I realised during the Alphabet Sambar meet yesterday that I wrote this story but never put it up. So here it is for your childhood-scented reading pleasure. Don’t forget to play!
The Apple Lion
It started with a spelling test. Ma’am had threatened the class with one later in the week.
“If you have all been studying like good children, you will have no problem. All the bad children who think they can learn everything in one day, they will all FAIL!! And they will be made to stand outside Father Philip’s office! And their parents will be called. And they will also have to sit outside Father Philip’s office. When they see their parents sitting outside Father Philip’s office, then they will think…Oh, I should have studied when ma’am told me to. Otherwise my whole family would not be sitting outside the principal’s office!!”
And she swept out of the class with a menacing clack of heels. Anusuya turned to Minnal, worry pushing the corners of her lips down. She looked just like Ronald MacDonald but with his face upside down. Then Rahil shot a paper pellet at her and she turned to him, frown gone. Fahim was picking his nose, so they started teasing him.
Manu watched them all from under his elbows, his head down on the table. He tried to think of all the big words that they had come across, in the chapters so far. He didn’t want Anusuya to fail. He liked her even though she looked like Ronald MacDonald with her curly, short hair. He lifted his head. Immediately Minnal turned in his direction so he looked away and right into his book. A word swum into focus, just as a paper pellet hit him on the back.
Affy-leen. Apay-le-yon. Appa-lion. He tried the word on his tongue several times. It didn’t work. Then the chemistry sir slippered into class. Manu always thought of it that way, even though his father had told him that there was no such a thing as ‘slippering’. But sir made a terrific sound with his rubber slippers slapping on the floor. Manu had tried it at home but he couldn’t get the same effect, till he went into the bathroom and slapped his feet around on the wet tiles. Maushi had complained to his mother and she had come and yanked him out of the bathroom, telling him to let the maid do her work. Slipper-slipper-slipper, sir’s feet made that sound announcing his arrival. Everyone straightened in their seats and opened their chemistry textbooks.
That evening, Manu walked to tuition class. He tried slippering but it wouldn’t work with his canvas shoes. Then he passed the empty ground next to tuition didi’s house. Somebody had thrown a half-eaten apple into the compound. He kicked it as he passed. It reminded him of that word he had seen earlier in class. What was it?
Idea! He sat down on the staircase and took out his dictionary.
- the point farthest from the sun in the orbit of a planet or comet.
- the point in the orbit of any orbiting body farthest from the body about which it revolves.
There was a diagram below it showing earth and moon. He looked up, hearing a chatter of voices. Minnal, Fahim and Anusuya entered the building. They paused when they saw him, then they continued. Anusuya asked him,
“What are you doing?”
Manu told her,
“I’m making a game.”
she bent next to him, looking at the open dictionary.
“It’s to help me remember the spellings,”
said Manu, shutting the books and stuffing them back into his bag.
They had an hour of sums to do. Manu was pulled up once for drawing in his workbook.
“What are these??”
tuition didi demanded, looking at the blobs he had scribbled that morning in class.
said Manu. He didn’t want to reveal his game yet.
“And what about these?”
she asked, pointing to three stick figures with squiggly lines on their tops.
Manu replied in a small voice.
Minnal giggled again, while Fahim tried to laugh and pick his nose at the same time.
When the class was over though, Anusuya sidled upto Manu and asked him,
“So what’s the game?”
Manu looked up from putting away his books, smiling.
“Tomorrow”, he told her, “Come for tuition half an hour early tomorrow. But meet me in the ground.”
Then he looked over her shoulder and gestured with his chin.
“Bring them also.”
The next day Manu told his mother that tuition didi had called them early to prepare for the test. As he reached the ground, he realized they had all come, even Rahil, though he was not in their tuition class.
“Well, what’s the game?”
Rahil demanded as Manu approached them.
Manu took out a sheet of paper on which he had written out all the hard words from the chapter. Then he explained the rules.
“This is the Earth”,
he said, drawing a circle around where they stood, in the dust with his shoe. Then he ran backwards, till he reached the compound wall. From there he began drawing a line in the dust around the Earth circle, till he reached the same point again. The kids watched him curiously.
“And this is the road the moon goes on, around the Earth.”
“No, no, the sun goes around the Earth,”
“Stupid, Earth goes around sun,”
Rahil corrected her.
“And moon also goes around Earth.”
Minnal looked crestfallen but they all fell silent, turning to him.
“You will all be satellites. I will stand over here,”
said Manu, pointing to the ground, where he stood next to the compound wall.
“I will call out one word. If it is Minnal’s turn, she must spell out the word. Each letter in the word means, she takes one step to the moon road. Like if I say ‘Sun’, she takes a step for S, then U and then N. If you don’t know the spelling of the word, you pass. The next person takes that turn.”
Fahim scratched his nose. Manu rushed on before the finger went into the nose.
“If everyone passes, everybody has to go back to Planet Earth. Then I will spell the word correctly and we will take a new word.”
Minnal screwed up her forehead.
“What happens when we reach the moon road?”
Manu hadn’t thought about it but noticing Anusuya’s smile gave him a new idea.
“Then you become a satellite. If Minnal doesn’t know the word I give, then she can ask you for a new word.”
“Minnal doesn’t know any words!”
said Fahim, gravely studying a grey blob on his finger as he spoke.
Minnal opened her mouth but when she saw Fahim’s hand, she shut up.
“How do you spell satelli..”
Manu drowned her out speaking as loudly as he could. He didn’t want Fahim to say Anusuya didn’t know any words.
“The satellite people will try to reach me as fast as they can by spelling the words I give. If you make a mistake, the satellite explodes and you fall back onto Planet Earth.”
“Satellites are not explosive, stupid!”
“In this game, they are. They are bomb-satellites. They have to reach the finish without exploding.”
Fahim had dropped to his knees to tie his sneakers.
“First one to reach where I am standing is the winner. That person takes this list and gets to call out new words for the others.”
“What is this game called?”
Anusuya wanted to know.
“Apple Lion”, Manu replied. “That’s where I’m standing. It’s the apple lion of this game. It means the point furthest on the moon road from Earth.”
They liked the name. They began to play. Surprisingly Minnal won the first game and became the Apple Lion. And the first word she gave Manu was ‘Aphelion’. He pretended he didn’t know its spelling though he had recited it twenty times the previous day. Anusuya was next and she got it right. He wanted her to be the next Apple Lion.
The next day they played it, walking around on tin cans tied under their feet. Everyone got the spelling of ‘Stilts’ right. By Day 3, everyone knew all the answers and they made him promise he’d bring a fresh Apple Lion list from another chapter, the next day.
Manu went home and ate his dinner without complaint. He didn’t even notice that there was tindli in the sabzi. The Apple Lion was going to pass the spelling test with full marks.
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