From our balcony, I could see it. A treehouse perched majestically on that enormous tamarind tree’s trunk, adorning the Srikanths’ humble abode. Its presence inside their fence validated that exquisite taste could never be only a rich man’s prerogative. My seven-year-old heart then knew nothing of their social status and felt envious of their possession. I wanted it but was forbidden. That made it even more fascinating.
I was the only son of the Thakurs’, the most affluent and influential family in the area. My mother, Savitri doted over me. I had heard others complimenting her as the luckiest woman. After all, she was my father’s only wife who had borne him a son. Her effervescent smile was reserved only for me. I was the reason she was valued in this patriarchal household and shown some respect.
My father, the man with a gruff voice and quick temper was hardly seen around the house. He never demanded my presence but I preferred to remain hidden. My time was best utilized staring at the treehouse. I fantasized its interiors and yearned to enter it but my mother’s warning wouldn’t let me. “Don’t ever go there.” She had whispered when I had insisted. “It is the witch’s house.” The terror in her eyes held me back.
It was a beautiful day. After a week of torrential rains, the sun had decided to kiss the earth once again. Father was home and I was well out of sight in my sanctuary.
She was there, climbing up the rope ladder to enter the treehouse. I was curious. “Was she the witch?”
She must be, because she stood there on the last step, staring straight at me. I stepped back.
She smiled and beckoned me. “Did she know me?”I wondered but there was no escaping her. She climbed down and came to stand beneath the balcony. Her eyes were transfixed on me. I was completely mesmerized by her bewitching smile. “Are the witches so beautiful?” Before I knew it, I had climbed down and was standing in front of her. Her eyes were moist. She held my hand and we went where my soul resided.
We entered and it was exactly the same as I had imagined. It was surely my fantasy world of dolls in their dancing attire.
“How did she know?”
And then I saw the wall with my pictures pasted. Most of them captured recently from my balcony.
Confused, I looked at her. My fears were confirmed. She was the witch! Strangely, I wasn’t afraid.
My trance broke when I heard my mother’s panic-stricken voice.
Her face ashen, she was whispering imploringly, “ Sister, don’t tell him, please.”
The witch looked at her for a long time. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she held me by the elbow and pushed me towards my mother.
The treehouse trembled when she cried, “thief!”
Her blood-curdling scream echoed my ears.
My soul never returned. The witch held it captive.