“Ashu! Hurry!” the words reached Ashu just as he had stopped running. He was trying to catch his breath and the next shout, fainter now, reached him through the puffs of his tortured lungs. “Aaaa…sshu! Hu…rry!”
By the time he had his breath back there were no more shouts. Instead there was the ominous calm …the kind that comes before a storm. Ashu wondered uneasily if it would rain. He walked fast, even though there was no hope of catching up with the other boys. This was what happened every day, but still his brother’s abandonment hurt. Ashu brushed away his tears, wishing for the hundredth time that he was not five years younger than the others, and that he was not always left behind.
His mind full of these thoughts, Ashu was hurrying along when he saw something ahead. He stopped. It was a peacock, walking purposefully across the path, its long tail brushing the ground behind it.
It stopped in the middle of the path to utter a harsh cry. And then it spread out its tail and started dancing. The feathers quivered with the joy of the bird and the deep blues and greens shimmered. It turned around as it danced and for a moment it seemed to be staring straight at Ashu, inviting him to enjoy the beauty of its performance. The peacock danced with abandon in the middle of the forest and Ashu, watching it, could only marvel that something so beautiful had chosen him to witness its beauty. At last the peacock dropped its tail and walked away.
Ashu caught glimpses of the glowing jewel colours of the bird shine through the leaves and then it was gone. He stood there, spell-bound by what he had seen. The cry of the peacock, loud in the stillness, snapped him out of his thoughts. He began to walk fast, feeling the magic of what he had just seen singing in him.
Wait till he told Viju and the others, he thought. They would be sorry they hadn’t waited for him. When he finally burst out of the jungle and saw the school building in the clearing, he began to run. “Viju!” he cried as soon as he was close to his brother.
Viju barely glanced at him. “What?” he asked.
“I saw a …” Ashu began, but his brother had already run after the ball, leaving him talking to empty air. Ashu tried again, but Viju seemed keener on playing ball and finally he stopped trying. Instead he walked to his classroom, the memory of the peacock’s dance like a sweet in his mouth, flooding sweetness in every corner of his mind.
Ashu walked slowly to school after that, peering around him, hoping to see the peacock again. Though he never saw a peacock dance again, the glow of joy he had experienced that morning stayed with him, keeping him company whenever he had to walk alone, and thrilling him with the unlimited possibilities the world offered.