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The Bravest Girl in
gasp propelled her awake from the dream. She sat up
on her bed, aware that her heart was hammering, her
throat was parched and her left leg was throbbing
again. After taking some deep breaths, she looked
outside the window by her bed. It was strangely lit
by the orange street lamp and the oak tree outside,
bent and twisted in the raging wind. It was a
storm, the first of the season. Gradually her
heartbeat returned to normal and Melanie drank from
the glass of water that her mother always kept by
her bedside. She picked up her teddy bear lying on
the floor and hugged him, pulling the covers
With reluctance, her mind went back to the dream.
She didnít really want to think about it. It
troubled her greatly. In all her eleven years,
Melanie had never had nightmares. In the dream, she
saw herself in a long tunnel, stretching on and on,
with no end in sight. An echoing swirl of wind
rushed through one end of the tunnel to another,
much like a giant seesaw. She felt the push and
pull of its opposing forces on her. A sense of
suffocation ballooned in her chest and she had the
distinct sensation of impending doom as she ran,
trying to get to the end of the corridor. And then
it happened - she felt the violent tug on her leg,
looked down and a great amorphous mass of something
attached itself to her left leg, dragging her down,
screams of terror bursting from her throat.
It was always at this point that she awoke. Her
teddy felt soft and comfortable and Melanie buried
her face in his tummy. At least this gave her a
sense of comfort. The dream was happening quite
frequently now, but she didnít want to talk to
anyone about it yet. Melanie realized that her
family would be quite amazed if she chose to speak
about her nightmare. She pictured her motherís
incredulous face, her fatherís raised eyebrows, her
younger sister Monaís open mouth if she spoke of
her dream at breakfast.
"What? You had a nightmare? I canít believe it! My
elder daughter, Melanie the Brave?" her mother
would smile, buttering her toast.
"I thought you were not scared of anything. Youíre
always telling me to be brave," Mona would say in
that irritating way she had learned from her new
friends in school.
And in that instant, Melanie knew she had only
herself to blame. When Mona started school a few
months ago, and was exhibiting the usual signs of
homesickness, Melanie had often given long lectures
to her, casting herself as the heroine who wasnít
scared of anything in the world.
She groaned softly as she recalled her loud voice
holding forth almost every hour of the day, "Mona,
I canít see what is so frightening about going to
school. Stop sniffling so much. Youíre driving
everyone crazy. I never felt this way when I
started school. I donít know why you..."
Of course, Mona would dissolve into fresh tears at
her elder sisterís heartlessness. Her arms would
tighten over the Favoured Toy of the Moment and she
would collapse at the thought that the next day,
she would be staying away from the familiar
surroundings of home and mother for two full hours.
Her mother would say a little sharply, "Mona, your
elder sister never cried when she went to school
for the first time. In fact, you should learn from
her, she is never scared of anything."
And Melanie would walk away with a swagger, feeling
taller and more important than ever.
In the half-light, she watched Mona sleeping. Her
mouth was open and her fat little legs twitched at
times. She felt a hot surge of love for this
doll-like creature. She couldnít bear to lose face
in front of her. Not after the way she glorified
herself as being unafraid of anything.
Melanie closed her eyes and thought about the
nightmare again. She knew why it kept recurring in
her mind. It all started a week ago when Melanie
was returning home from school. It was a hot day in
July, the rains had been irregular and looking up
at the sky, she had seen no sign of clouds.
Everywhere, people were sweating and heaving, their
bodies heavy with the heat. Though she had on a
large sun hat, Melanie still felt the sun beating
down on her arms and legs. Her bag was heavy, and
she puffed up the stairs to their apartment.
On the long second floor corridor, Melanie had let
her hat hang from her hand, her bag trail on the
floor. She felt thirsty and was planning to ask her
mother for a glass of cold lemonade. On either side
of the corridor, through the closed doors of the
other flats, the hum of air conditioners could be
Then it all happened so suddenly that Melanie
barely had time to think. She suddenly saw one of
the doors open and a large dog came bursting forth
with loud barks and bared teeth. Nothing worked in
Melanieís mind at that moment. She turned and ran,
the bag and hat discarded, a scream for help stuck
in her throat. She stumbled and fell, and in a
second, the dog stood on top of her and with a
large tongue licked her leg as she cowered in total
terror, watching his tail moving madly.
