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Retelling of Roald Dahl’s The Twits.

While the sun dried their yellowing garden and wilted the geraniums, the Twits farmed on Faecebook and tweeted about their farming conquests.

Adopted a one-legged pony! Hope my neighbours gift legs soon. Look forward to riding around the farm once the guy’s complete.

I bet Mr Twit’s farm’s not half as grand as he claims. #fakefarmfaffs

Yay! Reached level 29. Boo @Mrs Twit

My crops died today. Couldn’t harvest on time. Mr Twit threatened to spill beer on my keyboard if I didn’t cook Duck Shepherd’s Pie. Grr.

On and on they’d go, the Twits, lovingly hating one another. They’d sit staring at their screens in the hall, across the dusty television that stood switched-off ever since their farms were but a couple of hundred pixels. Through bitter enmity cultivated over thirty-three years, they were known for not even being in each others’ friends list.

And yet Mr Twit kept himself updated about his wife’s farm which he never saw, and Mrs Twit too spied on her husband’s: through public tweets, drunken boasts and over-the-shoulder glances on their way to the refrigerator and back. He knew her avatar was a bony old lady-farmer much like a scarecrow. She guessed his was a bearded fat snowman. She had never visited his actual virtual farm, nor had he hers. They relied on spied information to guess what level the other was on; how many barnyard animals the other owned and how many green alien cows stood ready to give plutonium-rich milk to their dearest rival. Accordingly they made strategies to surpass each other. Life was good, for the Twits.

When they weren’t boasting of the grandeur of their farms, they’d brag about their number of followers.

‘I have x followers,’ Mr Twit would say, looking up from his screen, the contour of his double-chin visible through the beehive-beard.

‘I have x+1,’ Mrs Twit would retort.

‘So what? Twenty-five percent of them are spammers.’

‘Are not!’

She would then fume and curse and google for spammers, trolls or lurkers or whoever else Mr Twit said constituted a percentage of followers of Mrs Twit’s tweets. Mr Twit would relax back in his leopard spots-print comfy chair and enjoy the sight of his wife tapping away madly at the keyboard. Like gobbling popcorn in a movie, he’d carefully pick bits of meal leftovers from his abundant facial hair and pop it in his mouth. Mr Twit’s beard was more or less an extension of the refrigerator.

A sticky note on the desktop announced his dearest wish– to become the highest level-achiever in the ranks of virtual farmers. Mrs Twit lived to compete with him and to foil his dream, which she shared.

Virtual farming was a recent invention after all; and they did have other interests. Mrs Twit had an eye for contact lenses– she owned thirty-one pairs in different colours. Mr Twit was a record-holding winner of the weekly beer guzzling contest at The Drunken Lizard.

It was a rare occasion when the Twits were invited to any form of socializing. When the Gits, who’d survived more than two months of knowing them extended an invitation for a sunday brunch, The Twits responded with half-hearted nods. It meant not farming for the entire afternoon. So moods became sour as they got ready, and a sly Mr Twit handed his wife a mismatched pair of lenses in the flurry of the hurry. When a drunken Mr Git, for who she nursed a secret affection, laughed at her one green-one black eye over the burnt risotto, she’d already plotted revenge by the last echoing ha-ha.

That night, Mr Twit’s bedtime-beer tankard turned out to be full of frothy soap-water, which he realized about halfway through. Bubbling with anger, he ran after his wife with the tankard. She not only outran him, but also laughed at his jiggling belly which he held while running because direction proved difficult to maintain otherwise.

Mr Twit’s belly’s certainly bigger than his farm.

Mrs Twit’s eyes, each of two different dyes…

The tweets got meaner, and the farming more furious. Each suspected the other of reaching a higher level, and got busy planting potatoes and pattypan squashes, buying more pigs, roadrunners and coyotes. Their virtual neighbours returned any gifts with equal enthusiasm, and farming flourished for the Twits in spite of the drought year.

One sunny afternoon, eager to harvest her crop of artichokes before they wilted, Mrs Twit started her computer and squinted at the screen. Having forgotten her glasses in the bedroom, she struggled with small text and small icons; mistook tomatoes for potatoes, bought a reindeer thinking it was a unicorn and in general lost a fair amount of virtual money.

The resounding crash of a shattering window made Mrs Twit scream and fall off her chair.

‘Arrrgggghhhh,’ screamed Mr Twit, dropping his beer.

Wading through the glass shards, he picked up a ball from under his wife’s chair.

‘Not again!’ he shouted. ‘For the third time this week! I’ll skin you alive, Dan! I’ll sit on you, Al! I’ll kick you–‘ Mr Twit ran out to catch the culprits, cricket-loving neighbourhood teenagers who sped off the instant a mere crescent of his rotund belly appeared outside the door.

‘Come back!’ he screamed, but the boys outran his three hundred pounds in a couple of long-legged strides.

Dancing with rage, Mr Twit returned and threw himself on his chair. He shook a great deal. Bits of his breakfast corn flakes fell on the carpet from the beard.

‘Revenge…’ he croaked, ‘I’ll punish those boys. I’ll hang them upside down. I’ll…’ A couple of groundnuts joined the corn flakes.

