published: (updated: )
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
There she lay on the cold moist grass, wet blades running between her toes, eyes fixed on the glass jar in her hand. In the darkness of dawn she could see the glittering firefly inside, its light pulsating at a rhythm much like her heartbeat. Watching the faint shimmering glow made her calm and peaceful, and she closed her eyes. Around her the birds cried and the butterflies fluttered, both venturing forth into the new day. She stayed on the grass, her clothes wet from the dew she had rolled over, feeling the warmth of the light in her hands, an unknown wisp of a smile on her lips, and gaiety in her heart.
Fireflies had always been mythical for her. She had seen glimpses of pulsing lights in the dark, and she longed to hold one in her hands. Each time she tried to catch them, the lights would suddenly disappear, only to reappear several feet away. And she would be sad how she couldn’t catch one, but happy at the same time for having tried, and just for being around them.
The day before, she walked home from school, arms swinging freely, happily moving her feet along the road, hearing the sound of the jingling bells as the cattle made their way back, a song playing on her lips, completely lost in her thoughts - and those saw her were comforted at her sight, just like the like the pulsing lights in the dark, and it made them happy.
A little light pulsing in the dark,
As I walk at night along the park,
There I see it, there I see it,
And then it suddenly went so far;
A little light pulsing nearby,
I wonder if it was a firefly,
Joys and sorrows it gave me,
As long as my eyes could see;
A firefly of the green warm light,
Just to see it was such a delight,
I wonder if I can catch it at all,
But I’m afraid I’ll stumble and fall;
Fairies if you believe in,
A firefly is just their twin,
Magical powers on its wings,
Wishes granted by divine beings;
All you needed was a glass jar,
To capture your own little star,
A firefly always by your side,
Forever in your life, as your guide.
Such a happy little song, such a happy little girl. As she danced her way around the cattle, the pits and the potholes, her foot stuck a stone she did not see, and she stumbled and fell, hands flat, nose an inch away, eyes wide, looking at the closeness of the dusty road. The song stopped and gave way to shock. Picking herself up, she realised that her hands and knees hurt. She looked at her hands, and the scratches and blood that was welling up around them. The torn patches around her dress. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she cried her way back to home. The little girl was happy no more.
If there is one thing children do not like, it is being hurt from being hurt. Physical pain is but a reaction, it is the agony of losing out the joys that come from life that really makes them cry out. The little girl’s wounds were cleaned, doctors called and medicines prescribed. She was to rest for a few days at home. No going to school, no going out to play. What must a child do with time? A child does not sit and ponder, a child does not sit and think. It went against nature. And this made her sad. And her sadness made others sad. For you see, sadness is a deadly disease. As soon as you see someone else is sad, you catch it as well. And if by chance you don’t, then you’ve something far worse already going on within you.
Without playmates, and without school, the little girl spent her time walking about and fiddling with things. The maid scolded her, so she moved elsewhere. Mother scolded her, so she moved elsewhere. Father scolded her, and she had nowhere else to go. So she sat in a corner and cried some more. What must a parent do? Chocolates, cakes, and ice-creams were offered and rejected. Promises of picnics didn’t hold a candle against being home-sick - the kind where one does not like to stay at home. The little warm pulsing light had disappeared in the darkness.
Late night, when father arrived home, he came to her room and placed a glass jar by her bedside. She peered at it, puzzled at its empty contents, and then angry for having received it. When father switched off the light on his way out, she was still mad, and turned over to the other side of the bed. But just as she was drifting off to sleep, she faced the jar, and there it was - a magical little pulsing green light, moving about in the glass jar. She lay like that for the better part of the hour, too afraid that any movement she made might make the firefly go away. She drifted off to sleep half full of wonderment. The other half was simply afraid.
When she awoke next morning, it was bright, and well past dawn. She remembered the firefly by her bedside and rushed to the table. Grabbing the jar with both hands, she peered inside with immense wonderment, but all she could see was a bug inside. Was that the firefly, she wondered. Why wasn’t it shining then? Why won’t it be bright and green? She pondered over it for a moment, and then touched her nose to the jar. The firefly inside gave off a faint glow. She was astonished to find that she had to squint her eyes to see it. Was it that the fireflies only gave off their magical light in the dark? Or was it that we saw it as being magical because of the dark? At that moment, breakfast was announced, and she kept the jar and her thoughts away to rush downstairs.
Breakfast was a plethora of her favourite things, mother’s way of making everything all right. When mothers worry, they know what to do best. They make lots of food. There was cake - made out of fresh strawberries, and topped off with cream. There was warm toast, crisp and perfect. There were eggs, sunny side up, with ketchup in the shape of a smile. A glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The stage was set for some epic healing, but mother need not have worried - the little girl was already happy and smiling by the time she reached the table. The doctor had tended to the wounds on the body, and the joy of possessing a firefly had healed the wounds inside.
