WHEN PUMPKIN was a little boy, life was divided between two phases. One was when Mr. Sun paid a daily visit to his home early in the morning. This normally meant it was time to get ready to go to school, to go to school, to have fun at school, to return home from school, and then to take lunch and have fun at home. The second was when Mr. Sun went to sleep and Mr. Moon took his place. Usually, Pumpkin was too busy playing with his dumper truck or racing cars on the terrace to notice when Mr. Sun and Mr. Moon exchanged places. All he knew that everything on the terrace went a little dim and Aaji, his grandmother would call him in to have biscuits or a muffin or some little snack before having a bath.
There was also a time when Mr. Sun disappeared completely for days. When Pumpkin first heard Mr. Sky make loud, awful noises as if he had a big, awful cold and scattered big, fat, cold tears, he too, shed huge, fat, warm tears from his large, shiny coal-black eyes. Mamma quickly explained that Mr. Sun was taking a bath, and the water was so hot even for him that it made him cry.
‘Just like you make a big hue and cry when you’re having bathy-bathy,’ said Mamma.
‘Oh. And are those white flashes Mr. Sky taking photos of us all?’ asked Pumpkin. Mamma simply smiled and smiled.
BUT THAT was when Pumpkin was a little little boy. Now he was a big little boy who knew that the sun rose and set everyday, the moon appeared in something called phases and come June, it was the rainy season where the streets became shiny black, the plants turned shiny green and the mud smelled funny in a nice sort of way. Yes, there was day that was followed by night, and day again after which came night.
Pumpkin loved the night. It was when he watched his favourite TV programs, Pokemon, Bey Blade and Duel Masters. It was when Aaji fussed over him feeding him all sorts of nice food. It was when Daddy sat with him at the dining table and told him not to chew food with an open mouth and make noises like a buffalo coming out of a mud pool. This normally was accompanied by the sound of a buffalo coming out of a mud pool that made Pumpkin laugh and laugh. It was when Mamma told him the most amazing bedtime stories that made his head whirl and spin as he fell asleep.
Nighttime was fun time all right expect for one thing. The Dark. Pumpkin hated The Dark. When he went to the bathroom to wash his hands after eating, The Dark would be there, waiting for him like a big bad meanie. If he went to get chocolates from the fridge, The Dark would be present in the kitchen. Fetching a book from the shelf in the passage meant encountering The Horrid Dark. Worse of all, sometimes he would wake up from his sleep and The Dark would hang over him like a big black blanket and make him cry.
Daddy and Mamma told Pumpkin that there was nothing to fear about The Dark.
‘See,’ said Daddy, stepping into The Dark bedroom and locking the door behind him.
‘Saw,’ said Mamma, when Daddy stepped out after a couple of minutes.
‘No,’ said Pumpkin.
AS TIME passed by, Pumpkin showed no sign of coming to terms with The Dark. Daddy tried to make him see the lighter side of The Dark.
‘Think of it as day without lights,’ he said.
‘Night is when everything goes to sleep,’ said Mamma who had had a tiring day at work. ‘And that includes all of you. Goodnight.’
Pumpkin’s final word on the subject before he fell asleep was, ‘bad night.’
‘Something has to be done about Pumpkin’s fear of The Dark,’ said Daddy to Mamma. ‘We can’t have him taking the houseboy everywhere he goes to switch on the lights.’
‘I suppose we can wait for him to grow older,’ joked Mamma. ‘And more importantly, taller. So he can put the lights on himself’.
‘Why don’t you buy him a torch,’ said Aaji brightly.
‘I know what would really work. Luke Skywalker’s light saber,’ said Daddy joining in the fun. ‘Think about it. It glows so Pumpkin can see in The Dark. And if there’s anybody lurking about, he can whack it with the saber.’
‘Can somebody come with me to put on the bathroom light?’ said Pumpkin, entering the hall. ‘I need to wee.’
The next night, Daddy took Pumpkin by the hand and led him into the bedroom. They sat on the bed and Daddy switched off the bedside lamp.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Pumpkin in alarm. ‘Is it time for bed? It can’t be. I’ve not eaten dinner.’
‘Pumpkin, we’re going to do a little test,’ said Daddy firmly. ‘You and I are going to sit here and see if anything scary really happens in The Dark.’
Immediately, Pumpkin inched closer to Daddy. Daddy put an arm around his shoulders, drawing him close. He began to say something when Daddy said, ‘Sshhh! Not a word. Keep quiet and observe.’
Slowly The Dark melted away and Pumpkin began to see shapes. Among them was one that stood massively and seemed to lean towards him. With a trembling hand, Pumpkin pointed his finger. Daddy looked in that direction and said, ‘Cupboard, Pumpkin.’
‘Really,’ thought Pumpkin aloud. ‘It looks like a big evil wizard with a flowing black cape made from the skin of dead black panthers.’
Even Daddy could not stop a shiver from running down his spine!
‘Okay Pumpkin, you made your point. What else do you see?’
This is what Pumpkin saw. The wrought iron footboard turned out to be a gate leading to a forest. The dressing table’s mirror was an entrance to another world. The decorative lamp hanging in the corner was a bird with cruel talons. The bookcase at the far wall was a giant’s face, and the books, his yellow, rotting fangs.
‘Did you say yellow?’ asked Daddy.
‘Y…y…yes,’ said Pumpkin, utterly petrified.
‘PUMPKIN, it’s dark in here. Are you sure the giant’s fangs are yellow? I think they’re red,’ said Daddy in a kind voice.
‘What?’ said Pumpkin with a tremor in his voice.
‘In fact, I don’t think they’re red. I think those fangs are books,’ said Daddy flicking on the lamp. ‘And they’re meant to be read.’
Light flooded the room and as if like magic, the evil wizard turned into a cupboard, the forest’s gate into a bedpost, the netherworld entrance became a mirror, the ominous bird was just a silly lamp and the yellow-fanged giant really was nothing but a bookcase grinning with books.
‘Daddy, you’re a wizard,’ said a relieved Pumpkin with a big toothy smile. He wasn’t quite sure if The Dark was actually day without lights but somewhere in his mind there was a glimmer of understanding that The Dark and its evil creatures did not really exist.
The following night, Pumpkin had another test. He was to sit alone in the bedroom in The Dark for just one minute.
‘Here. I’ve put an alarm on my mobile phone. It will ring in exactly one minute. If you have the courage to face your fear of The Dark for a minute, trust me, you can laugh in its face forever.’
Pumpkin did not say a word. He sat on the bed with the mobile phone clenched in his fist. He nodded as Daddy said, ‘I’m waiting outside the door if you need me.’
The door shut behind Daddy and now the bedroom was well and truly pitch black. Pumpkin felt his skin go cold as The Dark surged around him. He closed his eyes but that made things worse. He opened his eyes and the shapes came up in front of him. He quickly shut his eyes tight. The shapes followed him in there. Just as he was about to scream, the mobile phone began to buzz in his fist.
‘Beep, beep, beep,’ went the alarm.
‘Thud, thud, thud,’ went his heart.
‘Well, well, well,’ went Daddy.
‘Baby, baby, baby,’ went Mamma.
‘Ah, ah, ah,’ went Pumpkin. ‘I want to go wee.’
Pumpkin walked down the dark passage, turned the corner and walked in the dark till he reached the bathroom. ‘Now will someone come here and put the lights on. I can’t reach the switch,’ he said in a calm voice.