The forbidden forestWhen he was done, he looked at the winding road. Something inside him stirred. A strange, mysterious sensation was pulling him towards the road.
The tip of the forest gleamed as the early sun rose from behind the sea of green. Nischal sank deeper into his dew-soaked seat and gazed with awed curiosity at the winding road and the forbidden forest that it led to.
Nischal, a dreaming adventurer, had always yearned to wander away into the mysterious woods. But as he was a 12-year-old, he was forbidden to do so by his parents.
“What business do you have going in that god awful forest?”
“You know what sort of people live there? Smugglers and criminals hide in that place. The police said a smuggler has been hiding in the place, evading the police. He is very dangerous. These people are monstrous; they will hack you to pieces.”
Nischal knew that his parents were exaggerating. Dad was making up a story to scare him. He was old enough to go wherever he wanted. And he hated when his father tried to manipulate him.
All his friends had been to the forest. And all had returned in a single piece, happy and cheerful. His friends had told him how beautiful it was. How trees rose up into the sky like pillars of the sky. How there was a fallen tree in the middle of the forest which the kids had turned into a slide. Every kid from the village had been in the forest. He hated being the only one who had not.
A white cat sauntering with soft footsteps leaped into the seat and curled onto Nischal’s lap. Nischal stroked its head without looking at it. The cat purred softly. The sun rose higher and the forest grew reddish green. The cat stirred on his lap and Nischal wondered what the forest might look like. He could picture a golden rain of sunlight slipping through the trees and splashing on the dewy grass, squirrels poking their head out with a nut in their hands, the branches stirring like a baby’s arm, the soft crunching of the leaves underfoot.
A door swung open from the darkness and a heavyset figure emerged. “Nischal,” the man boomed. “Don’t sit on your ass all day. Potter about in the fields, go visit your neighbour. It’ll be good for your health,” he said.
The cat jumped out of his lap as Nischal rose and stretched. His father went back inside slamming the door shut, leaving a cloud of dust behind him.
Slipping his feet into his slippers, he walked into the fields. Delicately balancing himself on the mud barriers he inspected the corns. He got easily bored. From the corner of his eyes he looked at the forest, at the edge of the forest there was a cluster of banana trees. And behind the banana trees, the forest that he always wanted to visit. The mysterious forbidden forest loomed in the distance.
He felt that his feet were sinking on the soft mud.
He quickly moved out from the fields and began to dust his slippers.
When he was done, he looked at the winding road. Something inside him stirred. A strange, mysterious sensation was pulling him towards the road. The uncertainty of it all was appealing to his adventurous soul.
The sun beat down his temple and sweat slipped down his forehead. But his eyes were fixed on the forest. He was walking as if in a trance. The sea of green seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. The more Nischal walked, the more the road stretched. A dreamy look came to his face. He was smiling like a madman.
He was not aware of how far he reached until his foot crashed on a large pebble and he lurched forward. Suddenly back to his senses, he turned his head sharply and looked back. His home seemed far away and seemed to be rippling behind the heat mists. He turned ahead. He was closer to the forest than he had thought. The road was empty with no one in sight. He rushed towards the forest with excitement mounting with every step.
As he reached the end of the roads, he placed his hands on his knees and panted. The forest seemed to be breathing into the roads. He sank upon the hot trembling mud. He lifted his head. An overwhelming feeling of relief swept through him. When his strength was restored, he rose slowly, feeling the forest breathe into his body.
“Nischal,” a loud sound echoed from the forest. Nischal’s eyes traveled to the source of the sound. There was a dirty, ragged looking man with his eyes fixed at him. A strange sensation of familiarity swept through Nischal. He knew the guy, but how?
“Don’t. Nischal, don’t enter the forest.”
The man then lunged forward towards Nischal. Nischal ran like a deer escaping the clutches of a lion. Something about that man frightened him, shook him to his core. He was too familiar. He had known the man from somewhere, but where?
Nischal didn’t look back until he reached his home. Locking the door of his room behind him, he collapsed on the floor, his throat pounding violently. The face kept flashing before his eyes.
It took a month for Nischal to forget about the incident. He had heard his father say that people dreamed of things that weren’t there because of the heat. That must’ve happened to him. His father told him that the police had found a guy in the forest. Apparently, the man had died from hunger and heat. Relief swept through Nischal’s frightened frame. Now he could visit the forest without fear of his life.
He again felt pulled towards the forbidden forest by some mystifying force. And this time he made up his mind to visit the place. When he reached the forest, he again felt its rusty breathe on his face. Summoning courage, he entered inside. It was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. And was exactly as he had dreamed it would be. Strange, how his vision of the forest had been so accurate.
Suddenly, he felt a stabbing pain on the back of his head, the pain radiated down his spine and he fell into the ground unconscious.
The sound of a river murmuring awoke Nischal. He looked around, his head felt like a cracked egg. Someone seized him by the collar and yanked him up.
“Kid,” a man with a scarred face leaned into Nischal, “you see those woods,” he pointed at the chinks of woods strewn about, “pick them up and load it in the van”.
Nischals fate had been sealed. For five years, he worked as a smuggler, slowly rising through the ranks. He tried to run away, but the man found him and broke his legs. Nischal simply couldn’t find a way out of the forest. When his legs healed, he was a changed man. He was one of them. There was no way out of the place and Nischal wanted to make the most of it.
One day, the police raided the forest and killed his friends. Nischal swung an axe and killed a policeman. He was free from the gang. But now the police were behind him. He found the way out of the forest but couldn’t step into the civilised world. They would catch him, the cops. As he wandered through the forest, weary and depressed, he often thought of his home and wept bitterly.
One day, as he sat on the edge of the forest, he saw a boy slumped on the hot, trembling sand. He seemed a tad familiar to Nischal. As the boy rose slowly and lifted his head, Nischal’s eyes widened. He looked at the figure in horror. He tried to tear out his hair.
“No! I must be imagining things. This can’t be!”
“Nischal,” he boomed, almost against his will.
“Don’t. Nischal, don’t enter the forest.”
Nischal lunged towards the boy. The boy’s face reddened with terror and he ran back like a deer escaping from the clutches of a lion. Tired and hungry, Nischal couldn’t catch up with him. He collapsed into the trembling hot sand and breathed his last.
The tip of the forest gleamed as the early sun rose from behind the sea of green. Nischal’s dad looked worriedly from the veranda, stroking the cat with nervous fingers.