My grandma had a strange secret.
She could turn into a butterfly.
I never knew it—till the age eight. The discovery left me thrilled. My little thin granny, a secret butterfly! That moment is still vivid. It was a warm night.
Hot wind blew across the small town buried in the desert that hissed. The lights were out everywhere. The strong wind rattled the tiles of the far-off cottages where railway employees lived with their families, near the gleaming tracks.
We were lying on the roof of the two-storied stone house. A huge moon had come out early, the sky was awash in milky colour. The big eared and tall rabbit stood on its legs, its ears raised, peeping down, looking directly at me from that high- perched moon floating like a white ball in the vast solitude of the heavens. In the distance, a lonely lamp burnt in a shrine on top of a dark barren hill. The wind suddenly shrieked.
“Wind is angry,” pronounced grandma.
“Why?” I got frightened. I always do—getting scared easily.
“Hissing wind is no good. It means somebody somewhere will die.”
As if on cue, a dog wailed terrifyingly, followed by wailing others.
I shrank inside.
“I want to go and meet my Momma.”
“Sorry. You cannot go.”
“She is ill. In the hospital. Will return in a week or so,” said granny in a gravelly voice.
I grew silent. Tears poured down like big raindrops falling on the lotus petals. My body shook. Grandma ran her steely claws in my tousled hair. I cried silently, frail body shaking. Desperately wanting to flee the set up. My mamma came floating in the white clouds, arms outstretched pale face smiling. The harsh desert wind blew into my tear-stained eyes.
“I know, child, what you thinking.”
I looked at the granny, bewildered.
“You want to fly away?”
I was shaken.
How does granny know?
“Quite often, I feel the same way… to fly away… to a distant place….”
I wiped the eyes.
“And I often fly away.”
My jaw dropped. “Grandma can fly?”
She said, “Yes. When I want to fly, I turn myself into a butterfly.”
“Yes. I can transform into a butterfly and soar into the skies. Up, up and above, flying in the nightly sky on my two light wings, drinking in the pure air of the heavens, nothing to worry about…”
I forgot mamma.
“How you become a butterfly?”
“Oh! That anybody can do. Even you can do, once you grow up as a woman, get married and have babies. Not before that.”
I was speechless.
“Grandma, when do you fly?”
“Whenever I feel like. Mornings. Afternoons. Preferably, on the long and lonely nights.”
“But science teacher said butterflies do not fly in the night.”
“Nonsense. I can fly any time.”
I was thunderstruck.
My grandma, a butterfly!
“Does grandpa know?”
“No. And do not tell that old nasty man ever. He does nothing but shout. Always yelling, cursing. When he gets nasty, I become irritated. So I withdraw into the attic and then vanish, as a butterfly. The old man searches everywhere but does not find me. Ha!”
“If he finds out?”
“I will never be human again. I will remain a butterfly, trapped in that fragile form.”
“Because he will kill my paper-butterfly figure kept in a book of mine. I will not be able to get back into the human form.”
“Does anybody know this?”
“Nope. Only you.”
“I won’t tell anybody.”
We kept quiet. The stars shone bright.
“Can I become one, a butterfly?”
“I told you, you are already a butterfly. All girls are.”
“No but I want to be a real one.”
“You will, once you get married. The time will find you at the right moment and then, you will become one, like me. It runs in our family.”
That warm May night is etched forever. That night, on the hot roof of a two-storied, nondescript stone house, buried in a small desert-town, I imagined I was flying like a butterfly. Up, looking at the tall rabbit in the moon.
Today, I am holding the paper butterfly that my granny had made some twenty years ago and kept it hidden in a book of poetry.
Today, I was going through her things forgotten in that attic and found the lifeless paper butterfly that suddenly grew live in my hands and flew away.
“You will become a butterfly at the right time,” she had said that night, pausing long—it was a message she had again delivered on her second death anniversary, today, suddenly to me—once you get married, have kids.
She had concluded on that magical night.
I understood her in an instant— my paternal grandma speaking through the yawning gap that divides the dead from the living.
I came down running to the small room where my ailing father rested.
“I am not going back to my married home.”
“Because I do not want to get hit regularly for trifles. Demands for money, more money from you. I do not want to be treated as an unpaid slave and then insulted. I am a post-graduate in computer science. I refuse to be abused by my engineer husband in an educated family. ENOUGH!”
Father said nothing.
He sighed, eyes misting.
I could feel his pain.
“Father, please do not worry. I will find my way in life. My granny showed that way today.”
He smiled through his tears.
Just then, hundreds of monarch butterflies entered the room, circulated and circled above my head and before I could say anything, I became a butterfly and I flew out with my pretty winged sisters into a dazzling sky, guided by a beaming sun on my new pathways opening up fast. The air was pure.
The sky was limitless.
I grew wings and soared.