Authors: Georgia Byng
“The best hotel in town is in what used to be a palace!” Ojas exclaimed. “This should be very, very nice,” he added, waggling his head from side to side in the typical Indian way.
he Bobenoi Palace sat in the middle of Jaipur. It was a small, beautifully kept palace belonging to a very rich Indian family. As soon as word reached them that Waqt was making his way there, the father of the household had horses harnessed and his wife arranged for picnics to be hurriedly made. Waqt’s temper was legendary, as was his power, and the family had no desire to meet him. Taking only the basics for travel, they, their six children, and their helpers piled into their biggest carriages and set off for a country house in the hills.
When Waqt arrived, there was no one in residence. But the servants in the palace welcomed him. They moved furniture out of the high-ceilinged drawing room and put a large bed in it so that he didn’t have to
go to the low rooms upstairs to sleep. They emptied the pond of goldfish, cleaned it thoroughly, and prepared to bring buckets and buckets of hot water out to it should Waqt want a bath.
The servants watched as two skinny, messy-haired girls, aged about ten and three and looking like sisters, got down from an elephant and went inside. One of them carried a baby. There was no sign of their mother.
Waqt, carrying his velvet sack of crystals, led his captives through the hall and out into the ornamental gardens. He ordered that a cushion and rugs be brought outside. Soon he was reclining lazily, having a betel-nut leaf rolled for him. He popped the paan into his mouth, patted his bag of crystals, and eyed his trophies. Then he picked up his notebook and clicked his fingers. “Three-year-old Molly, wake up!” The small child came to.
In her trance, she’d registered the swing at the bottom of the palace gardens. She blinked and spotted it again. And immediately sprang up to run down the lawn.
“COME BACK HERE!” Waqt yelled. But the little Molly didn’t hear him. The whole of her mind was filled with the idea of the swing. “Oh, I give up,” said Waqt in disgust. He turned to the other Molly.
“Ten-year-old Molly! Awaken and remember!”
The ten-year-old Molly was now completely aware of her surroundings. The last time she’d been allowed out of her trance she’d been at the Red Fort, being tested. She’d been very confused then, but now she felt clearheaded. For, since then, she’d absorbed their journey and what had happened. Molly had worked out some basic things.
The first was that she’d been hypnotized, the second that they were in India, the third that they’d traveled backward in time. She knew that the crystals around the maharaja’s neck were for time traveling. She’d deduced that the small girl and the baby with her were both herself. And she was sure that the maharaja was bad and that the big girl who looked like her, who’d appeared by the fire and taken the six-year-old, was on her side. For she remembered as a six-year-old being saved by the older girl and being taken to an elephant and being looked after. Molly knew that she must help this older Molly if she possibly could.
“Right,” said Waqt, stretching his legs out, “today I want to find out how good your hypnotic skills were before you found out about hypnotism. When the baby Waqta is grown, I want to teach her, so today I’ll practice on you.” Molly stared at the three-year-old dangling from the swing. “In a minute you will look into
my eyes,” said Waqt, “and when you do, you will try to protect yourself from the strong hypnotic look that I give you. Lookup.”
Molly reran in her head what Waqt had just said.
“… I want to find out how good your hypnotic skills were before you found out about hypnotism…”
This sounded as though one day she would know a lot about hypnotism. Was the older girl a brilliant hypnotist? Was that girl her future? Molly looked at the giant and was reminded of all the nasty people she’d met in her life: Miss Adderstone, Edna, and Mrs. Toadley, her mean teacher at school. Molly was often getting into trouble with her, and the way she dealt with it was to let her mind float away as though she were dreaming. So this is exactly what she did now. When she looked up into the giant’s eyes it was as if the eyes in her skull didn’t belong to her. She felt herself looking as if from behind them, at a safe distance. The maharaja’s outline was blurred.
“Look into my eyes!” Waqt’s voice sounded as though it were coming up a drainpipe.
Molly held herself in this suspended state, not letting herself properly interact. Her technique proved very successful. For as Waqt stared at the girl, he found that her eyes weren’t engaging. He couldn’t penetrate the pupils. They were shielded. How she’d done this,
he wasn’t sure. Part of him was admiring and full of excitement for his adopted baby’s future. The other part of him was uneasy, for how would he ever be able to put this girl back into a trance? Then he relaxed. He could always go ten minutes back in time and sort it out. Anyway, he concluded, she wasn’t a threat, even unhypnotized—he’d just have her guarded. So that she didn’t leave any big clues for the older Molly, he would keep her blindfolded.
And so the ten-year-old found, to her great surprise, that Waqt was no longer interested in keeping her in a trance. Cautiously she let herself come down from her cloud. But before she had an opportunity to look at her surroundings, she found a blindfold being tied over her.
This is why ten-year-old Molly never saw how beautiful the Bobenoi Palace was. But she could taste, smell, feel, and hear.
Blindfolded, she ate a delicious Indian lunch and listened to the birds singing. She heard soothing Indian music and the three-year-old telling the maharaja that she wanted some sweets. As she sat with her pink blotchy legs stretched out in front of her it struck her that, apart from not having her friend Rocky and Mrs. Trinklebury to talk to, this place was pretty good—better than the orphanage. The only
problem was the mad maharaja and not knowing his plans. She wondered how long she’d have to wear the blindfold. She wondered where the older Molly was. She might appear out of thin air again soon and save her and the three-year-old and the baby. Perhaps she needed help. Molly felt she had never been much use to anyone so far in her life. She set her mind to thinking how she could help the older girl.
