She spent every summer vacation at her great aunt’s place in the countryside, a respite from the city and it’s pervasive loneliness. There, among the mango trees and the paddy fields, she felt truly alive. There were other children to play with, and oodles of open ground just to laze around in. The sky was blue all day everyday, the sun bright and the landscape inviting.

That was the first time ever they had done anything wayward, so to speak. It wasn’t exactly a risky endeavour, since they weren’t even leaving the property. But it felt exhilarating just the same, the thrill of doing something forbidden no matter how tame it was. They stole away at night after the grown ups were asleep, and walked to the stream past the fields. The night was a little chilly, though not unusually so. The strips dividing the fields were so narrow that they had to walk in a single file, like ants treading a line, while the moonlight streamed over them in a silvery cascade. They walked by the palm trees, past  the small fishing pond in the centre and beyond the line of trees at the edge whose names she did not know.

Someone had swiped a bottle of whiskey from her uncle’s bar. They passed it around, each taking a swallow, shuddering and handing off the offending item to the next person. She gently lowered herself on to the grass and stared at the pinpricks in the inky sky. She could feel the alcohol traversing her body, all the way to her bones.  Someone had started singing, in a voice that should never be raised in song. The stream flowed on and on, its melody uninterrupted and serene.

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