A Rainbow Trip.
"Ray-Ray, come back!!" I shouted after my little brother who had disappeared behind the thick undergrowth in the woods.
It had been raining for a good number of days and our town was starting to get very depressing. the adults had a hard time going to and returning from work; traffic was a pain; kids were getting colds and fevers, the ones who were not sick found it stifling to stay indoors; teenagers were coming up with destructive hobbies, much to their guardians' horror, since they had to vent out their inexhaustible energy somewhere; the roads were starting to show signs of wearing out and restaurants were suffering the brunt of cranky customers, the few who cared to venture out in that dismal weather.
Then, surprise of surprises, the sun broke through the grey clouds while it was still pouring this morning!! It was a wonderful sight to behold toddlers and teenagers dancing and squelching in the muddy lawns as the sun filled everything with its golden rays.
And there is was. A magnificent, seven-colored rainbow in the sky!
My little brother Raymond screamed in excitement as he practically begged me to take him to the end of it.
"Why do you want to go to the end of the rainbow, Ray-Ray?" I asked, knowing the answer already.
"To see the le-le-lepcron!" he stammered as cute as a five year old could.
I laughed heartily as I ruffled his head of brown curly locks. My little brother was a bundle of inexhaustible energy. Perhaps there might be some method to harness the extra energy radiating from toddlers to meet the energy demands of our planets. Hey, just saying!
"It's Leprechaun, you silly little guy." I corrected him.
"That's what I said, Ritsi, lepcron!" Ray-Ray was making me grin from ear to ear. He would outgrow his lisp someday and start calling me correctly with my nick-name, Richie. So far, he'd gotten to 'Ritsi' which is completely fine by me… considering he doesn't let anyone call me with his special 'name' and gets really mad when people imitate his lisp. I hate it too.
And only I get to call him Ray-Ray too.
I picked up my bouncing ball of energy of a little brother and tried to give him a noogie, but he was a smart little fellow and was squirming around in my hold as he tried to escape my attacks.
"Who told you about leprechauns Ray-Ray?" I asked, tickling him at the soles of his feet.
"You- heeheehee- stop it, hehe… stop it Ritsi!!" he panted between fits of giggles.
"Not until you tell me who told you about them!" I laughed as he tried to fight me, giggling hysterically at the same time.
"You did! You told me!! Heeheehee!!! Now stop it Ritsi! Pl-pl-please!" he managed to answer.
"That's right big guy." I tweaked his nose.
I adjusted him in my arms so that he was dangling at my side. I told him that it was just a story and that Leprechauns don't exist. He began to argue as I told him there was no pot of gold at the end of the rain-bow either.
We were still squabbling as we got into the kitchen to get some snacks. I sat him down on the kitchen counter from where he began to voice his opinions on Leprechauns and begged me to take him to the woods where the rainbow's end seemed to touch the tree-tops.
I was trying in vain to dissuade him from going to the woods. With a resigned sigh, I gave in. we packed some food and after taking our parent's permission, set out on our hike to the woods.
As we walked along the trail, Ray-Ray started to tell me his plans for the future. Yep, you read that right. My little brother was a wise little wee lad.
"I want to be just like my big brother." He spoke merrily.
"Really?" I smirked, though I felt my heart warming up on hearing that dainty confession. We were always making each other's lives miserable even though it was never anything serious. But this was the first time he'd told me that. "And why does little Ray-Ray want to become like Ritsi?"
"'cause Ritsi is an awesome big brudder." He chimed.
I was left speechless. For a little guy, he sure knew how to weave his way into a nineteen year old boy's heart. I was already in my teens when Ray-Ray arrived, so our relationship was almost like a parent-child one instead of the brotherly kind.
We were deep into the woods by that time and I checked my compass from time to time to make sure we were headed the right way. My heart felt heavy when I realized I might have to take a distressed little Ray-Ray home after he found there were no Leprechauns. I also doubted we'd reach the end of the rainbow. After all, a rainbow was nothing but the spectral display of light caused by refraction of sun rays through tiny drops of rain suspended in the air. Or something like that.
Suddenly there was a loud, muffled thud nearby, making us both jump. I could see the fear in my brother's eyes and the hair on my neck stood on its end, but when you are a big brother you aren't supposed to be scared. Well, you could get scared, but there was no way you had permission to let it show. I took Ray-Ray's clammy hand which had gotten cold in my own trembling one. I hated making him see like this- I wasn't the best person around to be called in an emergency.
In a matter of seconds, my hands stopped trembling. I attributed it to the fact that I was distracted by my brother's fear to be conscious of my own but it didn't seem to be the case. I didn't have time to argue with myself. I had to get us someplace safe.
I picked up my brother as soundlessly as possible and motioned to keep quiet. He nodded and put a finger on his lips imitating the "shush" sign. I slowly began to walk back the way we had come. With each step I began to grow more scared but for the sake of my brother I didn't show any of it. Ray-Ray had put both his arms around my neck and clung on tightly.
