“And then you put ‘x’ here in the equation and you get the value of the-” Mr. Math Teacher’s voice was interrupted by the last bell of the day.
“So that’s it for today. You can leave.”
I was the first one to get up from my seat, not before Ted, of course.
“You seem in a hurry today, Sherly,” said Mr. Math Teacher. That obviously wasn’t his real name, but who cares what his name was. I had more important things on my mind.
“Um, yeah, I’ve got some tasks scheduled,” I said picking my bag, as I looked around to make sure that Ted was still in my line of sight. I fumbled a bit, hitting a desk, as I rushed behind him, making a very poor effort of masking the fact that I was following him. I could hear voices from the back seats, making all sorts of assumptions about why I was stalking him. Him, of all. Him, who no one talked to. Him, who didn’t belong there. Him, the nutcase. As for Ted, he seemed completely oblivious to it all.
I didn’t have to hide behind trees or duck behind objects to hide myself from him. In fact he was so busy with himself, that he was barely paying attention to where was going. His mind was completely lost in a different world, like it usually was, and his legs were just leading him home as an obligation.
I put one hand inside my bag to make sure that I had my phone with me, and also a power bank. I wasn’t going to take any risks.
It took us five minutes to reach our destination by foot. He unlocked the door and stepped inside a large dark room. I followed. And just like always, he didn’t even turn back.
Completely unaware of my presence, he seated himself inside his cabin and set about fiddling with the switches and monitors on his large dashboard. I stood right beside the corner pillar.
“So, what are we gonna do today?” he said, like you do when you are thinking of a task to do. But the fact that he wasn’t saying this to himself, but in a tone that suggested he was talking to someone else.
Now I know that Ted is somewhat of a crackpot. No, complete crackpot. And that he keeps doing weird things, which is also a reason why people prefer to stay away from him. But when he does this thing of talking in a way like he’s talking to someone else in that dark room, it just creeps me out.
This was the time to execute my mission. I took out my phone and pressed the ON button. And pressed it again. And again.
I stared at it in disbelief. No way. This couldn’t happen again. I swear I charged my phone and the power bank that morning. How could it just get discharged?!
There was something really fishy going on in the room. This Ted wasn’t as stupid as he looked. I don’t know what he’d done, but there was something in that room… some kind of a force, or a field? I don’t know. But it happened every time. Every time I took out my phone in the room, it would get discharged. I tried a camera too. Didn’t work. And so I brought a power bank, but it too showed zero battery! How come!
And that wasn’t even the weirdest part. The weirdest part was that it would get charged again as soon as I stepped out of the room. Wonderful.
I shook my phone violently, though I knew it won’t help.
“Oh, come on, it won’t work,” he said. I froze. Was he talking to me?
He didn’t talk any further though, and after a few minutes, he got up and strolled towards the inner door like he always did. He placed his hand on the door’s handle, and just before he pushed it, he said, “Don’t you want to see what’s inside?”
I didn’t know to whom he asked this question everyday, but if it was me, I would have definitely said a yes. That’s the whole point of me being there!
I expected him to walk inside like everyday, but suddenly he turned back. “Are you really not curious?”
Well, this was something I hadn’t heard him say before.
“If I were you, I would have wanted to see it with my own eyes, not with my phone.”
My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets as they widened in shock. I crept closer to the pillar.
“I’ve always wondered how you managed to stay here this long with all your plans failing. I thought you would have eventually ran away or gone crazy thinking I’m a ghost or an alien.” He chuckled.
There was no point in hiding now. He was definitely talking to me.
“You knew I was here?” I asked stepping out.
“All along,” he said.
“So why didn’t you say anything?”
He shrugged. “You were a great company.”
“A great company? I was spying on you!”
“Well, at least you seemed to notice that I exist. Most people don’t.”
Ouch. I tried to divert the conversation. “So why did you talk to me today?”
“Today? I was talking to you everyday.”
“Yeah, right,” I mumbled.
“So… you wanna have a look inside?”
“You’re inviting me in?”
“I thought it was obvious.”
“No, I mean, aren’t you scared that I’ll spill your secrets to the world, or report you to the police if there’s anything fishy inside?”
