By Nilanjana Dey
The story so far
Set in the land of white ants, The Crossover is the story of two artists – Diana and Apollo. They reside in one of the colonies of white ants named Sopora. The commander-in-chief of Sopora is Hercules, who believes in exercising strict control over his subjects. While that may work for the rest of the white ants, Diana and Apollo are not happy. They become disgruntled; bored of their regular jobs that provides them with no creative satisfaction whatsoever. On the other hand, Hercules is also irked with them, since they do not seem to fit into his scheme of things. They often undermine his authority and do as they please. He confronts them and eventually releases them from his services.
Unperturbed by this setback, Diana and Apollo open a boutique of their own called ‘The Outcasts’ and leave Sopora to find better avenues.
Loki, the commander-in-chief of the neighbouring colony Tizz welcomes them with open arms. Diana and Apollo embrace this opportunity to showcase their talent and decide to cross over to Tizz.
An opportunity arrives when the Queen calls for a pitch amongst all the colonies of white ants. Loki allocates the responsibility of the designs to Diana and Apollo. In the multi-colony pitch that ensues, Tizz emerges the winner.
Loki announces an inter-colony race ‘Whizzy Ants’ to celebrate the victory. The prizes for the race are the three royal gifts that the Queen had presented to them when they won the multi-colony pitch.
A change in the Queen’s coterie puts Tizz in a fix. One of Loki’s arch rivals, Prom, takes over the Queen’s guild and decides to reassess all the decisions taken before. He inflicts Tizz with penalties for playing around with protocols of the land. The office slowly turns into a nasty place where people are pitched against each other.
Chapter 10: Feelers
“This is a minor victory. No need to rejoice or gloat. Let me just say it is not even a crack in the relationship of Diana and Apollo.” Loki warned Skathi and Njord when they came to update their boss in ‘The Den’.
“You think it was easy, Boss?” Njord grumbled.
“I am not saying that.”
But Njord was not listening and continued, “Skathi and I had to meekly warm up Apollo, flatter him that he was an exceptional designer and that we were glad to be learning from him. We had to keep on praising his organizational skills, how he did a fabulous job in ‘Whizzy Ants’ and how the whole of Tizz thinks he is a superb leader.”
“You said all this?” Loki’s voice sounded skeptical.
“No, Skathi said all that.”
“So, what have you done Njord? It is all about doing the right things at the right time.”
“I was with her. We had both decided the strategy to warm up Apollo and hit when the iron was hot.” Njord’s antennae drooped sulkily as he looked at Skathi.
She looked lost in thoughts. Loki tapped her mid-left arm. “What are you thinking, Skathi?”
“Boss, what if Apollo guesses our game-play?” Skathi sounded fearful.
“He may, but then we need to use him to our best before that.” Loki seemed to have something up his sleeves.
“How do we go about that?” Skathi asked.
“Keep praising him. He has never been praised too much before, since Diana has always overshadowed him. And convey my feelers to him – that I consider him leader material and that I would like to meet him alone. See how he responds and let me know. Now please leave me alone.” Skathi and Njord marched out of his office. Loki picked up the strand-connection and asked Edda to come in.
Diana left her apartment early in the day and bumped into Freya.
“I have been waiting for you for a while,” said Freya as she broke into a smile.
“Really? Is it very urgent?”
“Actually I cannot talk in office. It seems like people are eavesdropping on conversations.”
“Who told you so?” Diana was curious.
“Well, nobody told me, but then if you keep your eyes and ears open you’d know.”
Diana raised her antennae as Freya continued, “Skathi, Njord, Edda and her people are usually hovering around. It seems like they are on vigil always.”
Diana shrugged and reminded Freya, “Why did you want to meet me outside office?”
“Prom has asked me to check with you if you’d like to meet him alone?”
“I do not know that.”
Diana considered the feeler, “Maybe later today.”
“Okay, I’ll go give him the message. Is it fine if I do not come to office today? I mean if I turn up late, Edda will have a lot of questions.”
“Yeah, that’s fine.” Diana walked off wondering what the secret meeting was all about.
Apollo was looking closely at the piece of wood and wondering how the design could be replicated there. Diana observed Apollo and understood his concern.
“I am not sure,” she began slowly, “if these pieces of wood are good enough to be used for the approved design.”
“I had requisitioned for some better pieces of wood, but Edda shot the requisition down.”
Apollo raised his antenna, “She is deciding?”
“I can talk to her.”
Diana and Apollo turned away from each other, and concentrated on their work. It looked like there was nothing much to do!
“We should have spoken to Apollo earlier and communicated Loki’s feeler. Now that Diana is inside, we may not get the chance. Loki wants everything done just instantly.” Njord sighed as he kept an eye on Diana and Apollo.
