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Five hours and hot buttery parathas at a local eatery had calmed me down enough to know that I was essentially directionless at the time. I had no course of action at all before me, but I had plenty of time to chart one.
I was in no mood to try to kill the Creator without any of our poisonous arsenals. I’d even left the potassium chloride with Al, I recalled- when I’d thrown the container in his face. Good times.
Al had lectured me on not caring about Rennie’s sacrifice. About making her sacrifice meaningful. Well, I thought, why let her sacrifice herself anyway? She did it to right our messed-up world, but why her? Why should she have to do it? Wasn’t it the responsibility of those snobby ‘leaders’ of The Society which was created to fight the mutants and keep everyone safe?
So, I decided to bring her back from wherever she was. I contemplated my next move. There was only one person in the universe who could bring her back. The Creator.
She had control over Rennie, so she could simply write her back. I just had to convince her to write six simple words- ‘Rennie came back to Spruce’s world’. Or whatever she called our world. I was amazed by this plan’s simplicity and immediately knew something was wrong. It could not be this simple to bring someone back like that. I was missing something.
Ah yes, I realised. I first had to find out where she was. Came back from where? Details were essential. There was still a chance she wasn’t dead.
As for the finding out, I could think about that later. My first task was to befriend the Creator and convince her to write Rennie back.
I knew where she lived from the time Al and I had stalked her at Pragati Maidan. I couldn’t very well ring her doorbell and say hi, but I could find out the places she frequented most and meet her there. Stalking the Creator all over again.
I was much too tired to walk again and besides, I didn’t know how to get to her house from where I currently was. Once again, I wished for my translator mic-earpieces which I’d left back home.
Relying on the mercy of strangers once again, I finally hitched an auto-rickshaw, which was a hemispherical vehicle with a colour scheme of green and yellow, a large round headlight protruding from its front. When I finally reached my destination, the driver in his broken English asked me for seventy rupees, gratefully accepted his fare and drove off with a sigh, probably glad to be rid of his ‘foreigner’ passenger. Seventy rupees was a bit steep for the short ride, I thought, but whatever, it wasn’t like I was out of money.
After wandering around for a while in the confusing bylanes behind Narang Pastry Shop, I finally found the Creator’s home, a three-storeyed brick building with six apartments, as I noticed when I counted the number of balconies jutting out from it. I didn’t know which one was hers, because on the day of the book fair she’d simply disappeared inside the building and we possibly couldn’t have followed her in.
Just opposite the two rows of houses was a huge park with a low walkway bordering it. Narang Pastry Shop and Aggarwal Sweet & Snack Shop were just beyond the gate of the residential block, with a little waffle place and another bakery opposite to them. Another cafe was located in the residential area itself. All in all, a lot of hangout spots for people to meet up.
I looked at my wristwatch. Four p.m. The Creator would probably visit the park in the evening- she couldn’t possibly be eating out every day, so the numerous cafes and bakeries were less likely candidates for a meetup.
For the next two hours, I planned a crucial conversation.
Two hours later…
I was wandering around in Nehru Park (which was the name of that huge park), looking for my target when I spotted her a few metres away, her back towards me. She appeared to be playing an ancient game with her friend I’d read about in History class as a kid- badminton, I think it was called. That game had inspired the explosive weapon known as Annihilicap, and that was mainly why it’d been mentioned in our books. Both the girls were holding a metal stick with a netted oval at one end and tossing a conical contraption made of feathers back and forth using those sticks- racquets if I remembered correctly. They appeared to be good at it- the feather-cone rarely fell down.
The only way to start a conversation without being weird was to ask them if I could play. I went up to the Creator and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around so suddenly that her long ponytail almost smacked me in the face.
“Ahem… hello, miss. I’m really sorry for- ”
“Wait wait wait wait- I know you,” she said, furrowing her brow and scrutinizing me. “You’re the American guy who hit me on the train with your stupid yo-yo, right?”
I smiled nervously. “Guilty as charged, ma’am.”
“Here to smack my head again? This time I’m prepared, honey,” she said, emphasising her blue racquet.
I laughed an embarrassed laugh. “I’m truly sorry about that day, ma’am. It won’t happen again. I’m sorry.”
“Hmm…” she pretended to think. “I try not to hold grudges. Apology accepted.”
By this time, her friend had also come to see who this stranger was. She was taller than the creator but her hair was considerably shorter. “Who’s this, Agni?”
