Friday, February 24, 2017

Once Upon.... Ever After - Part 1 of 4

"..And they lived happily ever after," Arnav was struggling not to grit his teeth, as he almost chewed out the words from the book as he slammed the book close. This was the last time. Bloody last time. Arnav stifled a groan, wishing for the millionth time from the morning, that there was a law which made reading fairy tales, illegal. Well, if that was not possible, Arnav was seriously considering all possible ways of making all fairy tale books invisible to human eye. That would give him immense relief and some breathing time. Both of which he had not had for the past twelve hours.

Even more annoyed, Arnav saw the hideous Kai - the stuffed panda, with one of it's button eyes gauged out and its arms twisted far too many times, and Arnav decided that along with fairy tales, he was going to outlaw stuffed pandas or just about any dolls. He was really done playing with them.

Arnav stifled another groan as he pulled some clay dough sticking from his arms and realized that he really was in a mess. Less said the better.

"Arnav, that was so beautiful." Nandini, all of six years and the recipient of the fairy tale stories, with her twinkling brown eyes, looked at Arnav with some sort of idol worship in her eyes, as she studied the dog-eared and much abused Book of Fairy Tales, in Arnav's hands.

As Arnav saw the tiny brown hands clutching his own, Arnav felt his anger melt away faster than he had felt it. What was it that Aarvi always said? A child's imagination could even make magic come alive. In the past twelve hours that he had been babysitting his niece, he had just about read every single fairy tale in the book. And Arnav found the fairy tales extremely annoying and insulting to his intelligence.

But Nandini's cheery smile at the end of the book somehow made the entire story very interesting.

Which just went on to say that Arnav spoke too soon.

"Arnav, I have a question," Nandini said.

Arnav was really worried because the clock in the room showed the time to be 8.45. Aarvi had specifically told him that Nandini had to be asleep by 8.30 and nearly threatened him with dire consequences if that was not done. And remembering the way his day had gone, Arnav had no trouble in believing how bad the day could go.

At 8.15, after a hasty dinner Arnav had started reading the fairy tale hoping that the kid would go to sleep by the end of it.

Promisingly enough, she had looked extremely tired as he put her to bed and wrapped her under her favourite blanket - "Nicky". Exactly how someone managed to name their blanket as Nicky was beyond Arnav. But then Arnav decided not to ask too many questions.

As it is, Arnav was facing far too problems in the questions department. For instance, Arnav just did not know why the seven dwarfs had eight rooms in their house - one just for Snow White. That Nandini forgave him for not knowing. What she did not forgive him was when he told her that Snow White slept in the kitchen.

Nandini looked so furious with his answer that someone would have thought Arnav had asked Nandini to go sleep in the kitchen. She had pouted for the whole of fifteen minutes, stomping her foot and refusing all and any attempts by Arnav to pacify her. It was only when Arnav had promised Nandini that he was going to build the eighth room in the home of the dwarves that Nandini had relented.

And Arnav had wasted no further time as they had had their dinner and now when Arnav thought Nandini was going to sleep, she had a question.

"Can you ask the question in the morning?" Arnav asked as he hoped he did not sound too desperate.

"How can I sleep, if my question is not answered?" Nandini asked Arnav furiously as Arnav sighed to himself. And as he studied Nandini's stubborn chin and furious pout, Arnav realized that Nandini really resembled her mother too much. It was Arnav who was Aarvi's twin, but Nandini's features were exactly like Aarvi's features, down to the way, her brown eyes turned dark when she was furious.

Arnav said nothing, which Nandini took as a license to ask her question. "Did Cinderella not trip on her dress when she married the prince?" Nandini asked Arnav seriously.

Arnav blinked, resisting the urge to groan. Seriously?

"The servants of the princes," Arnav said suddenly feeling almost inspired, praying to the Powers That Be that none of his friends ever heard his answer. If that happened, he was going to die of embarrassment even before he started explaining. "They made sure Cinderella did not trip."

Arnav was shocked, because Nandini was actually satisfied with his answer.

She clutched his hands lightly. "Mom would come tomorrow, Arnav?" She asked sleepily.

That was another thing between the two of them. Despite the twenty two year difference between them, unless, Aarvi was anywhere in the vicinity, Nandini always called Arnav by his name. And Arnav encouraged that. Arnav would never admit it, but he always felt close to Nandini. Way closer than he felt to Aarvi.

"Yes," Arnav said gently, hoping the kid did not notice that he was worried. The past twelve hours had told him that it was practically impossible to fool kids. Any kids. Because kids just realized that something was wrong as soon as people pretended that things were normal.

But thankfully, Nandhini was too tired to note that Arnav was worried.

Arnav was worried that Aarvi did not call. She had called him yesterday night just to ask him to come over today morning, saying that she had some work. From the morning, there had been no calls from Aarvi. Nothing at all. Arnav had expected Aarvi to be a broody hen and call every one hour, to check on whether the home was still in one piece or whether they had blown it up.

But apparently Aarvi had more faith in Arnav's babysitting skills than he did.

Arnav sighed to himself and turned his attention to Nandini and was shocked to find that Nandini was fast asleep. No one would have believed that until two minutes back, the kid had been asking question after question, making a grown man like Arnav pray the the kid fell asleep.

Arnav pulled the blanket over Nandini covering her, unable to stop smiling, as the book fell down with a thud.

Terrified that Nandini was going to wake up, Arnav snarled angrily at the book. And if the damned book had been alive, it would have been terrified that a really badass judo teacher was looking at it with such a terrifying expression.

But Arnav's look was wasted. Nandini was fast asleep and nothing, not even an earthquake, could wake her up.

Arnav was picking up the good when he saw something written in the back of the book.

Bonded they are right,

They shall both enter together, the Kingdom of might,

One will choose the Dark and the other Light,

One shall pay the price for the other, with the final breath, in the final fight.

Arnav read the lines and that was when everything went blank.

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