With the half broken piece of the lens that was once in a metallic frame of a sailor’s binocular in his bag, he was ready for any eventuality that may befall him on his great journey. He was now packed and ready for the adventure that many had said they too wanted to go on but had backed out, some at the last minute but most in the early stages of the preparations. He didn’t mind going alone, but some of the things that others had promised to bring along would have been a great help. He had the half broken piece of the lens from the sailor’s binocular, and also the pack of cards that were in a strange language, found many months back by his elder brother from their grandfather’s trunk that they were told had been returned as a proxy for the man who had been lost in battle overseas. He, nor his brother, had not been born when that event had occurred and their rummaging of the trunk was therefore not accompanied by that sense of loss or grief that had kept the truck undisturbed till a new generation could take an objective interest in it. The cards had strange sketches in garish colours and showed human forms with their hands raised high, or holding flowers, or even some that had arms spread wide, as an invitation for a hug or a threat it wasn’t clear because the human forms all had guns strapped to their back. There were also words written in a strange language, or many languages that accompanied the pictures and perhaps made sense to someone, somewhere. The cards had once been used by the boys to play with and their grandmother had snatched them away saying they had been of no use to their grandfather and were of no use to them. But the boys had found the pack again and had kept it tucked away and out of sight.
Once again he felt for the objects he had packed in his bag and regretted not having the two things the two boys who had promised would join him were to bring. One was a little plastic horse with eyes that glowed when you squeezed it from somewhere in the middle. It was a toy, they had told him. But he felt it was a great addition to their preparation. The horse could be squeezed during their journey and the two thin red spots that darted out and went far had many uses to his fertile mind. The two spots could be shone at a distance on the many animals and other half-human forms they were sure they would encounter. The two red dots could confuse, scare, divert attention. Either would help them escape, especially as the two dots shone without revealing the source. The same could also be used to signal to each other if they got separated. Now that he was going alone, he would not be getting separated from the others, but he could have done with the other use of the toy. He felt for the flashlight and wondered if it would be as effective. Well, he would find out.
The other piece of item he missed not having in his bag was that ball attached to the end of the string. The string itself was elastic in nature and would go further than its resting length indicated. And the rubber ball at the far end would pull it as it was thrown away, and then the deceptive length of the string would suddenly stop, having let the ball take it as far as it would allow it to, and then it would pull it back with an equal or even stronger force, till the ball was back in the hands of the one who had thrown it. With that one thing he had practiced throwing it at tree trunks and branches and even puddles till he had good enough control to use it as a weapon, as a way to pull down fruits from trees before the fruits could lunge at him, and to judge the depth of water that would certainly come in their way. It had been a critical part of his planning and he couldn’t fashion an alternative as the boy who was to bring it had been the last to back out.
All that was in the past now. He was now standing at the edge of the road across his home with the backpack and a sandwich in his hand that he was munching at thoughtfully. He turned to look back at the house one more time and then ran over to the buildings at the far side and ducked under the railings and was soon past the railway tracks after jumping over the school’s boundary wall and across its field. This was the farthest he had ever gone, and everything beyond it had never been seen by him, but his brother and their friends had been there and back and had been lucky to be back as they would keep saying. They would tell them about the half-human forms, and the wide, wide lake that was so deep at points that it was said that it came out the other side of the earth, while some parts of it were so shallow that one could walk right through without even getting the socks wet. But the trick was knowing which part was which before you set a foot in. One of the friends of his brother had gone the wrong way and was now on the other side of the world, where his parents then eventually moved because they wanted to be with their son and his father found a job there and that’s where they lived now.
He now stood rooted at the point. His sandwich was long finished, the sun had just about started nearing its noon position and the distant sound of the trains chugging in at the station filled up the space he was standing in. One more step and he would be beyond the spot he had ever ventured. Wherever else he had gone, it was with his parents, or someone older. And always over a road. Here, where now abandoned sheds of the factories that had long been closed stood, was where the world suddenly turned different. This was where the path to the journey he was on would take him to the mirror. The mirror that showed you your own world, but the moment you walked into it and came out the other side, it was to a whole new world, a different place, and when you looked back, you saw nothing but steam rising from a distant volcano and you realised that you had been living on the other side of the volcano without ever knowing. His brother had told him all about that and he had till now stayed away. But then his brother and his friends had gone there often and returned, never letting him accompany them, losing nothing but a friend who luckily was alive and studying on the other side of the world. Why couldn’t he walk into that mirror too? He didn’t have the kind of friends his brother had, but he had his backpack. Most importantly, he had that piece of the lens that was critical to his plans. For his bother had said that it was only by focusing the sun’s beams on the other side of the mirror that showed the volcano could one cut a passage back. That’s why they only went there in broad daylight, they would tell him.
For the last time, he allowed himself to take a step back. And then, he took a step ahead and ran past the stretch that led him into the abandoned factory sheds and from there he took that right from the door painted red and suddenly came face to face with the mirror. A huge mirror, smeared with dust and grime from standing out in the open for years, but strangely intact despite the many occasions his brother’s gang had walked into, and then out after cutting that hole through it from the other side. He was now looking at himself, through a mirror that was stuck to the wall of a factory shed. Seemingly as a way to let the workers of the past see themselves and ensure they were all protected in their hard hats and large rubber shoes before they took the door to the next of it and walked in. But in reality, to hide a world beyond that was so different from the one on this side. A world that if it were to ever cross over to their side would mean disaster for them.
Was he ready to walk in now?
He had just taken a step forward when the sun suddenly drifted behind a floating cloud. And then another cloud — much larger and thicker and greyer — floated in. He looked up, and wondered why was that bothering him? And then it came to him. What if the sun was the same on both sides of the mirror? What if the clouds here were the same on the sky above and once inside, he wouldn’t find the sun to get its beams to converge onto the lens and form a dot on the mirror from the other side? What if he couldn’t cut that passage through when the half-humans and the fish of lifted out of the lake by the giant bats came darting for him? He looked up again, and saw the sky was now packing itself up with more and more clouds, and among them he spotted what was clearly a shape of the fish with mouths at both ends from the lake his brother had described. Another was clearly a boy tumbling, arms flailing into a larger, endless cloud, and yet another looked like the trees that he was told held out fruits that were actually blood-sucking plants the size of his football, that could eat you if attached to the trees, but were the sweetest and juiciest once plucked and kicked from the trees.
He was really missing the ball at the end of the string and the horse that shot out the red lights from its eyes. He had the lens to fight his way out, but looking up, he could see that the world from the other side had finally broken out onto their side. As clouds they were hovering above the expanse, coming over from over the shed he was facing, the one with the mirror on its wall. Hadn’t his brother warned him that if people from this side kept going over to that side they would break the barrier to seek revenge? Hadn’t his brother told him to never go there, on that day when their parents had found a pack of cigarettes in the house that no one claimed? Telling him that they forced such things on those who went inside so they would be grounded by their parents and never allowed out again?
It was only then that he noticed the many cigarette butts all around the mirror, and near the door of the factory shed. Turning on his heels, he ran back towards his house, over the railway tracks, over the stretch of the school playground, past the building and over the road and into the house
He had to warn his brother that they were coming.