Moon Song by Salonee Verma
On the night our moon comes down to meet us, my sister has the wrong kind of faith.
It’s just me and her left. She rubs her churi onto her wrist hard enough to leave checkered impressions on the skin, eyes flicking from the moon to our altar. “We should go inside,” she says around a shiny spoon of halwa.
“It won’t help, Didi,” I tell her. I rearrange the fruits so they look like a garland around God’s clavicles.
We swing the carriage as soon as the clock hits twelve, watching the moon swing closer. It’s like a foxtrot-- rise and fall, rise and fall. The night sky is a bandhej sari, stars sticking in the fabric like they’ve been dyed on. It’s bright enough to sew when we break our fast at midnight.
“I’m not saying it’s going to help,” she snaps back. She takes a deep breath and starts gathering all the dishes, almost knocking over our tin of statue clothes. The fractured mirrors blaze in the moonlight until Didi slams the lid on. “Sorry. I don’t mean to yell. I’m just saying, let’s go inside and call someone over. Let’s not be alone.”
“Okay.” We pile everything on our arms, leaving the marua ki roti out for the animals. It’s not traditional, but we don’t remember enough traditions after our mother got eaten by the stars. So, we smash all of them into one.
What do you do when the world is ending? I’m not sure if there’s a prayer for it. There has to be. We all believe in it. Someone’s supposed to come for us, Maitreyi or Isa bin Maryam or Kalki or whoever else wants to be a messiah. But there’s no one coming except the sky dancing closer and closer.
Maybe it started when we jumped planets. Our homeworld had been attacked, so we jumped to the moon on Didi’s ex-boyfriend’s spaceship. They’d broken up on the ride, so he ditched us on the closest moon and shot off towards the next galaxy without us.
“I still love you,” he had radioed us one day, back when we’d still been on that tiny green moon. “I wish it had been different.”
Didi had changed the frequency, scoffed, and gone off to change her clothes for a new date-- another pilot. Didi liked to lure in useful people, and Didi liked to run. Pilots were her weakness, in this as in all things.
Maybe it was because she had been studying to become a pilot before Baba had gotten sick. Maybe it was because she still loved kissing the stars at night while she thought I was asleep. Maybe it was because even now, she’s enamored by the entire thing. Her heart stutters when she looks at the moon, sometimes.
Baba said there would be seven suns when the world ends, so we should avoid binary star systems. Didi had told him that there were millions of suns in the sky at once, that it didn’t matter if we had a few extra. If they were in groups of seven, there was nothing we could do anyway.
That moon disintegrated after the comets came back. We didn’t even realize that we’d forgotten to name it until we’d left.
Didi makes her calls, but only one person’s spending the apocalypse without someone to talk to.
Badr makes his excuses a few times before hanging up. A few minutes later, he’s standing outside our door with a rolled up prayer mat under one of his arms and a bag of chips in the other.
“My favorite girls,” he says, grinning. He hangs up his jacket on the porch and kisses Didi’s cheek warmly.
“Don’t keep your jacket out,” Didi says, rubbing her crossed arms. She’s put on lipstick, some type of glittering black that shines in the light. It’s not cold outside, but there’s a chill in the air. We can all feel it.
“Who’s going to steal it?” Badr replies with a smile. He bumps my fist. “What do people do during an apocalypse? Let’s watch a movie.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Didi turns on the television anyway, waiting for the static to tick off. It takes longer than normal. The screen immediately fills with one of her lovers professing her still undying love for my sister. It’s not unusual. The first string of lovers were radio mechanics who loved riding the channels, showing up on each and every screen. They haven’t given up the habit, just applied it to television instead. Didi rolls her eyes and switches the channel.
There’s only reruns playing, some outrageously old movie that none of us have ever seen. Badr makes a joke about how he’s glad his parents died before they saw their only child turn into whatever he is. We laugh uncomfortably and turn back to the screen.
The third home we lived in was a tunnel inside the core of a planet in the Aldaris system. It had been so dark that Mama had started complaining about how we were meant to worship the sun, and that faith is impossible inside a tunnel. Baba had laughed and rolled his eyes and gotten a plastic sheet to lay on the ground. He’d filled it with water. Our own little river for Chhath.
Didi’s tunnel beau had been one of the rebellion diggers, a slenderly strong girl with a pickaxe around her waist. She’d dug us a way out when it was time to go.
She and Didi had parted ways with a sweet hug and a promise to find each other once the violence was over. They never did.
The movie ends. We look outside and the sky is brilliant with the shine of the moon coming closer and closer.
“Let’s go out,” says Badr quietly. He’s never usually this quiet. Maybe he’s finally feeling the sobriety of the moment, or maybe he’s just tired. God knows we all are.
Didi pulls the dusty chatai out of storage while Badr unrolls his prayer mat. The altar is already outside, and we live next to the church. There is so much holiness in this five-mile radius that if anything’s going to save us, it would already be here.
Nothing has eaten the marua ki roti yet, so I take small bites while Didi and Badr kneel on their mats, clasping hands. The church is threateningly quiet--everyone wants to spend their last hours with the people they love.
I’ve considered that Badr might be the messiah. I used to give him his testosterone injections and there’s something beautiful about his confidence. He wants to believe, he needs it. Everyone loves him, including me and Didi.
But if he’s planning something, he hasn’t told me. He’s sitting here with the rest of us, clasping his hands and gazing up at the moon coming closer and closer.
This planet was supposed to be our seventh and last home. Didi’s ex-lover, a half-tree from Naila, had gotten us off-world before the meteors had started raining down. Baba had still been there when we arrived, albeit very, very small. His voice had flown away from us, and eventually, he did as well.
We should have known luck would leave us, eventually. We’d escaped six apocalypses already. Maybe this was our seven suns thrown together into one bastard of a planet, oceans of lilac algae and all.
Mama cried and took his ashes out on the next shuttle to the sky. She never came back.
Badr and Didi are holding hands now. They’re lying down on the grass with their fingers entwined and they look at peace. I don’t know how they can do it, how they can watch the white sky becoming louder and louder and still smile.
“Don’t be scared,” Badr tells me, eyes crinkling. He pats the spot next to him and makes me lie down.
He’s the most useful one of Didi’s ex-lovers, because he was always more than that. He was a lodestar. Everyone loves beautiful things and he was the most beautiful of them all.
"Hey." Didi's voice cracks as she says it. She reaches her other hand out towards mine, locked into a fist. "I love you. Both of you."
I bump her fist. "Love you too."
It's not enough, but Badr laughs and grips our hands, face awash in the dazzling light of imminent death. Didi and I turn inwards. We're halfway on the prayer mat now, still in front of our open altar.
There's a squirrel eating the marua ki roti. Didi and I look at it and then each other, biting our lips to keep from smiling. It doesn't feel like we're supposed to be smiling, but I'm not really scared anymore. At least something got to eat our holy food. At least we're together.
In the blazing bright dawn of the apocalypse, Badr holds us close and begins to sing.