Fisherman's Creek- Page 2
by Eva Bell
Back to Children'ws story - Fisherman's Creek - Page 1
At last we reached the shore. We laid Lalli on the sand. Her breathing was very shallow. Her heart went pit-a-pat like a speeding train.
“She has swallowed too much water,” I said.
“We’ll turn her over on this sandy slope,” he said.
Then he began to thump her back but nothing happened. Now we were both shaking with fright.
“Turn her on her back Vikram. Have you forgotten how we were taught to give artificial respiration in our Scout camp?”
Vikram did as I said and knelt beside her. He pressed her chest. Press … press…release. Press …press… release.
At last Lalli took a deep breath. Then another and another.
“She’s going to live,” I shouted, “She’s going to live.”
A cashuarina grove stretched along the beach. But through the trees, we could see a light in the distance.
“Let’s go,” said Vikram.
I walked ahead leading the way and Vikram followed, carrying Lalli in his arms.
It was quite dark now. We stumbled along sometimes stubbing our toes against tree stumps. The prickly dry cashuarina pods dug into our soles, making our progress very slow. Then at last we were beside the hut. A kerosene lamp glowed in the window. We knocked twice and the door opened. The inside looked like a dark and gloomy cave. The smell of dried fish was everywhere. An old man with a tuft of silvery hair asked us in. In a corner was a cheap wooden cot with coir ropes stretched between the frames. Vikram laid Lalli down on it and it sagged like a hammock. We told the old man about our mishap. He brought down the light from the window to inspect Lalli’s face.
“She’ll be alright. She’s exhausted. Turn her on her belly. Go outside and get two bricks. Then you can rest,” he said, “There’s a fishing net under the cot which I’m repairing for my neighbours. You can sleep on it if you like.”
We stretched out on the net but our bellies growled with hunger and we couldn’t sleep.
I prayed that Lalli wouldn’t wake up in the night and see the old man. He looked like an evil gnome. It would give her another shock.
The old man hobbled out of the door, closing the door behind him. He came back in a few minutes with a bunch of bananas in his hand. It was like manna from heaven. I have never enjoyed bananas so much as I did that night. In spite of the hard cold ground under us and the uneven net, with the odour of fish all around, we slept soundly.
The sun was high in the sky when we woke up next day. The old man had lit the wood fire and a pot of rice was simmering in an earthen pot. When it was cooked, he gave us each a bowl of congee with a piece of mango pickle and a stick of fried salt fish. We ate with relish.
When Lalli awoke there was fear in her eyes. She looked around the dark hut. I ran to her and explained how we had got there. The kind old man made her a cup of tea. It was sweet but had only a spoonful of milk. Lalli gulped it down.
“When are we going home?” she asked.
“As soon as you are well Lalli. May be tomorrow,” Vikram assured her.
She dozed off again into a sleep of exhaustion.
“How far is the Kaup light house from here?” I asked the man.
“Almost a hundred miles away.”
“How do we get there?”
“Half a mile away there is a bus stop. There is just one trip during the day. Perhaps you would like to leave the girl here and get help from home.”
“No,” I said, “We will not leave her here alone.”
“Then stay by all means. When she is well enough, I’ll take you to the bus stop and see you off.”
“You are very kind,” I said.
Two days went by. I was uneasy. The old man was beginning to scare me. He was very kind and generously shared his food with us. But he never let us venture out to the village. We could only go into the cashuarina grove for a few minutes at a time.
“This is a bad village,” he said again and again. “Fisherman’s Creek is an evil place and children like you shouldn’t wander around. We are not like city people. Our ways are very rough.”
“He is keeping us prisoners,” said Vikram. “I doubt whether we can overpower him. Frail as he looks, there is much strength in those gnarled fingers.”
“What is he up to?” I thought.
But he did his best for us. Knowing how coarse his food was, he would hobble down to the water’s edge when the boats came in and buy fish. He then made it into a curry of sorts to eat with the rice. But try as I did, I could not get over the uneasy feeling about him. Being cooped up in the dark made me fear the worst.
