As if from a dream,Vineeth blinked his eyes. He looked around .Aaah! He cried in pain.
“Sorry! Did I hurt you?”said a sweet voice.
“And who are you?”
“I am Roe, the daughter of the chief.”
Vineeth could not get things right. “Why am I here? And..oh..my head hurts…”
“hmm..you really need some rest. Just loosen up your muscles and close your eyes tight while I dress these wounds for you.”
He did as he was told. As he relaxed himself, he tried to think of what had happened to him. But soon, he felt paralyzed. He could not dare make an effort to move. When he opened his black eyes again after what seemed like centuries, she saw the same girl. Her curly black locks of hair hung loose over her shoulders of dark skin. “Tell me…why have you brought me here? What…what happened to me?”
“I’ll tell you…Today, at the break of dawn, my father and I went hunting. We heard a human voice murmuring in the forest as if someone was in deep pain. I made my way through the bushes . Imagine my surprise when I saw you bathed in blood lying amoung the grass half-dead! Suddenly, I heard a growl of a tiger…its eyes, shining like emerald, was glaring at you and its claws were ready to devour the human flesh lying before it…I shot it with my tranquilized arrow.” she sighed.
“I owe you my life..Roe.”Vineeth felt overwhelmed with gratitude.
“But how did I get there?”
“I don’t know…”
“Well,would you like to live with me? Here?”
“I..I have no choice.” Roe smiled shyly at him. He saw stars in her brown eyes.
He spent a few happy days with Roe…She taught him archery and soon they became great friends. “Roe…You know something? If I were to have a little sister, I wish to heaven she were as skillful as you are.”
“Really? Then I shall call you Vinu,my elder brother. Vinu..”she called out pleasantly. But it struck Vineeth’s head like lightning. He felt dizzy and fainted into Roe’s arms.
“Vinu..?”She took him home and sat by his side.
“Aathi…”he whispered, as he woke. “Aathi…No! I won’t go without you!”Vineeth screamed.
“Cool down,Vinu… look at me now…tell me, what is it?”
“Roe…? I-I see her…my best friend…my playful companion… with her tender face and her ringing bracelets…She had your voice,and called me Vinu …just as you did.But that day… It was the day I was allowed to play with her – weeks after I broke my leg. All those weeks,Aathi-oh well- Athira was her real name-she came to me and sat with me till evening. “Vinu…Don’t worry, its just going to make you feel a slight pain, an ant bite.Remember you’re a boy!” she consoled me as I cried softly,due to the intense pain when they put herbs on my wound. She even sang to me. Weeks passed and finally,after getting well, I took Athira with me to the forest. There’s a secret nook we had ,where we met and played. That was the day Athira saw me the happiest,so she insisted I stay a little late.
We sat beneath a big tree and talked. Our words mingled with the breeze as I watched her sweet lips move and her brown hair wave at me.And then…”
“What is it Vineeth?”
“Roe..we..we heard a rustle in the leaves. I saw imminent danger.I took her arms in mine…and we ran through the grass blades.My heart beat fast as I felt the huge tramping of claws behind us. It was the-the tiger you told me about. Athira felt tired. She could not move.She screamed, but it was dark and there was no one about in the deep jungle. I carried her and let her lie down behind a few bushes. I covered her with leaves and distracted the tiger so it moved away from her. It chased me for miles and in the pursuit I took a sharp stone and hurled it at it. It was injured and fell. I ran back to Athira ,but on my way,I tripped on something and then I don’t know what happened to me.”
Roe affectionately passed her fingers over his hair. “I wish I could see Athira again…Where is she and what happened to her?”
“We’ll never know,Vinu.But tomorrow, we’ll make our journey to your village” Vineeth smiled bravely. He eagerly waited for the morning..