The Storyteller

The Storyteller by Adib Khan Read Free Book Online

Book: The Storyteller by Adib Khan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Adib Khan
of the table.
    ‘Now, who would like to tell us a story?’
    ‘Me!’ I raised my right hand with immense enthusiasm. ‘I want to!’
    Heads turned. A moment’s silence before the whispers began again.
    Miss DeSouza’s smile acknowledged me. ‘Anyone else?’
    Titters and self-conscious giggles.
    ‘Me!’ I yelled with delight. I banged the top of the table for her attention.
    ‘All right, Vamana. Tomorrow perhaps.’ She made a great fuss about looking at her watch. ‘It’s nearly time for the bell.’
    ‘I’m telling a story tomorrow!’ I announced proudly when Maji arrived to pick me up.
    ‘What a happy child!’ She beamed. ‘Miss DeSouza! You have worked a miracle in a single day!’
    That smile again. I shuddered at the sensations that raced through me.
    That evening Maji brought out a stack of storybooks and read to me. I pretended to listen obediently. I stifled yawns and tried not to doze off. I heard about handsome princes and beautiful princesses. Ugly villains and heinous deeds. Evil was destroyed and good triumphed. Shadows dispelled. Sunshine and peace. She shook me awake. ‘Do you want to tell your friends one of these stories?’
    ‘No.’
    ‘The marriage of Rama and Sita pleases everyone.’ My frown did not deter her. ‘I could read it to you again.’
    I lacked the courage to say that I would share one of my stories with the class. It was about a sightless man who talked to himself to avoid loneliness. One day a group of travellers found him laughing and talking under a tree. They thought he was crazy.
    ‘ What makes you so happy?’ one of them asked.
    ‘ Entertaining my friends,’ the man replied.
    They looked all around, unable to see anyone else. ‘Where are they?’
    ‘ In my house.’
    ‘ Perhaps we could take you home,’ one of the travellers offered.
    ‘ I am at home.’
    ‘ Here, under a tree?’
    ‘ No, inside myself…’
    ‘Vamana! You are not listening!’ I repeated what Maji had read. ‘You have such a good memory. The children will love it!’ She clapped her hands and rewarded me with a sweetmeat.
    That night I dreamed of Miss DeSouza. She was trapped in a golden cage, imprisoned by a twin-headed demon that refused to free her until she married him. The demon had his back to me, even when I commanded him to turn. Her refusal angered him. He reached into the cage and strangled her before killing himself by sinking his rapier-like fingernails into his neck. That was when I saw his face. I woke up screaming. The bed was wet.
    The morning light calmed me. I struggled out of bed and looked into the mirror. There he was with only one face, laughing at me.
    At school I reminded Miss DeSouza about the storytelling session.
    ‘Later,’ she mumbled absent-mindedly. Her face was flushed and her eyes sparkled as she led us to assembly.
    Mrs Prasad began by congratulating Miss DeSouza on her forthcoming wedding. ‘Miss DeSouza will be away for a few weeks,’ the headmistress announced. ‘When she returns, she will be Mrs Fernandez.’ Cheering and clapping.
    I was possessed by a terrible rage. Swirling clouds and vengeful winds howled inside me. I was convinced that Mrs Prasad had orchestrated the calamity. I understood howwretched the demon of my nightmare might have felt. My howl of protest frightened the other children and startled the teachers into a state of inaction. (‘A wolf in pain,’ Mrs Prasad later described the sound to the police. ‘Something from a darkness deep inside him.’) I stumbled to the front of the room and rammed into Mrs Prasad. Her legs were targeted with fists and head butts. The terrified shrieks goaded me into an inadvertent discovery of my most potent weapon. I sank my teeth into the flaccid calf muscles of her left leg.
    That evening I cried for one of the few times in my life. It wasn’t because of the pain in my back or the throbbing of my swollen face where Vijay had repeatedly struck me. My tears were for Maji. The sadness on

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