Everything was perfect, as it’s always been. People roaming around, doing their work, caring little or indifferent about one another.
Unsurprisingly, few people had heard about James Jackson, an astronaut working for NASA, in Washington DC. James was rich and had everything he could wish for.
James’s daughter was born one beautiful day, and she had the prettiest face any infant could ever have. James was overwhelmed with happiness and announced the arrival of his firstborn by throwing up a grand party.
The new parents’ main concern was naming their daughter. After a lot of deliberation, they decided to name her Joy. If you ask me, it was her mother’s idea. Her charming mother was a typical British mother - most charming, but controlling. If you’d ever go to her house, she’d cook all kinds of stuff for you. Jamaica was the kind of mother who’d buy whatever she could for her daughter. Joy had brought happiness to their lives and Jamaica was sure her daughter would spread happiness around her all her life. Jamaica was quite right.
Joy had turned 14. She inherited wavy reddish-chestnut hair from her mother and her fiery brown eyes from her dad; if you kept looking at her eyes, you would see flakes of gold and red.
Joy was the smartest girl among her friends. Like any normal girl, she could be sarcastic at times, but had a great heart. She loved bantering with her friends, and would forgive and forget their meanest prank the next day. Joy was nerdy; yet, the most updated girl you’d ever meet. She had this unique energy radiating from her that made her stand-out among people.
‘Dad, when’re you going?’
‘Day after tomorrow,’ replied James.
‘No dad, when’ll you actually go into space?’ She said.
‘On Sunday. Why are you asking?’ Dad mumbled from behind the newspaper.
‘No reason, no reason at all. I don’t even remember – yes, I do. Erm… I was thinking if I could go to Mary’s for this weekend?’ Joy said.
‘Mary who?’ He pretended, trying to be funny. (We all know those moments when elders try to banter but just can’t)
‘My cousin!’ said Joy, stomping her right foot, which resulted in giving her the greatest cramp of all time.
Keep it cool, just resist that pain, keep it together, say what you want, be strong, everything’s just going to be fine, and you’ll get what you want.
‘Can I please go?’ Joy emphasized on “please”.
‘Of course, you can. But for how long?’
‘Just for the weekend.’
Joy’s father went to what the NASA people call a 50-day stay, which meant staying in a space station and working on projects, sometimes on the instruments sent to other planets, or on space telescopes. Once in two years, astronauts would go to outer space, and this time around it was James’ turn to go to the new planet that had been seen with traces of water and perhaps, life.
Joy was however tired of her father’s routine not because her father didn’t give her time; in fact, he gave as much time as he could to his family, but she hated his routine, working day and night without sleep.
Now, the thing was that this time Joy finally decided to do something about her father’s job and had made a plan, with Sandy, Joy’s pet golden retriever, working as a dustbin, eating away the unwanted drafts. This secret plan was actually a funny one, made just to knock some sense into ignorant people who didn’t value other people’s sleep. Sleep, after all, was Joy’s first priority.
‘Hey, Mary. Have you bought the things I told you to?’
‘Of course, I have, Joy, but have you prepared yourself?’
‘Some things are still left. I guess I’m too lazy to do all that stuff. So I’ll just make you put them in my bag when I come over.’ Joy shrugged.
‘Why are you such a lazy couch potato all the time; you know, you can get very fat this way.’ Mary groaned.
‘Why do you believe those stupid superstitions which great-grandmas tell?’
‘Whatever,’ Mary shrugged the topic off; she knew Joy wasn’t going to leave her like that. But surprisingly, she did. ‘Are you taking Sandy with you?
‘Of course, I don’t how long it’s going to take and I don’t want Sandy to wander off looking for me, getting all depressed.’ Joy whistled and sat her dog on her lap, cuddling it. The rusted gold coloured beauty was a present on her tenth birthday from her grandparents who were retired astronauts, too.
‘Nice. What would you like for lunch tomorrow?’ Mary asked.
‘Lunch? Right now, I don’t even know if I’ll even go to sleep! Stupid butterflies in the stomach.’ Joy groaned.
‘You don’t eat, do you? You’ll be a stick woman soon.’ She retorted.
‘You just said I’m getting fat a minute ago!’ Joy exclaimed.
‘Whatever you say.’ Mary rolled her eyes.
‘Can I even live a life? When I eat they say I’m fat, when I don’t they say I’m thin. And as for you, my lady, did you think I was going to let you off the hook so easily for those stupid jokes you pick up from the internet? I had you in my trap…’ Joy said, sarcasm boiling in her throat.
‘Ok, I’ve to go. It’s late.’ Mary said, brushing the topic again.
