'Aslan Lives Here'!

'Aslan Lives Here'!

Atul and Anuj saw the grim-faced man and heard his stern warning about Aslan’s scary presence. Now, they were too scared to ask for the wayward shuttlecock that had fallen into the neighbour’s compound.

All through the day of each school vacation, Atul and Anuj enjoyed their favourite sport. As soon as their parents left for work every morning, the brothers fixed a net between gate and garage, and played badminton. The venue was not ideal. If the shuttlecock was struck far by one person and missed by his opponent, it could fly over the compound wall.

That hadn’t mattered when Mrs Hansraj lived on the other side. When the shuttle had first landed there, and the boys had sought permission to retrieve it, she had said graciously, “Whenever this happens, just climb over and collect it.” Since the wall dividing the properties was not high, that was easily managed.

If Mrs Hansraj happened to be tending her roses, she would smilingly toss the shuttle back to the boys. “Why don’t you play here?” she suggested one evening. “There’s more space.” Atul and Anuj were delighted, but disaster struck! Kind Mrs Hansraj took ill, and went abroad to stay with her son.

Shortly after, school resumed for Atul and Anuj. Only in the summer holidays did they pick up their racquets. “Avoid the backcourt,” warned Anuj, as Atul prepared to serve, but the shuttle whizzed past him and over the wall. A grim-faced young man came to the door of Mrs Hansraj’s former home. “Let this be the last time,” he snapped.

The following afternoon, the shuttle took off again. Engrossed in an exciting contest, the boys abandoned caution. Atul jumped over the wall and back. “The dragon couldn’t have seen me,” he chuckled, but he was wrong. When the boys passed the house two hours later, a board outside proclaimed: “Aslan Lives Here.”

“He’s got himself a dog!” muttered Anuj. Some years ago, he had been badly bitten by a stray, and the memory still haunted him. Atul was no less scared.

“Isn’t Aslan the benevolent lion of the CS Lewis stories?” remarked Anuj that night. Atul nodded. “That’s right, but I bet the dragon’s dog is as fierce and unpleasant as its master.’”

Armed with extra shuttlecocks, the boys played nervously the next morning. “Stick to smashes and drop-shots,” urged Atul, but Anuj tossed high, and the shuttle vanished. “No!” yelled Atul, as his brother seemed set to leap across for a canine confrontation.

“I thought you’d like to have this,” called a pleasant voice. An elderly gentleman, with twinkling eyes, was holding out their shuttlecock over the wall. “Mrs Hansraj is my sister,” he explained. “She told me to make your acquaintance, and invite you to play in my garden. I’m Mr Raichand, your new neighbour. You may call me Uncle Sujit.”

“Then who’s the dra…. I mean…?” began Atul.

“That’s my caretaker, Raju,” said Uncle Sujit. “Terrified of trespassers, he insisted on that notice but I just couldn’t write, Beware of Aslan.”

“Then Aslan does exist!” exclaimed Anuj. Uncle Sujit stooped and stood up bearing a fat, furry, ginger-coloured cat, which he placed gently on the wall. “So this is Aslan,” said Anuj, stroking the beautiful creature that purred at his touch.

“Aptly named, don’t you agree?” said Uncle Sujit. “After all, like his fictional namesake, he’s a big, golden cat!” “Besides,” chimed in Atul, “we shall soon be entering the enchanted land – or rather, lawn – of Narnia!”

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