Later that day, Mr Twit stood on the topmost rung of a ladder that promised to give away if he as much as plucked one cherry off the tree and ate it. A reluctant Mrs Twit stood at the bottom, handing him can after can of beer. Her tomato crops would wilt if not harvested soon. Mr Twit, a snail’s step smarter than the missus, had planted the 800 pixels of his farm with soybeans that wouldn’t be ready for a day.

‘You wait and see, Mrs Twit,’ he said now and then from among the branches, his furry face unrecognizable through the leaves stuck in it.

‘See what, Twit?’

‘How I teach those boys a lesson long-overdue.’

‘Huh,’ said Mrs Twit, thinking of her farm.

Mr Twit climbed down the ladder with great deliberation and faced his wife, a smug smile etched across his leafy face.

‘Now for the catapult,’ he said.

#

It was a pleasant morning, the kind when small children emerged to play in the open and bullies like Dan and Al lurked about the street on the lookout for victims.

‘Dan, look! Someone’s tied beer cans on that tree. Must be promotion of some sort.’ said Al, stopping in the middle of the lane. Dan crashed into him.

‘What? Where?’

‘There.’ said Al, pointing. ‘In front of Twit’s garden. There’s a ladder too! Come.’

A sign on the bark said–

Empty-handed but wiser? Then have our free beer. Glug all you can and fill out the feedback form. Have fun!

Al pointed at a stack of forms at the bottom of the ladder and snickered. In no time, the two boys were perched on a branch, glugging warm beer and catching in each other’s glinty eyes a look that said ‘I don’t believe our good luck!’ The next half-hour was spent drinking, and plucking cans off the branches for an after-match party.

Thwack.

Al paused in mid-sip. ‘What was that? Did you hear that?’

Dan nodded. Both shrugged. A buzzing sound followed that grew in magnitude; and before the startled boys could react, a swarm of bees attacked them with gusto.

‘Ow!’

‘Nooo…’

‘Get off..’

Limbs thrashing amidst a pulsating cloud of stinging bees, the boys fell down from the tree head-first. Carefully hidden snares caught them by the ankles and they dangled off the branch like over-ripe fruits. As blood rushed to their brains, Mr Twit’s evil laughter echoed from across his dry garden.

#

The Twits were happy. Life was on interruption-free, farming-only mode. They looked forward to some healthy stealthy competition, planting roses, adopting penguins and tending to their Cheshire cats.

‘I wish I had more Cheshire cats. They give bonus points every time I catch their grin,’tweeted Mrs Twit.

She did not have any, in fact. None of her farm neighbours were that generous with gifts. They cost more than half-day’s worth of money from harvests, those grinny felines. Mrs Twit was wondering how to acquire one when her mailbox chirped with a new message.

‘Ni Twit wants to be friends on Faecebook’

She read the line twice, thrice– then looked to her right, where her husband sat with his face in the screen.

The mailbox chirped again.

Ni Twit has sent you a message on Faecebook.

With her trembling bony fingers, she manoeuvred the mouse and opened the message.

Dear Dim,

You know you want to accept. Let’s forget everything, help each other out and become the two best farmers in the world. What do you think?

p.s. You don’t want to miss some fabulous gifts.

Your loving husband,

Ni.

Mrs Twit blinked her cerulean-blue eyes. The improbability of this occurrence was such that it couldn’t be untrue. Mr Twit had changed, indeed.

So she pressed the accept button. She thought of their wedding day and sniffed. Mr Twit frowned at her from across the room, but she could make out a smile through all the fur.

#

Life virtually became a fun-filled game. They could visit each other’s farms. Mr Twit’s had come as a shock to Mrs Twit– it wasn’t half as big as he boasted. In fact, he was only on level three. But she didn’t point it out, for she was gifted not only the Cheshire cat, but also a peace sign for her zen garden, and Disneyland. She often found her crops watered and the dogs fed; a favour she returned while her husband slept with his head on the keyboard dreaming of crop circles.

They revived their teenage years. With expressions that were perpetual smileys; they looked at each other across the desk, and in messages exchanged on walls. They retweeted each other’s accomplishments. Not a word about their farms was spoken in real life, as if they feared to break the spell. Through footsie played under the table and a fair amount of hand-holding punctuated with giggles, they worked hard on their flourishing farms. Elephants gave ivory and the camels fertilizer. Healthy crops waved in the virtual breeze.

In such peaceful times, Mr Twit woke up one day in March to find an unusually large gift waiting on his farm. From Mrs Twit, of course. She’d been good with gifts lately; a chocolate-milk cow had turned up the day before, and a windmill before that. With great deal of excitement, he clicked open the gift box.

Lightning flashed in the farm’s purple sky and the animals chirped and burped the moment a gigantic winged creature stepped out.

A Roly-Poly bird.

It was a new arrival in the farm world, and no one knew what it really did. It was too expensive to give as gift, and wasn’t allowed to be purchased for one’s own farm.

‘Whoa…’ said Mr Twit, his mouth an o.

