That one shelf
Today, Mr Faelliyo has asked us to visit his mansion at the foot of Vestorwinds Hills for a brief luncheon. I excitedly waited for the end of today's session as the library in the Faelliyo mansion has always been one of my favourite places to hang out. I love to look over the books, to feel them, and one day, it's my dream to read every single one of them.
"Bye Britty, see you tomorrow." I hug my best friend, Brittany, as we make our way out of the college doors and part our ways.
Brittany has been my bestie since ninth grade. She was beautiful in her own way. Dark skinned, curly black locks, like a clown's wig (she doesn't like me calling her hair that) and her beautiful dark brown eyes always with a smiling glint should obviously indicate that we would be best friends forever. She was taller than me and she was fit (she does go to the gym, unlike me). Today, she wore a white crop top with blue jeans and a small blue ribbon on her hair and her trusty black flip flops.
I wore a simple purple T-shirt and paired it with my light blue jeans (which I pair everything with), a blue hoodie and black sneakers. I tied my long black hair in a ponytail. The look always looked dorky on me and people assume I am a dork. Well, I don't care because the outfit always was comfortable and practical.
"Hello, sugarpie. How was your day?" Dad smiles as I take the front seat.
"It was great. Can't wait to get to the mansion." I squeal.
"I need my ears for the conference, so go low with the shrieking, will ya?" Dad ruffled my hair as I nodded yes.
Eric Avra is a businessman and he is my sweet loving father. He is in his forties. His hair has been neatly combed to one side. If you look closely, you can make out white hair strands peeking through his black hair like specs of snow. He has a trimmed beard and a bushy moustache. He always wears his black-rimmed rectangular spectacles over his dark hazel eyes. Today he wore a black suit, with a white shirt and my favourite maroon tie( I gave on his birthday).
Dad works at Aeronauticorps where they manufacture parts for aircraft. He always encourages me for what I love and care for and I really love the idea of following his footsteps. That is one reason why I took up aeronautical engineering as my major!
So back to the car ride towards Faelliyo mansion. We made a pit stop to pick mom up from our humble abode.
Our house was a one storey building with a small vegetable garden in the backyard and a garage on the left side of the house. It is painted white and the whole front porch wall was decorated with knick-knacks and origami. My parents can get a bit creative sometimes.
Tongo, our beautiful beagle was lying in his kennel at the far right corner of our house.
In our home in India, Tongo was not allowed inside our house( Most of the pet dogs in Kerala were just for guarding the house). Even coming to England didn't change his fate.
Mom was also excited but the fact that dad was not attending because of a boring yet important conference is sad.
Anyway, we reached home to find mom smiling like a hundred-watt flashlight.
"Hello, pyarijan! Hope on." Dad tries to sound romantic.
Mom giggles a bit as she gets inside the car.
"Drive away." She says trying to sound like dad.
Dad chuckles as he hits the gas pedals.
Vanessa Avra is a charming woman in her late thirties. She wore her red sari (she hates wearing 'foreign clothes' and avoids it as much as possible). She tied her black hair in a waterfall braid and fastened a silver leaf-shaped brooch on the braid. As usual, she looked beautiful. She wore a gold bracelet on her left hand and her black flat heels.
She is actually my moral support and the nightingale of our home. Her presence makes the air around our house float peacefully. But mom really feels a little lonely as she has never come into terms with staying in England. Well, we were migrants from India. Professor and dad had co-founded the company and they started their first branch in England.
Dad pulls over the car as we near the vast intricately laid down marbled steps of the Faelliyo mansion.
The Faelliyo mansion is two-storied, built in the style of medieval Italian architecture and almost entirely out of wood. The big oak doors marked Professor Faelliyo's taste for old buildings and the interiors were rather simple compared to the grand exterior. People might mistake it for a museum if they didn't read the large sign board saying FAELLIYO MANSION. I personally like the design but it's too luxurious for an old man and his housekeeper.
"Good luck with your big meeting, dad." I chime as we get out of the car.
"Goodbye darlings and enjoy." His raspy voice calls out as he starts the engine again and drives off down the road.
Mom and I turned away, heading for the vast marble staircase.
No sooner did we reach the threshold, the doors swing open as Professor Faelliyo stands, hands wide open, ready to welcome us in.
"Good evening Mrs and Miss Avra. Glad you came." He spoke rather formally. I always felt that Professor's voice had lost all the joy of his yesteryears.
"Good evening Professor! Glad you invited us." I say pleasantly.
Professor cocks a smile.
