A day with Papun

A silent space of wood and leaves magnifying the conversation of multiple bugs. A canopy of white and blue above and a cooling breeze to soothe our skin.
My grandfather’s footsteps break the silence at frequent intervals as he walks ahead with long strides. His silence could either mean that he knows the way or is walking upon instinct. I always feel that it is the latter although he would never admit it so. Silence, then the sound of crushed leaves, then silence, then sound. It is almost hypnotising, like a mother’s hand lulling one to sleep. The crushed leaves indicating that it is perfect for igniting flames.
I get lost in the image of things only to realise that I have lagged behind. I look for Papun (as I would call my grandfather), and with a sigh of relief, I notice that he is not too far off. He is crouching on the ground and gathering leaves and twigs and other little things that he feels will burn good in the fire. I gather twigs for him as well and within seconds I hear the cackling of fire and smell the familiar smoke that I have, with time, associated with Papun. I look around for more things to add to the pile. I collect and place them near the firewhile he inspects them and sort out the non-flammable ones. I observe with keen interest. Finally, he allows me to dump the leftovers on the growing mound and I watch.
I grow frustrated as I see only smoke with no flame and start to dig into the blanket of junk. Papun seems amused at my impatience but patiently tells me to wait a little longer. I follow his directions but grow more anxious. He busies himself in clearing the weeds out of the soil and I do the same, all the while wondering if Papun knows what he is doing. I pluck the weeds out one by one with glances every now and then at the flame. After a while, I hear another cackle and surely the pile is engulfed in flames. Papun knows what he is doing after all.
After a day in the sun, we walk back where we came from. The air has now descended into a chilly breeze, the sound of crickets begins to dominate. I take Papun’s hand and notice the soil under his nails and his now brownish palms but I am surprised at how soft they are. We walk hand-in-hand. One big and worn hand and the other small with scratches only beginning to form.

(Contributed by Saweini Laloo)

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