by Agrini Bhattacharya
No, I can’t do this!” exclaimed Martha, but Susan refused to accept it.
“Why can’t you do it?” she demanded. “It’s only in your mind that you can’t do it. We need another person and you are the only one left in the whole village. If you refuse, then we are bound to lose, and this would mean that we would have to give up our fields to them.”
“Come on, Martha,” cajoled Robin in a pleading voice. “Don’t be afraid. Believe in your capabilities. You just need to agree. We really don’t have much time left. Please say yes.” Martha looked unsure. As a litlte girl she had been the best tree climber in the whole village, sure footed, agile and flexible. However, when she had last climbed a tree, when she was six, she had had a terrible fall, which had resulted in her having a steel ball in her ankle. Since then she had always been too scared to climb trees again.
This year, some rowdy kids from the neighboring village had commandeered their playing fields and refused to leave them. The village head, when applied to, had clearly told them that it was their matter and that they would have to solve it themselves. The children in both villages had decided upon a challenge tournament, and the winners would have the right to the playing fields. There were to be swimming, racing and tree climbing competitions. Martha, the best natural athlete and acrobat in the village, had participated in every competition except the tree climbing.
Martha looked at the earnest and pleading faces of her friends. They needed her. But what if she fell down again? Or got stuck in the tree? What if her ankle wasn’t able to take the strain and she did not finish her climb? That would be really embarrassing! Still hesitating, she said, “Okay, I’ll give it a try. But I don’t guarantee success.” Everyone was overjoyed and thanked her fervently. We start practice tomorrow. Everyone, please report to me by ten o’ clock sharp at the Victorian Edge,” announced Susan. They all nodded and dispersed hurriedly as the Church gong struck noon.
On her way back, Martha had only one thought-“can I do this?” she was confused. On reaching home, she went straight to her mother. Her mother was a doctor in the town. She had her own clinic. Her father was also a doctor and was working as a surgeon in a hospital. At present, her father had gone to Geneva for a conference. She had an elder brother who was in a boarding school in Chicago. She told her mother everything. Her mother said “you took a very wise decision. Don’t be scared. Just believe in yourself and you will surely succeed. Success only comes to those who dare. Be brave.”
Martha felt stronger. She gave a determined smile. She was going to overcome her fear and win this competition. Suddenly, she realized how much she missed her tree climbing. She had always loved trees. And now, after seven years she would climb trees again. She could not wait for the competition day.
The next day she started from home early and reached the Victorian edge on time. The Victorian edge was a small patch of daisies in midst of a dense forest. They had named it the Victorian edge because they thought Queen Victoria loved daisies. Everyone was there, practicing for the competition. Martha also practiced with them. At last, there came the turn of tree climbing.
Everyone had one tree and started to scale it. Martha had the longest oak tree. She looked up at the height of the tree and then looked at her right foot’s ankle. This was the same tree from which she had fallen down. She remembered those branches and the big broad leaves. It was also spring at that time, the same season as now. She was lost in thought. She could clearly see the same branch from which she had slipped and came down. She could feel the fear of climbing trees wrapping around her once again. She turned away from the tree.
Philip saw her and went over to her. He said” we have deliberately given this tree to you so that you can forget your past and live in today. Seven years ago, this was the tree from which you’d fallen. Now, you will scale this tree. I know it. Don’t be afraid.” Martha felt stronger. She gave a determined nod and turned to face the tree. She would surely do it!
She started her climb. After getting halfway to the top, suddenly her ankle began to ache. She thought it was the usual twisting of ankle which was aching and decided not to bother about it. When she had just climbed two more branches, her ankle suddenly pained a lot and she was not able to climb anymore. She chose a suitable branch and sat down. She took off her shoe and saw her ankle. It was red with swelling. She nursed it for sometime and when the pain seemed to subside, she decided to climb up again. As soon as she stood up her ankle gave away and she fell down again, this time in Susan’s lap.
Susan was surprised. She made Martha sit and, after a few minutes, asked ”what was this?” Martha said “it’s my ankle. It can’t take this much strain. I am telling you, I will not be able to win the competition. I will fall again if I climb such heights. And in the competition, there will be the tallest and biggest trees of the village. How do you think I am going to win? Let alone winning, I will not even be able to complete my climb.”
