Chapter 1: Together
It is a hot summer's day. The blistering heat feels welcome to me after the week of pouring rain. Though it has been my home for quite some time, the rain in the desert unsettles me. I can never get used to it. The desert is meant to be hot and fiery- like the fire planet. And rainforests, or meadows- anything green, basically, is where rain belongs. Not this stark landscape which the heavy, murky downpour makes more desolate. I wonder, involuntarily, why I still continue to live here.
My answer comes to me easily in the next second. Nina.
I grimace at the fresh, turned-up soil. Beads of sweat are rolling down my neck from my dark bun. The exhaustion fills me with pleasure, some contentment. Exhaustion meant I was being productive. Slowly, I unbend my spine and stand erect, the evening sun's rays blinding my eyes. I stretch a little, sighing softly as my aching back is rid of discomfort temporarily.
I worked extra hard today, I think proudly, hands on my hips, surveying my little field. I say "little", but it's actually rather big, especially for a single person to tend to. I have dug up more than half of the field, the still moist soil making it easy for me to dig more than usual. Tomorrow, I can finish the rest and begin planting. I am in a good mood. I even hum tunelessly- and I know why the planet of the bats was never right for me- I couldn't really sing to save my life.
I chuckle a deep, throaty chuckle to myself and pick up my tools. All in all, a productive day. "Productive" is my favourite word, and I love it when I can actually apply it to some activity. I turn to survey the field one last time. Not bad, I say to myself again, for a single person.
I hear a snort of derision. My grimace returns. Alright, two persons. There's Nina, of course. But she doesn't count- because no one knows she exists.
As I enter my soothingly cool home, Nina eyes my fingers disapprovingly. They are caked with mud, and even my fingernails are lodged with granules of murky brown.
Nina hates dirty fingernails. As if she wasn't doing something similar before I came, I think scathingly, slumping over to the washroom to clean myself up.
Once I am done, I sit down at the small table in the kitchen for dinner. Nina always takes over during dinner- though I hate to admit it, she's an amazing cook. I tune out her complaints as usual and switch on the TV, trying to watch the new movie, rather scandalously called "Lost Souls".
There is nothing scandalous about the movie, though. It's the usual- soul meets soul, they find in each other their partner, but are impaired by their difference in species- in this case a bat and a flower. But they both end their (short) turmoil by coming to Earth, living their lives happily, and in the end, it is hinted that they eventually become See Weeds.
Nina glances only spasmodically at the set, only as a change from watching the food cook. I know what she would have said if she had bothered.
We eat the food in silence. It is delicious, as usual- she's made spaghetti today, with that special, tangy sauce of hers that I like. Once we're done and the plates are cleaned and dried, I glance at the large grandfather clock, out of place in the simplistic décor of the room. Too soon to go to bed. I glance at the far right hand corner of the room where I can see her, staring at me warily.
There are often too many uncomfortable periods of time like this, where we have nothing to do, to keep us busy, to distract us from one another. Both of us hate the alone time. It forces us to get to know each other! - Nina had spat the first time it had happened. I don't want it any more than you do, I had retorted, the strange new emotions of resentment and anger easily accepted.
Now she continued to stare back at me, the old resentment in her eyes. I turned to the television quickly, switching channels. I ended up on a news channel.
Frankly, there wasn't really any reason for a news channel, except for advertising reasons. Happy stories of contented souls from around the world were regularly relayed, appealing to souls of all Callings. The best books on Earth and about the Universe… Listen to some of the most experienced souls… The peaceful propaganda is suddenly interrupted by a wave of soft music, and a woman's face slowly appears on the screen. It is a news flash.
Hardly a news flash, Nina had argued. More like a news drift. I grin, remembering the comparison. It's true, I admit, there is nothing 'flashy' about these news flashes. The constant stream of informative stories about productive lives (I did rather like news channels sometimes) is slowly interrupted, and the newscaster gently gives a bit of local information. Just an update, her voice seems to say. Nothing to worry about.
Presently, the woman on the screen says in a soft, calm voice, "As a reminder, all souls in and around Tucson are advised to lock their homes more securely. This is just a precaution against rodents and other such marauding species. There seems to be a recent surge in animal crimes in this area." She pauses, and with a reassuring smile on her face, continues, "I would like to personally assure all souls that this is nothing to worry about-" There you go. "-and the authorities concerned are doing their best to solve this temporary problem. Good day." She smiles again and her face slowly fades away, and the telecast of a lecture by a soul who had been on the frontline- the first souls to descend upon this planet- continues.
"It isn't rodents."- Nina says suddenly. I look at her. "Animal crimes…" She snorts. "Once upon a time that meant torturing guinea pigs in labs. Or worse. This isn't animals- you know that. Animals don't steal groceries. Or Cheetos."
I look away at the clean linoleum floor. "It's humans."
"Humans."- Nina repeats smugly.