Antei sat quietly. It was his moment of peace; his personal moment. The lights were off and he had his eyes closed. He breathed deeply, partly to make up for so little oxygen and partly to keep himself awake. But it was useless; his mind was so full that he would have never fallen asleep, even if he had wanted to. And he certainly did not. He reached for the glass on the table. Despite his closed eyes and the darkness, he knew exactly where it was. It was a small room and it was his, after all. Once he had found it, he brought it to his lips and drank the contents. It was a tasteless liquid chemically created to substitute for the severe lack of water but not water itself. The construction of a hydro-plant that would purify the ice into pure water had been stalled after the Retrogade disaster. A hundred men and women had died in that catastrophe. And the people had had to depend on this liquid that could never quench the thirst of man like water. Water was something only the high-ranking officials could afford.
High-ranking officials …
He sat there, contemplating over what the agent had said. He ran his mind over and over again over the agent's words. He had been offered a post as the head engineer of the lunar base. He would be paid half a million credits monthly for his work and his lodging costs would be taken care of by the government itself. He would be made a
permanent member of the base and would be provided every bit of extravagant facility the base could afford, second only to the president. Men fought relentlessly for such a high status, to have everything one could ever dream of, and he had been offered the post when he didn't even give a damn about it. But still the offer was a lure…
"You can even call your family here after you have been a member for a year," the agent, Aster Jeremy, had said.
"And by family you mean?" he
"Your spouse," Aster had answered plainly, "and your children." Only your spouse and your children…
What about his parents? What about Sohaila's parents? How could he leave them alone? They were very old and could not live by themselves.
They were old…
Antei shook his head violently. They were old and they needed care. And it was Sohaila who provided them with all the care they needed when Antei was out because of his work, just like now when he was on the moon supervising a team of engineers building a rocket station, which, when built, would hugely lighten the load on Earth. And then there were his children, a son and a daughter, who were really fond of their grandparents. How could he separate them? He could he separate himself from his own parents? He couldn't just abandon them.
The visi-caller rang suddenly, breaking the peaceful silence that covered Antei's mind. He cursed angrily; being disturbed was the last thing he enjoyed, especially during his quiet moments. Once, when he was on Mars, a worker had come inquiring into his room during such a time. And the worker had had to bear the full brunt of Antei's fury.
He had shouted at the poor man like a drunken man woken up in the middle of the night from his sleep. The worker had filed a petition, requesting to be transferred to another place immediately. Antei had felt very bad, but the damage had been done. The best he could do was apologise and he had done so, only to be shouted back by the worker, who, by now several thousand miles away, cared about nothing but venting his anger at the engineer. And Antei had said nothing, accepting all the accusations quietly, feeling he deserved it.
This time, Antei did nothing for a while; he just sat there, trying to get rid of his irritation while the visi-caller rang on relentlessly. He breathed deeply, counting to ten while he felt his heartbeat slow down. Only after he had felt calm did he accept the call, only to be surprised by the appearance of a seven-year-old face he knew too well.
"Dawn?" he said.
"Hi, daddy," Dawn replied bashfully, sticking out her tongue, her cheeks red.
Dawn's face disappeared and was replaced by another face, adult and mature. And upon seeing her, Antei smiled. Even after being married to her for fifteen years, his heart still fluttered whenever he saw her. On the screen, Sohaila smiled.
"Hey Antei," she said.
"Hello, Sohaila," Antei answered, "I thought you were not scheduled to call until half an hour later."
"Why, can't I call now?"
"Of course you can but, you do know, I hate being disturbed from seven to eight o' clock."
Sohaila looked surprised; her head bent on the screen. Antei knew she was looking at her watch. She looked up at him with a confused expression.
"It's already eight," she said.
"Standard time," Antei answered, "I'm on the moon. The time is slightly different here." Sohaila made an 'O' with her face. Seeing her like that, Antei suddenly burst into laughter. She looked at him questioningly but Antei just shook his head. "Nothing, nothing," he said. Then, composing himself he asked, "How are dad and mom?"
At that she smiled. She disappeared from the screen for a moment and
was back — with her own father and mother as well as his father and mother. All four of them wore party hats.
Even Sohaila had one on now. Dawn appeared, as well as Dan, his four year old son. Together, they held a cake with (as Sohaila told him later on) with forty candles. Then, in one breath they all exclaimed, "Happy Birthday!"
Antei again sat there quietly. He was reconsidering the offer made to him for the seventh time now. He had temporarily forgotten about it after his family had called to wish him happy birthday. And it had not ended there; he had been busy for about two hours, accepting well-wishes from the rest of his family and friends. He must have talked with about a hundred people and was still not tired. He had felt a new vigour instead, all his weariness washed away when he should have been dead tired. It was then he had reached his decision but it was only now that he felt confident of it. He smiled to himself as he thought about it. He felt sorry for the people of the lunar base; they would be losing a valuable man. But it was not something they could not replace. Maybe they would find a better candidate, young and enthusiastic. He reached for his visi-caller.
"Yes?" Aster asked as soon as he appeared on the screen.
"I'm afraid I will have to decline your offer Sir Aster," Antei answered flatly. Aster's face fell immediately.
"Have you reconsidered—"
"I have. Seven times in fact. And my decision is final. No."
"That will be all." And Antei cut off the connection.
Putting the visi-caller down, he hopped over to the window and looked outside. In the absence of the sun's glare, the stars were visible. There billions of them out in the sky although he could not see even a fraction of them. They were all very beautiful. But not as beautiful as the blue globe that hung on empty space at the left corner of the window. Earth. That was where all those he cared about were. That was his home.
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