When was the first time we went to the woods? Its not an answer I can know. When they got married, the two couples moved into the neighbouring houses. It was the grand plan, they said. Two years into their marriage, two months short of two years moving in, they were pregnant. Months later, we joined them. Aniya and I. We were now a family of six.
We must have been babies in our strollers when they would take us on long walks. Mom and aunt loved walking so dearly, they wouldn’t stop even after we were born. In the evenings, when the sun neared the final stages of its descent, under the sky in splashes of red and pink across the blue, the two of them would head out, pushing the two of us in front. It was a good few kilometres to the woods from the house, but they said it wasn’t much of a problem to them. Considering their love of walking, it wasn’t hard to believe.
So, I could never know for how long we had been walking through the woods. But the first time I was on the trail was with dad, jogging along as was intended when naming the trail the jogging trail. Let’s go jogging he said in the morning. It was before I knew of my distaste for jogging. And so, I excitedly agreed. Of course it wouldn’t be just the two of us. Aniya and uncle were coming along too. From the smiles mom and aunt were giving me I should have known, they knew how much I’d dislike the exercise. But they kept their silence, and I stuck by my ignorance.
Dad didn’t want us too tired, so we drive to the woods. Parked the car along with the many others there already. Getting out, Aniya and I copied dad and uncle stretching before we started. At the trail, we broke into a slow jog. Very quickly I realised my love for jogging was nonexistent. And I couldn’t wait for the trail to end. A full lap brought us back to the point where we started. It was there that I gave up. No more, I said, and the three of them looked at me with looks of disbelief. I asked them to continue, returning to the car. Sitting inside, I relaxed to the soft ballads from the playlist dad had created for moments just like this. Unquestioningly happy waiting for them to finish.
That was the last time I went jogging. Aniya would go with dad and uncle, the three of them happy joggers, while mom, aunt and I were the three happy at home. It was only on the weekends that they went jogging, and I realised I enjoyed mom and aunt’s slow yoga so much better.
We were both thus aware of how far the woods were from home. And how it wasn’t possible to walk there. Especially not in the night. But I needn’t have worried. Nor should I have underestimated Aniya. She had already prepared. Our cycles were waiting in the backyard.
“Let’s go,” she said, accepting my appreciation with a graceful smile. She had no intention of wasting time. Only letting go of my hand as we got onto the cycles. I might not have liked jogging, but I loved cycling. Ever since we got our cycles, we would go cycling to the trail, and through it as dad and uncle jogged. That was fun.
As we rode our cycles into the night, I noticed the changes in me. I was smiling too, the same as Aniya. As if finally understanding what Aniya meant. The truth of her words, when she said we would love it. The night made the familiar road feel new. For the first time, we were out on the road at one in the morning. Just the two of us hogging the road all to ourselves. We didn’t have to ride to the side, didn’t have to worry about blocking the road for the faster and bigger motorbikes and cars. We didn’t have to worry about getting hit by some careless driver and thus having to watch all sides carefully all the time. We could ride free. Grin free. Enjoy the rush of the air blowing through our hair in the absence of the mandatory helmet. Laugh out loud unadulterated laughs. We had to control the volume until we neared the woods, until the houses were behind us. Then we let all restraint fly by with the air rushing by.
We were riding side by side, even the night unable to hide the joy on our faces from each other. It was I though who went mad first. Screaming out at the first sight of the trees. My voice swallowed up by the night. Aniya wasn’t long to follow. Our screams were the screams of freedom of the dark side, echoing in the night like they belonged right there. As we turned into the trail, and the road got narrower, Aniya took the lead. She did know where we were going. And it wasn’t a long ride. A third of the way along the trail, she stopped. Getting off, she was grinning conspiratorially at me, as she asked gestured for me to follow. I could never have seen the splitting of the trees, the path hidden away by the night. Leaving our cycles leaning against the trees in the front of the path, she took my hand leading us in.
“I found this with dad,” she said. “And now, it’ll be ours.”
In the night, even if she already knew what lay ahead, she was slow. And for me, being my first time, the not knowing was terrifying. But it would be okay, I was certain of that. Aniya was with me. And as long as she was there, it would all be just fine. She was the stronger one, the one with the courage enough for the both of us. Holding her hand hard, I followed close. So close we might have been one.
The walk seemed to have no end. The shadows of the trees each seemingly hiding a scarier monster than the previous, all ready to grab us the first chance they got. And the night all around itself ready to gobble us. There seemed to be nothing around that wasn’t terrifying. Except Aniya. And when she finally stopped, I searched desperately for some relief but there was none to be found. Until she pulled my to her side, and I saw what she was looking at.
Three trees had stood so close to each other, they seemed to have a small room between them. Their branches and leaves so intertwined, not even the tiniest bit of sky visible through. It looked majestic. The perfect home for our dark side.
“Our nest,” she said, pressing my hand.
“Yeah, our nest,” I agreed.
Walking in, we sat down on the soft grass carpet that had impossibly grown inside. We weren’t complaining. The grass was the ever welcome guest to our nest. That night we did nothing. Just sat in the nest, laughing like mad. There seemed to be no end to our laughter. Even as our stomachs ached to the point of bursting we couldn’t stop. We were spent completely, tired enough to be ready to collapse right there, when we decided it was time to go. We were much more confident walking back to our cycles. The shadows of the trees hiding not monsters but welcoming hosts. The night no longer hungering for us, but giving us its blessing. And all of it because of Aniya. I was surprised by my own change.
There is no surprise to be found now though. No matter how many times I go back, however hard I try to find something else, I see the same. The blue over Aniya the same as everyone else, same as everything else. But I am different. The blue hangs over me like a piece of clothing, another layer of skin. No wisps of smoke, no gales leaping off it. Disturbingly calm. Unnerving as it feels like it belongs as it is. As much mine as it is with the blue of the rest of the world.
However far back I go, all the nights at the nest are the same. Even when we were drunk. Even when we smoked. Even when we acted out our favourite villains. Even when we danced like a couple in love. Even when we came up with our own stories about how we were in different worlds, fighting evil, saving the world, finding each other lost in battle, lost in strange new worlds. It is always the same. The blue around me is just different.
I feel foolish for not having realised it sooner. I am not the same. Not as anyone I know. I am different. The realisation feels like I hit the bullseye bang in the middle. That explains the blue, and everything else. That also gives me a point to start at. Is it this Mr D pointed to?
Why do I feel different? Why am I different? How am I different? The questions fill my head. I am no longer blind. I still don’t know where I am going, but I can at least see something. And another question pops up in my head. A question that throttles me. A question I am too afraid to face, to even acknowledge. Turning away, I walk on.