“Shh . . . someone’s coming! Quickly hide!”
Ajju slid behind his maasi. That should protect me, he thought. If anyone spotted them, he could scamper away, leaving Kini Maasi to handle the situation. The thought brought a smile to his face. Of course, he would never leave her. Ajju loved his maasi, and she loved him too. Somehow, she and he just seemed to think alike. Why didn’t anyone else understand? People would always stare at them angrily and say to his maasi, “Ajju is only eight, but you! You are thirty, Kini! Behave your age!”
Kini Maasi would rarely explain why she found it difficult to “behave her age” in Ajju’s company. Who would understand that Ajju brought out the eight-year-old hidden inside her? Still, both of them would try the goody-two shoes act for a little while before weeping out of boredom and getting right back into making new trouble elsewhere.
Between her and Ajju, there was an unspoken understanding. They laughed a lot together and just had fun! At this moment, however, they were quietly staring at the mess they had made. Kini Maasi had been showing Ajju how to make an igloo. Out of sugar cubes. It had seemed like a brilliant idea but when they made it, they realised that while the sugar cubes made a neat igloo, they also created a messy floor.
Several months ago, Kini Maasi had purchased a globe for Ajju. “You are now eight! Time for you to start exploring!” she had exclaimed excitedly. The globe would be spun and while it was still spinning, Ajju or his maasi would put a finger on a certain region. Then they would proceed to find out everything they could about that region from books, magazines, stories, the Internet and even personal experiences of people who had travelled there (if they knew of any). This time, Kini Maasi and Ajju had been touring the polar regions. That’s how this whole igloo thing got started.
They had looked at how people who lived on the poles dressed, the animals that lived there, the climate, how people commuted on sledges pulled by dogs, what they ate and finally, the houses they built for themselves. It was fascinating! So much so that Kini Maasi decided to build a “working model” of an igloo.
“It should be easy enough,” she had said. ‘The real igloo is built by digging up a patch of ice and making bricks from the dug-out ice. We can’t use real ice, so we’ll just use sugar cubes.’ Ajju had not thought of sugar cubes, although he had been thinking of alternatives to thermocol. When he had made a model of a computer for the science fair using thermocol, his proud parents had been showing it off to everyone, but Kini Maasi was disappointed. “It’s harmful to the environment, Ahana,” she told his mother. “Thermocol sticks around forever and just doesn’t decompose!” Well, the sugar-cube igloo was almost ready now. Kini Maasi was just adding the fi nishing touches when her phone rang. While she was speaking on the phone, Ajju picked up the igloo to admire their handiwork. He was full of admiration for its perfection. What a delicious piece of art a sugary igloo was!
Once Kini Maasi finished her phone call, they would build a cream and sugar base (for ice and snow) and mount the sugar-cube igloo on it. Then, after everyone had admired it, praised their creativity and clicked photographs, the igloo would be taken apart and eaten. He turned it over to see the inside . . . The next thing Ajju knew, he was holding the tunnel while the dome of the igloo had crashed to the floor and splattered everywhere.
He was not sure whether he felt horror, panic, disappointment, or some other unnamed thing. Ajju was still staring at the mess when Kini Maasi entered. Her mouth fell open and because she was at a complete loss for words (and ideas to escape), she joined him in the mute-spectator act. As they watched, a neat, disciplined line of ants appeared from nowhere and began marching off with grains of sugar.
The sound made them jump with fright. It was the sound of the front door being unlocked. Ajju’s parents had been out to attend a wedding and were back now. While leaving, Ajju’s mother had stood at the door for a long moment, looking at the duo. As she glanced at one face and then the other, both Kini Maasi and Ajju had been terrified that she would ask Ajju to accompany them. But thankfully she hadn’t, and all had seemed well. Well, nothing was well anymore. There was no time to clean up the mess, and the only way they could save their skin was by hiding.
Excerpted with permission from Trunk Call For Ajju, Anjana Nagabhushana, illustrated by Siddhi Vartak, Puffin Books.