The Flight Back Home

Posted: November 19, 2018

‘Come back to? Do you really mean what I think you do?’ Amma was old but her mind was still alert enough to catch the unexplained words.

Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “I’ll Always Find My Way Back”. The story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),

  • who talk to each other
  • on topics other than men or boys.

The second winner of our November 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Seema Taneja.




The Flight Back Home

The old woman dabbed her wet eyes and caressed the long brown mane of the younger one, ‘How have you been, my little one? No no, you’re no longer a child, you’ve grown up and how!’ she let out a weak laugh.

‘But I am still a child for you, Shanti Amma!’ the nattily dressed woman hugged her tightly. The girls rallied round her and cheered loudly, ‘Didi aa gayi, Didi aa gayi!’

‘Yes, I am back! Yayyy!’ Neela screamed with joy too.

The orphanage where she had spent the first twelve years of her life reverberated with squeals of unrestrained chatter and laughter that night.

‘How does it feel up there, Didi? How did you ‘fly’ that rocket?’ the queries of the super excited girls were never ending, ‘Were you not scared? What made you choose astrophysics as your career? How do the stars look from up close? Do they really twinkle?’ they almost smothered Neela with their curiosity.

It was only after hours when she had managed to somewhat satisfy their hunger for more information about her space mission that she could finally retire to bed. The body needed rest but the heart wanted to remain awake to savor the feeling of being ‘home’ after more than two decades. She kept looking at Shanti Amma’s wrinkled visage; she looked so serene as if she had… Neela shrugged quickly to ward off even the thought of Amma’s death from her mind. But wasn’t it inevitable?

Amma had been her mother from the day her procreator/s chose to leave her at the door of this orphanage. The two week old girl had high fever and her face had turned blue from incessant crying. She had apparently not been fed for hours and sucked lustily when Amma picked her up in her warm lap and gently put a milk bottle to her lips. The baby’s health improved slowly with Amma’s loving care. Amma had named her Neela because of her blue face when she had seen her first.

Soon it was time to send Neela to school just like the other children in the orphanage but she didn’t want to leave Amma for even a minute. Amma had to go with her to the school and sit outside her classroom to ensure that Neela stayed inside. Neela smiled at the memories of her antics and drifted off to sleep.

She woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Amma was up at dawn as always and was wobbling in with a tray full of goodies for her. A girl carried another tray with large mugs of coffee. ‘Breakfast in bed for the lovely lady’! Amma chimed in cheerfully, handing her the steaming coffee.

‘Didi, once you had run away from school naa? Amma keeps telling us how naughty you were as a child and how you harassed her every day’, apparently the questions of the girls were not going to end any time soon.

‘Yes I was and didn’t want to be away from Amma for even a few hours so one day I ran away from school. Because that day Amma had to return to our ‘home’ to take another sick child to the hospital,’ Neela reminisced. ‘And I had begun to miss her reassuring presence so I sneaked out of the school to go back home but got tempted by the amazing aroma of food wafting in from the market nearby. When Amma went to the school to take us all children home and realized I was missing, she went crazy with fear. She rushed around asking people if they had seen a naughty five year old in school uniform but to no help. Deciding to go to the police station she took the other children home only to find me sitting outside the gate happily munching the peanuts she had dropped in my bag that morning. I was thrashed soundly by her as she kept crying what if something had happened to me. I embraced her and assured her that I would never get lost as I was capable of finding my way back’, Neela’s voice trailed off to a whisper as she narrated that eventful day. The memories had suddenly come alive.

Shanti Amma who had been quiet all this while guffawed, ‘You were so naughty then but look at you now! Such a big girl and so famous too. Whenever we saw you floating in that spacecraft in videos and TV we were so proud of you. My heart swelled with joy at the thought of my mischievous girl achieving such heights in her life’. Suddenly her face became grim, ‘You went too far, girl! When that couple adopted you and took you away to the USA I thought I had lost you forever. But when I saw you on television as one of the astronauts to go into the space I recognized you immediately and was so happy for your stupendous accomplishments but at the same time I was so terrified if something happened to you! I kept praying for your well being everyday!’

“Yes Didi, we would always brag before our friends in school that you were one of us and they are going to be so envious of us when we tell them you’re here! But tell us more about your work and life there’, the girls pestered her again, ‘and can we also become scientists and go up there in the space?’

‘Girls, I was so miserable when I landed there; I didn’t want to leave my Amma and my home. But my folks were amazingly good people and I gradually started treating them as my Mom and Dad. They both are scientists but they never forced me to choose science; I was genuinely awed by their immense contribution to science and wanted to emulate their feat so you see they are the ones responsible for my flight to the space. But Amma, you’re the one who gave me roots. You’re the one who, despite being so less uneducated, taught me the most important lesson of humanity and unselfish love, you gave me the strength, confidence and wings to fly high and you’re the one I have come back to’, Neela’s voice trembled with emotions she had suppressed till now.

‘Come back to? Do you really mean what I think you do?’ Amma was old but her mind was still alert enough to catch the unexplained words.

‘Yes Amma, I have returned to my roots, to you and to these little girls. Forever!’

‘But why? What about your space mission? And your parents?’ Amma was perplexed at her declaration.

‘They know and approve of my decision Amma. And my space mission is not over yet. In fact it’s just beginning’.

‘But how would you do your work from this small city? The big research organizations are all in the big cities naa! And won’t it be difficult to leave the successful, famous life for this anonymity?’ Amma and the girls could hardly make out anything from Neela’s cryptic replies.

‘Amma, I have had my share of name and fame but do you see the glint of aspirations in the eyes of these girls? They asked me if they can also become scientists and go to space. They can Amma. And it’s time to fulfill their wishes too. You said I had gone too far but you know I will always find my way back. And I have. To give wings to these girls with stars in their eyes, to ensure good education, to give them wings and let fly but with their roots intact. Their Mission Space begins now!

A glorious sun rose on the horizon and brightened up the small room.

Seema Taneja wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations! 

Image source: a still from the movie The Martian

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