‘But I-’ She didn’t even get to finish her sentence when Mary started shouting. ‘It’s getting late. Goodnight.’
Joy shook her head, putting the laptop on her nightstand and ordering Sandy to turn off the lights.
Now, this crazy redhead here was Mary Katherine, Joy’s cousin and classmate, and the only one she trusted. She cares about nothing but heavy-metal and rock-punk. Always wearing something black or red, or purple or similar colours. Not an emo, but worth considering.
She was in Joy’s scheme and was the only person on earth who knew about it. However, Mary wasn’t Joy’s best friend. Did I tell you that Joy never made best friends?
Joy breezed into her classroom high-fiving everyone.
‘You never told us where you’re going?’ Somebody asked.
‘It’s like a vacation. I’ll be back in a few days.’ Joy said as she looked at Mary scribbling angrily on a paper, probably cursing everyone. Her expressions changed as soon as she saw Joy and shot her a smile.
‘Is it somewhere special?’ Another girl wiggled her eyebrows and they all hooted and laughed.
‘Not that special but a lot more exciting than this piece of hell.’
The bell rang after this and Joy thanked her lucky stars because everybody had become curious by that time.
‘Mom, can I go now?’ Joy asked impatiently, while coming downstairs.
‘No you can’t, you haven’t even eaten anything.’ Her mom said, dusting the flour off her apron.
‘Mary has arranged lunch for me. Wait, you’ve been baking again? I told you not to, you have a bad back and the cooks can do it too…’ Joy waved her arms in the air.
‘You don’t need to think about the cooks, please, let them rest; baking’s my passion, let me do it.’ She cooed.
‘I don’t care, being well is better than cooking. And what do you mean by “let them rest”? Cooks are for cooking.’ She tugged the roots of her hair.
‘Come on, don’t stress out, you’re too young to worry about such things.’ Her mother took Joy’s hands off her hair and brushed them with one hand while the other caressed Joy’s palms.
‘Can I please go now?’ She said innocently.
‘All right.’ She sighed.
‘Thank you!’ Joy said as she ran out, but came back and hugged her mom while stealing away some doughnuts she’d made. Anyway, her mom knew she was up to something.
Mary opened the front door at the third bell.
‘You seriously look like a typical monkey right now,’ she said and they both burst out laughing. ‘Keeping a house clean isn’t easy when your parents aren’t home.’ Mary scratched her neck.
‘When are they ever at home?’ Joy mumbled and she agreed. They went in and Joy started to raid the refrigerator.
‘Is there something known as milk in here?’ Mary scurried into the kitchen with Sandy in her arms. ‘Sometimes I wonder if you’re blind.’ She thrust the bottle in Joy’s hands while she smiled innocently.
‘What’ve you got for us tonight?’
‘Movies, popcorn, gossip, all kinds of stuff.’
‘Please not girly gossips.’ Mary smirked. ‘All right, what about horror films then?’ She held up her arms in defeat.
‘Are you asleep?’ Mary asked Joy in the middle of the night. ‘No.’ Joy replied.
‘You excited?’ Mary asked?
‘Actually, now I’m thinking I shouldn’t go.’ Joy pushed her hair off her face.
‘You’ve been working on this for the last three months. You can’t just say no!’ Mary threw her arms about.
‘Well, you don’t leave your family.’ She murmured and went under the covers.
‘Look, I’m up one minute early,’ chirped Joy.
‘Sweet.’ Mary mumbled dreamily beneath the pillows. ‘Wake up you cannibalistic redhead!’ Joy jumped on the bed with Sandy.
She climbed on top of her and shook her violently. ‘I’m up, no need to kill me.’ She shoved them both aside. They got ready and went down for breakfast.
‘What if your father catches you?’ Mary said out of nowhere.
‘I’ll talk to him.’ Joy said with breakfast still in her mouth.
‘Chew the food first, ew.’
‘Don’t expect to get an early answer then.’ Joy shrugged and swallowed her food.
‘I was talking about your father’s reaction after listening to your excuses.’
‘I said I’ll talk to him.’ Joy gave Sandy something to eat.
‘That’s it? You’ll just talk? Man, you’ll get whipped soon.’ Mary smirked. ‘Things will get real messy.’ Mary sang.
‘Come on, Dad hasn’t even glared at me once.’ Joy laughed.
Mary walked Joy to NASA station which wasn’t so far away. ‘Thanks for the drop.’ She said. Mary took out her cell phone.
‘What are you doing?’
‘These could be your last words so I’m recording them.’ Mary shrugged and Joy made a disgusted face. ‘Let’s at least take a click.’ Mary suggested. ‘Girls and their trends.’ Joy groaned.