Footsteps came pounding and a harsh breathless
voice said, "Are you okay? I hope Robin didnít hurt
Melanie had shaken her head, her legs were
trembling and she could not have spoken to save her
life. Mr. Souzaís concerned face swam before her
eyes and she slowly tried to get up. Mr. Souza held
on to the bounding Robin firmly and said, "Let me
help you. Iím very sorry this happened. He slipped
out in a second before I could hold him. Do you
want me to take you home? Perhaps I can call your
"No, no, itís all right. I am fine. Iíll go home
myself. Please donít..."
Mr. Souza looked at her for a moment and said, "As
you wish Melanie. But I could come home and talk to
your mother. Robin meant no harm. Heís just being
friendly. Perhaps itís best if I came and explained
to your mother. Iíll go and keep Robin in my flat
and then weíll go up together."
But Melanie had insisted, "No, uncle. Really itís
alright. I am fine now. Please donít worry about
telling my mother."
And so, Melanie had not spoken to her mother at all
about this incident. She didnít want to create a
fuss, she explained to herself. But the dream
happened three days now and she didnít know how to
deal with it. How could she continue being the
bravest girl in the world if she confessed to being
scared? What would everyone think of her?
When her mother was heating up her milk in the
morning, she said, "Melanie, today I have some good
news for you. Do you want to hear it now or after
you come back from school?"
She was smiling and Melanie knew she was being
teased. Mona dipped her biscuit in her fatherís tea
and concentrated on sucking the soft part.
"Well, you know how you are always going on about
music lessons. Mrs. Souza has agreed to start your
lessons from today. So after school, you can take a
rest and go to their house for your first lesson."
Melanie smiled dutifully, but felt a sinking in her
heart. The Souzaís house? That was where Robin
lived. Would he start barking and slobbering all
over her again? Her heart quickened up again and
she looked guiltily towards her family. She was
glad no one suspected a thing. All through the day,
Melanie was quieter than usual. Her teacher, Mrs.
Tucker, asked in class, "What is the matter with
Melanie today? Not feeling well?"
She ducked her head in embarrassment. How could she
tell Mrs. Tucker what the problem was? On the one
hand, the thought of music lessons with Mrs. Souza
was so exciting. On the other hand, her fear of the
dog loomed large in her mind.
Mrs. Tucker was not one to dwell on any one student
for long. She smiled her cheerful, "Come on, buck
up!" smile and moved on, discussing the topic at
hand - how to tackle a problem in a logical way.
"Let us look at the way we can solve any problem.
It can be solved if we follow some steps. Thatís
called logic. First we look at the possibilities,
then we eliminate the least likely alternatives. We
narrow down our solutions to a few strong
possibilities. Then we determine which one fits us
best. Now I want you to write about any problem and
with the steps that I have just discussed, try to
find a solution," she said.
Everyone started scribbling after the initial
rustlings. Some students had deeply thoughtful
expressions, some were madly writing away.
Melanie wrote about her problem, about why she was
afraid to go for the much longed-for music lessons
at Mrs. Souzaís. She wrote that she was afraid of
the dog, but was even more afraid of admitting to
her family that she was scared.
"What would Mona say if she knew that I was afraid?
She would tease me unmercifully. My parents would
be very surprised indeed. How can I continue to be
the bravest girl in the world? Possibilities:
1) I could
tell my mother that I am scared.
2) Or say that
I am not so keen on music lessons any more.
3) Or I could
just go to Mrs. Souzaís house for the lessons and
face my fear of Robin. I donít think he really
meant any harm anyway."
She pondered over her words, sucking the end of her
ball point pen. The class was very quiet and from
the open window, Melanie could see the clouds
gathering like huge bags in the sky. Mrs. Tucker
smiled at her and she smiled back, her mind made
In her notebook Melanie wrote, "The first two are
crossed out. I will take the third alternative as
the best way out of this problem."
Mrs. Tucker gave her an A for the assignment and
Melanieís steps were as light as her heart as she
raced homewards, hearing the music of the rain
hitting the streets.
Moushumi Chakrabarty is the Author of
'Positive Thoughts for Writers - Tips and Resources
to Jumpstart Your Creativity and Make You Smile'
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