It was a bright sunny day in New York City. The azure-blue sky was dotted with white clouds that changed shape with each passing moment.
The garden around Raheja house was lined with several trees and bushes, laid with the carpet of lush-green grass all around. A light summer breeze blew in through the large window and made the white curtains flutter.
‘Thanks for the ice-cream!’ said Evie, curling her golden ringlets in her fingers and grinning at her best friend Amaira.
Short, skinny and dark-skinned, Amaira Raheja was dressed in ripped green denims and a red t-shirt. Her long black hair that usually fell to her waist were now tied in a bun atop her round head. Her cat-eye glasses rested on her sharp nose.
Amaira merely shrugged and turned towards the kitchen. Once she was sure of her solitude, she sighed and perched herself on top of the counter, trying to take as much time as possible in taking out a refill of the ice-cream. She shook herself mentally, pasted a toothy grin on her face and marched out with the ice-cream and placed it on the table. Without waiting for a reply, she mumbled, ‘I’ll just check the washing,’ and stepped out onto the soft grass.
Memories flooded as though the touch of the glass was some sort of signal to fire at her brain. Two years. It had been two years since her father had accepted the job—
‘Hey, Amaira! Why are you gazing at the clouds with that funny look?’ asked the inquisitive Evie, following out in the bright sun and holding out an arm to shield her face from the sunlight.
‘Nothing,’ said Amaira quickly. She gathered up the last of the blankets and heaved it under her arm.
‘Look, we are friends! You can tell me—’
‘It’s none of your business what’s going on in my mind!’ snapped Amaira, her temper rising suddenly. Blood began pounding in her ears. For one thing, she didn’t want to admit her feelings; and for the other, she did not like being forced to confide in the name of friendship.
‘Is it about your dad?’ asked Evie slowly, gently holding Amaira’s arm to stop her from going.
‘What about her dad?’ asked a voice. The girls turned and saw their classmate Mike stepping out in the garden. ‘I was just going to get the groceries and mom asked me to check in on you,’ he explained hastily under Amaira’s dangerous glare.
‘Well, do you see anything wrong with me?’ asked Amaira, spreading her arms wide and glaring at them. ‘I’m still in one piece if your eyesight is proper! And I don’t need any sympathy!’ She turned her back on them.
Mike turned to Evie. ‘Mom just told me to check in on her. What’s upset her? She thought she might need some looking after,’ he whispered to her.
‘Well, her dad…err…he—’ began Evie but Amaira’s temper got the better out of her. She turned back, her hands on her hips and her eyes narrowed like slits.
‘YES, GO ON! OF COURSE, MISS EVIE RODGERS GO ON! TELL HIM! TELL EVERYONE MY DAD IS-IS NOT-IN-THIS-WORLD!’
‘Oh, I’m really so—’ Mike tried to say but Amaira wasn’t done yet.
‘FANTASTIC! YOU’RE SORRY! NOW WHAT’S THAT GONNA DO TO ME? YOU’LL JUST SAY AND LEAVE! IT’S ME WHO’S GOT TO TAKE ALL RESPONSIBILITY NOW, ME WHO’S GOT TO MANAGE A YOUNGER BROTHER ALL BY MYSELF, GRADUATE HIGH SCHOOL AND—DAD’S NO LONGER HERE!’ she paused, apparently out of breath. She shook her head vehemently and tried to storm towards her house when Mike made a terrible mistake of opening his mouth again.
‘I’m sure your dad would be watching over you—’
‘Yeah, that’s right! He’d be watching from the moon but not at me, at the stupid rocks and craters!’ said Amaira sarcastically.
Mike raised his eyebrows. Evie turned to him and mouthed, ‘Astronaut,’ in his ear.
Amaira turned to the trees and gripped its trunk. ‘Mum left us when I was five, lost in a radioactive blast at the manufacturing center. And now, dad’s…he’s gone to-to the moon,’ she mumbled almost inaudibly. But then, she recalled the conversation she had had with her father on the day of his departure.
She had been trying to persuade him since weeks to deny this mission. There was no particular need for him to go. NASA had other scientists too. Ever since her father had accepted his job at NASA, he had proven himself worthy of leading a team of astronauts into the lunar atmosphere. Six months ago, he had been given this job and not a day had passed when Amaira and Raju had not tried to dissuade their father from accepting it. True to his stubborn nature, he had not given in. Amaira had tried all tactics- crying, requesting, and shouting angrily. She had even gone so far as telling him that if he went, he would be an irresponsible and selfish father. He had looked as if he had been hit in the face with an asteroid.
