“Ani, wake up.”
Her screaming whisper cut through the silence of the night like a sharpened katana, as she would have loved putting it. She was going through a Japanese phase, calling herself the ninja of the night. Her mission, as she declared, was to ensure my enjoying the dark side. I laughed when she said it, not giving it much thought. At the end of the evening, I forgot about it with her leaving for home.
She had been knocking at the window for a while. And I had slept through it as if it was a part of the night, part of my sleep. She had succeeded in getting the window open a little, through which she swung her katana, the whispers slicing me awake.
“What are you doing?” I asked, unable to believe what I was seeing.
It took me a while to convince myself it was Aniya outside the window. Then, I froze at the question I threw at myself, what was she doing? All the while she waited patiently out the window, balanced comfortably on the ledge and the branch of the tree outside. When I had finally asked the question, she shrugged dropping her mouth open in disbelief, pointing to the closed window. I knew what she was saying. Opening the window, I moved back, for her to leap in.
“Wow, how retarded can your shock make you? Open the window before you ask more questions.”
My apology was almost unneeded. Aniya could never be angry for more than a few seconds at most, and not even real angry. Brushing away my apology before it could reach her, she was onto me shoving her excitement at me.
“I told you it was possible. We could do it, just like in the movie. The tree is perfect. Yeah, it doesn’t directly connect our windows, but I can sneak out to the veranda, hop out the window onto the tree, and find my way over to yours. See, it can be done.”
“You’re crazy insane,” I said, without the slightest doubt. “Is this about your mission?”
She didn’t answer, but I knew I was right. Her face gave away as much. I couldn’t understand why she was so hung up over it. It wasn’t like we weren’t already allowed to do whatever we wanted, why then did we have to sneak out in the middle of the night? Enjoy the dark side? I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I wasn’t sure she even knew what she was talking about. But I could see her face made up, and I knew no amount of arguing was going to amount to anything. There was no choice, I had to go along.
“You wouldn’t understand until you actually do it,” she declared.
“Like you’ve done it and thus understand,” I challenged.
Ignoring me completely, she continued, as if there had been no interruption. “And tonight, we’re going to do it. Head over to the dark side, and find the joys of the dark side hidden away from us. It will be our little secret, and I have no doubt it will be spectacular. The other life of Ani and Aniya.”
“You’re insane,” I repeated, even though I had given up the fight, already readying to head out.
“Yeah, you said that, and I agreed,” she said, finding me the jacket I was looking for. “Leave on the pjs, it’ll be like our uniform. I’m in mine too.”
And that she was, in her pyjamas. The ones with the smiling bunnies. Most fourteen year olds would be embarrassed to death to be seen in them. Not Aniya. She loved the pjs. Loved them since the first time she wore them when she was four. She wouldn’t let go of them since seeing them in the mall. Not even for billing would she let go. She even had me hang on, like both our lives depended on it. It was a struggle, with mom and aunt convincing the executive behind the billing counter of the futility of attempting to get them out of our grasp. They had to bring another pair to scan the barcode. When she grew too big for them, she had another pair bought, the right size for her. She made sure she had one pair of the bunny pyjamas always. They were her favourite, and it seemed only fitting that our first night in the dark side would have her in the bunny pjs.
She went out the window first, showing me the way to get onto the branch. It was unnecessary, because we had both practised climbing the tree together, but that was under the light of the sun. My first step out had me faltering on the branch. Luckily it was only my first foot out, the rest of me still hanging onto the ledge. I smiled at Aniya, telling her it was okay. I had given her a fright. And I knew I had to be more careful, more awake if I didn’t want to crash to the grass below. It was an easy climb down, where Aniya was waiting.
“So, where now?” I asked, sure I wouldn’t like the answer. How right I was.
“Let’s hit the woods,” she said, the grin on her face as full as the shock on mine. “I know,” she continued, saying what she knew I would in reply. “I’m crazy fucking insane.”
“That you most definitely are. What are you thinking?”
“Ani, listen to me carefully,” she said. Taking my hands in hers, her face an inch from mine. So close, I could feel her breath. “This is going to be great. It’s going to be something that just the two of us have. Our little secret. Our foray into the dark side. Who knows how we’ll come out the other end. One thing is certain, it will be amazing. So, let go of your fears, and your sticking to rules. Let your madness free, I know it is there. Struggling for freedom. If you don’t let it out, give it at least a window to peep out, it will one day burst out. It might then be too much for you to handle. You can’t hold yourself back all the time. Let’s go now and find our dark side.”
Her short motivational speech was all over the place, but it did its job. She didn’t have to say so much though. Even if I protested with everything in me, I would follow her. Wherever she went. And she knew that. I nodded in agreement, and that was the okay she needed.
“Awesome, let’s go,” she said, whirling around. She held my hand as she led us into our first night of madness.
The night falls onto me heavier than any other night. Bearing down on me. I don’t question why I am here. I don't ask where I am taking myself. I don’t have to ask where I am. It takes no more than a second to recognise the place. The trail I am on, just wide enough for two walking side by side. The wood brown mud, with the tiny stones jutting out like they had been carved out of the earth. The trees lining the sides like a fence made by someone who had never before seen a fence. As crooked as a line could get. The trunks of the trees black in the night, the branches and the leaves varying shades of the same black. The velvet sky brightened by the black of the leaves and branches through which it is visible in patches. I know well where the path leads.
In the mornings, it is a popular jogging track. In the nights, it is a desolate trail swallowed by the woods. Visible only to those who are familiar with it in the day. It is a short walk along the trail. Along the first third of the trail comes a tiny opening in the trees, one that is hard to catch even under the bright sun of noon. I see it easily, and walk through it without hesitation. Even if one were lucky enough to see it in the night, they would be frightened away by the air of creepiness it shovels out in mountain loads. It doesn’t fool me though. I know what lies beyond, having been there many times.
It is a short walk. A breathtaking visual treat of all possible shades of black. The shapes of the night and the shadows of the velvet sky are the wallpaper to the walk. At the end of the walk is our nest. I can almost see us. Aniya and I. Sitting. Leaning against the trunks. The bottles between us. Laughing happily. Content. It jabs at my chest. I wonder if mom and dad truly didn’t know. Could they have possibly allowed us to have our nest, our little secret?
Shaking my head free of the thoughts and the questions, I look at the nest. And see the sea of blue it is drowning in. The smoky wisps, the gales leaping out fill the night with a blue hue, adding exquisite imagery and new depths to the black painting. And in the middle of it all, sit the two of us. Aniya and I. My eyes go wide as I realise what I am looking at.
We were fifteen. Smiling and happy. Almost a full year from today. Aniya is shrouded in a thin blue, with the gales leaping off like everything else. And I am the same. Under the same calm blue, not even a ripple over the blue I am enshrouded in. What is this? What am I looking at? What does this mean?