“How could anyone call Sherlock Holmes their favourite? I agree he’s smart and all, and knows a lot of stuff, but he’s just so plain. Even his wit is just so plain. You can guess what he’s going to do or say before he does. That makes him quite a bore. When was the last time he did something unexpected? Ok yeah, in the hound of Baskerville he goes deep cover. And in the five orange pips he does something slightly different. But even then, his unexpected is so slightly off the usual, it could hardly be called unexpected. It’s almost like a hindi movie, when you’re expecting that doesn’t come. Unexpected but hardly worth going gung-ho over. That’s how Mr Sherlock is.”
We were debating our favourite characters from literary fiction, our heroes. It was a silly enough topic to have a debate on, especially in class overseen by a teacher. But our teacher could be silly without putting in much effort. Such was her gift.
Another factor adding to the silliness of the topic was Aniya’s unconscious love for taking down the heroes. It wasn’t like she had no hero she loved. I knew who her hero was, but it was unfortunately someone we couldn’t bring up in the discussion in class. It was a story unknown to the class, and it would be a bit much. One had to have a flair for the story, having heard it from the master, like the two of us. And one of her favourite heroes to take down was Sherlock Holmes. The reason was simple. When we were little, a senior monitoring our class while the teachers were busy in a meeting, had made fun of our favourite story. Calling Sherlock Holmes the greatest hero there was. It was one of the few times she had lost a debate, and one of the fewer grudges she held. Not against the senior. She had gotten even with him not much after the incident. Her grudge was against Sherlock Holmes. And since she couldn’t take him down, she took it upon herself to take down anyone who would stand for him. Which was why the debate in class had taken a serious turn, with Aniya going on a rant against Sherlock Holmes.
“You’re just jealous,” Neha said.
As soon as she said it, I knew she made a mistake. And from Neha’s face I could see she knew too. But there was no backing down in a debate. Especially not from the words of oneself. And so, even if Aniya’s expression made Neha uncomfortable, she couldn’t back down. She was a tough cookie too.
“Jealous? Me? Of what?” Aniya asked incredulously.
“When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
That was the final straw. Quoting Sherlock to win the argument against Aniya. It was amazing how the timing matched up too. The bell going off at exactly that moment, ending the debate with Neha as the victor, and Aniya having lost the debate against Sherlock. It was the worst possible outcome. I should have known right then what the night was going to be about.
In the evening, all she said was that we were going to be on a mission. And she’ll come to get me. That was hardly a warning to be prepared. That was hardly anything at all. Too cryptic for its own good. And yet, come night, here we were. Inspired by her monologue, following her to the dark side.
She was more prepared than I could give her credit for. The tree she had left to be tried out in the night. But everything else was planned. She had placed our cycles by the gate, waiting for us. She had known the road to the woods was too long for a walk in the night, which was why the cycles. She had also checked out the path through the woods, our secret path in the darkness of the night. Mapped it so she wouldn’t lose it in the night when it wasn’t as obvious as it was in the day. She had marked where to park the cycles so they would be safe, and had staked out the nest which would be our base for the dark side. She had prepared everything. And the first night was more special than I could have imagined.
We were nestled in the nest, leaning against the trees, seated facing each other. For the longest while that was enough. It would have been enough even forever longer, but I could see it in her face. There was something she had to say, and I was curious.
“Yes?” I asked her.
“Don’t you love it?” she asked, grinning.
“Yeah, you know I do,” I answered, grinning back.
We were both grinning wide toothy grins, putting all sixty four teeth out on display. It was a little difficult, considering the fact that it wasn’t how I grinned normally. It was easy for Aniya though, she loved being expressive. Made it easy, she said, reduces the need for words. It was amazing how she could make the most unbelievable things sound so easily believable.
“So, what are we to do in the dark side? Other than this?” I asked, almost immediately regretting, because I could see she was ready with the answer. And from the look on her face at the question, I knew the answer wasn’t going to be very pleasing.
“First, to commemorate the first night in the dark side, we smoke.”
