By Candy Kane (Devon, PA)
Candice was up before the sun was. She had been thinking about this day for a full week. Today, Mombo was taking her to the Tyler Arboretum, where they would be free to spend most of the day walking and seeing the trees and leaves and maybe, some animals. Mombo loved the woods and Tyler Arboretum had 650 acres of woods. It would be quite an exploration.
Candice dressed, making sure to wear her hiking boots that Mombo had bought her. She quickly ate the breakfast her mother had made for her brother Carter and her. She was so excited she could hardly eat.
“Candice, you must eat something,” her mother said.” Mombo will be here soon and she won’t wait for you. When Mombo is ready to go, she’ll just leave, if you’re not ready. Oh, but Candice was ready. She ate her breakfast so quickly she had a lump in the chest. Then she heard a car in the driveway. She flew out the door and joined Mombo as she hopped out of the car. “Hi Mombo!” said Candice, breathlessly, “I’m ready, let’s go!”
Candice’s mother came out of the house and gave Mombo a kiss. “Hi Mom, thanks for taking Candice today. I know she would much rather go on an nature walk than to the game today.”
“We will have a great time! There is something wrong with you if you don’t have fun at the arboretum!” said Mombo. “Come on, Candice. It’s time for the adventure to begin!”
They waved goodbye to Candice’s mother and brother and off they went. They talked all the way about what they might see. Maybe deer, or an an opossum. Perhaps a raccoon or a fox and her kits. There is no end to what they would see in the woods.
Soon, they were there. Candice said, enthusiastically, “Mombo, it’s so beautiful here. Which way should we go?”
“Well, a few weeks ago I started there,” Mombo pointed to the left. ” I haven’t been this way for years, so let’s go here.”
As they walked into the woods, Candice was thrilled by all the lovely sights she saw. Mombo walked one way, then turned a bit to the right. Every part of the walk was exciting and they did see all sorts of animals. Candice brought her journal with her so she could log everything she saw. Soon, she had an entire page filled with sights she had seen.
Suddenly, Mombo shouted, “I’ve been here before! I remember this spot. Look, look at this, Candice! This tree has a hole at the bottom. Wait, it’s not really a hole, it’s a little black door. This is amazing!”
Candice looked closely at the tiny black door. It was only about a foot high and ten inches wide. She thought it was the prettiest little door she had ever seen. Of course, she hadn’t seen many tiny doors such as this. This was the first one, actually. But she was sure if there were more, they probably weren’t as nice as this one.
Mombo was consumed in thought. Soon she said, “You know, Candice, I’ve been coming here since I was younger than you. My Nanny, Margie, used to bring me here because she came here as a child. Once, I was with my brother and Margie. I ran ahead of them and found a secret underground world. I don’t know why I forgot about it, all those years ago, but I think this is it! Would you like to see what lies beneath?”
Her curiosity overcoming her fear, Candice said, “Oh yes, Mombo, I truly would, but how…”
Before Candice could finish her question, Mombo opened the door.
“I remember, now! You just start down the staircase. You just walk forward and down the steps!” And without stopping, Mombo walked into the tree, shrinking as she did.
“Wait for me, Mombo! I want to see this, too!” Candice cried.
Instantly, they were both going down the wooden staircase and into a very large, round room, with a dirt floor. There was a round needlepoint rug on the floor. The room had a kitchen at one end, and a piano at the other. A fiddle was laying atop the upright piano, as was a harmonica and a tambourine. Candice was no longer afraid, once she realized there was music down here. People who liked music had to be nice, she thought.
Candice noticed the fireplace in the kitchen, with a pot hanging from a wrought iron crane. Wonderful smells were emanating from that side of the room.
“I thought you would never come back,” a little man said, walking into the room from a doorway Candice hadn’t seen before. “I thought you had forgotten all about us.”
The little man was looking at Mombo. He had tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry I stayed away so long. I don’t have any excuse. Actually, I may have forgotten, for a bit.” Mombo seemed different. Candice looked very carefully, now. Mombo was different. Very, very different. Mombo was getting younger. As an amazed Candice watched, Mombo, her very own grandmother, was now younger than Candice!
