The Gentle Wolf

by Deepa Agarwal

On my first day of boarding school
I met a wolf.
Seven years old and bawling shamelessly,
I met a wolf.
The wolf rescued me
from my tears
when she pulled me into the warm circle of hands
she was chopping at.
Here I cut, here I break
Here I eat my wedding cake…
Her hands lost their force when she hacked at mine
reminding me, I was a new girl
whose tears had not yet dried.

We shared chocolates and jujubes on Sundays
and together we searched for God.
As we knelt in the chapel every day at break,
repeating HailMaryfullofgracetheLordiswiththee
Blessedartthouamongwomen. HolyMaryMotherofGod
Prayforus sinners.
Longing for God to come save us.
Forgive our sins.
Release us from our human frailties.
Kneeling on the gravel
savouring its punishing bite
the sharp edge of a flagellation that might make God relent.

But every night it was the Devil
who stalked me, despite the protection of my Guardian Angel
despite the magic of Holy Water faithfully applied.
Forehead, chest, left shoulder and right shoulder.
The sign of the cross, a charmed armour.
Still, my nameless sins insisted on haunting me.
Dark splotches like criminal ink
that could not be erased even with the strongest
scouring fluid of penance.

Desperate for salvation, the Wolf shared her dream
with her parents.
The dream to renounce this sinful world
seek redemption underneath the veil
and vanished from my life
in one fell swoop.

And I, I abandoned my quest,
stopped yearning for God
ignored the blackness of my sins
and shrank the Devil to a grain of dust.

But at night I often wondered
what had happened to my dear Wolf,
whose chopping hands were so gentle.
Did she find God or did she give up?
Did she discover that salvation was a mirage?

Deepa Agarwal writes for both children and adults and has over 50 books published. Among various other awards, she received the N.C.E.R.T. National Award for Children’s Literature in 1993 for her picture book Ashok’s New Friends, while her historical fiction Caravan to Tibet was on the IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Honour List 2008. Her work has been translated into several Indian and foreign languages. Her latest titles are The Begum (Penguin Random House India), The Teenage Diary of Nur Jahan (Speaking Tiger), Blessed (Hachette India) and Kashmir! Kashmir! (Scholastic India).

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