Imagine if you could meet someone in a festival after they have left this world. But wait. will you be able to find it…?
60 years old. Unmarried. In love with the spirit of my love. Well if you’ll allow me then I’ll be happy to recite the tale of this old hag’s life journey; just let me sit down first.
This place is called Gonda. Every year on the 15th day of the sacred lunar month, a grand festival takes place here. The festival of the spirits. As absurd as it may sound, it is true. Though it is believed to take place every year but the place it is held at changes and after five years it comes back here. So I have been coming to Gonda to enjoy this festival for 30 years, this is my seventh time here.
. . .
“You came” Dai came from behind a tree looking happy yet sad.
“Of course” I smiled back.
. . .
35 years ago
“Come on Mai you can hit it!” shouted my friend at the top of her voice from behind me.
And it hit.
“YEAH!” we both rejoiced on winning a big stuffed rabbit at the shooter stall. I and Kiki loved to go to festivals together. We’d play all the games and eat from all the stalls and return home with empty pockets. Thankfully our parents weren’t here to strangle us for that. We lived away from our homes in pgs. to attend college. We were research and development students at the moment and whenever there would be a festival, we would be there to go on a rampage.
“Mai let’s try the slot machine now!!!” Kiko’s eyes gleamed with joy.
“What? They have a slot machine to?! I am in love with this festival in particular now!”
As we positioned ourselves and struck the handle we held our breaths in and crossed our fingers. We weren’t exactly good students at the academy, but what we were good at was luck. We were always so lucky. And with that as the chattering of the slot machine clicked and displayed three same figures one after the other we practically went crazy with joy. A lot of coins rained down from the machine as I and Kiko hugged each other tightly while jumping and shouting at the same time. Suddenly we heard a click and a flash.
When I turned around I saw a tall young man wearing a jeans and a shirt with the camera placed over his face and a big grin underneath.
“Excuse me…” Kiko called out to him in an uncertain tone. “Did you just click our photo?”
“Ah yes. I am sorry let me introduce myself” he replied as he quickly put away his camera in a sling bag and came forward to shake hands with us. “My name is Dai. Nice to meet you. I am the official photographer of this festival and as you are the first ones to get a perfect score on the slot machine; I took a picture.”
We looked a little uneasily at the man in front of us. Now that his face was in view I could see that he was decent looking and neat although his hair was spikey it was still in a little mess. But the main part was his eyes. He had beautiful eyes that looked pure and innocent. But that was just a feature of his face it didn’t prove that was speaking the truth at the moment.
“Don’t worry these pictures are going to be with the manager of the event only.” He tried assuring us.
“Fine” we replied and took our money and left for the food stalls.
After a couple of days it was time for our own collage’s fest. We were all hyped really up. Girls were making a ruckus about what to wear even though things were pre-decided and boys… well we hoped they would at least wear something other than sweat pants and jerseys.
After a few hours in the fest we started taking pictures but as the crowd grew it became hard to take selfies. While about 10 of us were trying our best to fit into a single frame we heard a click and saw a camera flash on us and felt a wave of déjà vu wash over me. It was the same guy from that evening.
“Are you following us?” Kiko almost shrieked out in partial fear and rest disgust.
“Of course not!” he retaliated with an offended expression, “I am Dai, a freelance photographer that your collage has hired for this fest!” he introduced himself with a frown.
“Are you sure you’re not lying?” I eyed his suspiciously.
“What is wrong with the girls these days? It’s not like you guys are miss worlds or something of that sort. And I am just doing my work-“
“What did you just say?” A dark aura suddenly possessed the girls, maybe the ‘not miss world’ phrase made them snap and Dai seemed to have a good idea as to where he had screwed up.
“Not miss worlds BUT you all look stunning at the moment which is why I could not resist taking you picture!” Dai hurried through the sentence and started clicking pictures of the crowd of girls that were about to attack him. “Yes just like that! Beautiful! Enchanting!” All this flattering and commotion settled the girls down if not pleased them immensely.
“That guy has a certain tact” Kiko said coming us to me as we watched all the girls’ line up for the photo session.
“Yeah maybe” I said eyeing him. To be honest I was a bit curious about him. There was a certain air about him that was really attractive.
