The flaw – Thileepa Asokan, Tamilnadu

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Little Vidoo panicked when he heard the loud hiss of the air-lock chamber that announced the arrival of his father. His father was home early; he had to hurry. He snatched the air-packet strapped to his hazmat suit and stuffed it into the brand-new hideout inside his cupboard. He grabbed the near-empty air-packet lying on the shelf and stuck it on the square of his suit.

He settled on the rusty cot and pretended to sleep. He heard the clutter of the rolling food tin on the floor and his father swearing. Father was in the room. He kept his eyes closed and suck in long gasps, repeating the same act that he had been pulling off for the last two days. Though his sickness was feigned, he felt a shiver run through his fragile body. Maybe it was the guilt.

He stole a glance at his father who was examining the near-empty air-packet strapped to him. Ugh, the air-packets! It renewed his resolve to get the heck out of this leased life which required air-packets, radiation masks and suits to survive.

“We might as well be living in Space,” his father often said to him – One major malfunction of any of the gear and the result would be a gruesome death. What he left unsaid was how much he wanted to take Vidoo to the New Earth but Vidoo knew it anyway because – well, he often overheard father talking to his friends. That is how he also knew that a seat in the spaceship was the only currency that counted these days.

By some means his father had been able to manage the extra air-packets for three nights in a row and Vidoo suspected that it involved borrowing at steep rates.

Vidoo felt a gentle pressure on his chest as his father fitted the fresh air-packet onto him. Another peek. Father’s face was lined with worry as he stared at the removed air-packet in his hand.

When times were better, Vidoo had been able to contribute to the expenses of their little family. He used to get odd maintenance jobs in big households – dismantling things, re-fitting spare parts, fixing stuff. He no longer had these jobs as most of the elite either had made it to the New Earth already or were in the next travel list.

The idea of a plan that could get their names added to the coveted list had come from Karina and at first, he felt that there was something wrong with the plan. But he couldn’t place his finger on the flaw and eventually decided to go with it. Setting up a hideout had been easy since he had the basic tools needed. After he was finished with the work, the cupboard in his room just looked like it had expanded a few inches on the sides.

His father’s stifled sob jerked him to the present. He pulled himself to a sitting position and the cot creaked its complaint. His father turned away. Vidoo lunged to his left and slid his small hand into his father’s.

Father turned to him again with a forced smile. “You are awake! Are you feeling better, Vidoo?”

Vidoo shrugged, wishing to throw off the eerie feeling that there was something wrong with the plan. “I am okay, papa. Did you check the posters on the city square?”, he asked the same question that he had been asking the previous two nights.

“Yes, I did because you asked.”

“And?”

“Do you remember the Thakirs? You used to work some jobs at their place. A girl is missing in their family. It is a shame because they were scheduled to leave in the next big launch. Whoever helps find the girl gets a seat in the spaceship, ” his father said, twisting the empty air-packet in his hand. “Maybe we should look for the girl, huh?”

Vidoo felt breathless now. He went to the corner of the room and opened the cupboard; his hands shook as he unscrewed the bolts and removed the board. Out came a girl strapped with air-packets that were supposed to have been empty. “Papa, we have the girl. This is Karina Thakir.”

Father’s eyes widened first in surprise and then in comprehension. He didn’t hide his tears this time and the thin watery smile was a welcome addition. There was no flaw after all, thought Vidoo.

But the smile slid away leaving no trace that it ever appeared. “What you did was wrong,“ father said. He looked at Karina, “I hope your father is a good man.”

#

Thakir embraced his daughter and thanked them, tears in his eyes. But father just smiled and suggested that they talked in private.

As the door closed, Karina beamed at Vidoo and gave him a hug, restricted by all the layers of hazmat suits. She broke off and said, “Maybe we shouldn’t act too friendly.”

Vidoo nodded but suspected that his father was going to be honest anyways. He rushed to the closed door and put his ear to it.

It was father’s voice. “You are a good man to stand by your words in spite of – the conspiracy.”

“They are just kids. Compassionate kids. A sign that the world still has love and friendship.”

There was a pause.

“The seat is either yours or your son’s.”

Vidoo wanted to scream ‘No’ but his voice stuck in his throat.

“It will be my son. Be good to him.” Tears pricked Vidoo’s eyes and he made to get away from the door but still heard his father’s voice, somehow simultaneously mellow and loud, say, “My son has done me a huge favour. I hope he becomes a father one day so he can understand.”

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