The Trickle Stream Adventures: Chapter 1

 

Tchaak! Tchook! Tcheek! 

‘Zee! Do you have to make those disgusting sounds after every meal?’ Ma exclaimed.

‘Ma, how do I clean my teeth then?’ protested eight-year-old Zee. 

Ma shook her head and went into the kitchen, leaving Zee alone with his 10-year-old sister Zay.

Little did Ma know that all that clicking and clacking was, in fact, their code language. Zee was asking Zay to finish her lunch quickly so they could go meet their friends by the bridge.

It had been just a month since they had moved from the city to Kodaikanal, but they had already made friends. Four of them. Raa, Rey, Jinn and Pinn.

They met brother and sister Raa and Rey while rolling down the hill at the back of the village. As for Jinn and Pinn, who were brother and sister too, they met them hiding under a mushroom by the road. Yes, Jinn and Pinn fit under a mushroom―because they were not human. They were little people, as small as bugs and bees, who guarded the forest.

The six of them quickly became best of friends. Their secret meeting place was under this stone bridge; a secret because they had been warned by their respective parents not to mix with the others. Zay and Zee’s parents thought Raa and Rey were rough and grimy. Raa and Rey’s parents thought Zay and Zee were spoiled city kids. As for Jinn and Pinn, their parents thought that all humans were trouble, and best avoided. But Jinn and Pinn discovered that this wasn’t entirely true. 

Zay, Zee, Raa and Rey were quite nice. Raa and Rey felt the same way about the others, and so did Zay and Zee. So they continued to meet in secret under the bridge by Trickle Stream.

As they rushed to the bridge that afternoon, Zee, who was always three steps ahead of Zay, spotted Raa and Rey’s heads in the distance. He clicked his tongue thrice and heard two clicks in response. 

Zee had clicked, “We are here!” Raa had clucked, ”Come quick!” 

Zay and Zee immediately broke into a run and scrambled under the giant fern tree by the bridge. They could hear Raa’s excitement even in his clicks. An adventure had definitely presented itself! 

Raa was nine years old. Rey was younger. Both of them were sitting hunched over the stream; Jinn and Pinn were standing on Raa’s open palm. Everyone looked excited. 

‘The stream has dried up!’ all four chorused, together, as Zay and Zee arrived by their side. 

Zay and Zee looked down. Yes, the stream had indeed dried up; but didn’t all streams once it stopped raining? Anyway, the stream had been more of a trickle than a stream ever since they had gotten here. 

‘But it never dries up!’; Raa piped up.

Jinn and Pinn jumped to the ground, landing lightly on their feet. ‘It can’t dry up. The water spirit that lives up in the rocks makes sure it doesn’t,’ Pinn said.

‘So let’s go see the water spirit then,’ said Zay. ‘Maybe she’ll know.’ 

‘Do we have to really go? Can’t we just play here?’ Zee whined. ‘What’s the big deal anyway? It’s just a stream.’ 

Jin and Pinn shook their heads, remembering what their parents had told them. They had said that big people did not always care about the forest, the animals, and its streams. Maybe they were right. 

But just then, Raa and Rey jumped to their feet. Zay dragged Zee along, saying, ‘Without the stream, how can all of us play our games? Come!’ 

Jinn and Pinn smiled and followed their four big friends, happy to know that they cared too, whatever their reasons might be. 

The little people scrambled ahead through the grass, dodging the ants, beetles and ladybugs, leading the way to where the water spirit lived. Raa, Rey, Zay and Zee followed them slowly, sometimes crawling on their knees to keep their little friends in sight. They were climbing up the hill. Up ahead was the tall Shola tree on which the hawk had its nest. 

Jinn and Pinn finally stopped just under this tree. A big black rock stood there with a small crack at the bottom, looking like an eye on the face of the large rock. 

‘The water spirit lives in that crack. Her name’s Damini,’ chirped Pinn. ‘Wow! That’s where our Trickle Stream begins?’ Zay marvelled. 

Raa and Rey already knew this was the source of their Trickle Stream, but they had been told that there was a spring in the rock from which the water flowed. Now they knew that the spring was actually a water spirit, a spirit who even had a name! 

