Book 2 | Chapter 6 | Secluded Mandapam
When Vandhiyathevan woke up, only the lighthouse keeper’s wife and daughter-in-law were at home. The old man had gone to the temple. He could not see Poonkuzhali anywhere. He ate his morning meal and set out to search for her. He searched all around the lighthouse, but could not find her. He headed to the temple, where the old lighthouse keeper was collecting flowers to offer to the Lord.
“If you are searching for Poonkuzhali, she is not here. She must be roaming somewhere in the forest, chasing deer.”
He roamed around the forest for a while, but could not find her. He roamed around the beach shore, but of no avail.
He suddenly had an urge to bathe in the sea. He also thought it would be a good idea to lose the fear of water, if he was to cross this large expanse of sea. He placed his waist cloth on the beach and stepped into the water. He then walked some distance into the sea. Poonkuzhali was right. The depth was not more than his waist level. He kept walking, when he suddenly realised that he had come too far from the coast. He panicked. He turned around and slowly started walking back to the shore, when he saw Poonkuzhali on the beach.
He saw her looking through his clothes. She had found his waist cloth and the scroll. “Ey! Poonkuzhali. Those are my things. Please do not touch them.”
He was not sure if she could hear him, over the sound of the crashing waves. He started running towards her. She saw him running towards her and started running herself. She started running away from the lighthouse and towards the forests.
He fell down a couple of times in the water, but somehow got to the shore. He started running towards her. Just like the previous day, he found it really hard to keep up with her. She ran past a herd of deer, which panicked and ran helter-skelter. He had to catch her before she entered the forest. He would never be able to find her in the forest. But he could not. She entered the forest and Vandhiyathevan followed. And just as he had expected, he lost sight of her. He searched for her in vain. He had bruises all over his body by now. He kept returning back to the same place again and again. He was hopelessly lost.
He stopped beneath a tree. His pouch fell from above. He looked up and saw Poonkuzhali. “Check if your scroll and your money are all there.”
“I have never seen a mad girl like you.”
“I had to do this. Else, you would not have come to the forest. You would have gone to the lighthouse. Climb this tree and see what is happening at the lighthouse.”
He climbed the tree and saw in the direction that she was pointing. There were about ten horses and several soldiers. They must be Pazhuvettarayar’s soldiers searching for him.
“Poonkuzhali, thank you for saving me. You have done me a great service. I will never forget this.”
“Oho. I see that you have a sense of gratitude too.”
“Please do not generalise all men to be a bad lot.”
“Enough with the gratitude. Now listen to what I am going to say carefully.”
“Earlier in the morning, your friend, the Vaidhiyar’s son, wanted to collect herbs. So, I offered help and brought him to this forest. He soon started making advances at me. I told him that you had already beaten him to it. He became very upset and told me to reconsider. He said that you were a fugitive and were running away from the law.”
“At that time, we heard the sound of horses. Instead of running away from the horses, he walked towards the riders. He negotiated with the soldiers, that if he showed them where you were, they should let him go free.”
“Two-faced rogue. But then, why did you take my clothes and run? You could have told me all this on the beach.”
“If I had not run like that, I would not have been able to get you here to the forest. You would have wanted to go and fight the soldiers. Or perhaps the soldiers may have over-powered you.”
Vandhiyathevan felt ashamed that he had initially thought this girl to be mad. She was indeed very intelligent.
“I cannot describe how big a help you have rendered me. I just want you to help me a little more. Please take me to Lanka. I assure you that I am not going there for any illegal reason. Please help me.”
“What would you give me if I do help you?”
“I would not forget your help. I would do anything that you command.”
“Is that a promise?”
“Yes. I will never forget this promise.”
“Ok. Then I will ask for the favour later, when I require it.”
She took him to a secluded mandapam inside the forest.
“A cheetah used to live here. I killed it and made this mandapam my home. Whenever I want to spend some time alone, I come here.”
“Wait here until dark. I will come and get you. I will also try and bring some food for you. We will have to set sail within the first hour of darkness.”
“Do not step out on any circumstance – whatever be it – even if you hear human voices or horses or wild animals. I will make the sound of a cuckoo. Come out only if you hear me make that sound.”
“Would there be any wild animals?”
“After I killed the cheetah, I have not seen any. There might be the occasional fox or wild pig.”
“I left my spear and knife at the lighthouse.”
She went behind a pillar, retrieved a sharp weapon and gave it to him.
“I have not seen a weapon like this. What is this made of?”
“It is made of the bones of a big fish. I used this to kill the cheetah.”
“I will wait for the sound of a cuckoo.”