‘Aren’t you one of them?’
‘I have different traits.’
‘Come on, say “Joy”.’ Mary looked into the camera while Joy rolled her eyes.
‘Hey, you ruined our last picture,’ Mary smacked Joy’s arm. Joy laughed. ‘Bye, Mary.’ Joy said, still giggling.
‘Be careful, I mean you’re the one who isn’t yet ready to leave your family like this.’ Mary taunted.
‘Seriously, can’t you just, for once, stop taunting me?’ Joy smiled and walked away. She was still looking back when she stepped on a stone she hadn’t noticed and fell on her face. Mary burst into fits of laughter. Joy laughed as she walked away, with Sandy trotting along happily.
Joy went through the open gate of the base area and surprisingly no one stopped her.
‘Who’re you, missy?’ Joy bit her tongue. Caught, she mumbled whilst turning slowly around on her heels to find a shaggy old man.
‘I’m James Jackson’s daughter.’ Joy stuttered.
‘James Jackson? The man off to space, eh?’ He flashed a toothless smile. ‘How should I trust you?’ He said playfully and Joy mentally slapped herself at his behavior.
‘Have you even seen him?’ Joy played along.
‘Of course I have, what do you mean?’ said the man and Joy promptly dubbed him Mr. Shags.
‘Look.’ Joy lifted her sleeve up to reveal a mark on her left arm. ‘My father has a similar mark. My eyes and eyebrows are the spitting image of his.’ She crossed her arms when she was done.
‘All right, you win, but I still can’t let you go.’ Joy bit her lip as he pointed at her. ‘There’s a dress-code?’ Joy asked politely.
‘No, no dress code.’ He shook his finger awkwardly. He pointed at a trolley near a building. ‘That box has space-suits for you and your Retriever.’ He smiled like an idiot again.
‘Okay, well thank you.’
‘Guards are hired for protection, I’m here for it.’ He suddenly became serious and Joy blankly stared at him “He’d be a typical comic-mojo.” She thought. ‘I can help your Retriever in the suit whereas you’ll go there.’ He gestured towards the restrooms. After fishing out the right size she went away and wondered why they’d kept dog-sized space-suits. She shook her head and when she got back to the comic-mojo she looked at Sandy, looking utterly ridiculous in the suit.
Science revolutionized so much over the years; why couldn’t anyone think of making these stupid costumes comfy? Joy thought.
She thanked the man again and walked rather heavily and with difficulty. The world’s full of weirdoes; Joy sighed and slapped her forehead when she looked at Sandy.
She climbed those steep slopes which were ‘stairs’ to the astronauts and entered the space-ship. Surprisingly, the door was still open. The ship was dark, with only dull lights. The corridor where she stood deemed endless, with different passages attached, leading to different rooms and perhaps capsules where the astronauts sit or rest or whatever they do.
She spotted some people dressed like her the out-of-fashion clothes for Halloween thought Joy, and quickly hid in one dark hallway, pulling Sandy’s tail firmly to keep her from diving for those people. But Sandy was too confused to even bark, I mean it had never in its life worn clothes.
Joy breathed a sigh of relief when the astronauts turned into a passage. She came out and stretched herself with her dog following. Joy’s crouched position under the shadows wasn’t a nice experience at all.
Now that the coast was clear, she went where her feet took her, from passageway to passageway. Once she came to a small room which had a large window on one wall, a big map on the opposite and the exit door after that. She peered out of the window and fell in a trance. She was torn between the thought of going out or staying in. Sandy interrupted her train of thoughts by tugging at her feet which made her look at the chart.
At first she didn’t know where she’d start, and then at last she found a small capsule-room located at the far end of the chart. Once she’d finished trying to memorize her way to her hideout she set off, winding her way cautiously, trying her best to keep to the track she’d seen.
She made it safely to the hideout without being noticed. Once inside, she locked the door and ordered Sandy to make no noise. There was this screen above her head and it showed five minutes to takeoff.
The part about Joy and her dog’s condition at the takeoff time is really disgusting and not describable, so I will skip it.
Let’s just get to the main event.
Joy was relaxing when the capsule moved a bit and looking out of the two windows on the opposite side she found them drifting away from the spaceship. That’s when she panicked and banged at the door and screamed, but nobody heard her. That capsule was already far away and soon the ship was out of sight. Joy stared at the open space, realizing with horror that there was no chance of survival without food and water. She stayed where she was for a long time until hyper sleep took her and Sandy over. Fortunately, their spacesuits had enough oxygen to keep them alive for some time.
To be continued...