"Ladies this way to the dining hall." He leads us through the drawing-room and into the dining hall. It has been a thousand times we have visited but he still keeps his "host mode" on.
A kind old man in his fifties, Professor Faelliyo has dedicated his whole life to learning. He had the palest silver blond hair which is combed backwards neatly. He wore soda glass spectacles and wore a crisp white shirt and black pants. His blue eyes always looked sad. Even though he most likely has tonnes of information stored away in his brain, he's not the kind of person who bores us with unending tales of hardships and bravery peppered with strange facts. Rather, all his dealings seemed to be tinged with a shade of melancholy. Which wasn't much more than we could expect, especially not from a man whose wife passed and son had gone missing.
Tommy Faelliyo was like fifteen when he vanished, causing his mother's death and his father's depression. As the Professor says, he was a charming young boy who shared his father's enthusiasm for learning.
Anyway, as we proceeded to the dining hall, the housekeeper, Mrs Ahima greeted us with a warm smile.
She was an old lady in her sixties and had probably been working at the mansion since the Professor was a kid. She had brown hair with a few white fibres popping at random places and it was tied in an intricate bun. She wore a black frock with a white apron tied around her waist (which really gave a very English housekeeper impression to me). Despite her age, she was still graceful and carried the spirit of a young maiden.
"Good evening, Miss and Mrs Avra," she greeted us pleasantly.
"Good evening, Mrs Ahima," I say politely. "You look beautiful."
She blushes a bit, and on seeing the Professor quickly asks us to be seated. We do, and she serves our meal, preceded by a short grace from my mother. I help myself to Mrs Ahima's delicious spaghetti, chilled carrot juice and blueberry pudding.
The dining hall was a beautiful large hall. The walls were brown, complementing the wooden floor. Several paintings hung around the hall. On the centre wall, above the large french window, was a portrait of the last supper. The table was a large round glass table with eight chairs around it. The table and its chairs were the only pieces of furniture in that room.
My mouth was like an orchestra playing a delicious harmony and the smooth blasts of joyful tastiness were mostly interrupted by mom and Professor discussing social issues.
Since I don't lend my ears to such boring topics, I was busy thinking about the library. My mind is on one of the bookshelves - the only one I haven't looked at yet. All-day, I'd been wondering what on earth could be on that shelf, though realistically it was probably just old non - fiction and fiction books like the rest of the library.
But you know the saying, one could still dream!
"Look, I swear that if I could possibly find another planet that can house human life, their planet would eventually be like this one. Polluted," the Professor remarks, pulling me out of my reverie.
"But, Professor, that doesn't make sense," I blurted without thinking. "It's not like there's been any planet other than Earth that can support life."
"I said possibly, not that it was definite." The Professor dabs at his mouth with a napkin. "It's human nature to be curious. I suppose that's what destroys our planet in the first place."
I tilt my head. "I thought scientists always say curiosity is the most important?"
There is an icy chill in the air and Professor's glare really bore a hole through me. I felt like I offended him and needless to say, the rest of the meal was spent in silence.
The minute I was excused, I rushed to the library, heading straight for that shelf.
The library was as large as the dining hall. It had bookshelves across the four walls and some bookshelves arranged in a sort of maze-like fashion. There was a huge round wooden table and some benches in the centre of the room, like a final round patch in the maze of books. I really liked the design. It always made the saying, lost in the world of books, quite literal. There was a huge French window on the far left wall and a window seat with comfortable pillows arranged, so one can snuggle under a blanket and sip a cup of coffee while enjoying a book and look outside to see a beautiful garden. The garden also had a chair and table with an umbrella over the table, so if you want some fresh air, you can always hop out of the window and go sit there. But I always preferred to sit on the wet lawn grass.
The garden was beautiful and it was filled with all sorts of orchids, tulips, roses and some varieties of bougainvillea. The table was situated in the middle and the plain white paint seemed to contrast with the colourful flowers around.
There was a coffee counter on the right side of the room(outside the bookshelf maze) and it had a dozen mugs and a wide variety of coffee and tea powders. There was also a small doorway that leads to the kitchen. So, one could easily reach the kitchen to grab a snack.
The first floor was just a drawing-room that leads to the library on the right and the dining hall to the left with the kitchen connecting both the rooms. I think the second floor housed the bedrooms and Professor Faelliyo's office.
There was also a small washroom at the side of the large French window. I could always spend a whole weekend in this place and I wouldn't feel like I missed going out.
