by Hiya Mukherjee
It’s better being a trusty parachute than a lily moth. But try telling that to the nihilists most of whom are entomologists by profession. It’s not surprising since the average life expectancy of a usual habitat of Phylum Arthropoda will range from three days to fifty years at max. What better way to explore the void and the meaninglessness of everything than studying these minuscule perennials? Her parents were such. They were obsessed with the lily moth, aka Polytela Gloriosae, an exotic species with an average lifespan of five years found mostly in the Indian Subcontinent. The walls were overrun with innumerable taxidermy display boxes and in each box, carefully chosen samples of lily moths with their signature black wings and yellow-orange specks. They were their prized possessions. She often spotted her parents holding hands and watching the frames in an apparent dreamlike trance, yet not a trace of emotion on their faces, quite like Victorian marble statues. Maybe that was just a nihilist thing. Contrary to popular belief not all nihilists wear black and smoke like chimneys. They are extremely committed to their craft. Her father preferred his corduroy pants and occasionally smoked pipes. Her mother always opted for a peculiar shade of violet, which matched the color of her cheeks and drank an awful amount of Bombay Sapphire. The house was neat. The child well fed. But like all nihilist households, it lacked a certain warmth. She was not neglected or abused. She wasn’t dyslexic. She didn’t have issues with her father. But somehow she was always struggling to avoid a certain spectre that lurked in shadows of the cabinets. She always worried that she had contracted some chronic disease, a terrible virus. Her parents didn’t entertain such thoughts. After all, they were not absurdists. They just sat on the sofa, father with his pipe, mother with her gin and talked about the lily moth. They dreamed of taking a long journey following the footsteps of Johan Christian Fabricius, the Danish zoologist who discovered the lily moth on the terrains of Indonesia and planned to write a book on it. Nobody asked her what she wanted to be. She didn’t want to be a nihilist or an entomologist and especially not a lily moth. Though she sensed her parents would’ve loved a lily moth daughter. At night, she imagined a ruby red caterpillar crawling out of her mother’s womb. She imagined her parents delighted. Secretly, she wished to become a parachute. One that saves the lives of men when they jump off the planes to fight a different man’s war on a different country. One that makes the process of breathing and living impossible to ignore. One that promises that there will be something meaningful to live for even after the fall….a solitary ray of sunshine, an unexpected touch of empathy, a sign, a gesture, a bowl of strawberry ice-cream…anything, anything at all. She was done fighting her parents’ war against everything that lived for more than five years. She was about to turn ten and she sensed an invisible shade of malice on her mother’s cheek, making them more violet than ever. Obviously, it was all in her head. Her parents loved her very much. But they loved the lily moth even more. So would it be surprising if she, a broken little girl going on ten, falls for the first paratrooper she gets the chance to meet? It was weird since the last war was over even before she was born and she didn’t even have the chance to glance on a real paratrooper in pictures since a nihilist household does not carry picture books. But nonetheless, she recognized the battered man by instinct when he crept into her bedroom on a certain moonlit night. The man wore khaki and had an envious stubble on his cheeks. He looked perplexed when he found her stark awake on the bed. But she smiled. The gratified smile of a wanderer in the desert who has just found an oasis. And after a trifling pause, the man smiled back. And that was that.
About the author
Hiya Mukherjee was born and brought up in Kolkata, India. She writes mostly in Bengali, her mother tongue. She has published a chapbook of her Bengali Poems. She co-edits a bilingual bimonthly blogzine called 'Agony Opera'. She is currently pursuing her PhD in theoretical physics.