Ayushi loved the location of their new house. Her mother hated it.
The Mehra family, comprising twelve-year-old Ayushi, her eight year-old-brother Gopal and their parents, had arrived at Landsdowne in Uttarakhand. Her father had taken charge as the District Judge of the quaint hill station and was allotted a palatial colonial-era bungalow with ample green space.
“The house is so isolated, there are no neighbours nearby,” Mrs Mehra rued.
“There is an abundance of nature and scarcity of people. This is heaven,” Ayushi mused.
A pinecone landed on Ayushi’s feet while walking towards the house. She looked up and noticed the treehouse nestled on the branches of the tree.
“Mom, look. A castle in the air, with a staircase of its own to boot,” she said, excited.
“This is your house from today, Ayushi,” her mother said, bemused.
Ayushi grinned from ear to ear.
The Mehra family had been in Lansdowne for two weeks. As the children went to school and the parents mingled with other judiciary families, the town had begun to seem familiar.
One afternoon, the children had returned from school, and Mrs Mehra noticed Gopal playing alone.
“Where is Didi, Gopal?” she asked.
“Her treehouse, where else? She is always there.”
Mrs Mehra frowned. She had smiled indulgently when Ayushi had spruced up the treehouse the first day and made it a daily routine and hadn’t made much of it when her daughter had proclaimed the place to be her study room.
She also kept quiet when the young girl carried a mirror and some clothes to the treehouse. But now, it was time to instruct Ayushi to spend less time there.
Mrs Mehra strode towards the treehouse, an unfamiliar territory to her. It looked inviting with its yellow-coloured walls and red roof. She gingerly climbed the staircase.
Ayushi’s voice reached her ears when she was halfway up the staircase. Who was she talking to? Mrs Mehra hastened her ascent.
She tiptoed outside the open entrance door. Her eyes took time to adjust to the dark, and she almost gasped when her daughter came into view.
Ayushi had her back to her mother. She wore Mr Mehra’s clothes and pretended to shave her face with her father’s shaving brush while admiring herself in front of the mirror. Her frock lay discarded on the floor to her right.
“Ayush,” her daughter said softly to her reflection, “grow up soon.”
Mrs Mehra climbed back down the stairs with slumped shoulders.
“Ma, where is Didi? I thought you had gone to call her inside, ” Gopal asked.
“What? No, I had gone for something else,” she replied and continued, “Don’t disturb your Didi when she goes to the treehouse. It is a safe haven for her. But you are not to go there,” she said sharply.
Golu nodded, puzzled. Many questions floated in his young mind, but he kept quiet.
Mrs Mehra went about her work in the usual manner. Some things are best when kept secret.
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