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A Row of Planets

Arin poked his nose out from under the sheet and into the cutting air.

‘What if Mom finds us here?’

‘Shh. Don’t be so loud.’

‘Ok.’

The 7.00 PM news hadn’t illustrated the piece with the usual tacky animations. Inside their imaginative heads, the children had. Quite clearly, too. They never doubted what they saw. After all, it matched with the diagram in Di’s science textbook.

That winter night, a clear starry sky enveloped the three as they lay on the cold terrace floor with only a thin mat under and a thin sheet over. The most they could carry without grown-ups noticing; though Mom did say Kanaad looked plumper, perhaps a result of the excellent dinner she cooked.

A freezing hour later, the planets hadn’t showed up.

‘Look Di, Arin’s fallen asleep.’

The two shook the poor boy awake.

‘Did all the planets form one straight line like the picture in your book, Di?’ Groggy and knees tucked near his belly, Arin looked at his sister.

She was a pitiless eight-year old. ‘You missed it,’ she turned to face him. Beside her, Kanaad nodded with glee.

‘Oh.’ Arin was too sleepy to cry.

‘And you missed Di’s story about aliens,’ said Kanaad.

‘There really are… aliens?’

‘Yes. All around us. Invisible when they want to be. Shape-shifters. Transparent. Colourful. Plant-like. Moth-like. Sometimes,’ Di rubbed her eyes. ‘Human-like. Their ways are strange. You may keep talking to us, play with us and never ever know if Kanaad or I are one.’ Di’s eyes went oddly still in the scanty moonlight. Next door, Fluffy howled.

‘It’s cold here. I want to go to my room.’

‘No, Arin. Mom will hear you.’

‘No she’ll be snoring.’

‘Go, then. Don’t scream if you see an alien lurking around. When astronomical events like these happen, they often party on earth and get very, very hungry.’

Arin imagined grey-faced, spindly tall beings dancing on a bizarre Bollywood number he’d seen on MTV.

Kanaad gave a faint snore. Di ignored it. ‘And tonight, it must have been easy for them to zoom over here, as all the planets had arranged themselves in one line.’

‘I’ll stay here, then.’

A shooting star whizzed across.

Then another.

‘When will you two go back, Di?’

‘Just before the sun comes up. When Mom’s alarm rings, we’ll run down to our rooms, before she comes into the hall.’

‘You’ll really stay up till then?’

‘Yes.’

‘Di , you really saw all the planets in one row?’

‘Yes! Ask Kanaad.’

‘Saturn too?’

‘Yep.’

‘Will you wake me up if I fall asleep?’

‘Um.’

Much later in the freezing early hour, when the last bat had screeched and the first sparrow had chirped; Mom and Dad climbed up the stairs to watch the sunrise. Three small forms lay on the mat. Never had they seemed so alien and so dear to their mother as she watched them huddled and cuddled together. When the surprise wore off, she smiled, remembering the news.

Mom looked up at the orange sky, then reached down to gently run her hand through their hair and planted warmth on each cold cheek while Dad brought up some blankets.

©vaidehi patil 2012

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