“Watch out!” Sida the spiderling screamed at the top of her voice.
Of course, no one heard her.
Definitely not Taran and Tula.
“Stop it, you two,” Sida yelled. She darted forward and pulled Wulverin out of the way. One more second and Wulverin would have been Wulver-done.
Sida was fed up. Every night began with Taran and Tula wrestling each other. Sometimes, it was leg-wrestling, at other times, body wrestling, and once in a while, word-wrestling. Tonight, the pair of them had been tumbling about on Ma’s back, least bothered that they lived with 95 other spiderlings. No consideration for anyone. Especially since Ma’s back, while a great place to live on, was not the roomiest of places.
“Go bug someone else,” yelled Taran as he swatted Tula on the face.
Tula sniggered, her eight eyes shining in the moonlight. “You heard him, leave us alone or else…,” she swiped at Taran and both of them tumbled away, their jeering laughs ringing in the night. The other spiderlings hastily swung out of the way.
Sida was furious. Ever since they had hatched out of their egg sac and clambered on to Ma’s back, Taran and Tula had been such annoying spiderling siblings.
She wanted to complain to Ma, but let’s face it, when you have 97 children, it’s a bit hard to reprimand one or two for wrestling. Or listen to all the complaints.
Sida wanted to stamp one of her legs in anger, but she might end up squashing one of her siblings. So, maybe not.
Also, however annoying, they were her siblings. She settled for a tch and a sigh, and dreamed about growing up and being in a space of her own.
“You know, you should stop yelling at them.” It was Lycos, pretty much Sida’s favourite sibling. He was sweet and gentle, and had such excellent vision that he could see Taran and Tula tumbling from the far end of Ma’s back. “They have been talking about you.”
“Talking about me?” Sida was startled. What did that even mean? It wasn’t like there was much to talk about here, apart from who poked who with which leg and in which eye.
Lycos’s eyes darted around and he lowered his voice. Sida had to move closer to even listen to him. “Yes, they have been saying that you complain too much and you shout at them, and they are ready to… Oh I can’t even say it. It’s awful.”
Sida’s heart made her abdomen clench. “What… just say it!”
Lyos’s eyes were huge and reflected the full moon, making him look like an adorable cartoon character, not that he knew that. Lycos was, perhaps, one of the humblest of spiderlings. “I just can’t. Oh, Sida.” He waved his legs and finally said, “They are going to eat you up. Eight legs and all.” They had also said, hope she doesn’t give them a tummy upset with her bad moods, but Lycos decided that wasn’t information he needed to share.
Sida gasped. No, they wouldn’t. They were family. She looked down at the spiderlings clinging on Ma’s knobbed hair, and the rest of them on top of them. Like the icing on top of the icing of a cake. They were a cluster, nobody would be so horrible. She made up her mind to not say a word to them, but the very next night —
“OH STOP IT, YOU TWO!” Despite her very best intentions, Sida found herself yelling as Taran and Tula rolled right over poor Wulverin. Sida was shaking with rage, while checking Wulverin for any broken limbs. Which is why she didn’t notice Taran and Tula and seven other siblings had formed a circle around her. UH-OH! She was surrounded. Where were her spidey senses when you needed them?
Taran and Tula suddenly didn’t look like the pranksters they were. When had they grown up so much, she wondered. They towered over her and waved their front legs menacingly. They looked really hungry as well.
From the corner of all her eyes, Sida saw Lycos trying to make his way towards her. But he was too far away. Sida gathered herself on all eight legs and said, “You both are just pests.”
“How dare you!” said Tula. “Spiders are awesome, we eat pests.”
“And you,” said Taran with a snigger.
“Because you are a pest,” said Tula. “Get it, get it?”
Sida would have rolled all her eyes if she had not been terrified. But as her blue blood rushed to her head, she felt angrier and angrier. She stood up on her hind legs, Taran, Tula and their crony siblings mimicked her. Only they looked way more threatening than her.
“Wait,” Sida gestured.
Surprised, the spiderlings waited, all alert and quivering.
Sida took a step back.
The spiderlings sneered. She was clearly scared. She was outnumbered and out-powered.
But then Sida turned, raised her two front legs, and turned to face them again. She cast out long silken threads. Lycos had almost reached her but he also stopped and watched in awe as the threads came together, following a balloon.
With a cheeky wave, Sida caught the wind and flew away.
Taran and Tula were frozen in shock.
Lycos laughed. He also raised his front two legs, turned and cast a balloon of silken threads. “Wait for me, Sida,” he yelled.
Taran and Tula watched as one after the other all the siblings, including Wulverin, cast silken balloons and set off.
Ma looked at her precious babies. How beautiful they looked, like dandelions setting out into the brave new world, one full of so much promise and… Ooh, a juicy cricket!She raced after her prey.
“I should never have listened to you,” said Taran, desperately hanging on to his mother’s back. He was so hungry that he turned onto his sister. “This is all your fault.”
“No it’s yours,” responded Tula.
They began wrestling, only there were no siblings left to squash.
(Bengaluru-based Bijal Vachharajani is a picture-book editor, kid-lit author and climate worrier)