Where was I? Oh, the mysterious bookshelf at the end of the maze-like- bookshelf-cluster. The bookshelf oddly stood out. Probably the first one ever to be in this room. It was covered by old wooden doors, but there was no lock, so I reached to open it.
Some books must have fallen out of the shelf and had been leaning against the door, because the moment I open them several heavy books crash to the floor, barely missing me. I jumped away, tripping over a stool as I did.
"Nathalia, are you all right?"
I look up to see the Professor standing over me, looking concerned. He must have heard the noise and ran to check that nothing or no one had been seriously damaged. But I must remark, man that was fast!
"I'm fine," I say, standing and dusting myself off.
He glances behind me, at the fallen books and the open shelf. "I thought I warned you against opening this shelf?" He gives me a shrewd look.
"I-I'm sorry," I lie. "It's been a while since you told me. I just totally forgot I wasn't supposed to open it."
"Well, I'm telling you now. It's just old research books in there, ones that I don't want to be damaged, although you might have done your job on some of them." He nods towards the books on the floor. "I'd prefer it if you don't open this again. Do you understand me?"
"I understand," I say, swallowing.
"Browse anything else you'd like. I'll get Mrs Ahima to clean this up."
"No, it's fine!" I say quickly. "She's probably too busy to bother with this. I can do it. It's no problem, really."
Professor exhales. "Fine. Just call Ahima if you need anything."
I nod and fake an innocent smile. "Sure. Thanks, Professor."
With that, the Professor walked away again, suspiciously. After making sure I was alone, I turned to look at the stack of books. A smaller one at the top of the pile catches my eye, and I pick it up.
It's a diary. But instead of normal "Dear Diary" entries, it's filled with jargon and calculations, and even a diagram of some kind of spaceship on one page. It is streamlined, and the angles are outlined and circled so many times that I figured they must be important. Measurements are marked neatly in the Professor's handwriting, which I have to admit is so beautiful.
I put the diary back on the shelf and opened what looks like a photo album. The pictures were all of a boy around fifteen or sixteen, which I immediately deduce to be Tommy Faelliyo. I flipped through page after page, photo after photo of this boy's life. Occasionally, the Professor and his wife will show up on the pages. It's like holding fragments of memories in my hands.
Memories, and for some reason, a spaceship.
I hear a mock cough behind me, pulling me out of my thoughts. I turn, scared that it was the Professor, but relaxed once I saw who it was.
"Hi, Mrs Ahima. Sorry for the mess, I was just, uh . . ."
"It's no problem," she says, waving my apologies away. "I was going to reorganize this shelf anyway, at least, if the Professor would let me."
She turns to leave, but I stop her. "Mrs Ahima, can I ask you something?"
She nods. "Anything you need, dear."
"Well, you know, um . . ." I decide to stop beating around the bush and get to the question. "How did Tommy disappear?"
Mrs Ahima was not expecting that. She just turned pale! Slowly, she replies, "Did you read any of the journals?"
"I - I just saw some albums and notes." I stammer.
She sighs and sits down on a nearby chair. "I suppose you should know."
I sit down beside her as she starts to tell the story.
"The Professor and his wife loved Tommy very much, Nathalia. He was a very energetic boy - naughty, sometimes, too, but I loved him for it."
"I saw a spaceship in one of the Professor's notes," I venture. "Does that have anything to do with it?"
"The spaceship is what the Professor worked six long years to build. He was determined to explore space, and he knew the only way to do it was to make a vehicle to do so. I don't know all the technicalities, I'm not a scientist. On the day before the first launch, both the spaceship and Tommy simply vanished into thin air. Mrs Faelliyo was devastated and fell deathly sick. She passed away a week later."
Mrs Ahima nods then gets up from her chair. "I wouldn't tell the Professor that I've told you. It's still a sensitive subject for him. Let's pick up these books."
I smile assuringly as we both set to clean the mess I made. I slipped the notebook under my sweater. Just borrowing without noticing!
* * *
That night, I couldn't sleep. I keep reading and rereading the notes, just trying to figure out what this all meant.
I have several theories, all of them seeming to be nothing more than ideas. Could Tommy have launched the spaceship himself? Maybe he accidentally went out into space and died there. Or the spaceship crashed somewhere else in the world.
That's stupid, I chide myself. A 15-year-old boy can't pilot a spaceship. He couldn't get to outer space, that's for sure.
It also struck me as strange that the two things stolen from Professor Faelliyo were his most important possessions; his son and his life's work. Perhaps someone had been out to get him? If so, they'd certainly succeed.
Eventually, my frenzied train of thoughts began to dwindle, and finally, I found myself drifting into sleep.