Susan said “don’t lose hope. I’m sure you will win.” Martha was not sure. On her way back home, Martha was accompanied by her friend Philip. She was not able to walk properly and hence Philip accompanied her as his home was also on the way. On reaching home, her mother was very worried. She saw her ankle. It was badly swollen and was aching. She could not treat it as her equipment was in her clinic and so she called the local doctor.
The doctor bandaged it and told her to rest until it was healed. He also told her not to go tree climbing again. On this, she protested and said “it’s for the village and my friends. They are relying on me for making them win. I cannot step back now, doctor. I will have to climb trees, even if it means bed rest after that for a month!” The doctor was pleased with the determination he saw in her eyes. This was the same girl who had sworn never to think of tree climbing again when she broken her ankle. He said “I am happy that you want to overcome obstacles and move on. Well, as far as I know you, you will not back out now. So it’s useless to tell you to rest. But, you must take care of your ankle. You can win the match, I know it. And by the way, what day and time is this competition? I want to see the old Martha again.”
Martha smiled and said “it’s on the 25th of this month near the lake at 7 o’clock in the morning. I shall be expecting you there.” The doctor gave a smile and went away. Martha was even more determined now. The next day she set out early. It was not easy walking with the huge bandage but she managed. She reached the Victorian edge. There everyone was waiting for her. As she came up everyone was overjoyed. They all now happily started practicing. Philip came to Martha and asked “are you okay? I heard what happened yesterday. Really, I must appreciate your determination. I am quite sure you will win!” Martha was happy.
She could not climb trees for one week. In fact, she couldn’t do anything but still; she sat down and looked at her mates. They were enjoying themselves. Martha regularly sat there until she thought that her foot was all right. But then also her friends told her to rest. They wanted her to do her best on the competition day. And at last, after a week the special day came.
Everyone was there on time. They were all eager. Although kids of both the villages were rivals, kids in the audience sat together. Everyone was talking about the competition. Finally the referee announced that the competition had started. The first challenge- swimming was won by Martha’s village. The second one was however won by the neighboring village. Now the decision depended on the tree climbing competition.
It started. Everyone was agog with excitement. They were all cheering their own village. The score was even-19 all. Each side needed just one point to win. Now came Martha’s turn. Her opponent was unfortunately her best friend from the neighboring village- Glenda. They smiled at each other. They wished each other luck and turned to see their trees. They were the tallest Coconut trees in the village. They had to pluck the fruit and climb down from the tree within 5 minutes.
The referee sounded the whistle. They both started off. It was very difficult to climb the tree as it had no branches. Glenda was swift and had already climbed half way. Children of both villages were going mad cheering for their respective players. Martha had been able to climb only a quarter of the way when her foot began to ache again. But this time she would complete her climb, come what may.
Glenda was about to reach the top but suddenly her hit a large honey bee hive. It was a hurdle for the players. Other players had noticed it but Glenda did not pay enough attention. She started screaming as the bees came out in droves and began stinging her. But Martha had been careful and managed to get past the hive on her own coconut tree.
The referee began his countdown from 100. Martha successfully reached the top. She plucked a fruit and started to climb down. It was easy as she had to only slide on the way back. But another danger awaited her. It was the second hurdle. There was a large weaver bird’s nest in between. Martha got stuck in it. The referee had reached 20. “19…18…17…” the referee continued. People were cheering for her like anything. After much struggling, she freed one leg. Her leg was about to reach the ground when a bee from Glenda’s tree stung her swollen ankle. She cried with pain. Suddenly, she felt dizzy. She could hear the cheers and the referee shouting 5 and then total darkness.
When she woke up, she was in her room. She had a hot water bottle stuck to her back. Susan, Robin and Philip were by her bedside. She said in a weak and sleepy voice” we lost, did we? I knew I couldn’t do it. Sorry.” “Don’t apologize. Celebrate! We won. Your leg touched the ground before…” Martha couldn’t hear anymore. She had gone off in a peaceful sleep for the rest of the day. The news that they had won was enough to put her to a long dreamy sleep…..
Agrini Bhattacharya is a thirteen year old, class eighth student from New Delhi. She loves to scribble and many times these scribbles on pieces of paper turn out to be short stories.