Peace in a pod
“Nona, I am going to get mom and dad back. I guess I’ll be leaving tomorrow.”
“You return safe?”
“I promise. Also, no dinner for me today. Nikki fed me all right.”
I switch on my laptop, which instantly begins installing updates. This would take a while. To pass time I begin exploring my study table. There’s a little frame pushed to the end of it. I try retrieving the photograph, in the process discovering two long lost erasers. The picture is covered in dust that I try blowing away. The particles backfire getting into my nose and down the trachea. I cough on atomies that have smothered things I have so long taken for granted- it’s a photograph of me crying, while my parents laugh like crazy. We’re on an elephant. It sounds like a very sadist moment to be captured, but it brings back happy memories. That’s what happens in life I guess. All the things we think we’d regret remembering come floating by forcing smiles. We were on a trip to some South African city that I can’t recall, it was a long time back. The caretaker of the elephant made me sit near its tail, repeatedly telling me that it was “the safest seat.” I did believe him because my little brain quickly processed the fact observing the surroundings that if worst comes to worst and the elephant loses it, my fall would be the least hurtful. We’d spotted two hyenas, a zebra and flocks of random beautiful birds. The sun was about to set and the sky was very pastel- a baby blue with streaks of pink. We were returning back to the resort when out of nowhere a tiger sprang up onto the clearing in the middle of the forest. The two animals stood still carefully assessing each others’ ability and agility. The tiger took two steps to the back and mum sighed a little as if a huge boulder had been lifted off her shoulder, but with the same breath she gasped aloud. The tiger lunged at us missing the elephant by inches and its stripes touching my toes. I think I passed out for a while because the next thing I remember is that we were getting a photograph taken and the photographer wouldn’t stop smiling at me. All the while that I was crying my dad kept telling me, “You’re the bravest little girl I’ve ever met. You can scare away wolves and tigers.” I hope I can, I really do.
Ashraf’s visiting card is lying on my bed. I pick it up. The name of his organization is ‘Peace in a pod.’ The watermark on it cracks me up. Earth like a green pea is enclosed in a pod, except the pod is made up of supernova, asteroids, meteoroids, other planets, stars and whatnot. I flip it around my fingers making way from the pinky to the thumb. I search him up. He’s worked for several NGOs, gotten awards, been written about, talked about, before having his own organization take a huge leap.
Andrew calls and informs me that he has booked our tickets. We’ll have to leave the next day. I’m nervous all over again, to distract myself now I begin packing up. I don’t know what kind of clothes I need and I don’t know how many I’ll need. Goddamn it I have no idea if this is a one way trip or not. It suddenly hits me- I have to notify Luke. For all I know he’s probably been orphaned by his parents, asked to lead a life on the road.
“Yeah, hello Zara.”
“How’s everything at home?”
“Mum is overreacting I guess. She’s been crying all the while. I think I should do something about it-”
“Yeah, yeah you should. I’ll call you after a while. Just wanted to let you know that we’ll be leaving tomorrow in the evening.”
“No, don’t hang up. I mean I know I should do something but I can’t and I won’t. Besides I’m having a little difficulty with my wardrobe.”
“What’s that? Did someone fall?”
“No. Dad just slammed a door. He said he was proud of me for wanting to help you but then he saw mum and he’s gone to the dark side too. I heard they were going to call the police and airport authority to abort our plan.”
“What? No, please. Oh, God. No.”
“Hanna’s got it handled. She told them this was our last go at trying to find out your mom and dad and that if they call anyone now we’ll have to sit here trapped not knowing what’s gonna happen.”
“She got it a little emotionally sizzled. But, believe me if we bring back your parents, wait let me reframe that. When- yes, when we bring back your parents I will have earned something great. All thanks to you.”
“Shut up, Luke. You know what? Your mom is not overreacting. Not even a bit. Just think about it. If we get stuck too, there’ll not be any search parties and there will surely not be more volunteers wanting to take the same risk we’re taking. I have nothing to lose, but your absence will shatter lives. Do me a favor and let me do this alone.”
“Do me a favor and never pretend to know shit about stuff you have no idea about.”
“This is a slap in the face. You’ve been faking our best friendship all this while. Forget me, you’ve hurt my sister and I won’t tolerate that.”
“This is not a movie, there’s no script, no actors, no pretending. We live or we die. And God forbid, if we don’t return then that is it. You will never see your mum and dad or Hanna or your girlfriends or London. You will never get into college, never know what it would have been like if you just listened to your parents, never see what life’s got for you, never travel the world, never change a thing, never tell people things you think you should have told them, never even see the respect in people’s eyes you think you’re going to earn from this, never have this friendship. Let that sink in.”
“I am not stupid. I’m not doing charity. You do not need to feel guilty. If you think this is about you or somebody’s perspective about me then let this sink in- I wouldn’t put my life in danger for oh so perfect anybody, okay? It’s bigger than you, bigger than mom, bigger than other people. It’s about me, don’t you see it? How would you? You’re so visually impaired by self consumption. Zara, people change and so does their idea of perfection. I just want to be able to look at the reflection in the mirror every morning and say, ‘I love you’ and mean it. Now give me some fashion advice. I don’t want to meet your parents looking like a bloody homeless pig.”
“Okay then. Okay.”