The Garden Of A Thousand Lotuses was once the playground of a prince and his consort. Today the place lies derelict and abandoned, but Chinima and her friends found it the perfect hideout to escape for a few hours in the afternoon, on their way home from school. They lived in the village nearby, where they called it the “enchanted garden”, because it is believed that fairies used to live here. Some people had also seen a few strange sightings.
The girls were too young to pay any attention to these rumours, and they had never noticed anything unusual. They just loved the beauty of the place, even with its scattered ruins, overgrown weeds, and the central pond where once a thousand lotuses had bloomed.
So one afternoon when Chinima, Gaiko and Yahuna sat at the edge of the large fountain, near the entrance to the garden, they thought they heard laughter. Puzzled, they looked around, but found no one.
As they started discussing about the source of the sound, they noticed a woman wearing a royal dress, a short distance away. Strangely her feet was above the ground, almost as if she was gliding in the air.
As she looked at them, the girls ran to her. They saw she was holding a big bunch of white flowers in her hands. She extended her arms, offering them the flowers. Chinima stepped forward to take them. Then she noticed that the woman’s hands were a blood red colour, in sharp contrast to her porcelain white skin.
“Who are you madam? And what has happened to your hands?” asked a shocked Chinima.
The woman answered softly, “I was a consort of the prince. I have been here for more than 260 years. My prince lies buried there.” She pointed out towards an outcrop, where the girls knew the noble prince’s grave was – buried in the garden he loved.
The girls stepped back. Chinima almost dropped the flowers from her hands. Gaiko blurted out fearfully, “So you are a ghost then?”
“No I am not, I never died you see,” came the answer from the woman, who looked very young despite the passing centuries. She continued to say, “I am an elemental, a nature being. I fell in love with a human being, the prince. I stayed in this beautiful Garden Of A Thousand Lotuses for his love and now I cannot go back to my world.”
When Chinima pointed out at her red hands, she explained, “The king was killed by his brother’s henchmen. In anger I killed both the men and threw their bodies in the pond where the thousand lotuses bloomed. Killing any living being is against the rules of the world from where I came, so I have been cursed with blood red hands.”
“So it was you who was laughing, we thought we heard many voices,” said Gaiko, now visibly relieved that the woman was not a ghost.
“Those were my sisters, sometimes they come to keep me company. They got scared when they noticed you so they went away.”
“We scared them !” exclaimed Gaiko, finding the idea almost preposterous.
“Yes you did, they are not comfortable around human beings,” came the reply.
Finding the whole story very tragic, Chinima asked her, “Will you always be like this? Can’t you go back to your home?”
With tears in her eyes, the nature being answered, “The day a thousand lotuses will bloom in this pond again, the energy of the place will be the same as it was before I made the colour of its water red with blood. I can then return home. However, I have lost all hope.”
Chinima stepped forward, held the red hands in her small hands, and said quietly, “I will see that you are free one day.”
It took Chinima another 23 years, but she kept her promise. It seemed fate paved the way for her. Always a good student, she got through civil services examination, and became a career bureaucrat. Rising through the ranks, when she was appointed as the tourism secretary of the state, one of her first orders was to restore the Garden Of A Thousand Lotuses, as a key project for attracting domestic and international tourists. After another 18 months, the project got successfully completed.
The evening before the grand inauguration, Chinima stood at the edge of the pond, where she knew more than a thousand lotuses now bloomed. She heard a laughter and felt the touch of a hand on her shoulder. Turning around, Chinima saw her – the ageless face now looked more beautiful, lit up by an enchanted smile. Her hands were white, almost translucent. Then she was gone.
The media and political bosses were effusive in their praises for Chinima, and the drive she showed in successfully completing in record time, a major tourism project. For Chinima, nothing more mattered of course but the fact that she could keep a childhood promise.