It was 3’o clock on a Monday afternoon. Papai was sitting on his favorite chair in the verandah of their South Kolkata house. He was eating ice cream with his drawing copy in front of him. Papai’s parents were sleeping inside, and his elder sister Diti was busy doing her chemistry project.
Papai studied in class five in a reputed school and Diti in class 9 in the same school. His dad worked in an IT firm and his mother ran a dance school in the house.
Papai finished his ice-cream and opened his drawing copy. Suddenly, he saw a boy, his age standing outside in front of him, holding the grille.
The boy was lanky and bare bodied. He had no shoes and he was not wearing a mask!
“Who are you? and why have you come out of your house, and that too without a mask? Don’t you know the police will catch you?’’ growled Papai.
Papai knew everything. He has heard everyone talking about the Corona virus that is spread outside in the atmosphere and so everyone must stay inside the house. His school was closed, and his baba also worked from home. Baba always wears a mask whenever he went out to do shopping.
“I don’t need a mask.’’ Said the boy in a soft voice. “I am Corona virus. I am sure you have heard my name. ’he said.
“What!’’ exclaimed Papai. He was paranoid.
“Ma has told me to stay away from you and not to talk to you at all,” Papai said taking a few steps back. “Baba says it is for you so many people are in trouble. I cannot go to school, neither can go out to play with Momo and Sunny. Yesterday was my birthday, and no one came to my house to wish me. Ma and didi baked a cake and baba made a video call to grandmama and Phool pishi (auntie) when I cut it. It is for you, I have to wash my hands so many times with soap, and didi complains to ma if I don’t. You better go away from here at once or else I will call ma.’’ Papai warned the boy.
Just at that moment, another boy came and stood beside Corona holding the grille. He was wearing a torn green shirt and blue dirty half pants. His hands and legs were soiled, and his hair was messy, dry and brown in color like dry leaves. He looked beggarly and starved.
“Who are you now!’’ Papai said annoyingly. He was a good boy and listened to his parents. He knew he would get a good scolding if his parents found out what he did in the afternoon.
“My name is Earth’’ said the boy.
“I know you; we all live on the Earth, but why are you so untidy and dirty?’’
“I wasn’t like this when I was born.” said the Earth. But it is for the human that I have become so ugly.’’ He said.
“But how?’’ Papai could not understand how a man can make the earth look ugly.
“Human have cut trees to make high-rise buildings and industries and made me almost bare and upset my natural balance. This has made me hot and put me in distress.’’ Said Earth in a cynical voice.
Papai had read about deforestation in school. He has read how cutting down trees cause Global warming. Didi had explained how Ozone layer act as a sunscreen to the earth and protects us from UV rays of the sun. His geography mam had shown a video of how Global warming is causing the icebergs to melt. He had seen pictures of penguins and seals in Antarctica.
“Human act has resulted in so much pollution that has caused a big threat to the animals and plants whom I give shelter too.” Earth continued in a frustrating manner. Because of this pollution, hundreds of innocent animals lose their lives. They cannot protest because they cannot speak, but they can feel the agony like humans. For the pollution, I can hardly breath, I have to wear a mask throughout the year.”
Papai had seen didi making a project on pollution last year. She explained to him how pollution harms the plants and animals in air, on land, and in water.
He told his geography mam that he knew about the oil spill and she patted him on his back in front of the whole class, Papai felt so proud.
Papai looked at the poor boy in dismay.
“I understand how you feel when you cannot breathe.’’ He said.
“I also can’t breathe when I have asthma attack and doctor uncle told ma it was due to pollution. I have to take inhaler when I cannot breathe. Didi also sneezes when Minati mashi sweeps the floor. She has dust allergy” Papai said.
“Humans are as much threat to the Earth as much as I am to human. Both kills. I can’t change my nature, but humans can.’’ Corona told.
“How?’’ asked Papai.
“You all can plant more trees and take steps to minimize pollution to make Earth green and clean again, so he does not have to wear a mask to protect himself.’’ Corona said with a smiling face. This was the first time Papai saw Earth smiling too.
“All right,” said Papai.
“I will tell all my friends to plant trees and not to make you dirty.’’ he promised pointing towards the Earth.
“So, we are friends now’’. Papai stretched his hands and the three hold hands as a sign of their friendship.
“We must leave now, or else your parents will get a shock seeing us with you. ’said Corona giggling.
“Wait a second” Papai said and went running inside the house.
He came back with two pieces of his birthday cake and gave to both the boys.
He gave Earth his inhaler and told him to use it whenever he feels shortness of breath.
Earth took out a yellow rose from his pocket and gave it to Papai as a gift.
“Thank you,” Papai said waving his hand as the two boys left.
“Papai, Papai’’ he heard Diti calling him by his name.
“Who are you talking to?” she said in an amusing tone. “You must have fallen asleep and dreaming. Come inside and have your milk.”
Papai looked at the yellow rose in his hand and told Diti, “Didi, from tomorrow I will water the plants with you.”
Diti looked at her brother with a smile and put her arm around his shoulder and took him inside.