In the year 2000 the best hotel in Jaipur was the Bobenoi Palace Hotel. It hadn’t always been a hotel. It had once belonged to a smart Indian family.
Ojas steered Amrit to a pretty, blossom-filled courtyard and everyone dismounted.
“I wish I hadn’t swallowed that purple capsule,” Molly said quietly to Rocky and Forest as they straightened their clothes. “I don’t like the way Zackya and Waqt can track me. They could pop up any moment. But we don’t know where they are. They could be anywhere. I mean, how are we going to ever track
“Waqt won’t be able to resist teasing you,” said Rocky. “I bet he’ll leave some sort of clue. He likes playing with you, Molly. As soon as we go back to 1870, we’ll find clues. As soon as you’re back in the same time zone as the younger Mollys, and there isn’t the memory-lag thing, I’m sure you’ll remember exactly
where they went—and where they are.”
“But I’ve only got this green crystal. I can only go one way—
might get stuck back there.”
“Not if you get a red crystal once you’re there.”
“What if I don’t?”
“Well, then, you’re stuck as a duck in muck,” said Forest.
“Forest!” said Rocky. “That is not what you should have just said.”
“Er, sorry, man.” Rocky put his hand on Molly’s shoulder. “Forget it for now. We’re all tired; let’s just get a good night’s sleep.”
And so, leaving the others with Amrit, Molly and Rocky stepped up to the ornate entrance of the Bobenoi Palace Hotel. A huge Sikh with a turban and a bushy mustache emerged, looking more like a warrior than a doorman. Molly covered her scaly face with a scarf. The man smiled and bowed deeply. Molly bowed.
Inside, the hotel was cool and peaceful and very fine, with a brown and white marble checkered floor and a high ceiling. Some Japanese tourists sat around a glass table looking reverently at a heavy antique book with signatures in it. It seemed to be some sort of visitors’ book. An Indian woman in a sari that matched the bronze columns around her was standing behind a desk.
“Welcome to the Bobenoi Palace Hotel.” She smiled. “Can I help you?”
Molly’s experience was that adults never did business with children, and she’d expected a tricky hotel receptionist; so she was taken aback by the woman’s helpfulness.
“We’re not with an adult,” she said. “Well, we are but he’s not like a normal adult. I mean, he’s not mental or anything, he’s just… um… outside meditating on an elephant.…”
Rocky shot Molly a have-you-lost-your-marbles look.
The woman smiled. “What can I do for you?”
“We’d like to book three rooms, please,” said Rocky. “We can pay up front. And we’ve got a hungry elephant that needs a bed, too… obviously not in the hotel, but might you have a place in the garden where she could sleep…? The most urgent thing is that she’s very hungry. We can pay what you like for getting her some food… palm leaves, that sort of thing. I don’t suppose you keep them in the kitchen?” he added weakly.
“Well, what a tall order!” said the lady, whose teeth were like two rows of shiny pearls in her lovely smiling face. Molly and Rocky were amazed by how easygoing she was.
“Our motto here is, ‘Where we can help, we will, and where we
we will, too.’ See, there it is, written on the wall.” She pointed to a notice.
“Oh!” said Molly. “So is this a case where you can’t help but you will nevertheless try—or where you
help, so you definitely will?”
“Oh, indeed we can help! We
having elephants to stay. It is
privilege. Thank you for choosing us! Your elephant will bring us all sorts of good luck!”
“Wow—well, that’s settled then,” said Molly. She was amazed. She couldn’t imagine the hotel in Briersville accepting an elephant as a guest.
For ten minutes the lady made some phone calls and then apparently everything was under way.
“The bellboy is telling your friends to walk the elephant through to the gardens and down to the bottom where the cottages are. I will meet you down there and show you your rooms. Your elephant’s supper is on the way.”
And so they stepped out.
The hotel’s gardens were very exotic, with green parrots flapping about over the lawns and fawn monkeys hopping around in the trees. There was a large, turquoise swimming pool with statues of elephants that spouted fountains of water from their trunks. There was a bowling green and a temple-like place for yoga and a beautiful garden restaurant where people were eating under red patterned gazebos. They pointed in delight at Amrit as she plodded behind Ojas across the grass and at the puppy Petula who tripped as she tried to keep up. Ojas led Amrit to a frangipani tree, where a porter said she could be tethered.
The cottage rooms were very fine, with four-poster beds draped with colored silk. The baths were sunken, with steps down into them, and the outdoor showers were surrounded by bougainvillea-covered walls and roofed with jungly leaves. A sign said:
Molly put the new crystal very carefully down in a golden bowl on the table and threw herself onto a bed.
Little Molly did the same. Both were exhausted.
“How about this? Nice, isn’t it?”
“It’s like a fairy-tale place,” said the six-year-old.
“Hey, this is grrrrreat,” said Forest. Then, opening the minibar and pouring himself a pineapple juice, he added, “Molly, I’ve been meditatin’ on what sorta yoga poses you need to get Zackya’s silicon chips out of ya. There’s a few potions I know that will help shift that purple pill from your insides. I’m gonna talk to the chef about the ingredients. You’re gonna have a ’shift the purple pill’ supper.”
“I was thinking of having a ketchup sandwich and a glass of concentrated orange squash,” Molly admitted.
“No delicacies like that tonight. If you wanna slosh that thing out, you have to eat what I say.”