Children… well, children.
They have so many questions, and they look up to me as if I am a treasure trove of all the encyclopaedias in the world. And I, perhaps not so unabashedly, find it gruelling to scratch my brains and narrate convincing answers that would keep them wondering and in awe. Sometimes, they expect me to run miles with them and jump ropes, when the truth is my old bones ache reaching my house on the third floor. Or they thrust their video games and iPads at me, trying to coax me into fighting some gory, save-the-world battle with them, when all I can contemplate upon is how to switch on the gadget.
They intrigue me with their energy and knowledge beyond their years. My inadequacies stare at me with disdain and words ebb slowly away as I stand in mute bewilderment, crowded by chatters that reach not beyond the opening of mouths. They turn and disappear fast, and I am only too glad to go back to dwelling in my woven shell.
But mountain children, they are different. They stand on the side of metalled highways and broken paths and wave at me. They peer at me from behind their mothers’ flowing skirts and scanty curtains hanging from windows. They are so shy, but their eyes always glitter with friendliness. They shut their lips tight yet hesitate not to smile. And when I bend my knees and stoop low, when I smile at them, when I reach out to hold their tiny hands in my palms, they shatter all barriers and become one of my very own.
Mountain children, they love to talk. They perhaps are not tutored to “not talk to strangers and to make no friends”. They tell me about their parents and siblings. They tell me about the school that is closed for winters. How they fight with other kids and who broke their cycle, they tell me. Together we call out for their sheep to return home and greet the village women returning after a day in the fields. Their mothers warn me not to give in to their demands for chocolates, but they know how their smile makes me weak.
Mountain children hate the indoors. Long after the sun sets on cold mountain valleys, they scamper about. Till a speck of light remains in the sky, they refuse to be dragged home for dinner. When I find it too chilly outside, I call them in for tea and biscuits; but they stand by the door with their back glued to the wall. They come up to my room and we talk for a while and we watch a cartoon on my phone. All those games that entice children woo not mountain kids. They get so distracted and look out of my window. They want to be outdoors, running up mountain paths. And they pull me along. I live not in the mountains and I have lungs that suffice a sea-level existence. I pant and gasp for air that I already scarce anyway as I try to keep up with them. I plead for them to stop and ask them how far to the tuck shop. Little mountain children laugh at me and point upwards. As I sigh, they take me by my hand and drag me up the narrow alleys till we reach their favourite shop.
Mountain children are grateful. Methinks they know not the wonderful art of hesitance and don’t-you-know-what-I-want looks; as my friend, they take the liberty to be candid with me about their wishes and point towards packets of chips, chocolates and coke. We gather up the goodies and resume our walk back home. They do not say “Thank you”. There is a newfound bounce in their step. They clutch my hand so tightly. They fight to walk with me. The youngest one pulls at my jacket and wants me to carry him down. I oblige. We stop on the way as they munch on their chips and chocolates. They want to stuff my mouth too and take turns in doing so. I dare not refuse as it upsets them. I partake in their merriment and joy. Such gestures often not seen where I dwell, fill up my eyes, and I know just how difficult it is going to be bidding goodbye.
Mountain children make for memories. Snow that is white and crowns mountain heads, mountains that are brown and grey and dominate entire landscapes, valleys that challenge travellers and house tiny secrets of lives flanked by tall walls of mountain ranges, infinite pools of blue and green and some brown from the moraines that rumble and flow where they please or stay stoic and silent—memories are made of these. I shut my eyes tight to recreate images of travels gone by, but the chatter of their laughter is deafening. Mud-smeared faces with flashes of white smiles juxtapose every image in my head. Random talks of broken toys that won’t get replaced and dreams of attending school whisper to me at night. And I wonder if performing tricks with stones, playing hide and seek in mountain villages and petting sheep to sleep is the most idyllic way to spend evenings as dinner gets cooked inside cosy homes of mountain people.
Mountain children and I pose for pictures before we part. It delights me that they are entertained. They rush not back home to wash their faces and put on their best attires so our photos can be perfect. I forget to remove my spectacles. I merely hold them close before they can run away again. And run away they will because they are children, mountain children.