(Credit: Bejim via Shutterstock)
And of course by afternoon the intrigue of the rumour became simply irresistible. A plausible pretext was needed.
It all started at lunch break. An unusual buzz was hovering above the shimmering summer heat in the playground like an invisible swarm of mosquitoes. Apparently, according to one boy who had heard it repeated from his mother in a hushed conversation with another parent, it was found just behind the school over the boundary wall. By the end of the lunch, several boys had been able to confirm this grim discovery. Naturally, school children delight in any dark fantasies. Before long, the story became more cadaverous and the imagined details more macabre.
As you can imagine, concentrating became as impossible as fighting off the suffocating heat. The windows were open; but there’s no breeze; and the lessons palled. The only activity keeping us awake was a contraband of lively conjectures, voyaged round the room in an impromptu fleet of scraps. More graphic details were woven into the earlier fragments with each exchange, and there were as many exchanges as there were versions. Occasionally, we looked up conspiratorially to check that the teachers weren’t looking. We swapped looks, eyebrows locked and mouths pursed, knowingly, thoughtfully.
A few of us had also worked out an entirely plausible pretext that would explain our detour to our respective parents – we were going to a friend’s house to revise for exams.
The line of students waiting for dismissal after school for that particular route was noticeably longer than usual. At five o’clock in the afternoon, the sun was still hanging high in the sky, and the stifling heat persisted. Earnest patriotic marching songs were blasting out of the loud speakers, mixed with the excited chatters of the waiting children.
It’s time to go.
We followed the tarmac narrow lane that skirted round the school boundary wall, as instructed by the intel obtained in the afternoon lessons. The simmering mirage beckoned us.
There. After turning round a corner. We saw it, under a thin straw mat. Small groups of people huddled together – a few kids from school and some adults – whispering in cupped hands into each other’s ears and pointing. A wrinkly old lady shook her head as if in slow motion, her outstretched, tanned, skeletal index finger suspended in that hot summer’s air under a washed blue sky.
The shallow water giggled merrily in the irrigation ditch. Tiny fish darted in and out of green gauzy algae, swaying gently under the glistening water like threading needles by invisible hands. In a blink of an eye, he blinked back, half of his face under his watery grave…. Time froze.
The ponderous silence was broken by a sudden eruption of a sonorous chorus of cicadas high up in the casuarinas under the blinking sun. The trees rustled. Out of nowhere, a little frog leapt onto his vacuous cheek.