Prologue

 

*Recherche pronounced: ruh-sher-shey

Set in heart of Africa lies a quaint little village called Recherche. This little village is unlike any other. Catching sight of this village makes you feel as if you have travelled back in time. This is a village unpolluted by factories and motorcars. Crisp fresh air is a luxury that it possesses an abundance of.

Lush green fields surround the place. In spring, flowers bloom everywhere. The fragrant scents of gardenias, orange blossoms and honeysuckle permeate the air. The crime rate in this village is practically non existence. It is a place full of laughter and happiness. This village is a safe haven to children and one of the best possible places a child could grow up in. The best part of this village is its close-knit community.

Unlike everywhere else in the world where children are becoming lazy couch potatoes and constantly complaining of boredom, the children of Recherche are happy and content. They get up at dawn and only return home tired and happy at dusk with lots of stories of their new adventures and friends.

Recherche is a village that many envy. When people think of this village, their hearts yearn to belong to a place like this. The joyous atmosphere and the carefree nature of these people is almost palpable. A place so rife with happiness and contentment that seems like heaven on earth is a place that many think to be a dream but for these people it’s a delightful reality. Money is not a problem as its charms draw many tourists year after year, to witness its gorgeous summers and springs.

There is only one problem that plagues the people of this village. Come winter and what do these children do? The weather does not permit children to be outdoors. The bitterly cold atmosphere doesn’t allow you to enjoy the outdoors and if you attempt it, you will most probably return sick and grumpy.

However, this was not a problem for the children as they loved spending winter in the house of the old woman who lived down the street. A house different from the rest of the village. The old rambling mansion that the old women lived in was at least 5 times larger than the biggest cottage in the village. It had a stream running through centre of the property and who knows what was behind the mansion. All the villagers knew, was that there was about 5 acres of land behind the mansion, all owned by the old lady. Yes, 5 acres, that’s more than twenty thousand square metres.

Rumours circulated about what lay there but no one had actually had the chance to see the other side of the mansion. Some said she had a stable back there, some said she had a pool, a real man-made pool (something quite foreign to the villagers) and others claimed that what lay there was something far more sinister.

The old lady loved 3 things, gardening, story telling and children. Her front garden was practically a tourist attraction. However, the villagers disliked this as well. The old lady grew flowers of every colour, the most unusual of them her black roses. The children of the village would occasionally be seen skipping through her garden and helping her to uproot a weed, prune a rose or pick a few flowers to give to their friends or family in Spring and Summer. This however, was done when no adults were around as to not get into trouble with their parents.

In Winter however, the children openly defied their parents and visited the old women. She would always have a feast prepared for the children and a story to narrate. Stories that would make them tremble in fear at times and laugh with glee at others, stories that would bring them to tears at or leave them starry-eyed in wonder. Her stories would always leave them anticipating and yearning for more. Oh how the children loved her! She was known to them, as they so dearly called her “Nani-Jaan.”

This was the real problem to all the parents in the village. This was a lady rumored to be a witch. Nobody knew much about her, not even how and when she came to belong to this village. Even according the oldest citizen of Recherche, the old women lived here for as long as he could remember.

She was a lady whose face was only seen by the children who frequently visited here but not a single adult knew what she looked like. She only ever came out of her house on a Monday to get groceries from the general store and even then she was always dressed in her long flowing black robe, which went from her head to her feet and her face was veiled. The villagers were all filled with apprehension whenever they saw her.No matter how much they forbade their children to visit her it just made them more persistent and determined to enjoy her company, her treats and her stories.

Winter had dawned upon the village of Recherche. If you took a peep into the mansion of the old lady, you would see her lovingly taking down a worn out journal from her shelf and gently cleaning of the dust before laying it on the table next to her rocking chair. You would see her bringing blankets and cushions to her lounge in order to set an inviting scene for her guests. You would see her flipping through her recipe book looking for new tasty treats to fatten up the children. Don’t you just wish you were a child so that you could join them, so that you can also get a peek into the life of this enigma?