Michael’s nights were haunted by the woods. The woods were vanishing from real lands. They were encroached upon by people who knew how to bribe elected leaders. Thus residential apartments and health resorts replaced the woods. Godmen and Ammas replaced the tree nymphs and the elves.
The woods were lovely, dark and deep. Michael had no promises to keep or miles to go before he could sleep. In fact, sleep had deserted him. Nymphs and elves haunted his nocturnal wakefulness. The woods beckoned him.
Not all the forests were swallowed by human greed. Michael lived at the edge of the greed. His village was yet to be sold to builders and developers. It would be sold soon, however. An Adventure Park would replace the village.
Michael drank the last bit of the distilled brew left in the bottle, mounted his cycle and went off whistling all the way to where the builders and bulldozers had not reached yet. The moon was shining brightly in the midnight sky boosting the brewed intoxication in his veins.
He parked his cycle outside the huge wall of the last reach of development and walked into the woods. A peacock shrieked a welcome. You can experience life as a terror or you can experience it as a wonder, said the peacock. Michael pinched himself.
“Who are you?” Michael asked looking at the stooping old woman who appeared mysteriously in front of him.
“Viola, the witch,” she said with a grin that had no match with anything that Michael had seen hitherto.
“Why do you witches insist on looking so horrible?” asked Michael.
“If we don’t look horrible will we be witches? Haven’t your poets and story tellers given us our shapes?”
“Can’t you change them? I mean the shapes, not the poets and story tellers.” Michael knew it was easier to convert rocks and monsters than poets and novelists.
“How will you recognise us if we change shapes?”
“Try and see,” said Michael as if identity had nothing to do with appearances.
“You are funny,” said the witch.
“OK, be my guest. Smile a bit.”
The witch decided to cooperate. But her smile was terribly warped.
Michael felt pity for her. “You need my help, I think.” He held her close to him and planted a very affectionate kiss on her lips.
“Hey! What are you doing? We are not characters in some fairy tale. Do you think you’re some princely knight turning an ugly witch into a princess charming with a magical kiss?”
“You’re already looking better, you know!” exclaimed Michael.
“True, I’m feeling better,” said the witch.
“So I’m your princely knight!”
“But I’m no princess charming.” She shammed coyness.
“You’re still pretending, that’s why.”
“It takes time to change really.”
“Who’s asking you to change?”
“I only told you to feel better.”
“Will you come tomorrow too?”
“If it will help you feel better, I will. But eventually you won’t need me. Why don’t you walk with me to the edge of the forest? I have to go home now.”
And they walked. Whistling mirthfully. Talking like old friends who had met after a long time.
“You know what?” said Viola when they reached the edge of the forest. “I feel like leaving the forest and coming to live in the city.”
“Oh, no!” Michael didn’t know what to say. After the initial hesitation born of shock, he said, “When I entered this forest the peacock told me something.”
Viola waited to hear it.
“You can experience life as a terror or you can experience life as a wonder.”
Viola liked that.
“Good night. Sweet dreams,” he planted another gentle kiss on her lips.
Violas was still wondering which to choose: terror or wonder.