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The Bravest Girl in the World


Moushumi Chakrabarty

Melanieís loud 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 closer.

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.

Turning over, 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 heard.

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 you."

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 mother?"

"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 up.

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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