FILIAL TIES • by Rumjhum Biswas

She’s gone off again to dig into the food that I saw first. She always does this. Sometimes I wish she’d buzz off someplace else. She could just pop into those huge machines these flat-eyed behemoths love to sit in when they travel, and that would be the last of her. She won’t do that, I know. She is too clever to be whisked away. Besides, there’s plenty here for us. All of us. Our captain said so when he led us here. We were almost half dead with hunger and the extreme cold. Hundreds died. I saw the flat-eyed monsters light crackling blue fires in metal cages where our brethren sizzled and crisped away into dust.

The cold was so bad that we could barely set our wings to fly point. We literally crawled in. The old captain died soon after leading us here. He was a good leader. Then my half brother, four times removed, took over. He was the senior-most rank wise. He was also considered to be capable. His ommatidia worked well and he could spot danger way in advance. But he was greedy, too greedy for us. I don’t think he was popular, but she sucked up to him all the time. Really, all the time!

I did not discuss this with anyone. Who could you trust? I heard the buzz though, and I knew there were others who weren’t exactly happy with the two of them. I stayed quiet in my corner, glad to have the safety of numbers and the warmth. We needed the warmth to keep our forewings and vestigial rear wings in good condition. Our pulvilli without which we would starve would be useless for fleeing. It is a common understanding that we all sleep together, but those two sometimes flew off by themselves. I watched them from my perch. I watched and I waited.

My chance came on a bright day. The sort of day that made the behemoths pile food on the platforms, and clap their hands with joy and run out into the wide open beyond like mad things. When our resident behemoth left, I flew over to the food platform and hovered over a wide expanse of shiny gooey orange on a square of white. I hovered silently before moving in. A quick morsel here and there and then I was off again. Quick movement is the key to survival. My ommatidia are always alert. The old captain had once told me that I could have become a great leader if I weren’t so reclusive. I dived in again to get at the sweet orange goo. That’s when they cut in from above.

They succeeded in edging me out. Not wanting to give up too easily, I remained clinging to a corner of the white square, which is nice but not as tasty as the orange goo.   Then I saw the behemoth rushing back in. The creature’s front limbs were raised and a whoosh of air was coming out from its open maw. It came in so fast that there was no time to fly off. It had something attached to its limb, a long thing with a flat square net like head, like a flattened close-up of our eyes. I recognized this contraption. It is one of the most dangerous weapons against us. It can get us even in mid-flight.

“This is it!” I told myself and dove underneath. The movement of air was terrifying above me. I could feel the vibrations from the wings of my frantic brethren. I crawled out a tiny bit in order to take a quiet look. She was nowhere in sight. My half brother was frantically trying to fly away. But she, I discovered soon after, was covered in the orange goo and her movements were sluggish. My mind blanked out, save for one strong instinct.

I threw caution to the winds and flew up and away toward her. I headed straight toward her without a backward glance at the square net-like thing which was closing in by the second. I dive-bombed to where she remained, still struggling to keep her balance. Then I literally lifted off with her in midair, heading straight for the beams where I knew even the behemoths with their long-handled weapons couldn’t get us.

I laid her down. She was silent and inert. I knew she was still alive because her limbs were still moving. But she was weak and heavy with the goo. “Clean-up time,” I told myself and got to work, enjoying myself immensely in the process. After a while she started to move again. A little sluggishly at first. I touched her lightly. She stopped.

“Thanks,” she whispered. “But I thought you hated me.”

“We were planted in the same dung heap by the same telescopic ovipositors. That makes us kin,” I told her. Then I waited. She did not speak again. She responded to my caresses quietly.

When we finally returned to our roosting place we found the whole tribe abuzz. The news really seemed to have flown!

My brother was dead. He was not fast enough this time.

“Too much goo to fly,” I thought grimly. But after that there was no time to think about him. Everybody unanimously agreed that I ought to be the next leader. I accepted, and ascended with her as my queen. We touched each other tenderly as we surveyed our domain. I felt the power surging up and vibrating in my wings. With her beside me, I can rest assured my genes will be passed down to the very last dung heap!

Rumjhum Biswas‘s prose and poetry have been published in various online journals, print magazines and anthologies in India and abroad. Notably: Nth Position, Eclectica, Etchings,The King’s English, Unison Anthology 2006 – The Silken Web, The Little Magazine, India, etc. Her poem “Cleavage” was longlisted in the Bridgport Poetry Prize, 2006. Currently, she lives and writes in Chennai.

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