I had not gone far when I stopped short. A tree had fallen across the only trail I knew and was blocking the path completely. It was a big tree and walking around it was not possible. Climbing over its wide trunk seemed like a crazy idea for me, let alone a little kid. I mentally kicked myself for not having taken any knives or machete with me. I hadn't thought we'd get so deep inside the woods. I set Ray-Ray on the ground that looked up at me with hopeful eyes.
Boy, if only I could slap myself then and there. I felt ashamed to be looked up to with so much faith when in reality I was just a goof-ball. If only I could make everything alright, I'd never let my brother get into trouble again, I told myself.
"Aren't we going to see the lepcron?" Ray-Ray asked timidly.
I looked the curious brown eyes that were staring up at me with so much hope. How could I refuse?
"Sure big guy. C'mon." I relented, telling myself I might find another route back home if not a leprechaun.
We came to a small clearing presently. Ray-Ray was growing tired so we stopped to eat something. I looked on the horizon over the tree-tops. The rainbow was still there. Strange, I thought, they usually tend to disappear slowly and don't stay visible for a long time. We'd been hiking for a few hours now. I contemplated on returning the same trail we'd come; maybe I'll try climbing over the fallen tree. It will be difficult, but it may be possible.
"Let's head home." I said quietly. I purposely avoided looking at my little brother's face. I already knew what he going to look like.
"But Ritsi, you said you were gonna take me to see the lepcron." It was evident from his voice that the tears had already manifested.
"I know little brother. But we need to get back now. It's getting late and soon it will be dark," I tried to reason with him, "and there are scary things in the woods."
"NO! I want to see the lepcron!!" Ray-Ray shouted and ran off.
"Ray-Ray, come back!!" I shouted after my little brother who had disappeared behind the thick undergrowth in the woods.
I ran after him, leaving our supplies behind. I intended on catching him and taking him home with me. I hated using force but sometimes my five-year-old brother could be a handful.
My anger dissipated when I realized I couldn't find him anywhere. I started to call him, shouting at the top of my lungs. The woods had gotten dense now and I couldn't see much far. The thick undergrowth made in impossible to see where my feet were, and the thick blanket of the tree's canopy had reduced the brightness of sunlight by half. There were a zillion places where a five-year-old could hide if they chose too.
Then I heard voices. I heaved a sigh of relief, grateful that I'd found my trouble-making brother at last. Then a dreadful feeling came over me. Who was he talking to?
I stealthily approached the direction from which the voices were coming. But as I got closer, the sound of the voices either went farther, or changed direction. And I was not drunk.
I began to comb around the place not at all caring if I came across some wild animal. I had no idea where I'd found that sudden burst of courage. All I had on my mind was my little brother and getting back home. If it was any more possible, the forest grew even thicker and soon I was having trouble walking through the dense growth. I was pretty mad by now and there was nothing more I wanted than to find my annoying brother, give him the scolding of him life and drag ourselves home. Fatigue was starting to overcome me and I was panting heavily for breath.
Just when I thought I couldn't go any further, the ground suddenly gave away and I tumbled down a short distance before landing in a small square area which was neatly cleared of any bushy vegetation- trees still loomed above me, but the place was devoid of any scrubs or ground vegetation and looked as if someone had been maintaining it that way.
I looked around the place before turning my head upwards and noticing the long vines hanging from the branches of the enormous trees. I suddenly felt very small. My heart began to beat faster and I soon realized that I was lost.
I threw furtive glances around the place. Not a sound, not another living creature that moved. Then something brushed past my calf and I screamed in terror. I jumped and turned to look what it was. A vine. A silly vine. Thank goodness no one was there to witness me scream like a girl.
Then something weird happened. The vines began to move. They stretched and lowered themselves from the tall trees whence they were suspended and began to encircle me. I began to walk backwards and swatted the ones that had come too close for comfort. Suddenly they curled around my body, my arms and legs, hindering any movement I tried to make. Slowly, the vines retreated and I was hoisted in the air. I was so terrified that I didn't care how I looked any more. I was screaming and crying for help to anyone who might hear.
"Please let my brother go."
I whipped my head to the sound of that familiar voice. Ray-Ray was standing a few feet below me. He was talking to someone nearby. I felt my heart hammering against my rib-cage as I realized I couldn't see who he was talking to.
"No, he is a nice person. He is the one who brought me here. Ritsi is the bestest secret-keeper, he won't tell anyone."
And I fell back to the ground in a heap, as the vines released me and retreated gently. I jumped to my feet and grabbed Ray-Ray. I held him again my chest as my anxiety dissipated. He was laughing the whole time as though someone was telling him an amusing story. Only I couldn't see or hear this person.
Ray-Ray had to be imagining things.
Or maybe I was going mad.
I shook my head, trying to clear the thoughts off of my tired mind. I set my brother back on the ground and checked for injuries. He said he was fine. Then he suddenly threw his arms around me, looked up and smiled a big, missing-a-few-teeth-at-the-front grin.
"Thank you Ritsi. You are the awesomest big brudder ever."
I looked at him quizzically, though I couldn't help not smiling.
"Why do you say that?"
He pointed at something a little distance in front of me. I tried to locate said object but saw nothing, only the empty ground and surrounding trees.
