• Prachi Daga

Shildy


The fire from the candle flickered against a dull, dirty sky. It looked over a lonely backyard, forgotten for long by the people inside and the foliage outside. The dreary setting of greys and whites had the city in dumps figuratively, especially for an outsider who would have found the large town abandoned. This year’s winter had prolonged more than that of a decade before, bringing the metropolis to a standstill; mankind lay cuddled under its roof, in front of televisions, pitying the unfortunate vagrants on the six o'clock news. Meteorologists claimed it to be the worst in two decades—there was a scarcity of food and other basic supplies across the city, statistics of which was the next hot topic in town. Snow in sheets covered every surface on offer making it impossible for anybody to even step out, let alone to make a commute.


‘Is the candle still outside?’


‘Yes..?’


‘Toby, get the candle inside!’


‘But it’s dark outside, dad, and very cold. Grandpa says it might provide the insects some

warmth and maybe even a stray passer-by,’ Toby yells back.


‘Toby, we don’t have extra candles and you are going to burn out the last few.’


‘But, dad, grandpa says we should when we could,’ a diligent whine.

 

‘If you don’t do it now, I might smack you first and then cut your dessert or even your cup of hot chocolate.’ The father threatened from inside the shabby living room.


Toby sighed whilst getting off the carpeted floor, colors were strewn all around him; he jumped his way through, an act of much glee for young kids just like him. Loud bouncing steps rang about the wooden house and the annoyed-parent caviled at the child for it.

Toby scurried to the other end on his tip-toes in response and zoomed past the kitchen, through a small chamber-like room to stop right in front of the door.


He took hold of the icy knob on the French-styled back door and turned it with more effort from an eleven-year-old than expected, a habit instilled by that door’s knob known for its problematic ways. Even after fairly high energy on the attempt, the door did not budge. A forceful attempt at the windows proved to be a limited success, as only one scraped open. He grunted at the next attempt but to no good. Meanwhile, a gust of air stirred the candle’s peace blowing it out largely; a little spark was left hanging on the wick.


Toby slackened his body having not more to offer, and his mind roved. 


Unforeseen bright sparks colored a faint, hazy picture behind the door; a glimpse from the corner of the eye.


‘Dad, come out, look here! It’s firecrackers!’ He yelled excitedly.


His snoring father missed out on the uncanny happening cramped in between television noise and unlikely dreams. Toby now tugged as his life depended on it. He paused and gulped in a mouthful of air to go back into the posture but was thrown back, as the door opened effortlessly. The cold rush startled Toby more than the fall on his butt. He crawled closer to the door, layers affected his mobility. The sky had turned darker with the falling night and there was no trace of fire-crackers, anymore. On his feet he crossed the threshold, impatiently waiting for another burst.


A creek from the middle of their backyard scattered with looming, barren trees caught his attention, ‘hello? Is anybody there?’ Boy’s meek voice barely ruffled the silence. An attention span of that of a squirrel, he started looking for the candle instead. Rigid movements got him to the wicker table, to the candle. The edges of his lips stretched

into a grin at the little mountains of melted wax. He stood there, looking beyond the lining of a barely visible fence, and let his mind wander further. At that moment, a pair of big feet appeared in his line of vision; he peered from under his lids, instinctively clutching the candle more firmly.


A jolt of elation fired his body up, ‘GRANDPA!’ His fetching smile lit the grandpa’s dull eyes.


‘There’s my obedient child!’ Grandpa’s profound laughter raised the temperature.  Toby’s

dainty, shoe clad totters leaped towards him. But he stepped aside, bursting out in another round of booming laughter at the boy’s confusion. ‘You’ve grown so much…’ he said, simultaneously gesturing for him to take a seat. Toby placed the candle on the table and lifted himself up to his little-chair, opposite to him. The old man eyed the candle and smiled gently, reminiscing a few old moments.


‘Light the candle, son.’ Toby looked on questioningly at the absurd request, he had been forbidden to play with match sticks after an accident he caused by burning a pretty, sheer table-cloth.


‘But grandpa how do I do that?’


‘Why of course with a match stick, unless you have a lighter’ Old man laughed at his own

joke, the schoolboy acknowledged with an impotent smile, misapprehending his old joke yet again.


‘But grandpa, I mustn’t, Dad will be angry!’ He replied when the laughter faltered.


‘Well, is he here now? I won’t tell anybody. You’re a big boy; you can sure handle a bit of

fire.’


The boy unsure, yet obliging lit the candle after a few tries. The air thick of silent mysteries fizzled unnoticeably.


‘Do you remember the story of the beeswax-named candle?’ Grandpa slowly started again testing his voice to the silence. Toby remembered every tiny detail of it, it was the story that had inspired him to use candles to spread the warmth its sacrificing ability bestowed on people, whoever needed it.


“As light mushrooms the surrounding the candle’s put in, it succeeds but dies.”


‘Yes, grandpa, it’s my favorite story!’


‘I have to tell you more about Mr. Woodstick.’


‘MR. WOODSTICK!’ Toby exclaimed, holding up a match stick charred at its tip.


His eyes alight with the moon’s brilliant glow across the inky sky; a yellow glow highlighted the dimpled smile.


‘I see, as usual, Mr. Woodstick gets you more riled up than Ms. Beeswax. Why do you like

him so much?’


The child pondered upon it for a few moments and astonished the grandfather with his

practiced answer.


‘Because grandpa, Mr. Woodstick sacrificed first to help Ms. Beeswax, she, in turn, helped the insects.’