“Mombo, what’s happening? How can this happen? Are you still Mombo, now?”
“Yes, sweetheart, I’m just the same, why do you ask? I’ve always been the same person.” Mombo said, confused.
“But look, look in the mirror! You’re little. Your hair is really blonde and you don’t have any wrinkles anymore!” Candice shouted in alarm.
The little man smiled and said, “None of those things matter, down here. We all look better in this light.”
Candice took a good look at the little man. He wasn’t very old. In fact, he wasn’t much older than Carter and Carter was ten years old. Why had she thought he was an old man? And what had happened to her grandmother?
The little man took something from the pot and placed it in front of Candice. She didn’t think she was hungry, but the aroma was so enticing, she found herself gobbling the food. As she did, she looked up at the ceiling. She saw the bottom of carrots and asparagus, potatoes and turnips, parsnips and onions. But just the bottoms. Then, she saw the little man jump up on the counter and snip off a piece of carrot and throw it in the pot. He and Mombo talked and laughed. Candice was lost in the deliciousness of the meal, but she did hear a few words and realized they seemed to be talking like old friends.
Soon, a little woman joined them in the room. Again, Candice realized that this woman was looking younger than she had two minutes ago. Mombo was deep in conversation with the little man/boy, while the little woman/girl sat down at the piano. She started playing tune with a slow beat. Soon the man/boy picked up the fiddle and started playing, too. Mombo handed the tambourine to Candice and played the harmonica herself. The little people played faster and faster. Soon they were all playing and dancing to a wild beat. This went on for what seemed a few hours.
“Mombo, this is the best place I’ve ever been.” Candice said, dancing and twirling, madly. “I don’t ever want to leave. I love the music!” Soon, Candice looked around and saw many children her age and younger, dancing as wildly as she was. They danced for hours and then the music got slower and slower. Candice had been dancing for the last few minutes with her eyes closed. When she opened them, the other children were gone and just Mombo, the woman/girl and the man/boy remained.
“I think it’s time for you to take Candice back to her mother,” the man/boy said.
“I know you’re right, but I so hate to leave. I don’t want to forget this place, again.”
“You won’t,” said the man/boy. “You’ll keep it in your dreams and in your heart. And some day, when you need me, I’ll be here and we can dance again.”
Candice started to cry. “I don’t want to leave. I want to keep dancing with the other children. I want to hear more music.”
The little woman/girl spoke for the first time.
“You have a family to go home to. The children you saw today had no one. We’ve made our own family here. We dance and sing and cook lovely meals. We will always be here, if you really need us. You can come back and visit the world that lies beneath.”
They said their goodbyes and walked up the wooden staircase. Mombo led the way. As they climbed, Candice noticed Mombo’s hair changing color. Mombo turned to help Candice out of the tree. Mombo was aging. Her wrinkles were coming back. As soon as they reached the foot of the tree and closed the door, Mombo was back to the grandmother she knew.
“What a fabulous adventure! Wasn’t that the most fun ever, Candice?” Mombo gushed.
Candice thought of the last few hours. “Mombo, wait. I want to write all of this down, before I forget it.”
“Candice, how could you forget this day?” Mombo questioned. “You can write about it when you get to the car and sit down. For some reason, my feet are killing me.”
“Do you think it’s from all the dancing, Mombo?” Candice wondered, as they continued to walk back to the car?
“Don’t you mean hiking, Candice. We couldn’t very well dance in the middle of the woods, even though it would be great fun. But there’s no music.” Mombo stated.
Candice thought for a moment. Why did she say ‘dancing’. She must be very tired.
“I think I’m going to sleep on the way home, Mombo.”
“I think that’s a good idea, Candice. The hike made me very sleepy, too. I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.”
And that night and for many nights that followed, Candice dreamed of music and children dancing and carrots that grew through the roof. Of men that were boys and women that were girls and a little girl that reminded her a lot of Mombo. As the years flew by, she had fewer and fewer of those dreams. But when people disappointed her or made her sad, she would dream a dream that made her happy. She would dream of going to a place of music and friendship, of youthful joy. She would let her dreams take her back to the land beneath.