Illustration: Lalitha
Illustration: Lalitha

CHASING CLOUDS

Short Story

“Hope I get the window seat”, said Ribhu as he quickly ran up the stairs into his new class room. He had not been lucky last year and hoped that at least this year, he would manage to be early enough to bag the most coveted third row left corner seat.

“Yesss!” he shouted to himself gleefully as he put his bag down on the seat. It had been worth getting up early, gulping down his breakfast quickly and coming to school fifteen minutes before the school vans arrived.  It was both an advantage and a disadvantage to live close to the school; one tended to leave home after the first bell and run to the school, which meant that you arrived after most classmates had come in. He was soon joined by his friend, Krish. Slowly the class filled up.

The days passed by quickly as they settled down to the new routine, new subjects and teachers. Ribhu loved his place by the window. Especially during the maths period, he would finish his problems very quickly and sit at a slight angle so that he could see outside the window. Not much of a view – only a small patch of the sky was visible through the branches of the tree that stood outside their building. He pretended that the tree was tall enough to touch the puffy white clouds that sailed by and that he was flying among them.

Biology class. The teacher was droning away about classification of animals. What tongue twisters of names! Platyhelminthes are flatworms. Cnidaria were earlier called Coelenterates. Arthropoda includes insects, a huge group of animals. Some half of the world’s known organisms are insects. Mosquitoes (instinctively he swatted his legs), crickets (soft claps from his neighbours, all die-hard cricket fans), butterflies, moths (are they different, asked Prithvi from the next row), dragonflies… Ribhu did not hear any more for through the corner of his eye, he had spotted a dragonfly on the window sill.

He turned his head ever so slightly to look at the dragonfly better.  From where had it appeared? Look at its two huge eyes – insects have compound eyes, Hilda Ma’am was saying. Was it listening to Hilda Ma’am talking about its cousins? Ah, how wonderful it would be to just hover up and down! Even as this thought came to him, he heard a buzzing sound and found himself on an escalator climbing up towards a pair of shimmery wings.

He was climbing into a dragonfly-helicopter! Help! What was happening? Where was he off to? What was he to do? Help!

The buzzing sound became stronger and settled to the steady rumble like the genset outside the office complex on the way home. He found himself sitting on a high chair in front of two huge globes. Globes? Had something gone wrong with his glasses, they seem to be bulging out? He caught a glimpse of his reflection. Looked like an extra large pair of swimming goggles. Anyway, no time to think of that now. The rumble from the engines sounded exactly like ‘chasing clouds chasing clouds’ repeated endlessly. What was happening?

Strapped in his seat, he could feel that he was steadily rising up,  because outside the leaves were becoming denser. And now, he was right at the top of the tree moving towards the clouds. His thoughts moved so quickly, all he could hear himself say was ‘”I … cloud”.

“I cloud”? Wasn’t that something to do with computers? Automatically, he reached out and tried to steady himself. His right thumb touched something like a marble. Why! It was his truck’s remote, the one that amma had brought back from Japan.

He felt that thing in which he was flying lurch left and right. Ugh, a giant a bird was flying directly towards him. Did it think that today’s menu was a dragonfly? His hands felt damp and he turned his face away. The bird disappeared from his sight.

Saved for the moment! He felt like crying but blinked away his tears. Even as he did so, the craft steadied itself and he found himself beginning to recite:

A is for aeroplane, B is to blink

C is for Cloud and D is to drink…

A bottle of chocolate flavoured milk popped up. Just in time, I was so thirsty, thought Ribhu to himself and quickly emptied it, and continued… 

D is for Dragonfly for Ribhu to ride

Up into the cloud

Touch and feel, slide and tap

Blink and think, focus on a map

And you will be back with your crowd!

Ah! Got it. A screen had popped up in front.

Feel your way over the screen – it felt velvety-bumpy-cotton wool like…cumulus clouds of course. Was he among the clouds now? He had wanted to chase them, but now, it was more important to get back to the class. And here it was - the map of the neighbourhood. Tap to focus, zoom in.

What fun they had had drawing it in Singh Sir’s geography class only yesterday! Here is the park. There is Kusum’s house and this is where Amit-Sumit lived. Slide to move forward. Down the road from the park, past the restaurant and the supermarket, next to the tailor’s shop and across from the post office was the tree whose branch came up to outside his class room window, right next to his seat. A sigh of relief as he lowered his hand and found himself being poked by Krish to quickly finish drawing! Would he even believe a word of Ribhu’s adventure?

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