The River

by Shailja Zumkhawala

All eyes widen, as the girl’s body emerges out of the river.

“Miracle”, one cries. “Survivor”, says another while covering the girl in the warmth of the coat. She is cold. Her eyes wide, lips blue, but she doesn’t shiver. So still. So cold. The police officers who saved her life take pity on her condition. The girl is traumatized. After all, she just lost her mother, her only companion in this cruel world.

In the next few days, the news of the one who survived spreads like wildfire. Apparently, the mother tried to drown her own daughter in the river that night but ended up losing her own life.

The girl was adopted by the two officers. You see, they had no children.

One year later

The girl, who survived that night, is now happily settled with her new parents, who love her more than she could ask for. However, today, they wouldn’t leave her alone. It marks the anniversary of her mother’s death. A killer, like she was told by her new friends at her new school. The girl waits for her parents to sleep.

It is 11:55 pm and she can hear the soft snoring coming from the adjacent room. They are asleep. She quietly tiptoes out of her room, and sneaks out of the house, slowly moving towards the river. It is dark and cold.

This time she shudders involuntarily. But slowly she walks towards the river and when she reaches the spot across from her old house, she takes the paper boat out of her coat. She places it in the water, and without even waiting for a second, she turns around and makes her way back home. Slowly and softly, she climbs back on her bed, and with a soft smile on her lips, she drifts off to sleep.

Officer Evelyn has been watching her daughter from a distance. She has a feeling; something is going to happen today and follows her adopted daughter. When Laura started moving towards home, Evelyn comes forward and makes her way to the spot where they found their daughter a year ago. She quickly picks up the boat, now wet, and realizes that it’s a letter written on a big paper in her daughter’s tiny handwriting. From Laura to her mom, who was now no more. Evelyn’s eyes widen as she finishes reading and rushes back home. She runs upstairs and barges into her room to wake up her husband. Officer Caleb, now wide awake, reads the letter, and together the couple hurries towards their daughter’s room. But to their surprise, she is gone.

A few months later

For months, the search goes on, but the girl who survived is nowhere to be found. The couple, still in shock, sits on their daughter’s bed and reads the letter again and again. They still can’t believe it. It reads:

Dear Judy,

You are gone. But your memories still haunt me all the time. Although I do admit, I feel peaceful now. I have no reason to be afraid.

You see, there was this girl, who was thrown into a pond without any support so that she could learn how to swim. The girl was just two. And she almost drowned. Her mother pulled her out when she thought her daughter wouldn’t be able to learn so quickly. The water was black and cold and the girl became afraid of it. And of her own mother. As she grew up, she was constantly pushed in the lake, Uncle Ed’s pond, the river… But the girl never learned.

Eventually, over the years the girl could survive in the water, but she was no ace. And the mother couldn’t wait to be known as the mother of a champion swimmer, just like the girl’s grandfather. The mother never learnt and would always be nothing but a disappointment to her father. But she had one opportunity to mend the broken ties if only her daughter succeeds. But her little girl drowned her dreams. And the mother gave up.

The daughter couldn’t bear the disappointment of her dearest mother, and so that night she made her way towards the dark river across her home.

Her mother warned her in the evening that there is a storm being expected and to remain inside. That night, the weather and the river were threatening. It was raining heavily. But the girl didn’t stop and slowly jumped in the water, much to her mother’s shock. The mother rushed out of the house towards the river and jumped in to save her. She was surprised at the crazy force of the water. She was relieved when she saw her daughter’s head bobbing out but got scared when her hands started swapping frantically trying to stay up. No matter how hard she tried to push, the current forced her away from her daughter. Now the mother was struggling to keep her face pointed upwards as she was choking on the river water while trying to look beyond the constant rainwater pouring on her head.

The last thing she saw before getting pulled in the water was her daughter’s face, now just a few meters away, her eyes cold yet blazing and an evil big smile spread on her face. The daughter was steady with arms moving in a synchronized motion. The mother learnt her lesson.

The daughter knew. She knew it all along. But her mother didn’t. The world didn’t. And they could have never even developed the slightest doubt on the girl’s innocence. After all, she was just thirteen.

Goodbye mother, may your soul always remain trapped in the river.

Yours, not anymore,

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