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They were not inclined to believe me this time. The antagonism was palpable. I was not surprised. After all I had fed them tall tales from time to time which they dutifully swallowed and repeated verbatim to others only to become laughing stocks themselves. Why would they believe me now? This time though, it was no tall tale that I had to tell them. But even before I had begun there were no takers. Sudhir’s snigger was taken up by the rest.

Don’t try to fool us, they chorused.

It is the truth, I cried out indignantly. They have nested in the devatharu tree in my garden! I saw them!

You told us that you had seen a three-headed cobra and.. and… and that  it spoke to you!

Wow, Neeta, had a voice and used it to ask me a question?! But none of the others seemed to notice that the shy Neeta had at last dared to speak, without even being asked a question. They were too busy nodding their heads in agreement and contributing more examples to strengthen their stand against me.

I looked at Smitha. She wouldn’t meet my eyes. I saw her whispering something to Poonam and Nikhil that made them laugh louder.

You’ve got to believe me this time or else you will be missing the sight of your lives. Please come with me, I almost pleaded. They’ll fly away tomorrow.

Oh they spoke to you as well??

That was Poonam. I frowned at her. I had never liked her much or her hoity-toity ways. What did Smitha see in her that she spent so much time with her? Hrrmmph…

Must be some distant cousins of the three-headed cobra. Hyuk hyuk hyuk

Yeah, whose three heads only he could see, not us ordinary folk.

I felt myself go warm at the remembrance. But how could I be blamed if they were such a gullible bunch? Fooling them all was so easy. I always got a good laugh out of it.

Didn’t you know Poonam, ‘he’ sees them, and they speak to ‘him’. He is the ‘gifted’ one.

The last words were dripping with sarcasm. Nikhil looked angry. I cringed remembering the many times I had been successful in fooling him. How I had laughed at him the time I had promised to introduce him to the brahmarakshassu who I told him was my pet and did my bidding. I had taken him behind the neglected sarpa kavu over grown with trees and creepers, a scary place even during the brightest of days. I had insisted he go alone. He had looked so vulnerable standing behind the dilapidated structure that at one time used to be a place of worship. Unknowing to him, I watched from atop a nearby tree and almost died laughing.

Grandma and mother would have thrown a fit if they knew what I was up to. I have heard them talk of curses and divine wrath. But Uncle Krish has told me that it is all stuff and nonsense. Krish Uncle is an atheist. Rational, that’s what he described himself as. Grandma and Mom would throw another fit if they came to know of the things he talked to me about.

Manoj my boy, be careful and look out for snakes, real ones. That is all you need to be worried about, he had told me when I told him how I went to look for berries in the thicket in and around the sarpa kavu.

I wondered what Krish Uncle would say about what I had seen today, if I were to tell him about it. But work took him away to the interiors of the mining district most of the time. It would be another month before I could see him again. For now I wanted my friends to see what I had seen and tell me it was not all a figment of my imagination. But like stubborn mules they wouldn’t budge.  This was nothing but the result of crying wolf too often, my own doing, I rued. Just when I wanted them to believe me, they wouldn’t even accompany me to ckeck things out.

I walked away dejectedly, their mocking laughter ringing in my ears. I was sitting by the canal throwing stones into it when I saw a lone figure hanging on the banyan roots and swinging. That was young Kittu. We did not let him play with us because he was a cry-baby. Kittu came over when I called him, pleased to be noticed by the leader (ex?) of the popular local gang of children.

You want to see something Kittu?

“What Manoj etta? He asked all eagerness.

Come with me to my house.

I took him by the hand and we ran. We were panting by the time we reached the devatharu tree. I pointed upwards.

There… do you see those birds? They wouldn’t believe me. I said that derisively. You can see them, right?

He looked at me warily.

What? What’s the matter? Look over there, at those colourful feathers? I think they are panchavarna birds.

I know they are mythical birds. But they did seem to have a lot of colors on them. Kittu glanced up and then back at me.

They even talked. At least it sounded as if they were saying, ‘fly away tomorrow’ though I am not sure. Look, there is a nest too.

The boy was looking at his toes now and in between looking towards the gate as if he longed to leave. Aaargh, stupid boy. No wonder we did not include him in our games.

Kittu, I shook him. Look at me! You are a good climber, everyone knows that.

I tried to bolster his ego with the one thing he was good at. He was always clambering up trees and could be found on branches higher than any of us could reach.

Go up the tree and tell me how many eggs are there and how they look. Here, take this camera, I said fishing the point and shoot one that Uncle had given me. Take a picture of the birds and eggs for me.

Ha! I was going to show my friends (ex?) the verified truth. I was showing Kittu how to click when all of a sudden he ran away.

What?/ Where are you off to? Come here.

I caught up with him and was going to clobber him when he once again ran away to a safe distance.

What’s the matter with you? You come here this instant or I am going to give you the thrashing of your life, I said menacingly.

Bhaiyya, don’t hit me. He snivelled as I ran over and caught him by his hand. They are not live ones, he said.

What? I twisted his arm.

Bhaiyya, don’t…. he started sobbing.

Out with it, I said.

I am good at climbing na? So your friends gave me the job, he said a trifle proudly, wiping the tears off with his other hand. They said from now on I could play gilli danda with you all if I put them there. They said it was to be a surprise for you.

I don’t believe you! What nonsense, I said shocked, my hand loosening their hold on his arm.

Poonam didi’s parents got them for her from abroad. It sings some song, but only till the battery is over. You don’t hear it speak now na?

He ran away even while shouting that out to me. How the heck had I fallen for such a ruse? What was the gang going to think of me! What was Uncle Krish going to say when he heard? I felt like an utter fool. Well, this time the shoe fit.

Written for 3WW  CCLXIV

Prompt words: Inclined, Figment, Vulnerable