Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

I surveyed our Christmas crib with satisfaction.

Dad, ever the DIY-type, had crafted a stable and a manger out of some leftover wood. Hay, stitched together, made up the thatched roof. We had strewn sawdust on the floor to simulate the desert of the Holy Land. In this humble setting, we placed the figures of the Nativity.

Wheat grass, cultivated days before, made up the foliage. A large sheet of paper painted blue with many silver dots and one golden star made up the skyline.

I thought we had done an awesome job. And yet our crib did not make it to the shortlist for the Christmas crib competition. The judges said it lacked authenticity. They gushed over someone else’s, and said it looked “sooo real.” Ours would too, I promised myself.

Mentally stripping our crib down to the parts of its whole, I diagnosed just where our crib fell short of realism. It was the skyline. It didn’t look real. It was just varying shades of blue -- cobalt, Prussian, navy and indigo, merging together, the silver dots, masquerading as distant stars, and the golden star leading the wise men to the stable. We needed real stars, I decided.

I didn’t know how to catch a falling star and the desire hung amorphously in my mind. The following April we headed to our hometown in Goa for our summer holidays. On one of our trips to the numerous beaches that dot Goa’s coastline, I chanced upon the answers to my need. There they lay along the shore. So many starfish that my eyes widened in surprise.

Excitement coursed through my veins. I touched one of them gingerly. Tentatively. It wriggled slightly beneath my fingers. Then stayed put. I looked around. My cousins and brothers were all busy having fun, laughing uproariously as they tried to ride the waves. My mother and aunt were sitting on the shore under the benign shade of some coconut trees, guarding our picnic lunch and flip-flops.

Suddenly I felt deliciously conspiratorial. I had to find a place to stow the starfish, without anyone seeing me. The idea of having starfish stand by for stars was so ingenious, I didn’t want anyone else in the world having it, not even my cousins. And I wanted the judges’ jaws to drop when they saw our Bethlehem skyline.

Running towards my mom, I peered in the bag containing our lunch and took out an empty polythene bag. Back to the beach I raced, my feet tripping quickly across the hot sand. Bending down, I picked about ten starfish and dropped them in the bag. Once we got back to my uncle’s house, I put the starfish in a Mackintosh chocolates tin, and slid the tin in the dusty darkness behind an old cupboard.

We wouldn’t return to Bombay until mid-June. There was plenty of time to pack my prized find in my suitcase. My heart at ease, I enjoyed my holidays.

Until they turned their noses up, wondering about the smell of dried fish. Had tom hidden a dead rat somewhere?

The holidays became dreary. I longed for school.

No one owned up.

Dad noticed the air of despondency. And the story tumbled out. He didn’t say a word about selfishness or greed or the loss of life. And yet how keenly I felt his unspoken disappointment.

The starfish were buried in the backyard. No one else cried.

The new judges that Christmas thought our crib looked refreshingly simple. I thought of those starfish then.

I still carry that dead weight.

Being eight is no excuse.

(This post has been written for the Weekly Challenge at Yeah Write.)


  1. I loved the details in this story--I could so clearly visualize the Christmas crib and the day at the beach! Be gentle with yourself, though. That eight year old didn't maliciously stuff those starfish away--it was a mistake. *hugs*

  2. Oh no--how sad. The starfish would have been a nice touch in your nativity scene.

    Your story brought up a long-forgotten memory of mine when I hid a dead baby duck in the back of my closet. I had found it in a marsh behind my house. I remember worrying about it for a long time, but I don't remember anyone ever finding it or what happened.

  3. Poor child, wanting to create a perfect Christmas crib, one with honor, and creating a moment of pure torture for your young soul. This is powerfully written, I wanted to transport myself to the funeral for the starfish so you wouldn't have to cry alone

  4. When I was a child it was clams. I had them in a brown dishpan and forgot it in the sun. The poor things cooked.

  5. Thank you for understanding, NextpageNewChapter. It was bad enough killing those starfish with my negligence. It was worse when I read that they are an endangered species. I've looked for starfish to hurl back into the water, but never found any.

  6. You too, Marcy? I thought I was the only one to have done something so terrible to a mute creature. But your crime is lesser than mine. You found a dead duckling. I cut my starfish' lifespan short.
    Thank you for agreeing about the starfish being a good touch. It would have, wouldn't it?

  7. Thank you, TwinkleToesAndNinjaBoy. It was sorrow as much as guilt that brought out those tears at the makeshift funeral.

  8. Maybe that is why they say, children can be cruel, Vanessa D. But so often these unfortunate events happen quite by accident.

  9. The starfish idea is ingenious! It would have been such a nice touch. Perhaps you can still create that moment. I think being eight was excuse enough. No point blaming ourselves about the past. Great details in this post.

  10. I love the line this story follows. And how sad about the starfish! You say that being eight is no excuse, and it's not -- but childhood is so self-centered because it's all about finding a path on your own terms. And I'm sure that this experience, however painful or shameful you may feel it is, has shaped a part of you. That is how you honor the starfish.

  11. Thank you, Angela, for being so kind and agreeing that it would have been a nice touch. Unfortunately, the ten starfish that were martyred might not think so.
    Thank you for stopping by.

  12. Thank you, Kristin. Yes, children can be quite cruel, can they not? Afterwards, I wondered why I hadn't bothered to consult my dad about my idea. After all, those starfish would still have been swimming somewhere.

  13. Aww.. feel sad for those starfish. But then you were so young. Nicely written, as always.

  14. Thank you, Shail, so lovely to see you here. I was young and foolish then. I do regret that incident badly.



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