Skathi stroked Njord’s head with her left forearm, “Stay calm Njord. It is important to keep a tab on them. If they start speaking we will be in trouble.”
Njord burst out into a nasty laughter.
“This is not funny,” Skathi warned him.
“Of course, it is not. But there is this little word that we call ‘ego’. All artists have major portions of it.”
“Hope your reading is right.”
Diana looked expectantly at Apollo. She seemed to expect an apology. Apollo sat sulking in his corner, wondering how Diana could bitch about her to Freya.
“Apollo,” Diana broke the ice.
“Yes,” Apollo spoke in a soft voice.
“I will leave a little early today.”
Apollo looked disheartened at Diana’s nonchalant attitude towards the showdown that they had the previous day.
Diana stumbled into Skathi and Njord just outside their office. “ASS,” she laughed to herself as she walked out of the lobby.
Apollo looked too engrossed with the piece of wood. Skathi was the one to speak, “Hi Apollo, how are you doing?”
Apollo looked around and found the duo waiting on him. “Am fine.” He remembered Diana calling them “ASS” and wondered aloud, “What brings you here?”
“Loki is keen to meet you.” Both spoke together.
“But Diana has just stepped out.”
Skathi and Njord escorted Apollo to Loki’s office. On the way, he met Edda.
“Hi,” Apollo greeted Edda, “On my way back, just need to have a quick word with you.”
“Sure,” Edda warmly responded.
Loki was examining another piece of wood inside his office.
“Nowadays, everybody in our office is just examining pieces of wood,” Njord commented.
“Really?” Loki looked up, “Who else keeps examining pieces of wood?”
“Diana. I keep a watch on her most of the time, so I know.” Njord answered and gulped, “Since she is so pretty…”
Apollo looked at Loki, “You called for me?”
“Not really,” Loki sternly looked at Skathi and Njord. “I mean I wanted to just know…”
“Wouldn’t it help if Diana was here too?” Apollo interrupted.
“Yes, of course. Where is she?”
“She has just stepped out.”
“Then let’s have this chat. You can fill her in later.”
“Cool.” Apollo sat down to have the chat.
Loki handed over the piece of wood to Apollo. He looked at it and kept it away. “What is wrong with this piece of wood?” Loki asked.
“The quality is bad.”
“The approved design cannot be replicated here?”
“Maybe. But it will not look good. In fact, it will look too distant from the approved design.”
“Apollo, do you know why people used Bahia?”
“Yes. The most expensive crafts looked best in Bahia. The wood itself was very expensive and that gave a complete exquisite look and feel to the craft. Only a handful could afford it though.”
“Right,” Loki continued in a very tired voice, “We were the sole traders of Bahia. We had the exclusive rights and were the most affluent community.”
Apollo indicated that he knew.
“But now we are not. Our reserves have gone and if my sources are to be believed, Diana’s friend Prom is lobbying to take the exclusive rights away from us.”
“But if you replicate the designs in inferior quality wood,” Apollo argued, “The designs may bomb and the Queen may again penalize you.”
“What a point!” Njord appreciated Apollo.
Loki looked at him sternly and said, “Not that I have not thought about it. Perhaps we can scout if some friends can donate good quality wood en gratis. Since I do not have the wherewithal to spend on the quality that Diana is asking for.”
Apollo wondered what to say. He was not sure if he could take this call without Diana. Loki continued, “I know Diana is an excellent designer. Her art and craft come first. But, Apollo, I see you as the leader. You understand the situation much better than her most of the time. You can mould and adapt as per the requirement. In my opinion, that is leadership quality. Talent is wonderful but leadership always rules the day.”
Skathi and Njord were silent. So was Apollo. Loki put his right forearm on Apollo’s mid-right arm, “Can I request you to keep this conversation private… amongst the few in this room?”
Apollo nodded and left. He was not sure if he liked what was going on.
Loki cornered Skathi and Njord. “Where is Diana?” He ferociously asked.
They both had no clue.
“Did I not ask you both to keep an eye over everybody?”
“Since Diana left, we could get Apollo here,” Skathi murmured.
“You are sounding like Njord,” Loki reprimanded. “Suddenly she decides to disappear! And where is that Freya?”
“She did not come to office today,” Njord fumbled.
Loki’s antennae stood upright as he picked up his strand-connection. Not before kicking Skathi and Njord out of his office.
Nilanjana Dey is a post-graduate in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata (India). Her first novel, a children’s tale, The Adventures of Puti – The Cheese Trail, was published in 2013. She loves to experiment with poetry as well. Her poems have been published in Café Dissensus Everyday, Learning and Creativity, and The Copperfield Review. She is also a marketing and communication professional based out of Mumbai, India. Email: email@example.com.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issues of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on the poet of love and protest, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, edited by Pooja Garg Singh, poet and writer.