thumping in my throat.
Mayoori closed her eyes and took a deep breath. With her arms stretched out by her side, she leaned forward.
And then she hesitated- for an iota of a second.
She wobbled back and forth, but it was too late.
I heard a heart stopping wail, followed by a deadening silence.