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A short story from the Duckbill Workshop in Delhi.

The night was filled with fireflies. Neha, Vinnie and I burst from the car and ran into the meadow, laughing and twirling as the fireflies flittered around us and cast their glow on our arms and faces.

Vinnie was so little she thought the stars had come down from the sky. “No, you silly,” I told her proudly. “Those are fireflies! They’re little bugs!” Her eyes grew wide with wonder.

We’d come upon the field of fireflies just an hour out of Dehradun and begged our father to stop and kill the headlights – and then the darkness had bloomed with the tiny floating lights. As we ran into the fields, Neha and I took Vinnie’s little hands on either side and helped her run faster than ever, making her squeal with delight.

“Let’s bring a jar,” I suggested. “Let’s take them home.”

“Oh!” whispered Neha. “That’s a brilliant idea.” She hurtled back to the car and emptied the biscuit jar before running back to us.

“Scoop them in,” I ordered, and Neha and I began to collect the fireflies, which was easy because by now they’d begun to crawl all over us.

But Vinnie had grown absolutely still. “Don’t,” she begged softly. “Don’t! This is their home.”

“Oh, come on!” Neha urged impatiently. “We’ll let them loose in our bedroom! Imagine the fun! And we can watch them as we fall asleep. They’ll be like our own stars!”

“No,” Vinnie protested, tears shining in her eyes. “Let’s not take them!”

But neither Neha nor I paid her any heed as we kept on grabbing the fireflies by the fistful and chucking them into the jar. As many as went in crept or flew out, but there were enough.

Back in the car, we admired the jar blazing with light. We’d covered the mouth with Mamma’s dupatta so that the fireflies had enough air to breathe. As Papa drove back home, Vinnie begged us to let her hold the jar. “Just for a moment, please?” she requested. Neha and I exchanged a worried look, reluctant to give her the jar, but Mamma made us. So we passed it up front grudgingly, where Vinnie sat in Mamma’s lap.

“Take care, Ma, will you?” I urged, “Don’t let the fireflies get out.”

“Of course,” Mamma replied.

As soon as Papa nosed the car into our driveway, Neha and I hopped out and dashed to our bedroom as fast as shooting stars. We slammed the windows shut to prepare the room for the fireflies. Whooping and laughing, we chased each other back to the car, each of us wanting to be the first one to grab the jar. I couldn’t wait to let the fireflies out into our room so they could fill it up with their fairy-like lights.

As we reached the car, we saw Vinnie look away quickly and run into the house. Neha gasped. I leaned in to retrieve our fireflies.

But the jar was empty.

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