‘If you go now, dad,’ she had said in a last attempt, ‘you’ll no longer remain our dad.’ How could he go when she needed him so much? Still, he had gone. He had just said that someday she would understand to control her temper.
Amaira gazed up at the sky and saw a cloud the shape of a small airplane. She remembered how her dad had told her he would make her a pilot one day when she had gleefully clapped at the remote-controlled helicopter zooming around the house at her fingertips.
Her reveries were broken by a sudden grip on her shoulder. Amaira turned and saw it was Evie. Her face was pale with fear. She pointed to the sky behind them.
The three wheeled on the spot. A long, white cylindrical something was hurtling towards the ground, zigzagging this way and that, fire and smoke billowing out of its rear end.
‘It’s…it’s not-not dad’s spacecraft,’ she said, her voice had suddenly become raspy. She clutched the thin golden chain at her neck, which had a single heart-shaped pendant with the letter ‘A’ inscribed on it. Her eyes were locked on the space craft.
A pipe-like thing abruptly broke off and fell towards the ground. Five seconds later, the spacecraft exploded in mid-air, creating a grey-orange cloud of smoke and fire.
Amaira staggered. Evie gripped her shoulder and began leading her into the house. Mike followed them awkwardly.
Evie poured out a glass of water and handed it to Amaira and rubbed her arm. ‘It’ll be OK,’ she said consolingly. The glass nearly dropped out of Amaira’s trembling hands as her phone rang. She thrust the glass on the table and hastened to it.
‘Hello, dad? Can you hear me? I just saw a-a something explode in mid-air! Don’t worry, they’ll be OK! I’m just glad that you’re al—dad, can you hear me?’ she gasped when silence answered her.
‘A-Amaira,’ it was her dad’s colleague, Mr. Johnson’s voice, shaking slightly, ‘R-Rahul…well, we-we couldn’t s-save h-him!’
‘No,’ she said loudly, ‘you’re pulling a prank on me. Dad told you to say that, didn’t he? Tell him I’m sorry but stop this hellish prank!’
‘I-I can’t…’ said Mr. Johnson, close to sniffing now. ‘Can you come now?’
Amaira, Evie and Mike drove madly to the hospital Mr. Johnson had mentioned. Amaira wrenched the car door open and flew towards the receptionist’s desk and up the stairs, Mike and Evie following at her heels. They came to a halt the end of the corridor where several people were gathered.
Running up directly to her dad’s colleague, Amaira instantly inquired if he was alright. Mr. Johnson didn’t say anything. He held her wrist and silently led her into the ward. To Amaira’s enormous relief, it was not her father. It was another one of his colleagues, Mrs. Smith.
‘Thank heavens!’ she gasped, ‘he’s alright!’
Mr. Johnson pointed at a parcel on Mrs. Smith’s bedside table. They approached it and Amaira was surprised to see that it had her name written on it in dad’s untidy scribble.
Perplexed, she tore the wrapping open and slid the rectangular case open. It was thin platinum chain which dad wore daily. It had a single pendant in it which mom had given him containing three words: ‘I love you.’
Mrs. Smith struggled to sit and spoke in a quivering voice. ‘T-that’s the thing he gave us before our craft broke apart. He knew he couldn’t have made it…he’d insisted on sending us first…and so—so, he tore it away from his neck and threw it to us.’
‘He said it was his last wish for you to have this and what it says,’ added Mr. Johnson.
Two months later, Amaira Raheja drove back into her house with the day’s groceries. Her younger brother Raju came flying up to her. ‘Hey, sis! Where were you? I was waiting for you since hours! My friends came and left without you turning up! I’m not talking to you again!’ and he stormed up the stairs.
Amaira followed her brother up the stairs and knocked on his door before entering. She caught his folded arms in her palms and knelt before him.
‘Raju, life is too short to be angry and too long when spent in misery,’ she said, a platinum chain with an ‘I love you’ pendant sliding out of her t-shirt as she bent forward.
Her younger brother turned his almond-shaped eyes on her. For a moment, her own eyes were dangerously close to leaking tears. His eyes were alarmingly like her dad’s. She tore her gaze from him and proceeded to go out of the room.
‘I want pasta!’ Raju called, running up to her and hugging her waist. She sniffed and ruffled his hair. ‘You bet,' and proceeded to the kitchen with a grin on her face that resembled Rahul Raheja's when he was on a holiday with his kids.