Short fiction published in the Selangor Times on May 6, 2011.
The sun came up over the rocks where the boy sat with his back propped against a tree. He had an upturned box over his head, the flaps falling over his shoulders. He forgot to cut holes in it and cannot see.
“Mission control, this is Angkasawan Bob … squeee …squeee. Mission control, do you copy?” the boy said into his box.
“Oi Angkasawan Bob. This is Mission Control,” the boy heard a voice from outside the box. “The chickens are eating your breakfast.”
Bob hurriedly pushed the box from his head. His grandmother passed a bowl of rice to him, amusement dancing in her eyes. “That’s for the chickens,” she said. “Yours have sambal ikan bilis in it. Don’t get confused like the last time, ok? Otherwise you’d be eating nasi putih again.”
“Awww, Mama. The chickens didn’t mind a bit of change.”
“They didn’t but you did! Your head’s always in space, Bob.”
“One day I’ll find space, Mama! You’ll see.”
“I’m sure you will. You’re a clever boy,” Bob’s grandmother said, smiling proudly. Despite his daydreaming, her grandson always came out number one in village class, even doing better than the older boys. She hoped that Bob would be able to head for the city on a scholarship.
That very morning, Bob devised a plan to get into space. He headed for the sandy area where the chickens had done their worse to the grass. Picking up a stick, he consulted the rooster.
“Admiral, I believe that with the proper search perimeter, we can find our way into space.” Bob started drawing patterns in the sand, detailing the locations of buildings in his village. The rooster cocked his head and chuckled in agreement of the map, making some scratches to help.
“Oh yeah, forgot the rice granaries. Thank you, Admiral. Now, whenever people come into the village, they come from this direction, wouldn’t you agree?” Another chuckle of agreement.
“They usually don’t have any supplies with them, so they must have either a base nearby. Perhaps they parked their ship and walked, not wanting to scare the natives. That’s us, by the way.
“So, the plan, as I was saying, would be to do a very systematic search of this area,” Bob tapped out a spot on the sand, whereupon, the rooster crowed in support.
Putting his plan into action, Bob upturned stones, knocked on every knot in trees, and even moved branches in the hopes that they were hiding spaceships, to no avail. Despondent, he returned home for lunch.
“You’ve only just started, Bob. You can’t give up now,” his grandmother said, when he explained his sour mood. “It wouldn’t be much of a hiding place if you could find it so easily.”
His grandmother made sense, Bob thought, so he decided to stay on his quest. The second day went like the first, and on the third and fourth day, it rained heavily. The fifth day, the sun came over the rocks again and Bob took to his search with renewed vigour.
Again, he tapped on a rock here, moved a branch there, pushed and pulled on knots in trees. He was in the final quadrant of his search perimeter, pulling at a mushroom stuck at the side of a tree, when an opening appeared, revealing a small chamber within the tree.
“Well,” said the boy. He stepped into the chamber. Inside was a box with buttons showing arrows pointing upwards and downwards. He pressed the arrow pointing upwards (in his mind, he wanted to go into space). Nothing happened. So he pressed the other button.
The door slid shut with a whoosh. Bob felt a movement in the lift, for that was what it was. And when it slid open, he found himself in a big room with plenty of buttons like the one in the lift, except shinier and more complicated. There was a big picture of space on one of the walls. One of the men standing around turned and addressed him.
“Hello, Bob. I’m the Admiral. I was wondering when you’d find the hidden door.”
Bob was confused because the Admiral was, to him, the rooster. So he said, “That’s a nice picture of space, Admiral.”
“Thank you, Bob, but I’ll have to tell you the truth. That is not a picture. That is a window. You’re in the navigation deck of a space ship. The place that you think is your village is actually one of our farm decks.”
“So all the clever boys who left the village for the city…”
“Trained as crew.”
“And the sun that comes up over the rocks in the morning…”
The Admiral sighed. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
Yes, I will, thought Bob.
He was, after all, the small village boy who found space.