by Swati Sidhu
Remember the dream in which you are suspended in the air several feet above ground and then, as if gravity suddenly remembered it existed, you start hurtling down at great speed? At some point during the fall, you wake up in a sweat and realise it is only a dream. I wish I was that fortunate. I felt my whole self tossing in mid-air and rushing with great velocity towards darkness. Scared that I will be smashed beyond repair I closed my eyes as I neared the ground from top of the world.
I liked being in the canopy where the gentle sun rays reached my mother’s branches every morning to bathe me with warmth. The view from the top was spectacular as the sunlight uncovered the dark forest in bits, here and there. I was slowly getting to know our neighbours; many looked very different from my mother. They are trees, no doubt, and of different species. I was happy until a great bird swooshed down from far away and sat on one of mother’s fruit-laden branches. This bird was soon accompanied by another. Both surveyed my mother’s crown with some interest and started carefully selecting and swallowing ripe fruits. After a while, they would bring the naked seeds out from their guts and throw them out from their mouths. As I looked with some trepidation at the two great birds, one of them peered at me with analytical eyes. I remember that slightly opened huge beak closing in on me. I felt the gentle pull away from my mother. Untethered, I was thrown in the great darkness of the bird’s belly where I stayed for some time with a feeling of being ground in a washing machine. Once the sweet pulp around me had dissolved, it happened. I finally saw the light again and got propelled into the outside world like a shooting cannon ball.
Thanks to a thick mattress of leaves underneath, I am not at all hurt. I find myself in the same surroundings. Mother is still close by and so are the neighbours. The great birds take wing and disappeare behind thick vegetation. They are carrying some of my brothers and sisters with them to some other place. My mother tells me it’s a good thing, although I do not yet know why.
Soon afterwards a large flock of cooing birds arrive. They are not as large as the great birds, but together they feast on several of my mother’s fruits and are gone soon. I can’t help but notice that there are lots of other seeds. Some are probably my brothers and sisters, and others may have been brought here by the birds.
Even at daytime there is much darkness around me. There are small plants that are coming up among fallen logs, fruits, and leaf litter. Mother once told me that I too will become a small plant and grow stronger into a tree. I wonder how that happens and how much time it will take. As I am immersed in these thoughts, darkness blankets the forest. This is soon replaced by diffused moonlight. Not long after, I notice a furry creature with a long bushy tail coming towards us. He walks fast on short sturdy legs. I am anxious, but my mother calms me down and looks at the civet with friendly approval.
The civet sniffs and searches for something among fallen leaves. He eats any freshly fallen fruits he can find, and runs away into the night. After a while, some rustling sounds are heard. The sounds get closer, and I get a glimpse of two dark bodies with long spines standing erect on their backs. I was just about to welcome the new arrivals, when I notice my mother’s anxious expression. She signals me to keep quiet. The creatures scuttle around and voraciously eat away the seeds they can find.
After what feels like eternity, one of discovers me. Shuddering under my coat, I close my eyes. What are the chances of me surviving two adventures in one day?
I can hear my heart thumping. It’s only when I feel the tremors on the ground, that I realise it is not just my heart causing me to bounce. I open my eyes cautiously, only to see a herd of the largest animals I have seen the whole day! And if you trust me enough to know I am not bluffing, their noses are so long that they are touching the ground! They all march past me, and scare the porcupines away. I sigh with relief and then hear my mother’s voice. “ You need to find a way to move away from here. Porcupines will return another day. It’s not just the porcupines that you need to watch out for, but also, little insects that will drill holes into you ” .
What chance do I have when I cannot even move on my own? While I am lost in thought, I feel my body rising. I find myself grabbed between the jaws of a feisty little creature. We are moving so fast that I barely catch a glimpse of mother bidding adieu. After travelling a great distance, this small creature with sharp teeth, starts upturning the leaves at a spot. Is she digging my grave? She rolls me down cautiously in the clearing and then tucks me in for the night under the dry leaves. I can barely see the outside world now. It’s a relief you know. There was just too much action for one day. I am looking forward to a long undisturbed sleep.