It was a hot, sunny afternoon and the sun was radiantly scintillating in the bright blue sky. It was the last paper of the final exams and Abir a fifteen year old boy was walking home after giving his final paper, there were groups of happy children standing by the road, merrily chatting with their friends, glad to be free from the exams and discussing their holiday plans. “Abir wait for me! I’m coming with you as well,” said someone hastily. Abir turned around and saw a tall, black haired boy; he had a freckled face and chocolate brown eyes. It was Abir’s friend Avi, both Avi and Abir lived in the same neighborhood and would often walk home together. “You didn’t intend to leave me behind, did you?” Avi asked grinning. “I would have, if you hadn’t showed up on time, where have you been?” Abir questioned scowling. “My apologies, it was really rude of me to keep ‘prince’ Abir waiting, but I have bought us some raw mangoes and would like to present it to you,” said Avi teasingly. “Come on already,” said Abir giving Avi a friendly punch. “By the way my father won’t be coming to pick us up today, is uncle coming?” Avi asked. “Oh, I’m afraid he won’t be able to come as well,” replied Abir. “I guess then we’ll have to walk our way home,” said Avi. After saying so they walked down the dusty, grey road enjoying their mangoes; the roads were busy as usual with the cars racing and honking, pedestrians trying to cool off under the trees and people gathering around lemonade stalls. After walking for some time, they turned to a less crowded road, towards the foothills of a mountain. On their way they came across a placid lake filled with beautiful white lotuses, as Abir and Avi still had a long way to go they decided to rest for some time. They found a spot under a shady banyan tree and finished eating their mangoes. “We did it, we survived the exams,” said Avi stretching his hands. “Yes, it feels so good, now that we don’t have to worry about anything,” said Abir leaning his back against the tree. They watched the sun slowly go down with its brilliant colors, there was a peaceful silence with a soft gust of wind, but it was soon broken by Avi. “Let’s head home now, before it gets dark, the leopard won’t be too pleased to see us,” said Avi giving Abir a lopsided smile. “Hold up now, there is a leopard in the mountains!” Abir exclaimed surprised. “Lower your voice and keep walking, I’ll tell you everything,” said Avi in a whisper. “Alright, but how come I don’t know anything about this leopard of yours?” Abir asked in an urgent whisper. “No one knows, it’s a little secret between the three of us,” said Avi winking. “Three? Who is the third person?” “Well it’s my grandpa,” answered Avi. “Tell me the whole story,” said Abir beaming. “Not now, we’ll meet up after dinner and discuss everything, as for now heading home as soon as possible is a wiser option. Let’s go through the jungle we’ll reach there a lot faster,” said Avi looking at his watch. They increased their strides as they climbed the steep jungle road, the vivid colors of the sky were now turning black and both of them were sweating from the trek but finally managed to reach their destination. “Why do we live on a mountain again?” Avi asked collapsing on the grass. “Stop complaining and get up you lazy bones, accept it you are out of practice,” chuckled Abir. “No I’m not,” said Avi jumping onto his feet. There were a few houses located close to each other; Abir and Avi’s houses were a part of them. “Come to my house after dinner and I’ll explain everything you,” said Avi. “Okay, I’ll be there,” replied Abir. They did as they had planned and both of them met up at Avi’s house. “Come in, grandpa is waiting,” said Avi and both of them walked towards grandpa’s room. “Ah! Abir how were your exams?” Grandpa asked. “They were good grandpa, but can you please tell me about the leopard, I want to know about it,” said Abir excited. “Okay young lad, you seem very eager to know about the leopard. Well you see yesterday, when I was having my tea in the backyard I heard monkeys screeching, at first I thought it might be because of the dogs but decided to inspect it anyways. I followed the sound and noticed that the monkeys were behaving a bit unusual; they were frantically trying to warn the whole jungle. I looked around to find the source of this entire hullabaloo and that’s when I saw him, a majestic male leopard, lazily sitting on a far off tree, he had a kill, which I assume was a stray dog. He hadn’t noticed my presence yet; his beautiful grey eyes were coruscating in the bright rays of the sun with his stately body covered with black rosettes. I did not want to intrude in his territory so I slowly backed off and came back home,” narrated grandpa. “Whoa! Grandpa that’s simply awesome!” Abir said enlivened from the story. “Indeed my boy! Leopards are truly magnificent creatures,” said grandpa. The three of them discussed the story for some time; Abir then thanked grandpa and stepped out of the house with Avi. “Abir, why don’t we go to the forest tomorrow and find the leopard,” suggested Avi. “I’d love to, but do you think we could find it and it’s not safe either,” said Abir. “We’ll be safe if we keep our distance and respect it besides grandpa saw the leopard yesterday and I don’t think he could have gone any further, bring your camera with you,” answered Avi. “Okay, I’ll be here at dawn with my camera,” said Abir enthusiastically. They wished each other good night and parted their ways, oh his way home Abir was full of exuberance, that night he barely slept, and as dawn approached he packed his bag pack with two bottles of water, fruits and hung his camera around his neck. “Mum, where’s dad?” Abir questioned. “Oh, he is sleeping he had been working till late night,” answered Abir’s mother. “Okay, tell him I’ll be in the jungle photographing birds today, I’ll get home by evening, I have packed some fruits with me and Avi is going to accompany me as well,” said Abir. “All right honey, I’ll tell him, just be careful from the snakes and take good care of yourself, I want both the bottles empty when you get back home,” instructed Abir’s mother. “Okay mum I will, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine,” reassured Abir. He stepped out of his house and jogged towards Avi’s house. “Are you ready Avi?” Abir asked. “Yes, I have taken a lot of tips from grandpa which can help us track the leopard,” said Avi grinning. “Great, but what did