"For taking me to see the lepcron. He is very nice. His name is Larry."
Oh, alright. I looked back at the spot he was pointing at. Nope. Nothing I could see resembled a little guy in a green suit with a hat. 'Larry the Leprechaun. Sounds fitting', I mused.
Wait. Did I just acknowledge that? I must be really tired.
I kneeled down in front of Ray-Ray and put my hands on his shoulders. I asked him to stop imagining things and also to stop freaking me out. He frowned.
"I am not imging anyfing Risti!" he protested with tears in his eyes.
I took back whatever I said and apologized to my little brother. The last thing I wanted was being stuck in the woods for the night and not having anything to protect ourselves with in case we crossed paths with anything. The woods did not house any wild animals as per our town's brochure, but right then I was ready to believe anything. Except leprechauns, of course. I looked around and saw darkness was descending fast. I decided to humor my brother.
"Listen Ray-Ray. Can Larry show us a way out of here?" I asked skeptically.
"I'll ask him." My brother sniffled. At least he had stopped crying now.
He turned around and repeated my words to some unseen audience. He turned back to me and nodded, a big smile adorning his chubby face. I smiled back, ready to listen to what 'Larry' told him. I didn't have to ask.
A golden disc appeared from the spot he had been pointing at. The golden disc began to grow brighter and bigger and slowly began to unravel itself like a roll of ribbons. A long, golden colored wispy tail formed and it began to waft through the air, gliding gracefully through the trees and dense bushes. I was dumbstruck as I watched on.
"Larry's telling us to follow it." Ray-Ray's excited voice brought me back to reality.
I must be an idiot to follow it.
"Larry's saying you are not an idiot and that you should hurry." Ray-Ray was giggling now. He sure enjoyed his brother being made to look like a goof.
I said nothing as I picked him up and began to walk, following the trail of the golden ribbons. I kept quiet the entire time, while Ray-Ray chatted excitedly with some unseen companion. They say kids can see certain things because they are innocent and pure of heart. I felt all my logic and grownup senses stupefied as I realized we were indeed getting closer and closer to home. Maybe there is some truth behind the legend of Leprechauns.
What I found disturbing was that I'd only heard and read nasty things about Leprechauns. Things one shouldn't tell an innocent kid. So why was this one helping us?
"I can see it! I can see it!" Ray-Ray bounced excitedly in my arms.
I saw that we were indeed within walking distance of our house. It appeared as a tiny enclosure from where we stood. A sight for sore eyes.
The lights were ablaze in the front yard and people were milling around it. Our parents must have called them to look for us. I could see some police cars too. I felt guilty for making such a mess.
I felt Ray-Ray tugging at my tee. I set him down on the ground.
"Larry's saying you didn't do anything wrong, Ritsi." He relayed Larry's words to me, "It happens to the best of us."
I turned to look at him. The wisps of golden light had rolled back into a glowing disc.
I suddenly stopped fighting against the idea of superstitions that the adult voice in my head was screaming. Then I approached the golden disc slowly.
"Thank you…", I began unsurely, "… Larry."
The glowing disc fidgeted a little, before getting stable again.
"Larry's saying that you are welcome", Ray-Ray informed me, "and he is saying thank you for believing in him."
I smiled, nodding my head at the golden disc suspended effortlessly in the air in front of me.
A fine string if golden thread unraveled from the disc and came towards me, pulsating gently, waiting for a response. I held up an open palm and it came to settle on it. It swirled around for a few seconds forming many shapes before finally settling down to form a final one. A golden four-leaved clover.
I stared at it in surprise. Why did Larry give this to me?
"Larry's saying bye-bye, Ritsi." My little brother's voice was sad. I pulled him close and looked at the glowing disc in front of us.
"Thank you for keeping my brother safe Larry." I smiled gratefully.
"You are welcome, Richard." A big, grownup voice boomed in my ears, taking me by surprise. I looked at Ray-Ray. He hadn't heard it.
Before long, the golden disc waned out and vanished completely. The only light that would be our guide was the light of the moon and it was enough to get home.
I turned back to Ray-Ray who was sniffling softly. I kneeled on the ground and hugged him. His tiny arms held on in a vice-like grip as I comforted him, telling him we'd see Larry again. Them I remembered Larry's gift.
"Hey kiddo, look what you friend gave me." I opened my palm to reveal the golden four-leaved clover.
Ray-Ray's eyes immediately lit up and he smiled.
"I got one too", he beamed, "What does yours say?"
"What do you mean?"
"Turn it over Ritsi," Ray-Ray guided me like a grownup, "On the back."
I did. And what a surprise!
On the back of Larry's gift, engraved in neat calligraphy were the words- The Courageous One.
"Look at mine!" Ray-Ray held up his hand.
I took it from him and turned it over.
The Pure Heart.
"Let's go home Ray-Ray." I took my brother's hand as we began to walk back home.
"I want to become just like you when I grow up Ritsi."
"Nah Ray-Ray… you be just who you want to be."
Somewhere from within the woods, I heard Larry laughing heartily. The look on Ray-Ray's face confirmed he'd heard it too this time.