The ruins of Vanarapuri were precisely that – just ruins. Though they did have a dark history attached to them, most of the younger generation of Vanarapuri were not aware of it. A decision was taken thirty years ago not to speak about the events that transpired in those premises. There were rumours about the events which had transformed into near myths.
Eventhough the older residents of Vanarapuri wrinkled their nose at the mention of the ruins, it was a very popular place amongst the young. They had picnics and treasure hunts and there were a few birthday parties which were held in the ruins. But the City Security Station and the Mayor’s office had imposed a strict decree that no one was supposed to venture to the ruins beyond dark and they were allowed to peruse only the boundaries and the expansive gardens. The broken buildings and the inner section were strictly off-limits.
By the time Suri and his friends reached the ruins, the sun had decided to take an early nap for the day. Dark clouds had covered much of the sky and a cold wind had started blowing. A slight drizzle had also begun.
Suri swung from the trees into the clearing before the ruins. He pointed towards the ground to his friends Tommy, Eki, and Unni.
‘Can you smell that? That is what we call Perti..perti..petrichor! My Mumma taught me that.’
His friends gave him looks that implied they were impressed. Unni cupped a hand over his eyes and said, ‘It’s going to rain like a thousand monkeys falling from sky. Let’s collect the mushrooms and head home.’
They nodded and took out paper bags from their backpacks and set about searching for the mushrooms along the damp boundary walls.
Ten minutes later, a sound behind them made them jump. Eki and Tommy frowned at the intruder. Unni walked forward and said, ‘What are you doing here, Sammy?’
It was Sammy Sifaka who had been persuaded by his sister Silky to join Suri and his friends. Sammy shuffled forward equally uncomfortable. He looked at Suri and said, ‘Your sister told Silky that I could join you guys…’
Eki and Tommy looked at Suri with accusing stares. Suri shrugged his shoulders, ‘Look guys, Nila requested me that we should include Sammy as well. I’m not very comfortable with the idea as I know that he has been mean to us, especially you two. I told her that we would give him a chance. But if you two are not ok, then that’s my decision as well.’ He looked at Sammy and said, ‘Sammy, you are welcome to pick mushrooms with us. But don’t start teasing us. We don’t like it one bit.’
Sammy hopped on his feet, ‘Ok! I will not do that. All I want to do is come and play with you guys. Silky is the one who keeps telling me to make fun of you. She is my elder sister and I have no other choice other than listening to her.’
Unni said, ‘You always have a choice, Sammy. Eki’s brother is troublesome but Eki here doesn’t allow Tongu to boss him around.’
‘But she tattles to my mother and father. She tells horrible lies and makes them not give me any pocket money.’
A loud clap of thunder interrupted them and Tommy said, ‘Let’s continue talking later. We have to collect five different types of mushrooms. I have the pictures from our book here. Let’s spend the next half an hour looking for the mushrooms. We can share with each other later, ok?’
Eki nodded and said, ‘Yes, I think its going to start raining soon. Let’s finish and head home quickly.’
Unni added, ‘Don’t wander off! Stay close to the walls.’
They waved at each other and went on their way. Suri noticed that Sammy was scared being alone amidst the ruins. He decided to walk with Sammy.
‘Thanks, Suri! I was getting a little scared.’
Suri shrugged and said, ‘It’s ok! Sammy, if you don’t mind me telling, I believe your sister is being a very bad influence on my sister Nila.’
‘I don’t know, but I can see that she has changed quite a bit over the last few months. All she wants is to impress Silky.’
‘I understand, Suri. Silky is doing the same too. You know I was very fond of her but once she decided that she has to change in order to impress mother, I don’t like her very much.’
Suri didn’t know how to process that information. It was way beyond his level of understanding. So, he just nodded and kept walking. They spent the next fifteen minutes collecting mushrooms. Suri found that behind his prickly exterior, Sammy was just a sweet little boy not unlike himself. He smiled and looked at Sammy
‘You know you are not bad, after all!’
Sammy smiled, ‘Thanks!’
‘You are like a jackfruit.’
Sammy frowned and said, ‘Then, you are like a potato!’
They both started laughing. The walls of the ruins echoed with their laughter. Controlling himself, Sammy said, ‘Hey, do you know? Our school is getting an exchange student.’
‘What is an exchange student?’
‘Someone from foreign lands. It’s the first time here in Vanarapuri. Isn’t it exciting?’
Sammy said, ‘Father said that we can learn a lot about new countries we have never been to and cultures of monkeys in distant lands. Unfortunately, Fathi will be in Silky’s class and I’m sure she will hog all of Fathi’s time.’
‘Yes! Fathi Mandrill is her name.’
‘What a unique name!’
‘Isn’t it? Anyways, I’ve told Silky that I would love to talk to Fathi to know more about her place and culture.’
‘Did your sister agree to it?’
‘She laughed and said go play with your fellow babies! Sometimes, I feel like throwing a banana at her.’
Suri laughed and said, ‘My Mumma told me never to fight with Nila. If I ever get angry with her, I walk away.’
Suddenly, the rain started in a downpour. Suri and Sammy stumbled through the ruined gardens in search of shelter. A cold gust of wind passed through making them shiver. The sun had set by then and they started running. Pretty soon they reached an eerie looking building with no doors. It had a roof though and the little monkeys made their way there.
Three hours later, a worried looking Mr. Angad and his assistant Kota found Sammy and Suri fast asleep behind a pile of debris deep inside the ruins. The whole of Vanarapuri had been searching for them over the past three hours. They told their rescuers that they had lost their way and hid inside the building because of the rain. Tommy, Eki, and Unni were waiting for them with anxiety on their faces. The minute the saw Suri and Sammy, they ran and hugged them. That was how Sammy became friends with Suri and his friends.
Suri and Sammy though had promised each other that they would never tell what they witnessed in the ruins.
Curious? That’s a story for later.