He laughed. “No, I’m sure you won’t do any of that.”
“What makes you so sure of it?”
“If you had to do anything of that sort, you would have done it already. And besides, you’re a great friend.”
“I’m not quite sure about that last part. We’ve barely talked.”
“You are talking to me right now. And you’ve come to see me every evening since the last week. That’s the least a friend can mean to me. So, are we friends?”
I smiled. “Of course, we are.”
“Would you like to come inside then?”
He knew my answer and walked straight towards the door, leading my way. He clutched the handle, took a deep breath and twisted it. I had never seen him being so nervous.
“Welcome to my world,” he whispered as he threw the door open.
I could not believe what I saw before me. It wasn’t a giant workshop crowded with machines, or a lab filled with strange specimens. It wasn’t anything I could have ever imagined.
I had forgotten that I even needed to step inside, so he had to pull me in. I was still trying to comprehend what my eyes saw.
My brain struggled to put the scenery in words. I couldn’t give a name to it, because I had never seen anything like it before. One thing was sure, it wasn’t just a room. It was huge, like it extended to infinity.
The background was pitch dark. The space, the ground – everything. But you could see a glimmer of gold if you looked carefully. And then, in the foreground, were bright, neon, shimmering globes that floated all around. They were of all colours you could have ever imagined and of all sizes, huge and tiny. They were hollow like soap bubbles, but they had something magical to them. Some were webbed, some netted, some with exquisite designs, and some plain. You could look at it for hours, and still couldn’t get enough of it.
“What place is this?” I asked when I could finally breathe.
He extended his arm in the air, and a green globe came floating to his hand. As soon as it touched his hand, it started transforming. I watched in amusement as it slowly turned… into an apple!
He tossed it over to me and I held it very carefully, afraid that it might break.
“You can eat it,” he said.
I bit into it, wondering if it was right to eat such a magical thing. And whoa, it was the sweetest and juiciest apple ever!
He held out his hand again. This time, a red globe came floating. As soon as it touched his hand, he threw it up in the air, and it burst into colourful fireworks! I stared at it until every little spec of light dissolved in the darkness.
“You can catch one, too,” he said, and I realised he was talking about the globes.
I held my hand out like he had, but none of the globes floated towards me.
He laughed. “You have to think of what you want.”
Oh, that’s how it works. I thought for a long time, but couldn’t think of anything.
“You can just randomly pick one if you are confused. That’s fun too,” he said.
I looked around me. There were so many globes, so many different ones. It was so difficult to choose just one.
I finally caught a little yellow globe that was dancing in front of me. I watched in amazement as it changed its shape, and within a few seconds, there was a tiny butterfly fluttering in my hands!
It was like a game then. We would pick any globe at random and watch it transform. We made a rose bouquet, a box of chocolates, a sparrow, a pearl bracelet, a jasmine perfume, a bug, a glass of juice, a few trees, and even a cheese burst pizza! And oh, how can I forget the little red car!
We finally made a ground of fresh green grass and dropped on it, tired. It was all so fun. Ted held his hand out and called for a globe that transformed into a cool breeze. All the fun, the soft grass beneath, the cool breeze and the jasmine perfume, made me sleepy. I closed my eyes and was halfway asleep, when I suddenly remembered something. I had forgotten to ask the most important question.
“Um, Ted,” I began, not sure how to frame the question. “What is this place? I know you said it’s your home, but what exactly is it? I mean, what is it made up of? What are these globes? What world is this? Where are we?”
Okay, I ended up asking too many questions.
In return, he just smiled. I guess he saw it coming.
“Our universe is so big, isn’t it?” he said. “So many things, so much of magic. We’ve seen so much, that we think we’ve seen everything. We are so used to labelling everything and finding the logic behind everything, that we want everything to have a name, to have a reason. We’ve discovered so much, and yet nothing.”
I wasn’t sure I understood what he said, but it seemed good. To have Ted as a friend, seemed good. To be there, at his home seemed good.
And other than this, I was just sure about one thing. That Ted certainly wasn’t a crackpot.