The girl got up from her bed. Nimbly she put her step forward. One. Two. Three. Thump. She rose in the air. Four. Thump again. She went up once more. She bounced like a balloon on its exquisitely small buttoned tail, and went up so high she hit her head on the roof. ‘Ouch! That hurt,’ she exclaimed. Bouncing in the room was boring. So she went out of the room and still bouncing, balanced herself in the air before the staircase, her hand on the banisters. Then chuckling she attempted a cartwheel on the stairs. The staircase let out a shrill warning. ‘Are you crazy, you’ll hurt yourself,’ it told her and pushed her back when her small hands and feet touched it. It made her roll in the air, her limbs cutting a circle like the hands of a clock. She giggled.
Thankfully she landed on her feet on the floor and bounced. Bounced up and down, up and down, at the same place. She was hooked. The view ahead had made her look at it with curiosity. There was silence for a while as she stared at the half-open doors in her front, green light coming out of the opening. She could also see a luminous round ball behind the doors, floating in the air in the centre of the room. As luminous as the moon. All of a sudden there was a thunderous sound and the ball disappeared. She screamed, ‘let me down,’ and her feet came to rest on the floor. She skittered to the door and flung it open.
She found it was a green kitchen she was looking into. Everything was green, except for the teapot. The teapot was white, made of china, and with a Chinese painting on it. The painting was black except for the fire coming out of the dragon’s mouth which was red. She felt playful, went and climbed the green table in the middle. It was made of leaves joined side to side. Its legs were made of vines. She jumped up and down on the leaves and they made a screeching sound. ‘Don’t stretch us so much or we will tear,’ they told her. But she ignored them and kept at her play.
Suddenly with a scratchy sound the leaves tore and down she went, hurtling like lead pellet in a black well. Afraid, she closed her eyes. She stopped with a jerk after some time. White light flooded her face. She opened her eyes and saw the intensely bright ball in front of her nose. Its light burned her eyes and she shut them back. ‘Open your eyes,’ a voice said, and she replied back that she won’t because her eyes hurt. ‘It won’t hurt anymore,’ the voice said. Gradually she could feel the light around her face mellow down till it was almost gone. Then she felt a light touch on her nose. She opened one eye and saw the reduced ball sitting on the tip of her nose. It tickled her. She sneezed and it bounced on her nose. She could hear it laughing. It had a musical laugh with crinkles in it, with a deep breath drawn at the end as if it was smoothing those crinkles.
‘Where am I?’ she asked it.
Beneath the table, it answered.
‘Why it’s so dark here?’ she asked it again.
‘To punish you for your naughtiness. You hurt the leaves.’
‘How shall I get out?’
‘I’ll take you with me, but first tell me this. Can you bounce?’
‘Yes, I can. At least I could.’
‘Then it’s ok. Bouncing is like cycling. You won’t forget it once you have learned it.’
‘I didn’t learn it. It came to me by itself. One morning I wished I could bounce, and well, there I was bouncing all over my house. Bouncing over my bed while sleeping, bouncing over the floor while walking, bouncing over the chair while eating. My brother got really angry when I bounced over the bicycle once, while he was taking me through the meadows, where there was complete silence except for the birds singing a cantata.’
‘Birds can’t sing a cantata.’
‘I know. I made that up. But I don’t bounce except when there is silence or music or my own voice, so they must be singing something.’
‘They have their own melody. Ok then, come with me since you can bounce. I will take you up with me,’ it said.
In response it left her nose and went up in the air. From there it dropped a luminous thread, as if a string was unraveling from a ball of wool. Wrap it around your wrist, it told her. When she had finished wrapping the thread, it asked ‘are you ready?’
She replied yes.
‘Zoom along then,’ it said, with a shake of the thread which sent her swinging in the well from side to side.
‘Don’t do that,’ she cried. Her wrists hurt when she swung.
‘Oh! Sorry,’ it apologized and slowly rose up and she rose with it, pulled along by the thread. Soon they were going up so fast that she felt giddy. They continued their journey till they had reached the leaves. She could see the leaves from afar, their greenishness in the white light of the ball. She could also hear their voices. They were screeching again, though in a language that she couldn’t understand. The ball stopped when they had reached the leaves. It told them something in their screeching language and they replied back to it, their voices louder. It looked as if it was fighting with them. She closed her ears with her fingers, there was so much of screeching. The ball managed to persuade the leaves to give way at last, since they opened up after a while.
She saw she had come back into the kitchen, and was standing on the table. Atop the table there was one more thing besides her and the teapot. A mandolin. She looked up questioningly at the ball. In reply it rose again, taking her with it towards the roof. It dropped her off on the floor, away from the table.
Then it spun once, and the table disappeared suddenly. The mandolin and the teapot seemed to hang in mid-air. She looked at the ball with wonder. What was this thing? The ball discarded the luminous thread it had given her, which fell down and hung from her wrist like a new-fangled piece of ornament.
Shall I make the mandolin bigger, the ball asked her? She nodded a yes. Clap your hands then, it said to her, and she clapped. The mandolin grew bigger. Clap again. She clapped again. The mandolin grew bigger still. She clapped and clapped till the soundbox of the mandolin had become half as tall as her.
The ball told her to stop there. She saw it move near to the mandolin, fly slowly round it as if inspecting it. Then it went, sat on one of the thick steel strings, and moved up and down. There was faint music from that effort.
‘Bounce,’ it commanded her. She willed herself to bounce to the tune of the music. One. Two. Three. Thump. She went up in the air and bounced, as always like a balloon. But the ball was not content with that. ‘That’s not high enough,’ he told her. ‘Bounce high enough to come up here.’ She hit the ground hard on her next descent. It hurt a bit, but she bounced high, higher than the ball, almost touched the roof. ‘Good,’ commented the ball. ‘Now come near me,’ it told her; she was still some distance away. She then swung her hand and tried to whirl in the air, attempting to move towards the ball. She succeeded; better than what she expected, even better than what she wanted. The air lacked the friction provided by the ground. She moved erratically, like an out of control top, and fell over the mandolin.
‘Easy girl,’ the ball told her. It then did its spinning act once again. The act lifted her magically, in slow motion as if a puppet was being raised by a thread by its scruff, and she found herself standing in the air above the taut strings.
‘Now bounce on the strings,’ the ball told her. She bounced. The ball bounced too. They bounced together. They made music for some time. Slowly everything in the room began to rise. They, the mandolin, the teapot, the green almirah, the green utensils on the green shelf. The roof opened up and she could see the blue sky that was ready to receive them. But then there was trouble. She heard a crash; one of the utensils has crashed on the floor. More utensils crashed. All of them crashed one by one. Then the almirah crashed too. Only four things were left floating in the air: they, the mandolin, and the teapot.
Then a stranger thing happened. The Chinese picture began to peel of the teapot like the rind of an orange. She could see the teapot hanging from the ends of it, before the teapot crashed too. Only the small two-dimensional dragon, as if made of paper, continued floating along with them.
‘Do you want a magic carpet the shape of a dragon,’ the ball asked the girl. She said thank you, that would please her very much. Then clap once more, it told her. She understood and started to clap, as she continued bouncing on the mandolin, till the paper dragon had become big enough to hold them all. ‘You can stop bouncing now,’ the ball told her. ‘This will hold you and me and the mandolin. We can fly away.’
They flew away.