friday children's story for young world, the hindu, july 17, 2015
Holiday with witch No. 16
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It was dark when they reached the traveller’s bungalow. Hamsini’s mother looked glum. Hamsini had grumbled throughout the drive that her butter biscuits were missing. And her father kept complaining because she hadn’t packed his favourite green T-shirt.
“We only go for a holiday once a year,” her mother pleaded, “at least let’s be happy now.”
The traveller’s bungalow was old and falling to pieces. There was nothing else for miles around. Hamsini and her father complained in chorus. The caretaker was equally old.
Time to unwind
“Nice to see human beings in this place,” he said. He switched on the lights. “It’s as bright as sunlight!” said her mother happily.
Later, Hamsini sat reading her favourite book, The Day The Painting Came Alive. Suddenly she felt the lights getting even brighter!
Curiously, she got up and examined the switchboard. All the plug-holes had plugs that went nowhere at all.
“Strange!” she said. As she was about to pull out a plug, the old caretaker appeared from nowhere at all. “Please don’t do that! Never pull a plug in this house!”
That made Hamsini even more determined. When he’d left, she started pulling at it. The plug was stuck hard. She began to sweat. Finally, it came out in her hand. There was a terrific Whoosh! Thick blue smoke rushed from the plug-hole. Hamsini moved back in horror. The smoke curled and twisted itself into weird shapes. It became thicker and thicker until finally a large blue woman, old, bent and dried-up, stood before her. Her nose was half the size of her face. Hamsini stifled a scream.
She took a huge breath and said, “Who-who-who are you-you-you---”
The old blue woman said, “I’m the lady from Witchboard No. 16.” Her voice sounded exactly like the wind that whistled through the window blinds in her father’s study.
“You can call me Witch No. 16.”
Hamsini stared at her in a daze.
The old woman said urgently, “Let’s go out for a while. I want to feel the fresh air! I’ve only half an hour before getting back.”
The little girl and the old woman slipped out through the front door. There was a happy cackle.
“I’m free! I’m free!” Witch No. 16 jumped and gamboled like a young lamb.
“You don’t look so old now,” said Hamsini.
“Because I’m fully charged!” the witch screeched.
She said there were 130 witches in the house, all living in plug-holes. “This house is the Witchboard Headquarters,” she explained. “It’s lonely and far away from TV satellite dishes and mobile phone towers, so we are left undisturbed by all those foul things in our air-waves. Every time someone visits, the caretaker allows one witch at a time to come out and taste the fresh air.”
Hamsini said, “But the old man said not to pull the plugs!”
“And did you listen?” chortled the witch. “He knows little girls!”
After a while, Hamsini said, “I’m feeling cold. I want to go back inside.”
“Aww, please! I come out only once a year. Don’t spoil it for me!”
“You sound just like my mother,” grumbled Hamsini. “She too keeps saying that.”
“Then you should probably listen to her,” said Witch No. 16. “Some people work hard for other people. But when they want to have a good time, everyone shuts them up. Is your mother like that?”
“This is her holiday,” said Hamsini. She suddenly felt sorry for her mother. “We—my father and I—we keep grumbling.”
“See?” said Witch No. 16 sternly. “She does everything for you. And when she wants to enjoy herself, you grumble-grumble-grumble! Let this be a lesson to you. From an old blue witch who knows what it is to be shut up for a year.” Hamsini had tears in her eyes. She nodded silently.
In half an hour the witch had finished her fun and her energy as well. She looked tired and was almost turning into blue smoke once again. “My charge is gone, let’s go back,” she said weakly. “It’s time for the plug-hole.”
The morning after
Next morning they got up early and were ready to go.
As they drove away from the traveller’s bungalow, Hamsini said, “I had the best time in the world. Thanks, Mom!”
Her father said, “I like that! I do all the work and you thank her!”
Hamsini replied, “Have you heard of Witch No. 16 from the plug-hole?”
“Are you crazy?” asked her father.
“No, I’m not. But you should really get to know her. Then you’ll understand.”