I was stunned. Smoke? Neither of us smoked. Dad and uncle only smoked rarely, to celebrate big moments. Mom said they fully smoked a cigar each when each of us was born. Making them their happiest moments. I could see why Aniya would think of the same thing. But I wasn’t sure. There was no room for doubt though, not when Aniya was leading. She pulled out a pack of cigarettes, gave me one while sticking one between her lips. Pulling out a matchbox she struck a match and lit our cigarettes. We had seen it many times, and knew how to light a cigarette. It was easy enough too. What we weren’t prepared for was the smoke scorching out throats and lungs, leaving us coughing. A round of laughter followed. It was truly amusing, the two of us struggling with our first puffs of cigarettes out in the dark side. It wasn’t even like we were hiding it from our parents. I had no doubt if we were discovered with cigarettes, we would admit to having smoked. There was no real need to keep secrets from our parents. But we weren’t going to be found out. The cigarettes were a part of our dark side. And the dark side was ours, just between the two of us.
“That sucks,” she said, taking another big puff. This time holding the smoke much better. I was certain before the cigarette was burnt out, she would be proficient in smoking. She was good like that, learning new things easily. It was going to be a lot more difficult for me.
“So, this is what the dark side is about,” she announced, when we were both done with our cigarettes. “Here, there are no rules. There is just us, and whatever we can think up. This is our world, kinda like the old man’s. And here, we are just us.”
“Aye aye,” I said, raising an absent glass up high.
“Aye aye,” she repeated in jolly agreement.
It was just us in the dark side. And that night, we were going to have a long rant about the debate, Sherlock Holmes, and Neha. Of that I was certain. She was already waiting on her cycle by the gate, as I climbed down the tree. She waited until I was by her, on the cycle, before peddling out. With me following.
There was silence until we made it to the nest. We had hardly settled down, when she erupted. Raging about how fucked up the debate was. How senile a topic it was to have a debate on. Our literary heroes. As if the heroes would leap out of the pages of the books just because we loved them, and stand by us as we argued for them. I could see her point. The problem was that I could also see teacher’s point. To engage us intellectually in a topic concerning literature. So could Aniya. Which only made it worse. There could be nothing more angering that disagreeing with something that we could see sense in.
Her raging lasted longer than I thought it would. Surprising me, and Aniya. When she was done, the small bit of silence was followed by a big round of laughter. She was spent of her pent up anger, and that was a funny sight. Especially since it was she who said that anger kept in for too long would burst out one day, uncontrollably. Tonight was the night of that day.
“See I told you,” she said, easing off her laughter. “The dark side does it’s magic again.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Certainly powerful magic.”
“Isn’t it amazing though, to have our very own world. A place we could just be we?”
“Tell me, when aren’t you just you?”
The question stumped her, and that stumped me. It was a simple question, based on a simple fact. Aniya was the best because she was always herself. I had never seen her try to be something else, someone else. And yet, here she was, taken by surprise by my question. I couldn’t understand why? Or was I misreading her? I didn’t think so, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Even so, there’s no rules, nothing at all to hold us back,” she said, gathering herself quickly. “Like no teacher to keep me from knocking down a Neha pitching for Sherlock Holmes as a hero.” We were grinning again. And she continued after a pause. “When you have your own world, like we do, our own dark side, then you can be truly happy. At peace. Because out here, in our dark side, anything and everything holds. We do as we do, we are as we are. It’s an energising idea.”
I couldn’t agree more.
To leap, you must always step back.
In the dark side, in our nest, we were drowning in a sea of blue. It was like nothing else. So clear, so deep, so dense. Like we truly were under the sea. And we weren’t suffocating, which was surprising. We could hardly even notice the blue so very different around us.
As she spoke about being free in the dark side, waves swept through the blue. Surging past us, through us. I was amazed we weren’t thrown off by the massive waves. Even more amazing was the sight of the waves, seeming to originate with us as the centre. Like they were blowing away from us.
“If there’s a puzzle you cannot wrap your head around, slow down. To leap, you must always take a step back, bend your knees,” mom had said.
Here was a puzzle I couldn’t wrap my head around. All I could do was follow mom’s advice. Take a step back. Bend you knees.
I have taken a step back. Many steps back. I have bent my knees. I have slowed down. And I have seen the blue. The other world behind my own. The other side of my memories that I have been blind to all my life. I have seen the blue, and I have seen the way it acts around me. Around us. Around the car before the explosion. I have taken a step back and found the path I must go on. All left now, is to take the leap. And I leap.