you tell your parents?” Abir asked curiously. “I told them we were going to the forest to click some photographs and we’ll be back by evening, grandpa helped me in persuading them,” replied Avi smiling. “That’s good that you have your grandpa to back you up, I told mum that we were going to photograph birds and I think we should use the opportunity to capture the wildlife around us, even if we find the leopard or not,” said Abir. “Totally, but I feel bad for not telling them about the leopard,” said Avi. “Yes, me too, but they wouldn’t have let us go if we did,” shrugged Abir. “Agreed, we shouldn’t waste anymore time now, let’s head to the forest and to the place where grandpa saw the leopard. He told me he had seen the leopard on a tamarind tree near the rivulet,” explained Avi. “We just have to climb up a bit and then turn east; he also told me that male leopards descend a tree tail down i.e. they climb down a tree tail first, females do it the other way around, they come down head first and that is why male leopards are slower that females. So what I mean to say is if the leopard decided to chase us we know it’s a male and we’d have some hope.” “Awesome, how does your grandpa know so much about leopards?” Abir asked. “Well he was a zoologist,” answered Avi. “Oh, no wonder he knows a lot,” said Abir impressed. “They saw a small rivulet flowing downhill, the water was perfectly transparent, its bottom was filled with pebbles which glinted in the sunlight. It didn’t take them long to find the tamarind tree, it was massive with its branches shooting off in all directions. The land below it was covered with grass which swayed with the wind, the place was habituated by a variety of birds, they saw magpie robins calling out each other, yellow wagtail happily wagging its tail, purple rumped sunbirds were relishing the sweet nectar and an Indian roller was showing off its gliding tricks. Abir clicked a few pictures of the place and Avi opened up his backpack and produced a diary. “What is that for?” Abir enquired. “Um, grandpa drew me a map of this place in the diary, thought I should open it up,” said Avi. “A map would be great help, open it up and let’s see,” said Abir. “Look we are here right now, grandpa said that the leopard will probably be back here as this is a good place to rest, meanwhile let’s separate out and find for clues,” suggested Avi. “Wait, separating our paths is a bad idea, I don’t think that’ll work besides we only have one map,” said Abir. “Don’t worry about the directions, I have memorized the map so you can have it and separating would make tracking him a lot easier and efficient,” debated Avi. “Okay I give in, we’ll do as you say,” said Abir signing. “Good, if you see the leopard, photograph it, come here till noon,” instructed Avi. “Fine,” said Abir. They planned out the routes and began their journey on separate paths, they searched for pug marks or any other clues which led them to the leopard, they stayed alert and kept their ears open for alarm calls, but to no avail, the forest was in complete silence. Hours passed by and the sun was now shining right above their heads, the day was becoming hotter and hotter with the passing hours, but the tall and shady trees blocked the sunrays which kept the area below a lot cooler. Abir sat down under a tree and opened his bottle to have a drink; he hurriedly gulped the water and relaxed under the tree, it was almost noon so he decided to start his return journey, he followed the map and started walking but as he walked he noticed that the road did not seem familiar and that he was not on the correct path, he rechecked the map again but it did not help, he was lost. He put away the map and stood still for some time listening for the slightest movement and thinking of a way back, he stayed calm and walked back to the tree where he sat, he then looked around and recognized the road from where he had come from and managed to reach near the rivulet. Avi was already waiting for him near the rivulet and Abir explained the whole situation to him. Both of them had a good laugh about it. None of them saw or heard anything unusual so they decided to have their lunch and then continue their search. After lunch both Abir and Avi resumed their search and this time together. They searched for hours keeping an eye out. The sun which was on top of their heads was now slowly going down with its harlequin shades, the boys were exhausted from all the walking and dropped down on the grass looking up at the sky, the sun was setting and darkness was descending, they picked their bags and started their return journey. It was now completely dark with only the moon to guide them through the darkness. The forest looked beautiful in the silver moonlight, the ghostly yet melodious sound of the whistling thrush filled the sky, the grass beneath and the leaves above were rusting, the calm water was now gurgling and amidst all this noise they hear a growl. Both the boys stop dead in their tracks, the growl was distant but prominent. “Did you hear that?” Abir whispered eagerly. “Ye...yes I did,” replied Avi. “Should we go and check?” Abir asked. “I don’t think that’s a good option Abir, we don’t have our torches and it could be dangerous,” said Avi reluctantly. “Yes you are right,” said Abir still staring at the direction of the sound. They kept walking and safely reached their neighborhood, they saw the houses lit up and then looked at the jungle. “The forest is completely different at night, isn’t it?” Avi said. “Quiet true, but what I learned today is that it was because of the trees that we weren’t able to find the leopard easily, it was because of the trees that leopards are difficult to spot and it is because of the trees that the leopard and other animals are safe. The forest taught me to stay calm even in difficult situations,” said Abir. “Yes, it also taught us something important, that the forest still belongs to the animals and we are the guests, we must respect them and learn to coexist. The leopard is out there somewhere sitting on a tree, shining in the sliver moonlight the ghost of the forest… the predator,” said Avi. “We will find him someday, and it’s a secret between the four of us,” said Abir. “Four?” Avi asked raising an eyebrow. “Yes four, you, me, grandpa and the forest and we will protect him together,” said Abir looking at Avi. “Together,” said Avi and both of them went home happy to have heard the sound of the silent jungle.