Alex in Wonderland

by Annapurna Sharma
(Nellore, AP, India)

"Hey Alex! Wait for us!”


I turned back. Jeff and Joe, the twin brothers were hurrying uphill. I stopped. They were panting by the time they reached me. Joe complained that I was too fast for them and they had thought they would never catch up with me. I smirked. They took a breather.

We resumed our ramble and they teased me for rushing alone to the party. I crooned that I wanted to pair with the best girl in the group. The boys and I had a good laugh and nattered about the great ball we would be having that night.

Cheering each other, we ascended several kilometers. It was our first steep trek. Fellow party-goers guffawed at our loud huffs and puffs. We groaned and grumbled that the party was set up at the top of the summit. It seemed strange, yet exhilarating and amusing (we presumed others felt the same). We figured out that every year it was organized on the top of Snow Hill. We gathered that none of the dwellers missed it. Finally, we reached leveled ground – the erstwhile colony. Massive stretches of crystal white field lay ahead, ice packed everywhere, thick and deep. The eerie winter wind sent chills down our spines.
Jeff and Joe dashed ahead sieving through the crowd for suitable partners for the night. I, the timid one (as my mother often called me), was left alone. The big question on my mind - Are there any snow monsters? What if I ask someone? They’d make fun of me.

“Hi!” a melodic tone.

Knotted in my anxiety, I didn’t notice her coming towards me.

“Hi!” she said again.

“Hi! Hi!” I stuttered.

“I am Alice.”

‘Beauty in black and white sauntered up to me. Lucky me!’ I murmured and gawked at her.

She widened her kohl laced eyes and asked softly, “You said something?”

“Nope! I, I..., I am Alex. Mmmm! You look... beautiful, Alice! Your dress …, lovely!”

‘Gawd! Why am I behaving so dumb?’ I chided myself.

“You think so!” Her honey matted lips trembled as she spoke. Her cheeks reddened as she blushed.

“Yeah!” I nodded.

My stares penetrated and she blended well in the visual radiance of the rising moon.

“Fool, ask her for a dance.” Someone from behind prompted me.

“What about a dance?” I stammered again and extended my hand awkwardly. She seemed to like my naivety and bobbed her head up and down. We took to center stage, the blustery weather suddenly turned calm. We whispered and nibbled the tips of our ears with sweet nothings. Our tender bodies meandered in sync with our amorous selves. I was in Wonderland – warm and delighted.
***

A harsh voice croaked above the din of the wailing wind. It was the chief, “Boys, now that we are here, we have to face it. It is the test of our endurance. We might have a rough weather …,”

The razor sharp winds trailed his words, yet the whole group stood still, listening intently to his orders.

“First time?” the one next to me asked.

“Yeah!” I said.

“Fear not! We’ll get through it,” he assured me.

I grimaced and stood there stoic. The azure sky blackened and we plunged into pitch darkness, as dark as charcoal. I could hear the movement of others, as they huddled towards the center to keep warm. There was no shelter except the barren ground, a hinterland. The sleet bruised my face and the wind howled in my capped ears. I pulled my feathery coat closer. Thankfully I was chubby – the loads of fat on my torso insulated me. I disliked dampness, I was glad that my coat had an outer water-proof layer to keep me dry. The freezing temperatures, maybe minus degrees … I don’t know. Will I survive? Can I escape? To my chagrin, I can’t detour. I had a task at hand – to take care of the fragile one underneath me. I scoffed at my pitiable condition.

A flash of lightning bisected the sky. I looked up and sighted giant ice cliffs afar. We could see the electric flash descend down the sierra. The thunderous bolt was like a squabble down the valley. The blizzard was fast approaching. I could hear the storm brewing down the ravine. Gawd! Too many things happening at a time. Is it real? Am I hallucinating? No! The speedy winds, more than a hundred kilometers per hour, a virago, slashed my face again. A piercing pain, my mouth went dry and burned. I clawed firmly to the icy ground and held on to the sleek quagmire.

“Don’t move!” hissed my neighbor.

I became sangfroid in the wilderness. I knew a slight move I would unbalance and be blown like a feather. I had to brave it all. Bringing my feet closer, I tugged at the extra fold of my coat to pare the blinding winds.

I had only one thing on my mind – I had to survive!

But how? I thought of Alice, my beloved. The warmth that we shared on that party night. I chuckled, the sweet spars that we had later. These thoughts comforted me and aroused an intense desire to be alive.

Just then the chief’s words rang a bell, “Shut down the systems, don’t shiver as it increases metabolism. Recycle your body heat, blah, blah, blah!”

I stiffened, flattened my toes and shut my thoughts and I kept open only a blind ray of hope. I don’t know for how long I stood in the frigid climate.
***

A melodious voice shook me up, “Hey Alex! Wake up!”

It was Alice. I opened my eyes slowly, the sun blazed like a fire-ball overhead. I never expected to see a day so calm after the deadly snow storm. She came closer and slid her body against mine. We embraced. She asked, “You fine?” I nodded and she smiled.

“How long?” I asked.

“Three months,” she said.

A gentle movement tickled my folds. A smile crossed my face. Poised for the rendezvous, together we lifted my folds – a black head popped from under the pouch, the soft, delicate one.

“A girl!” We exclaimed. Her pink mouth wide open, she was hungry. She sucked the food from her mother’s mouth. Alice snuggled her. A scene so loving that triggered mounds of happiness.

I was at zenith. I stood the test of time, I held her in my brood pouch all this while, incredible. Alice and me, our resilience was broken, tears flooded our eyes. Nearly two months of patience bore us a fruit so sugary and sweet. We became... ‘Mama! Papa!’ We kissed our doll.

“Alex, what would we call her?”

“Iceex!”

“What!”

“Alice and Alex makes Iceex,” I winked.

“Mmmm! Iceex! Nice name!” hummed Alice.

After a while, “Hurry! Plenty of fish down the sea,” she said vehemently.

I realized I was hungry, as I hadn’t eaten for many days. I petted Iceex. Alice promised to take care of the little one while I slid down cresta-runs to forage at sea – the squids and fish swimming on my mind.

***

(Note: The story is about the Emperor Penguins that breed in freezing Antarctica winters.)

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