In time, physical wounds healed too. Some new ones were stumbled upon, some healed, some were forgotten. The firefly had lasted for a week. With holes in the lid for air, and a fresh leaf every day for it to eat, the little girl thought it would last forever. But one day she had awoken to simply find it dead. She was convinced that burying it in the garden would bring her good fortune. And so she dug with her bare hands - for effort had to be made for fortune to be bestowed - and gently placed the firefly in the ground and covered it in earth. Every night as she watched the lights dance from her window, she wondered, if one of them had risen from her garden, a new life, and was now free.
One day, the little girl awoke to a great tragedy. Mother was cradling her, arms tightly wrapped around, tears running down her cheek, her mouth hanging open, but no words came out. The little girl wondered what had happened, as they rushed to the hospital, where the bright light hurt her eyes - she preferred the comfort of the dark - and the doctors and the nurses all looked at her with sympathy and with pity. Someone came along and took her to a corner while mother went inside, the doctor that held her arm took out of her pocket some chocolate, she refused - the doctor was a stranger - so the doctor pocketed it again. After a while, the doctor explained, that father had an accident, and he had gone far far away, to heaven, and that he wasn’t coming back. Ever again. The little girl had yet to understand death, but it is instinct to mourn the loss of a loved one, and so tears streamed down her face, and her heart felt heavy, even though she did not quite understand why.
When they returned home, everything seemed bleak, quiet, like something big had gone missing, like something had broken and needed fixing, and she wondered when daddy would get home, so that she could ask him to fix it, and then she remembered that daddy was never going to be home again. The pillow under her head had never been this wet with the tears ever before. Mother was a strong woman, and she took care of them both, even though she sometimes forgot to reheat the food, or take out the trash, or get the post in. But she was still there, and the house was still home, and life still kept happening. Where everything was slowly leaving the harsh coldness of winter, the little girl’s sadness would not leave, no matter what everyone did. She was still sad, and it seemed to her that she would always remain so.
Her school teachers were sympathetic, her classmates cautious, and her friends apologetic. She preferred eating her lunch alone, and had no desire to play. In time, she talked more, but everyone could still sense a lingering sadness that no one could touch or remove. Teachers had a talk with her mother, her friends’s mothers had a talk with her mother, and picnics were arranged and gift baskets were delivered to the doorstep, but few trinkets of warmth found among them were gone by the time she woke up next morning. She’s getting better, everyone agreed, unsure of it themselves, hoping that the words would encourage and comfort everyone else. Outside, the trees began sprouting new leaves, and dawn was happening sooner, and the birds were singing louder, and yet, inside the little girl’s heart it was as dark as it had been.
One day as she sat on the steps at night, watching the stars above in the great heaven, wondering if people really became stars after they were gone, and if heaven was really up there, and if her home was visible, and if daddy was looking down at her, and if he was, why wasn’t he waving, and if she could even see him wave, and then she stopped thinking because the stars became blurry after a while and she had to wipe the tears from her eyes. When she looked back, mother had left by the door a glass of milk and a cookie, and there it was sitting in the corner - a jar just like her father had brought in one night by her bedside and it brought back memories and pain and loss and it hurt so bad she had to curl up and lie in the cold grass until she was numb all over. When she opened her eyes she could see the dancing little light in the jar, a firefly, glowing bright one moment and gone the next, just like the twinkling of stars above, and she wondered if the stars that fell from heaven became fireflies. It was exciting and scary.
She got up and dusted the dirt off her dress, and walked over to the doorstep, carefully moving aside the milk and the cookie and picked up the jar in her hands, and maybe it was not real, but she felt warmth in her hands. She sat with the jar placed in her lap, sipping milk in tiny sips, watching the firefly glow and fade, and disappear at times, and watching it come back after sometime. Knowing it would be there in the jar, it was oddly satisfying, and it was comforting. She had a bite from the cookie.
What if people that went far far away forever went to heaven, and became stars, and stars that fell from heaven and came back to earth became fireflies? What if daddy decided to come back to meet her as a firefly? What if it… And then something horrible struck her mind and she froze, and her body became stiff and she clutched the jar in her hands, the empty glass of milk clattered away and fell askew by the doorstep. The ants didn’t care for they were busy carrying away the fallen cookie crumbs, while she thought what if she had trapped daddy in a jar, and she remembered what had happened to the firefly she had before, and then she was really scared, and suddenly she was trembling, shaking, too afraid of herself, facing a moment of panic.