The magnificent bird fluttered its golden wings and flew around the farm, resembling a quetzal. Its tassel-like tail left a ghost of gold as it passed over the grain silo and the pumpkin patch faster than the internet connection allowed. He right-clicked on the bird when it landed on top of the shamrock castle.

Feed the Roly-Poly bird

one animal from your farm

every day of the next seven

to unlock a wonderful charm

The day it grows fully,

says the bird Roly-Poly

you’ll see a different farm

transformed by the charm

So go ahead and feed it

that extra flamingo

or unwanted black sheep!

Now, Get, set and go!’

Mr Twit dragged a cat from nearby and dropped it on the Roly-Poly bird. It opened its beak wide, gobbled, burped and in the next second puffed up by a good one-tenth of its original size.

Super, thought Mr Twit. Exciting!

Under the sticky note that announced his dearest wish, he added a list of spare animals to feed the bird: a black sheep, the t-rex, a penguin, an ant, the woodlouse, and a kangaroo.

Over the next few days, the Roly-Poly bird grew steadily. Meanwhile, exchange of gifts continued between the lovey-dovey Twits; more so after Mr Twit wrote his wife a thank-you-dahling note, flown over her farm by a jet that injected pink smoky letters into the sky. For the first time, she complimented him on his beard.

‘More magnificent than the Roly-Poly’s tail’ she said.

Life was good, for the Twits.

Then on the seventh day, Mr Twit fed the bird a kangaroo.

Nothing happened for a second.

The Roly-Poly bird shuddered, gulped and sprouted a second beak. Then it became twice its size, thrice, four times– it grew transparent and Mr Twit saw his gold-tinged farm through it– eight, twenty times–

Blast.

It blew up in a shower of tinsel. Gold dust-covered the farm. Mr Twit held his breath and twiddled his thumbs. Would his farm increase in size too? Would there be hoards of gold coins? Perhaps his level would go up by ten. No, twenty. Questions exploded in his brain much like the Roly-Poly bird.

The haze settled, and the animals began to cluck and bleat and the wheat and paddy danced in the gentle virtual breeze– only all upside down.

Mr Twit blinked.

‘NO!’ he screamed, eyes-wide, turning around to face his wife.

Mrs Twit stared open-mouthed at her own screen.

Then she wailed like a banshee.

‘You…’ she spluttered. ‘What have you done to my farm?’

‘Aha? Maybe I should ask you the same!’

Mrs Twit ran over in time to see the roof of her husband’s farmhouse fall off and vanish into nothingness. Even as they watched, a screeching cat that hung upside down from a pomegranate branch gave away like velcro and followed the roof.

‘See?’ Mr Twit glared at his wife. ‘See?’ He jabbed the screen.

Mrs Twit shifted from one foot to the other. ‘I have no idea how this happened to your farm– but you certainly made mine upside down. This was the only reason for you to become my friend, wasn’t it? You knew it would ruin my farm, didn’t you? The Roly-Poly bird, yes?’

I added you as a friend? Do I look stupid?’

‘Yes, you did. Yes, you do,’ she pulled out some of her hair. ‘Why did I accept? My farm! I was on level 56! I had sixteen Cheshire cats. I built a villa complete with Bougainvillea on a screechy iron gate.’ She sank into a chair and resumed the wailing. ‘I hate you!’

‘But it was you who wanted to be friends!’ barked Mr Twit.

‘I didn’t, you did.’ she said.

‘I didn’t, you did. And now I know why– so you could play this horrendous trick on my precious farm. Quick, now tell me how to undo this.’

‘Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.’

Mr Twit reached for a much-needed can of Heineken. Mrs Twit removed her ultramarine lenses to shed some tears.

They were distracted from the upside down situation by a shuffling sound from outside the house. Someone stifled a giggle. Mr Twit perked up his red ears and slowly opened the window.

Underneath sat Dan and Al, shaking hands.

Mr Twit was livid. ‘How dare you lurk around my property?’

The boys rose to face him with smug smiles.

‘Happy farming, Twit!’ they chorused. ‘Have fun farming, Mrs Twit! We hope you enjoyedour gifts.’

Then they howled with laughter and sped off. When the Twits figured it all out, the boys could be heard from more than hundred yards away.

Mr Twit faced his wife. He shook his head like a madman and out fell all the food bits from the last week’s meals– a wishbone, nuts from the ice-cream and cracker bits. He rushed to his screen and watched his upside down farm with a frown. Most of the animals had fallen off, and the trees were fruitless. In the middle stood a placard–

Happy April Fools’! Run around your farm fifty times to return one animal to normal, seventy-five times for a crop and hundred times for a building. Get, set, go!

Mrs Twit read the message from over her husband’s shoulder and ran to her computer. She clicked furiously to make her avatar go around the farm– but at its default snail’s pace, things fell off the farm every minute and vanished into the sky beneath. Mr Twit finished can after can; and he saw two fat farmers trudging along instead of one, which didn’t help matters much.

#

On New Year’s, Dan and Al gathered the guts to enter the Twits’ house to retrieve the ball that broke the only remaining pane, and perhaps to wish them a good year ahead.

According to their report, the Twits still sat frozen, clicking their virtual selves dawdling around an empty patch of nothing.

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