Later that evening when Kiko went away for a bit Dai came over for a chat.
“So we meet again, want to see the pictures?” he asked in a friendly and almost kiddish tone.
“Why? The freelancer wants some praise?” I teased.
“Well now that I know that you already believe my work is worth praising then I suggest you do the same after seeing it” and he clicked on his display before I could frame a back answer and the first picture made me gasp in amazement.
It was the festival from before and it was beautiful.
“This is not how I saw it that day…” I could hear the amusement in my voice as it drifted away in a whisper.
“Well now you have.”
As I went through pic after pic I felt a weird feeling building up. Every picture looked more beautiful than the one before.
“So?” he asked excitedly
“I don’t have the words to express how beautiful these photos were.” I could hear Dai chuckle when I said this. It seemed that he loved to be praised and so I ended with just one thing,
“Thank you for showing them to me.” And I smiled at him. This suddenly made him serious. It seemed like he did not expect to be thanked for something like that but that was exactly how the pictures had made me feel.
“Thank you for seeing them properly” he said and maybe I think I saw him blush a little as he lowered his head. We sat there silently until Kiko came back.
“Hey Mr.Dai our director is calling for you. You need to click some photos there.” She told him quickly and pulled me along to go somewhere else.
“Bye!” I waved at him as Kiko pulled me with her full force.
“Bye Bye! He waved back.
. . .
That was the first time we actually spoke to each other and maybe the first time we well in love as well. But we would understand this only after a lot of time would have passed. I wished we had understood it at the very moment so we could have had a few more days together.
The next five years flew by in a blink. We felt like the happiest people alive. Every day felt new and the fun never ended. I finished my studies and joined a research firm while Dai went on from becoming a freelancer to a well-known professional. We couldn’t ask for anything more. And finally decided a date to marry. But what we could not foresee was death.
Dai fell ill suddenly and none of the doctors could tell why. His organs had started to malfunction and the whole thing only kept speeding up. So much that soon the doctors lost the race as well and so did Dai.
On the day of our proposed marriage, I lay flowers on Dai’s grave. As despair started taking over me, I closed myself shut in my- our new house. Until one day I accidently stumbled over Dai’s diary. I never knew he used to write one.
I sat down with the book near the window and started reading through the pages. They were filled with fun observations he made while freelancing till he met me. The first entry about me was when I had thanked him. He called me an odd girl for that. After that, entry after entry, he wrote about observations made only about me. It talked about his days with me. He had written details of all our encounters. In the end there were a few photos among which I found the photo of me and Kiko when we won at the slot machine.
“So you lied about the photo remaining with just the manager…” I couldn’t help it as a tear trickled off my cheek. But reading this diary gave me a lot of courage. I had been forgetting something really important.
We live for the ones we love. I decided I won’t lock myself up anymore. I’ll live his part as well. And I won’t lie to myself as well. I wanted to see him again. Once more. And I had a good idea where to start.
One of my friends was a strange fellow. The research assignment he had taken for himself was about the festival of spirits. No one encouraged him of course, but he was never demotivated by that. For some reason he never left that research and continued his search. I called him up and asked if I could become a part of his research team and he seemed more than happy to take me in.
But it was not easy to find something like this. We started reading about demons and spirits of all kinds. After five long years of research and failure we finally got some hope. We estimated a time, date, day and place for the festival of spirits. But the place was not limited to one so we split up. Three places were estimated. I chose to go to Gonda, it was a really small town quite far from where we lived at the moment.
. . .
“Ma’am I would suggest you to not go out at this time” the manager of the inn I was staying at warned me when check in the reception before leaving.
“Well it is part of my job” I said as I headed out the door. But from where was I supposed to start?
This inn was situated in the most remote part of Gonda and only mountains and trees were visible from where I was standing. Going inside the forest at this time was not a good idea but I had no choice. This was the only chance I had. As I started walking through the wild plants I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy. As time passed by a strange chill filled the air. I had come quite a long way when suddenly a bush near me started moving.
