The Purple Fruit
Emma looked up from the history papers that she was marking. She had a headache in the morning. It worsened after she found that a student had written the lyrics of a pop song in one of his answers. There was a loud noise in the adjoining room. The twins burst into Emma’s study.
“Aunt Emma, we are bored.”
“Don’t you nap in the afternoons?”
They both looked outraged at the very idea.
“Nap is for the kids, Aunt Emma. We are 7.”
“I have kept some cookies in the…”
“The ones in the top-most rack?” Sam asked scornfully. “We ate them yesterday.”
“Why don’t you watch the cartoons for some time?” she asked, desperately, pointing to her mobile.
They both looked very sad at this.
“There is no internet connection, Aunt Emma,” Sid replied, mournfully.
Emma did not have a T.V. in her house. Therefore, she reluctantly allowed them to play outside for a couple of hours. She was apprehensive about leaving them alone, as the neighbours told strange tales of the town. Emma had secured a job in this town five years ago. However, she had never experienced anything strange so far and had not bothered to do any serious investigation. Her brother had returned from a foreign country and had wanted Emma to take care of the twins for a couple of weeks. She had happily agreed. Little had she imagined that they were hyperactive and highly mischievous.
The twins picked up a red ball and ran over to the lawn. Sid threw the ball far away, without an aim. They walked on, looking for it. It was cool, very different from their sunny hometown, and they enjoyed strolling.
“Hey, I have found it.” Sam pointed at a shiny red object.
“Come on. I will race you to it,” Sid said. Sid overtook Sam, picked the red object and felt it. It was soft, juicy and blood-red.
“What fruit is this?”
“It looks delicious, but it is probably decayed.” Sam loved fruits. See, he had a redeeming trait after all.
Sid made a face; he had no love for healthy food. He was entirely corrupt.
“My hands are so sticky. I wish I could wash them.”
They came across a lovely pond, as they strolled. They watched the clear water and the half-hidden lilies in awe. Next to the pond, stood a huge tree with blood-red fruits similar to the one they had found earlier.
“I wish I could eat them,” Sam said with longing.
“We don’t even know what they are.”
“They look like plums, but I hope they are tastier.”
As if it was listening to them, a huge fruit fell next to Sam.
“Don’t…” began Sid, but Sam had already taken a bite. It was sweet and delicious.
“Wow. It is amazing. It is similar to a cherry, but just not that sweet and a little crunchy. Want to take a bite?”
“No!” said Sid, with determination. He was always true to his ideology of not eating healthy food.
“Now, where did you throw the ball?” Sam cleaned his hands in the pond. As he stood up, he staggered. He felt giddy and disoriented. He opened his mouth, but could not find the words. He fell on the ground.
Sid looked at his unconscious brother, shocked. He shook Sam.
“Sam, wake up.”
He scooped some water from the pond and sprinkled it on Sam’s face. But, Sam did not respond. Sid decided to run back to his Aunt Emma. He looked around. There was the pond, the tree with the fruit and some smaller trees. But, where was the lawn? He ran around, trying to locate the lawn and the wooden door to this aunt’s house. Sid realised that they had walked for a long time and had lost their way. He ran back to the pond, not wanting to lose sight of his brother. He felt tears slipping into his cheeks.
It is all the fault of that horrible fruit, he thought. I wish I had someone to help me.
Sid heard a low noise. He knelt beside his brother. Blood was dripping down Sam’s mouth. Sid began to sob. He looked up as he heard footsteps.
A boy stood before Sid. He had sad, dark eyes and seemed to be of the twins’ age. A red bird, with sharp eyes, perched on his shoulder.
“Did you call me?” asked the boy.
“My brother…I think he is dead.” sobbed Sid.
The bird flew to the tree and perched on a branch, looking down at Sam.
“No. He is not,” said the sad boy. “But he will be if you don’t get him the purple fruit.”
“Yes, it has medicinal qualities and acts as a deterrent against the red fruits’ poison.”
“Where can I find it?” asked Sid, hope blossoming in his eyes.
“Walk straight and turn left. Don’t step on the shrubs. You will find a pond similar to this one. Next to the pond, you will find five trees in a row. The penultimate tree bears the purple fruits. If you bring one and pour the contents into Sam’s mouth, he will be saved.”
At these words, Sid felt rejuvenated. He thanked the sad boy and turned to go. Suddenly doubtful, he looked at the boy again.
“Can you repeat the directions?”
The boy patiently repeated the route that led to the life-saving fruit. Amidst all the confusion and fear, Sid could not help wondering how the boy knew Sam’s name. Sid had not mentioned it. He also realised that whatever they asked for had been granted to them. Sam desired the fruit, and he got it. Sid desperately wished for help and he got it. He heaved a sigh of relief as he located the pond and the row of trees. Excited, he ran forward and stepped on a shrub, which hissed in a low voice.
“Don’t…,” hissed the shrub.
“Don’t…,” repeated all the shrubs.
Sid shrank back in fear. He kept to the centre, trying to ignore the chorus. What had the boy said? Penultimate? Ultimate meant last. What did penultimate mean? He wished he had asked the boy.
In fact, the last tree had pink fruits and the one before it had purple fruits, which should have been Sid’s target. But, unfortunately, Sid was colour-blind and could not differentiate between purple and pink. The fruits in the last tree looked purple to him, and he also supposed penultimate meant last. The last tree was also very obliging, with low branches bearing fruits. So, Sid reached and plucked one, turning to go back. As he walked, the shrub he had stepped on earlier, howled with laughter. The other shrubs joined on. As he reached the pond, a bird snatched his fruit and bit on it. It fell down, appearing lifeless. Was it an indication of things to come? Something was wrong with the fruit. Sid felt realisation creeping in, at last. He understood what penultimate meant, and the fruits it bore should be the purple ones. This tree refused to part with its fruits and Sid was able to bag one only after five shots with stones. He picked up the life-saving fruit and ran.
“Don’t go,” cried the head shrub.
“Oh. Stop it,” retorted Sid, with authority. He felt bold now. The other shrubs chorused, “Oh. Stop it.”
Thinking that the shrub mentality was similar to humans, Sid began a brisk walk to his destination. His walk turned into a run, and he returned to his brother in 10 minutes. The sad boy was not to be seen. He squeezed a small portion of the fruit into Sam’s open mouth. Sam immediately sat up, rubbing his eyes. After an emotional reunion and a lot of explanations, they began walking together. And who led them if not the red bird, which had also helped Sid in identifying the right fruit. The bird showed the way to their aunt’s lawn and after a customary sharp glance, disappeared.
It was dark, as they entered their aunt’s room. Emma was holding her head in her hands, papers all around her.
“You just left. Are you back already?” she asked.