The Creator- who had a name- explained it all to her friend, whose name was Pragya, as I learned. The standard introductions and hand-shaking took place. I told them my name was Brad Arnold, the first name that came to mind. Finally, the Creator turned to me.
“How are you here?”
“I’m here on tour. I’m staying at Hotel Parth Paradise and thought I’d take a stroll around here.” I spilt my well-practised excuse. I’d seen Hotel Parth Paradise while coming here in that auto-rickshaw, and it was a stone’s throw away from Narang’s.
“Where’s your friend? The one who hit me before you?”
I knew she’d ask me that. “He’s gone shopping for souvenirs. Said he was feeling bored here.”
“Wait- how old are you? Sixteen? Seventeen?”
“Stop calling me ‘ma’am’. And your parents sent you thousands of kilometres away from home on your own?”
“Well, there’s Al.” Oh shit. I hadn’t expected this.
“Alden, my friend.” I couldn’t possibly tell her he was just Al. Nobody was named just Al. It’d be too big a coincidence for her to ignore.
“But still.” She fingered the narrow depression in the middle of her chin. “Just two kids, miles away from home.”
“That is definitely weird,” Pragya added unhelpfully.
“Uh… actually.” My heart raced. I was sure my face was all red. “We were here for a Chemistry Quiz.” Thank god for inter-school competitions. “But then we decided to stay for some more time to explore India properly.”
“An international Chemistry Quiz? Really? That is so very cool. Which one, by the way?”
Make up a fancy name, make up a fancy name. “The… Global Young Chemists’ Tournament.” I heaved an internal sigh of relief.
“Haven’t heard of that one. I’m a nerd too, but Chemistry is not one of my strong points, even though I’m very much interested in it.”
“Then what is? Literature?” I blurted out without thinking.
“Oh my god. How did you know that?” her brown eyes widened.
“Lucky guess.” I shrugged. “I read too, by the way.”
“Oh dear god,” Pragya rolled her eyes. “Just you wait and see now, Brad. There’ll be no end to this conversation now, now that she’s found a reader. She turns into a proper chatterbox then. I’ll leave you two book-lovers to your bookish discussions now.”
“But Pragya-” The Creator started to say, but Pragya had already walked away, waving her goodbye. She sighed. “She’s a movie buff. I’ve tried to tell her a thousand times how much better books are, but she just doesn’t listen.”
The Creator talked to me about books I’d never heard of- they were written in just her world. When I said no every time she asked me if I’d read a particular book, she finally said, exasperated- “What do you read then?”
“Um… Iliad, Odessey- classics, mainly.”
“Ooh, high-level stuff,” she said admiringly.
I laughed a little. “Not high-level, really.” Then I got straight to the point. “Do you write as well?”
“Are you a mind-reader or what?” her eyebrows shot up.
“It’s just that, many readers are writers too.”
“Well, are you?”
“I’m not one of them, unfortunately. But what kind of things do you write?” I prodded her on.
The Creator launched into a proud- but not ostentatious- monologue about her writing. She finally got to my world.
“-And I’m currently writing my first novel, called Grey Earth, where scientists tried to make human beings immortals, but-” she narrated the story of my world to me while I tried not to let my amusement show.
“But why’s it called Grey Earth? Shouldn’t it be Purple Earth or something if your mutants have purple eyes?”
She smiled a satisfied smile that said this was her favourite part. “Because the actions of The Society and all those teenagers are morally grey, Brad. They’re protecting people, and that’s good, but the Hela mutants were once people too. They never tried to cure them- they’re only focused on killing them.”
I was speechless for a few moments. “I’d never really thought of it that way,” I said finally.
The Creator laughed. “You say it like you’re Spruce himself.”
“It’s just… deep, you know?”
“Yeah. What made you give him such a daft name anyway?”
“Your protagonist, you know. Spruce Marlow.”
She laughed again. “Spruces are fast-growing evergreen trees. My protag learns fast and is always ready for action. Spruces can grow quite tall as well. Sometimes my protag can be arrogant. I wanted the name to represent his virtues and his flaws. Plus, it’s an uncommon name. So, I named him Spruce.”
I smiled. “Still. People would make fun of him, you know. Spruce-tree.”
“You sound almost sorry for him.”
“Well, I am! I would never want a name like that.” The Creator laughed, and her protagonist did too.