“What that!” I almost shrieked out in fear and a wild boar came from behind the bushes. Standing in front of it I could hear my heart pounding but I was too scared to move. The boar seemed almost like a hungry wolf; bloodshot eyes and ready to attack. Suddenly I realized that I had to move before it pounced but it jumped and I ducked instinctively. The next thing I heard was a loud yelp from the boar and it ran away. I got up quickly and saw an old man standing behind me with a few stone in one hand.
“Are you all right miss?” He asked as he helped me get up.
“Thank you…” this seemed more dangerous than the boar. ‘What was this old man doing in the forest at this time?’
“Are you looking for Gonda festival?” he asked smiling widely, “Oh yes you are!”
“Follow me. I am going there too.”
“Wait, how did you know?” maybe the tiredness of my journey was kicking in and I was hallucinating now about how I’d like some help.
“Your eyes with burning with a desire.” He replied pointing at me. “Are you going to meet up someone there?”
Yes I wanted to meet someone. And suddenly it seemed like I was on the right track, climbing the right mountain, going in the right direction. Whoever this old man was, his every word was like a blessing.
“Take me with you!”
After a short walk we started walking on a totally different path and entered deeper into the forest. A faint music slowly filled our ears and the air became warmer. Right in front a light started emerging from behind one of the trees and the moment we went around that tree the whole look of the forest changed.
Paper windmills, food stalls, game stalls, musicians, dancers, lights… It was a festival. The festival really existed and it was filled with people. There were little children running and playing and young people laughing, also some old people were sitting near the stalls. But people weren’t the only ones enjoining the fest. There were other… things too. On looking closely one looked like a big lizard man and another had an antenna on its head.
“What are they?” I whispered to the old man beside me who had been waiting patiently for me to get a little accustomed to what lay in front.
“Demons and spirits of nature” he said with a smug look. And suddenly his ears started growing till they were big enough to touch the ground. “Hi! I am one of the spirit of stones. Nice to meet you”
All I could do was stare at him in amazement. Although I should have been afraid but after reading about them for so many years it actually felt amazing to see them up close. “Hello” I smiled back and shook his hands.
“I think you should start searching for whatever you came here. The time is running out” he urged me and pushed me into the crowd.
“Yes but I-“ The moment I turned around he was gone. ‘Looks like I am on my own now’ I thought to myself and started going around the festival but I could not see Dai anywhere. At the end of the festival there was a small temple. This was probably where the spirits were worshiped through the year. I had read about it in one of the research papers that these festivals are held only near temples and shrines where spirits are worshipped for it becomes a sacred and comfortable place for them to come together.
But all that did not matter. I had to find Dai, but looking around I saw no hope. This definitely was where I wanted to be but how was I supposed to find him? I turned towards the temple and closed my eyes.
‘Was I supposed to pray…?’ at this moment I was ready to do about anything to see him but did not know what I was supposed to say to God.
‘Dai…’ all I could do was stand there and think about him as tears welled up in my eyes. ‘Where are you…?’ I sat down on the ground feeling helpless. The festival seemed to be coming to an end already.
“MAI…” A faint voice came from behind me. “Mai. Is that Mai?! Mai is that you?!” The voice approached quickly before I could turn around and I felt the embrace of two really familiar hands.
“Dai…?” I whispered back. “How did you find me?”
“What are you talking about? You found me. And you even called out to me.” He replied wiping off my tears that were now flowing uncontrollably. “I am sorry…”
We hugged each other as tightly as we could and remained silent for the rest of the time. Slowly the festival started fading away and I saw the old man from before smile at me before disappearing into thin air.
“I’ll have to leave now” Dai spoke softly and we finally got up from the ground. “Mai can you keep a promise?” he asked in low voice.
“Forget about me. I am not coming back and you have your life ahead of you. That is why-“
“I won’t forget you. Ever. I’ll come here again next time and we will enjoy the festival together so you go now.” As the first streak of dawn broke out, Dai’s presence started fading away and soon I was standing there alone. But getting to see him once more had filled me up with all the courage I needed and so I started living my life with five year interval plans. Every 5th year I would go up to the mountains in Gonda and meet Dai.
. . .
“It seems like the next time I come here I’ll be dead to” I joked.
“Well, then I’ll take you home when that time comes” Dai replied back. And our seventh meeting ended that night.