The thapeli began to rattle with heat. Adaav cupped his palms around it, startled by the ferocity of the roiling water. His sister craned her neck forward, standing on her tiptoes, a strand of dusty black hair slipping dangerously close to the bright orange stove. Adaav pushed her back again, then thrust his body forward to steady the other two tumbling pots on the back burner, their gleaming metal bellies far too full of steam.
“Adaav, I think that’s enough,” said Harini, her small eyes creased with old worry. “Should I go outside to see if it’s working?”
Adaav was a little annoyed at her fear.
“I’ve seen them make tea so many times in these pots, you know that? You’re always asleep. I’m the one who’s awake at night, so I know better.”
The pots had started to lurch again and Adaav dived for them. Boiling water splashed at the sudden stop and leaped from the side of the metal like a lizard’s tongue. He stepped back again and turned to his sister, the steam settling into a red film on his skin. Maybe it would be better to have her out of the way, anyway.
“Yeah, Harini, you should check outside,” he said. She nodded and ran to the door very quickly, anxious to escape the stove which now mimicked a volcano, with red magma ballooning underneath the spiral burners, black rocks sizzling at every droplet of water sloshing from the towering arrangement. Her brother cracked the window open and Harini plastered her face to the gray net. Her pupils rolled all the way up. She was scrutinizing the sky.
It was Adaav’s idea. He’d learned in school that clouds were made of steam, just regular steam, those gentle dancing curls that rise from warm water. His teacher had said:
“We need more clouds, especially with the drought.”
It all seemed too easy — boiling water made clouds. Clouds made rain. The world needed rain.
Of course, he never really saw his parents using the burners. But he knew the pressure cooker caked with weeks-old daal rice blew whistles of hot steam from the stovetop, waking him in the deep middle of the night, sometimes knotting into his dreams. He always told Harini he was awake late enough to see it all. But it was like waiting for Santa Claus in the movies — just like those kids, he often found himself asleep, shrouded in fuzzy dawning confusion when he woke at the doorstep every morning, the shoe rack as empty as it always was.
According to Adaav, the boiling pots from the stove would release their vapor through the chimney, which would bunch like jasmine flowers into the sky, forming a thousand cotton clouds, thicker and thicker till they burst with rain.
“Adaav!,” came a high-pitched call, finally. His sister was pointing up, grinning, jumping up and down, the net catching her with a concave dip. “The clouds! They’re coming!”
He ran out the door. It was true; great clouds were lining the tips of the sky like spidery fingers. There was a darkness behind them, and a warm wind that had begun to spin through Harini’s hair. They stared for a long while, letting the cold in through their cotton shirts, the brother letting the sky collect the hot sweat from his skin.
“Will you turn it all off now?” Harini pleaded.
“We have to keep going,” her brother said. “Look how close we are! The rain is almost here. Think how proud Mummy and Daddy would be!”
“You’re the only one who sees them anyway,” said his sister petulantly. Adaav had nearly turned back into the house when a blinding light slapped over their heads like a palm over a bug. “What was that?” Harini lurched for her brother’s hand to find it already grasping hers.
“What was that?” Adaav repeated meekly. All the sound from the kitchen had disappeared. In a couple seconds, it was replaced a thousand clap, the rumble of the stovetop on a megaphone over the sky, rolling drums of thunder.
The two rushed inside and slammed the door behind them. The lights were out. The wind had strengthened and ushered in a dark overcast, allowing only the whites of lightning to flood in like sporadic moonlight. Adaav scrounged through a pile of electronics for a flashlight. Triangular shards of light shot through the room, yawning like monsters over the ceiling.
The light illuminated Harini’s mouth, but not her eyes, so she appeared a headless apparition. Adaav touched her hair, panicked, then, finding it perfectly intact, retracted awkwardly.
“I’ll be okay,” he said. “They’ll probably come home early because of the storm. They told me their boss is really nice.”
“Really?” Said Harini. But it didn’t sound hopeful and full, like it usually did. Had she caught on to the lie? She was looking at him expectantly, creator of clouds. Creator of clouds, is it true you see our parents every night? Is it true they show you how to make tea? Is it true you’ve ever seen them, ever seen them at all? Creator of clouds, do they know your name?
It hasn’t even rained. You said you would bring rain, Adaav. You said the steam would go to the sky and fall with water. These clouds brought only the dark and wind. Where is the water, Adaav?
Adaav, when you hear those silhouettes moving about the house at night, have you imagined there are no people beneath them? That if you shone a light you would find no bodies to match the shadows? And what would they do if we called their names? Tell me they wouldn’t throw us to the wind Adaav. Tell me why our food is getting colder and colder, tell me Adaav, tell me that you know we wouldn’t join them in the dark.
Header photograph by Erica Sandifer.