On the fourth day when Lalli seemed her normal self, I urged Vikram.
“Let’s escape into the village when the old man goes to buy fish. We’ll find our way back to Kaup.”
As soon as the man was out of sight, we slipped out of the hut and headed to the village. Fisherman’s Creek was a cluster of small huts. The men were out fishing. Women bustled around doing their work and half naked children played in the courtyard.
“These people seem to be harmless enough,” I said, “Why did the old man keep us indoor?”
But hardly had the words escaped my lips when a burly fellow clad only in a brief loin cloth and a turban on his head approached. He looked evil. His grin sent shivers down my spine. Lalli clutched Vikram’s arm.
“And who are these lovely visitors?” he asked.
“We have lost our way,” said Vikram. “Can you tell us how we can get back to Kaup?”
“Of course. Follow me.”
He led us through the village to a small hut.
“Please come into my hut,” he said.
We knew it would be useless to refuse. It was dark inside. He told us to make ourselves comfortable, then bolted the door from outside and was gone.
“We have now landed in a fine soup,” Vikram said.
At noon, the man returned with three other fisher men. They looked us over as if we were cattle for sale. But their eyes rested on Lalli. They nodded at each other as if approving their plan. Lalli sensed trouble and began to sob.
“What are they going to do to us?” she asked.
We had no answer to give her.
“Why didn’t we listen to the old man?” Lalli cried. “He told us that this village is full of evil men.”
We didn’t touch the food they gave us but silently awaited our doom. I was sure that this was the curse of the man whose boat we had stolen. At night, the men gathered outside the hut. They were in a merry mood, sipping their local brew.
“This is a God-send,” said one man. “She has arrived in the nick of time.”
From their conversation we gathered that once every twenty years a girl was sacrificed to the sea. They believed that this would ensure safety of the fishermen. The more beautiful the girl, the better the sacrifice. The man who had imprisoned us was very happy. He had saved his own sister whom the village had chosen for a sacrifice.
The ceremony would take place the next night. The girl would be dressed in beautiful clothes and jewelry. At night, the fishermen would row five miles out to sea and with due reverence to the Sea God, would throw her into the water.
Vikram and I were glad that Lalli was asleep. We were being punished for an innocent prank. We had hurt nobody and only wanted to have fun. Lalli had tried to stop us but we dragged her along instead. Now she was going to die all because of our mischief. The men had said that we would be taken to some remote place and turned loose. And we would never be able to lead the police to Fisherman’s Creek.
It was after midnight. We heard a faint scratching at the door.
“They are here,” I thought, “They have come for us.”
We huddled together, quaking with fear. But it was the old man.
“Come with me,” he said, “And don’t make the tiniest sound.”
We pulled up the sleepy Lalli and rushed out. The man moved swiftly and we followed him in silence. Somewhere a man cleared his throat and we backed into the shadows.
At last we reached the cashuarina grove, then on to the open stretch of beach. A boat was awaiting us and a young man sat in it.
“This is my son,” he said, “He will row you back to the light house. Twenty years ago, they gave my young daughter to the sea. She was no bigger than you,” he said, pointing at Lalli. “My wife died of a broken heart soon after. Now go home children and God be with you.”
It was dawn when the light house came into view. The beacon had been turned off but the solid pillar looming into the skies filled us with relief. The head keeper was on his way home after night duty.
“Are my eyes playing tricks on me or is it really you? The whole village has been searching for you since you disappeared. Your parents have done nothing but cry. Oh am I glad to see you!”
He hugged each one in turn.
We made a queer little procession as we walked home that chill morning, the head keeper leading the way.
“How lovely to be alive!” said Lalli, “What a narrow escape we’ve had! From now on I’ll stop being a tomboy and I’ll never follow you or your mad adventures again.”
What punishment was in store for us? Whatever it was we knew we deserved it.***** Back to Page 1 - Fisherman's Creek Back to Children's Story - Main page