‘Damini!’ Jinn and Pinn called out in their tinkling voices. There was no response. The eye of the rock seemed empty. All they could see was a piece of broken glass standing guard at its entrance. 

‘She’s not here!’ Jinn exclaimed, worried. ‘The water spirits never leave their home. Something really terrible must have happened.’ 

Zay, Zee, Raa and Rey were disappointed. They had so wanted to meet a real life water spirit! But this talk of something really terrible quickly turned their dismay into concern. 

‘What could have possibly happened?’ Zee muttered. 

Jinn saw the effect of his words now, and tried to lighten the mood, ‘Maybe she just went for a walk. Let’s go meet Three Beards. He is sure to know what happened.’ 

The children were not fooled by the forced cheer, but the prospect of meeting a little person with a name like Three Beards perked them up. 

Jinn led them further into the forest, telling them that Three Beards lived in the roots of the fallen eucalyptus tree.

Raa put Jinn and Pinn into the button hole in his shirt as they set out for the tree. Jinn and Pinn would have preferred to travel on a butterfly, but finding one at short notice was always a task. Raa’s button hole would have to do. 

They reached the fallen tree and stayed out of sight as Jinn and Pinn went up to its roots. The roots stuck out of the ground like a big round rock, emerging out of a hollow where, once, the tree had stood tall. 

At the bottom of this hollow, in a tangle of mud and roots, was a tiny door which no one was able to see except for the little people, at first. When the four humans were shown the door, it seemed hard to miss. 

They hung back and hid, while Jinn and Pinn went and knocked on this door. After a minute, it opened to reveal Three Beards. 

The children almost gave away their hiding place, trying to control their giggles at the sight of this little person. He had a beard growing on his chin and one growing out of each ear! 

They listened as a rapid conversation followed. The little people’s discussion sounded like crickets chirping and bells tinkling: musical, but they couldn’t understand it. 

A few minutes later, Jinn and Pinn came back. Ignoring the amused expressions that still danced across the children’s faces, Jinn quickly explained that it was the piece of glass outside Damini’s house that had scared her away. 

‘Oh!’ Zee jumped up in excitement. ‘We can just clear it away and she will be back. Let’s go!’

The other three got up to go but Jinn and Pinn didn’t move. 

‘It is never that simple!’ Jinn sighed.

Pinn explained, ‘Damini was not just scared away by the piece of glass, but also by the person who put it there. For her to return, she has to know that the person meant no harm.’ 

‘How can that happen?’ Zay exclaimed. ‘How will we know who the person is? Where are we even going to find them?’ 

Raa nodded thoughtfully, “Can’t be a villager. Must be a tourist.” 

Rey perked up, ‘Oh! I saw this group of boys on bikes camping in Vincent thatha’s field.’ 

‘It could be one of them!’ Zee piped in, ‘We just need to get them to the Shola tree and get them to pick up the piece of glass, looking like they mean no harm.”

The others frowned. This was easier said than done. 

They rushed to the field. Jinn and Pinn refused to go back to Raa’s button hole and instead chose to hitch a ride on a passing dragonfly. 

The tourists had rolled up their tents while Vincent thatha was busy picking up wrappers and cigarette butts from his field. 

Zay went up to one of the boys who had his palm wrapped in a bloodstained handkerchief. ‘Did you drop a gold pendant at the rock up the hill?’ she asked. The other children were confused. What gold pendant? Zay looked back at her friends and clicked her tongue once to tell them it was okay. 

The boy looked down at Zay in surprise, ‘Gold pendant?’ The other boys were gathering around. Zay now felt a little uncertain and fumbled as she spoke in a softer voice, ‘There is a gold pendant…’ Raa jumped forward to help Zay, ‘Or maybe a gold coin. How did you hurt your hand?’ he asked, all in the same breath. 

The boys looked at the children and laughed, ‘Let’s go and see, we have some time before we leave.’

The boy with the bandage told Raa, ‘A glass bottle broke in my hand by that rock, that’s how.’

The children looked at each other in excitement; they had found the right people!

