Green moss covered the walls of the tharavadu. The whitewashed walls were now in some areas black. Partial parts of the roof remained. Broken tiles, pieces of termite ridden wood and parts of the broken walls littered the vicinity. Weeds had encroached inside the illum.
Attu and I stood at the courtyard, where Sashi was kicked and spat at.
'Lets go in' I whispered .
Attu shook his head violently to negate my proposal. He moved closer to me.
The illum did not look as bad as had imagined it to be. A forsaken place. Neglected.Not evil.
I grabbed Attu by the wrist and walked towards the illum.
Attu , by the time I reached the steps that lead to the veranda of the illum, was a dead weight. I was so angry at his fright and glared at him.
He looked back like a panic stricken animal.
'Come on' I snapped.
We walked hand in hand into the Illum. The steps that lead to the inner rooms had crumbled .The stones laid exposed where the mortar that held it together had worn away. A carpet of dark, moist dead leaves covered the floor. Large cobwebs covered the corners of the wooden skeleton of the roof, through which sunlight sneaked its way into the illum.
'Watch out for snakes.' I whispered to Attu. I felt Attus hands tighten in mine.
Attu was scared. Wait till I let the gang knows about this.
I was hoping that the snakes will avoid us when they hear our foot steps on the leaves . Then I recalled the sluggish viper that bite the rubber tapper Kumaran. It lay coiled in the dry leaves , completely camouflaged. Kumaran was bite when he came ten inches near the snake. Kesu Ammavan who heard Kumaran's cries of agony, together with the neighbours, carried Kumaran to the Visha Vaidyan. Ammomma said that it was only the miraculous power of the Vaidyan that saved Kumaran from a painful death.
A feeling of chill crept up my spine at my inauspicious memory.
I still wanted to see the store room. We walked into the dark recess of the building.
I pushed open the remnants of a door and entered a room. The room smelled musty. In the corner of the filthy room, sat an ancient reclining chair, the canvas seat ,which had lost all color to become a non distinct grey color ,was still intact.
Both of us stood at the door way.
'Vishnu Namboodri!' screamed Attu breaking away from my grip and running towards the chair.
He jumped onto the canvas seat , turning in midair to land on his behind . There was a loud crash.
Attu had fallen through the rotted cloth. His legs protruded out of the frame of the chair.
I fell on the floor laughing. From within the broken chair came Attu's giggles.
I helped Attu to his feet and urged him to be quite.
We proceeded with our snooping, forgetting all about snakes and ghosts; caught in this wonderful moment of adventure.
'Look what I found!' Attu screamed from somewhere in the Illum. His shouting startled me in the midst of digging in the draw of a dilapidated cupboard.
'I found the store room!' Attu's voice reverberated within the ruin.
I ran towards it.
Attu was standing at the entrance to a room . I pushed past him and entered the store room.
It was nothing like I imagined. Part of the roof no longer existed. The afternoon sun lite the small room. Surprisingly the room was well kept and neat. The pathayam ,an old wooden box, which in ancient times was used for storing rice, still stood under the part of the room where the roof was intact. A tattered sack cloth was spread on top of it.
This is where she sleeps. My heart was racing in the excitement. I looked around , half expecting to see the infamous pile of shit in the corner. There was nothing there. Just the Pathayam with the makeshift bedding.
Attu and I spend a long time in that small room. Outside the window there was a pile of banana leaves; most dried and wilted brown but some still green.
Maya Aanthurjanam was still alive! She still lived in the illum!
I felt a tug on my petticoat.Attu had a pleading look in his eyes.
' Lets go' he begged,' its getting dark and Amma will get worried.'
I knew that Attu had a guaranteed beating when he gets back home for being late and not going home for lunch.
I took Aattu's hand and walked out to the veranda. Dusk was approaching. The crows were coming back to the estate trees to roost. Their cawing filled the air.
By now Attu was leading me, hurrying to get back home. I looked back at the illum.
At the veranda stood a forlorn figure.
She stood at the doorway and was watching us.
I gasped. Attu turned towards me with a look of total alarm.
'What!?' he asked, fear wrinkling his brows, eyes pleading not to have us go back again.
'Nothing.' I replied.
We walked back to our homes.
Visha Vaidyan : An ayurvedic medicine practitioner who specializes in snake bites