When children get scary thoughts, there is not much that can be done or said or explained or shown to get the fear out of them. The only way for them to overcome it is to be with someone they can trust to handle the bad things when they come or happen. But how does one explain to a child who thinks that their father is a firefly, and they might end up killing them, and that it sounds so absurd! To a child’s brain, absurd has no meaning. To them, it is us adults who lack imagination, who lack understanding, who don’t know why something cannot be possible, and thus it is impossible for us to explain that something is not true. And the child knows this, even though they might not be able to put it in words or form concrete thoughts about it. But they know, they sense this, and that’s why sometimes they sleep in the parent’s bed, because between mommy and daddy lies the safest place on earth. And so the little girl curled up beside her mom, who was too tired and fast asleep to notice, the jar placed carefully on the other side. Sleep was more comforting and necessary at that point than any other thought one could ever have. Sleep is bliss, sleep is silence.
Around just before dawn, for some reason we cannot know about, the little girl stirred awake, and slipped out in the darkness, glass jar in hands, blanket wrapped tightly around, slippers in feet, and an odd sense of adventure in the air. It was too early to be dawn, but she could sense it was near. Country-folk are always able to do that, we who live in the cities are too accustomed to our soft beds in enclosed boxes, but the way the cold night turns in to a fresh day is something deeply fixated in instinct and that’s why no one has to teach animals when it is going to be dawn soon. The little girl walked along, aimless, looking at the stars, a little scared of her thoughts from before, unsure of where she should begin.
The green light fluttering in and out of darkness was her guide, and it didn’t really point anywhere in particular, so she sat down where she was, and kept the jar in front of her, and stared at it long and hard. She thought about herself for the first time in days - well, that’s not true, because children always think of themselves, like all the time, because anything they think has to pass through them, and their thoughts are really so simple that everything somehow comes back to being centred around them and the world doesn’t really concern them much beyond a little curiosity which we adults seem to have lost at some point along the way - but for the little girl, she thought about what was happening with her. She remembered being sad for long, and now that she had the firefly with her, she was happy, but she was not sure, because she was supposed to say that she was happy because she had the firefly, but she did not feel happy, and this confused her. So maybe she was not happy?
But then why was she not happy? She had the firefly, so she should have been happy, but she wasn’t, so she tried finding why not. It’s not easy to come up with answers, but it is very easy to be distracted and to veer of somewhere else and then find answers there, and that is what she did. For the first time, she thought about the firefly - after being scared silly into thinking it could be her daddy, which she knew, timidly, that it wasn’t, but she was a child, so fear lingers, which we know happens with us adults as well - she thought for the first time how the firefly was ‘trapped’ in the glass jar, and maybe that meant something. She thought for the first time how the firefly she had before, the one she had made air holes in the lid to breathe, and had put a fresh leaf in everyday for it to eat, had simply stopped moving one day, and maybe that was what happened with daddy as well, and it was a little closer to truth.
She thought for the first time of herself as a firefly, trapped in a jar, though she knew not what the jar in the actual world would be - the house looked like a house and not a jar, and besides, it did not have a lid - but she knew the jar meant something and so she continued thinking of herself as a firefly. And she did not like sitting in one place, and eating the same dish everyday, and not going out to play, and maybe that’s why the firefly had stopped moving - because it was sad from doing all that, and maybe that was why daddy went away - because daddy was sad about something and the sadness wouldn’t go away, and so one day he stopped moving as well, and maybe the way to not go far far away was to not be sad. And she sat and pondered some more on this, the blanket wrapped around her, warm and comfortable, as the skies turned a slight shade brighter, and the trees awakened and swayed in the slight winds, and the birds knew it was dawn, and had begun their singing, and she joined them.
A little light in the dark,
In this night, cold and stark,
An angel come from above,
To shower me in light and love.
Grant me a wish, so I say,
I close my eyes, here I pray,
Give me joys, and no more sorrow,
Take me back home, on the morrow.
A little light pulsing nearby,
Is it really just a firefly,
Trapped inside a jar,
From the skies, a fallen star.
A firefly of green light,
Shining with a joy so bright,
In my hands the jar I take,
To see it go is a heartache.
I wonder with a smile,
I know it’ll come back in a while,
I want it to be my guide,
I’ll wait until it is by my side.
And as she lay on the cold moist grass, with the dew strewn about her like little fallen pearls, the glass jar open and empty, the firefly dancing in the fading darkness of the dawn, her gaze on its pulsating rhythm that shimmered like her heartbeat, its glow growing fainter and fading away as the sky got brighter, finally lost amongst the fluttering of the birds starting a new day, her heart filled with long lost happiness that she somehow knew would last her a lifetime.