Rey gently held the boy’s bandaged hand and said, “My grandma says if you lovingly and gently pick up the thing that hurt you and softly say to it, “I forgive you”, your wound will heal faster.’ Shyly, he added, ‘Would you like to try that?’

All the boys laughed at this. One of them joked, ‘Let’s go! The village doctor’s waiting by the rock. And we can pay his fees with the gold coin we find there.’ 

The boys prepared to ride, but Raa told them they would reach faster if they climbed up the hill. So, the boys left their bikes behind and followed the four children in the climb up the hill. 

Jinn and Pinn had already taken their dragonfly ride back to the big rock under the Shola tree. They heard the snap of twigs, the crunch of dried leaves, and the panting of the boys as they approached. Jinn was worried, wondering what would happen when they discovered that there was no gold. 

Just then, Pinn began to sing, softly:

‘Dear Father Sun,

embrace us in your fold.

With your loving light, 

turn all you touch to gold.’

Her song sounded like a petal dropping to the ground. The wind lifted it and carried it to the ears of the sun. 

As the troop reached the rock, a thin ray of sunlight pushed its way through the leaves of the Shola tree, touched the broken piece of glass and set it aglow. The boys reached at that very moment to be greeted by the glint at the bottom of that rock. The boy with the bandage rushed forward to pick it up, but in his hands, it quickly transformed back into glass. 

The other boys cracked up, slapping each other on the back but the boy with the bandage didn’t join in. 

Rey whispered, ‘Ask it to forgive you, that will heal your wound’, so softly that only he heard her, it seemed. He held the piece of glass, looked at it, and, sheepishly, muttered, ‘I forgive you.’ The other boys doubled up with laughter. 

The boy looked at the forest around him, then spoke to his friends in a stern voice, ‘Come on, let’s clear the mess we left here yesterday.’ He bent down to pick up the other glass pieces lying around.

The children hoped that Damini was watching this boy. It definitely looked like he meant no harm. They quickly joined the boy in clearing the bottles and the wrappers. One of the other boys caught his breath between laughs and said, “Why? Are we ragpickers now?” They burst into laughter again. 

Rey looked up at the laughing friends and said, ‘Ragpickers are angels.’ She continued, her eyes now welling up, ‘Every time we take a step without cutting ourselves, every time a deer munches on grass without swallowing a plastic wrapper, we thank and bless the ragpickers and the ones who carried their trash back home with them.’ She was remembering the time her brother had cut his foot on a piece of glass in the forest, and followed the advice of grandma, so that it healed quickly.

The boys grew quiet.

Zay went up to them, clutching some wrappers in her hand. ‘Are these the gifts you leave behind as thanks for your lovely holiday here?’ she asked. 

They had stopped laughing now. One of them stepped forward and took the wrappers from Zay’s hands. ‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled. 

‘I forgive you and so does the forest,’ Zay said in her kindest voice. Another boy said, ‘Let’s take this to the new sorting and recycling centre in Kodai town on our way out.’

Jinn and Pinn were stunned by the words and actions of these big people. Pinn had tears of joy in her eyes as she squeezed Jinn’s hand. ‘We should tell Ma and Pa about them and the recycling centre,’ she whispered. ‘They might not change their minds about humans, but you never know.’

Jinn and Pinn scurried down to the bridge while the other four led the boys back down to their bikes. The boys relieved Vincent thatha of their wrappers and cigarette butts, promising to return with better gifts next time. The children waved goodbye and hurried back to the bridge.

Trickle Stream was trickling again! 

‘It worked!’ Zee whooped, ‘Damini must be back in her rock!’ All the six children were happy to have their playground restored to its trickling glory. 

That evening, they each went home and told their parents all about their adventure. Of course, they left out parts their parents wouldn’t like, or understand. The parents were nothing more than just amused. In fact, Jinn and Pinn’s parents didn’t believe them at all.

Only the six children knew the whole truth. They all slept very well that night, dreaming of future adventures down at Trickle Stream. 

Satish deSa

Satish deSa is an advertising consultant, educator, entrepreneur, and Waldorf enthusiast. He is editor of the Children section of The Kodai Chronicle and co-founder of WagTales Childhoods, a child engagement company.

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