Friday 26 October 2012

Red Riding Hood & Prince Charming: A love story

Ribha held out the faded red garment for her twin Rishu to see. “A red riding hood!” he exclaimed. The 13-year-olds loved to live out the stories they’d grown up with.
They were rummaging through their grandparents’ old suitcases stacked up in the attic with a slanting roof. It had been years since they had come over for a long vacation, and wanted to do all that the kids in their story books did – go on wild adventures, hunt up treasures, play war games with painted faces, munch Grandmom’s delicacies under a lazy picnic sun, and much more.
Their grandparents lived in a rambling mansion beside a hill. In their city home in India, this was not possible. Here, though, the stories came alive. The kids chased each other around trees, ambushing and attacking unsuspecting thieves, catching imaginary poachers, pouncing on marauding animals out to destroy their grandparents’ corn fields, and much more.
So if Red Riding Hood hung around here, they figured they needed a wolf as well.
They sped down to the living room.
Imaginative twins Ribha and Rishu.
Digital sketch: Vini
Grandpop looked up as they burst in from the hall: “I’m guessing you’ve found something exciting or those stairs of mine wouldn’t have protested so much!”
“My red riding hood!” Grandmom shrieked, and pulled it away from Ribha’s playful hands.
Your hood, Grandmom?” the girl asked, her eyes lighting up in anticipation of a fine story. She was an unabashed romantic.
“Yes, dear, her hood,” Grandpop interjected. “The one I saw her in, the very first time.”
“And were you the wolf in disguise?” Rishu, the one with the gory imagination, ran to his grandfather’s side.
“What wolf, child?”
“The one who ate Red Riding Hood’s grandmother!” Rishu rolled his eyes and pretended to growl.
The grandparents laughed loudly.
“Well, if I had, indeed, why would she marry me? And I look like a wolf, do I?” Grandpop asked Rishu.
I don’t think you are a wolf, Grandpop,” Risha reassured him. “But I think Grandmom is Red Riding Hood who escaped the wolf and grew up to marry you.”
“When I saw her first I did think she was Red Riding Hood,” Grandpop twinkled his eyes at her.
“Does Mom know of this? I want to hear the full story,” Ribha said as she deposited her little form firmly on the rug at her grandfather’s feet.
“Me, too,” said Rishu, who really looked up to her, seven minutes his senior by birth.
As a young lad, Grandpop lived in apartments that were set in a square. Wide roads lined by thick oak trees provided a good practising ground for riders and drivers.
One hazy morning he lifted the curtains of his room to check the weather, wondering if a light cardigan would do or a thick jacket was needed.
A flash of red streaked down the lane right beneath his window. He opened the window wide to follow the biker, forgetting that there was a big flower pot on the ledge. Leaning far out, he knocked the pot down. It landed in the middle of the road just as the red figure rode again into the lane.
“Crash, sheee-ie, eeeeek!” came some loud sounds as the rider applied the brakes to avoid the broken pot and crashed into a hedge.
“Grandpop, that was Grandmom on the bike? And you also fell out of the window?” Rishu was thoroughly enjoying himself.
“No, son, I managed not to topple out. But I just had to see what damage had been done,” his grandfather replied.
Half the neighbourhood was out by then. Grandpop tore down the stairs to rescue the red-clad biker, now lying flat on the stomach. The hood completely covered the head, making it difficult to say if it was a man or woman. Grandpop decided to play it rough, and yanked up the dormant figure by the jacket. A wonderful thing happened then. The biker rolled over, rested a curly head on his shoulder, and decided to shut her eyes again. Only then did he realize he was holding a young girl in his arms.
Their grandmother chided her husband, her cheeks now a lovely pink: “You don’t have to tell the children these gory details.”
“What’s gory, Grandmom?” asked Rishu.
“Hush, Grandmom. Hush, Rishu. So you hugged her right then, Grandpop?” asked Ribha, truly entranced by the romantic episode.
No such luck, he told her. He wanted to, but her aunt and uncle appeared right then. She had come to live with them for a week, and had found the calm morning too much to resist. So she had stolen out on her uncle’s bike.
“And landed in your arms,” Ribha whispered happily.
Grandmom was now all a-tizzy.
“Come away, little ones, meal’s been waiting for long,” she called.
The kids were in no mood to oblige. “Not till we hear how you got married, Grandmom,” the twins spoke in unison.
Grandpop loved to revisit his love story, and who better to share with than his own grandchildren? “Ignore her.”
Ribha put her head in his lap. “Grandpop, no short cuts, please,” she urged him.
So he continued, and his wife eventually joined them while supper went cold.
Her uncle and aunt, his parents and the neighbours tut-tutted over the hapless biker, checking if all her bones were intact. Once it was clear that she was just shaken up by the fall, they fell upon him. How could he be so careless as to let fall the flower pot? Did he not notice anyone on the road?
That was the whole point, but they would not let him speak. He had noticed someone on the road, which is why he leaned out, which is why the flower pot fell!
He decided to stay mum. Apologizing awkwardly, he seized the moment to look full into her face once more. He wanted to fall at her feet and ask her to marry him right away, for she looked so sweet. But surely she was naughty too, to be driving like a maniac in the nippy morning. She dimpled at him as she accepted his apology, and limped away.
Her aunt and uncle lived on the opposite side of the square. He sighted her once or twice, but couldn’t wait for Sunday when most families sunned themselves in the common lawn after breakfast. He wondered if she would be there.
His parents couldn’t help notice his frequent trips to the window when Sunday came. How could he tell them his heart thumped madly for this girl from distant India? He just wanted to meet her once again so that he could know if she too had liked him. And then he saw her enter the lawn from the far end, wearing the same red hoodie. She seemed to be looking for someone.
He dashed out, then slowed and sauntered up to her. She gave him a radiant smile, but turned away. He caught up with her, and blurted out: “I just have to ask you, will you marry me?”
“And just how old are you?” she shot back.
“And I am only 20,” she retorted.
He fell to his knees. “You must say yes,” he pleaded with her.
“This is embarrassing. You know nothing about me, nor I about you.”
“I’ll tell you all you want to know, just say yes.”
“Grandmom, just like that? He came straight to the point?” a thrilled Ribha asked.
“You’ve been reading too many novels, I can see,” Grandmom retorted.
“There was no wolf in your story?” a disappointed Rishu asked.
“There nearly was,” Grandpop disclosed. “I would have kidnapped her if she had refused, but she couldn’t resist me, you see.”
“What do you do when you’ve been imagining robbers are chasing you around the lane and so you are riding at lightning speed, and when you open your eyes you find Prince Charming holding you safe?” Grandmom protested.
Ribha jumped up and kissed her grandmother soundly: “I so much love you, I always knew there were princes around.”
“He is no prince, but he has been a loving husband, yes. Even princes can be bad or cruel. You want a good, kind man to marry and be happy with forever.”
“And don’t you get ideas now,” she admonished Ribha, firmly tucking the garment under her arm.
Ribha later told Rishu: “I’m getting myself a red jacket like Grandmom’s. Promise me you won’t tell Mom why, and one day I’ll help you find your Red Riding Hood!” The twins laughed conspiratorially.