Shadow Road:Chapter 1, The die is cast

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Read part 1 of Chapter 1 here.

Part 2 of Chapter 1.

The girl went back to the boat to get started. The fisherman’s wife had been a kind woman. She had convinced her husband to load the boat and let it float for a few metres downstream, guided by the steady and slow currents. There after, the girl navigated the boat with a long bamboo stick walking along a carpet of wild grass. The trees and shrubs hid the stream from the road.

The girl saw the faint glimmer of light from the creaks in the old wooden structure casting a shadow when someone moved inside. She knew she was being watched. One of the window panes was slightly undone and light shown brightly from inside. The girl took a deep breath and looked towards the east. The sun had just emerged from behind the small hillock which was made of dark rocks. The massive boulders on the base seemed to be put there inorganically just a few metres where the water made an inlet and flowed to the other side of it.

The chill in the air prickled her skin. A wild gush of blood coloured her cheeks, and her bright eyes dazzled in the light of the sun. She pulled her light cotton jacket closer to her body. Her walking shoes that always kept her warm; fitted her feet snugly. She was dismayed at the dried stains of mud spattered on them. She gathered her hair and twisted it lightly and brought the hood of her jacket over her head. Then she got down to work. She gathered the heavy tarpaulin and pulled it to a side revealing several wooden crates, inside each of which was a tray with a sapling bed.

Whatever she was up to was certainly not illegal, or was it? Couldn’t she simply explain what lay beneath the shroud of thick tarpaulin? She could always say that she was filling out an order but then, that wasn’t her job.

Where is she going to plant them? Wouldn’t it draw a lot of attention?

There was a small, unkempt vegetable patch near the house, running wild with climbers. The girl pursed her lips in disappointment.

She carried the wooden crates one after the other and placed them in front of the door. When she had finished placing them, the door swung open and the old woman emerged, her eyes darting all around, especially towards the road.

“Get them inside, quickly.”

The woman helped as the girl put the crates on a wooden slab near the oil lamp close to the window. The girl cast a brief glance around the room. It was a small, barren room; damp and inhabitable. There was a screen that divided the room in two parts.

“Let me have a proper look at you, Evara.”

The girl pulled down the hood and her loosely twirled hair sprung back in position, as if they had a mind of their own, framing her beautiful face adoringly. They allowed some softness to her somewhat harsh gaze and displeased mouth.

“I saw you when you were a baby. You have grown up to look like her. Your mother was so much like you but she smiled a lot.”

A faint smile spread across Evara’s face.

“I support you in what you are about to do,” the old woman continued. “I needed to find you and tell you about the whole tragic thing. But now you’ve found me.”

Evara turned her face away from the old woman, exhaling deeply. “I hope you find the saplings worthy of the job. It was a crime stealing them,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “The propagation was unauthorized. I used the tissue culture facility while the professor was away. Anyway, it wont cast a pall of indelible gloom over my records, considering what they use the place for anyway.”

She turned to see the old woman going through the trays and re-arranging them.

“By the way, these plants have chemical compounds that are highly medicinal. One of them has a volatile oil that’s being tested for the treatment of cancer right now. What do you need them for?”

“Come, let me show you something.”

Evara watched the stout figure of the old woman who wore too many layers of clothing for a mild October morning, limp slightly as she made her way to the side of the room. Her hair was just as shabby as her clothes were and it appeared that she did not want any one around much.

The girl let out a faint gasp when she saw what was inside the room. The room was set up with artificial light and white walls and there were rows of medicinal plants growing on a soil-less matrix. On the other side, there was a broad platform with extraction solvents like alcohol and ether, a Bunsen burner, carboys, flasks and beakers and all sorts of glass apparatus to extract a solution of chemical present in these plants. There were two shelves of books lined along the wall. Some of the books on plant breeding and pharmacopoeia journals were familiar to her

The girl was dumb struck. She looked at the woman incredulously. She was a person who seemed to hardly care how the world perceived her, judging by the way she chose to appear. Yet, she seemed brilliant.

“I don’t understand. What is all this? How? How did you set it up?” Evara could feel a certain degree of awe and a slight reverence towards the woman now. She was completely taken in by what she saw. “You’ve build a basic research facility here and to what end? Is your work even recognized? Did you always dabble in herbs and potions and the lot.” Having said this, it suddenly struck Evara. There was something this woman had told her a few days ago that all came back to her now.“What sort of drugs?” she asked plainly.

The old woman looked at her nervously. She then took a deep breath and said, “ It’s my way of servitude. I’ve made many mistakes in the past. I did not know what I was doing then. I got taken in by some people who could only harm themselves and those around them. I have some local boys helping me out now. These are for the poor, tribal people around here. I just help them optimise their indigenous knowledge to the best of my ability and help them in any way I can.”

Evara looked at her sharply. But she softened her gaze when she found the old woman struggling to make amends for whatever she might have done in the past.

“Are you trying to tell me something? Is it something to do with the reason you left the house twenty two years ago when I was a baby? I don’t need to know everything. Just enough of it. I hope you will tell me some day.”

The old woman brought out a small package covered in old linen from a shelf and gave it to the girl. “This was your mother’s.”

The girl unwrapped it and found two notebooks inside. She quickly wrapped them up again and smiled at the old woman before leaving.

The old woman hobbled to the door as she watched her go. Then she looked towards the sky.

Evara stopped at a distance. She knew the old woman was watching her. She did not turn to look at her. But she knew she had found an ally in her. With a renewed sense of purpose, she took a deep breath and smiled.

……to be continued. Next: Chapter 2: Puppets on a string

©2015, Shadow Road by Ananya Mukherjee and The Idea Bucket. No part of the text and/or pictures are to be modified, reused or republished. Sharing in original form with due credit to the author is always welcome.:) Please use the sharing buttons below if you want to share it with a friend or a loved one.