‘You surprise me, kid’, replied grandpa flabbergasted, a content smile brought out the soft shadows of the crevices of his face. He rose from his seat to his towering height, especially to the child sitting opposite to him. An imperceptible sweep of a chilly breeze swayed the tail of his coat slightly.


‘You should get back inside; your mother’s going to worry if you fall sick and you shouldn’t worry her.’ The father in him chided the kid politely.


‘Let’s go inside then!’ The kid jumped off his seat with not much difficulty and walked on with surprisingly, well-maintained enthusiasm in every step without tripping.  


‘You go ahead.’


The kid stopped mid-step and turned around to look at the old man over his shoulder, ‘Come on in grandpa.’ Instead of following, gestured for the kid to go inside, offering his best smile with a wave. The young boy got inside as the door shut on its own, behind him. A loud, creaky bang resonated in the relatively quiet household, drowning the muffled television noises.


‘Toby! What was that noise?! What are you up to now?’ A vexed, somnolent voice resonated from the living room. Toby stilled, let a lazy smile spread on his face before he straightened up and ran into that room.


‘Dad grandpa’s outside!’ He said, with only some amount of insincere enthusiasm, unleashing his naughtiness ever so slightly. His father jumping the bait replied rather aggressively, noticing his son’s little, more than necessary amount of hyper-ness. ‘No, he’s not! One more word and I might have to punish you; you know exactly what I mean by that.’ His face contorted to a devil’s, a wicked smile and a glint in the sleepy, slightly red-rimmed eyes, perceived the same by eleven-year-old-eyes.


‘But, it’s true; he was in the backyard, while I went to get the candle!’ Toby defended.


‘Okay, that’s it; you have gotten enough on my nerves, don’t try and pull another prank on

me like always. I have had a tough day as it is without your mother around to help out.’ He

got up clumsily, displacing objects around him.


The boy opened his mouth to clarify further but his father interjected, ‘you don’t seem to give up and I am sorry but I don’t know any other way, no dessert…’ The telephone rang

interrupting his cruel judgment, much to the child’s delight.


The boy crept out. ‘So bloody late at night,’ the man grumbled under his breath. He picked up the receiver arrogantly; a gruff hello was answered by heavy sobbing on the other end.


‘T—T—Tom… I… got into an accident… it all happened so quick, I… don’t…

dad…Tom’, the lady on the other end sputtering was Toby’s mother who had gone to meet

her father in a convalescent home a few days back before the blizzard that incapacitated

traffic movement had her stranded in a cheap motel with a connectivity issue.


‘Jessie—calm down—it’s okay, take a deep breath and talk,’ replied Tom. 

‘No, you don’t—understand, an accident happened and I was with—dad, he-he's—Tom,’ the wife cried his name out loud again, hiccupping in between each sob. 


‘What’s wrong with dad?’ He asked; his heart in the pit of his stomach.


‘Dad’s—not moving and he’s bleeding excessively. Police and—help are on the way—but it’s been ten minutes and I can’t do anything about it. I am afraid—he might be…’ She wept

helplessly, achieving scanty comfort.


‘Okay, compress whichever part he’s bleeding profusely from, try and plug it till the help

arrives.’ Trying hard to patiently guide her, he dictated the obvious measures one after the

other.


‘Oh, for god’s sake Tom, for the last time I have done it all and no, it’s not helping. He’s

bleeding everywhere’ an exasperated reply, both tired and scared came back. Palpable fear choked them both.


‘He had finally agreed to meet me today but was adamant he met Toby too.  I had to give in, he was sick as it is. Tom, I have only ever fought with him these few years. He was my pop… my pop.’ Fresh sobs spilled out of her gut, wrenching it further. Tom, what do I do?’ And the line beeped.


‘Oh, Lord!’ She exclaimed, clutched onto the disconnected phone near her heart.


‘Toby, come down here!’ Dad yelled hurriedly, rushing to back door with an obstructing pot belly, looking for any miraculous sign of his son’s story being true, he convinced himself that it was for Jessie’s plight, but it truly was for his guilt, familiar with a self-given identity of the sour patch, in between her father and her.


The boy quietly walked next to him and looked up with overemphasized innocent, doe eyes. He knew it would be an end if his father decided to punish him for all the pranks he might have pulled on him; probably weeks of no dessert and whatnot. ‘You said grandpa was here, your mom’s dad of course?’ Tom realizes how stupid the question was because Toby had never met his father. Toby nodded politely, still unsure.


‘So you got the candle like I asked of you and met him?’ He interrogated further. Toby nodded again, innocently, his mind racing forthwith.


The father now uncertain of what to believe; opened the door and walked out with

his eyes trained on the snow piled outside, no sign of footsteps or any other indication to

ascertain.


‘Toby—you sure…’ and his eyes fell on the candle still burning, almost onto its last

stage of life. The dad turned around and looked at Toby, long and hard. His confusion gradually turned to seething anger. Toby took his time to understand and stammered as he looked back and forth from the candle and his father, ‘no, dad, it’s—not—dad, I promise, I am not…’


‘THAT’S ENOUGH! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW SERIOUS IT IS RIGHT NOW?!’ Roared his father; now beyond angry. He didn’t get to say another word and was severely punished.


Back in this room, among his colors, sheets, and imagination, he rejoiced. It had to be his

biggest act ever; the sheer thrill of it sent shivers across his span every time he thought it over. He had almost lost his game at the end, because of his father’s unexpected reaction and he knew instinctively that it was a once in a lifetime validation. His theatrics were on point; not to mention the banging of the creaking window, timed brilliantly! Blissfully unaware the child slept soundly that night, a deceivingly content smile stayed plastered throughout.

*******

-Prachi Daga

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