I woke up at half past five in the evening to what seemed like the hundredth notification alert on my phone. My work had kept me up all night like it usually did, and I had gone to bed around ten in the morning. Gone to bed, mind you. Not to sleep. That was at least forty-five minutes later. Today’s a Sunday, I remember – the only reason I’d gotten any sleep at all.
As I lay absolutely still on my bed trying to decide whether I should finally get up or not, my phone chirped again. Chirped; a melancholy compensation for the actual sounds that I always ended up sleeping through. Annoyed, I creaked to one side from my usual sarcophagal position as my hand scrambled for my phone under my pillow. It blinked on the moment the camera caught a glance of my face. How it recognizes my face even when I look like a sleep deprived raccoon, I don’t know. I squinted as the screen came into focus.
158 unread notifications.
I blinked and checked again. The phone chirped in my hand and the slight tremor (of the phone? Of my hand?) caused it to fall from my limp hand. I winced and scrambled upright using my still-weak arms. I swung down my legs and picked up the device lying face-down on the carpet.
159 unread notifications.
I shook my head, confused. So many notifications, all from different apps – Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter. Some messages from the anonymous opponents I play scrabble with. And quite a few news alerts from Google. I pushed myself up to my feet and tossed my phone aside. It was funny, I realized, how shocked I was to wake up to a lot of texts from my friends. Me with a social life wasn’t that unbelievable, was it? It was probably nothing. Maybe just a new viral video that everyone was forwarding to everyone. And World Scrabble Day or something, that would explain the notifications from Google too. I resolved to check them at peace while having breakfast. Lunch.
I washed up quickly, flashed a disdainful glance at my unmade bed and floated over to the kitchen. It was starting to get dark outside, but not dark enough that I had to switch on the lights. I pulled out last night’s half eaten sandwich from the fridge and heated it up. Finally, after taking a couple of bites to silence the rumbling in my stomach, I started reading the notifications on my phone.
12 missed calls from my mom. A large number, but not new.
A text from my dad.
Have you read the news today? Don’t look up.
What is it with Indian fathers and strange news? I sigh and quickly reply with a ‘hm’.
A text from my colleague, Naresh. No way he was dumping his work on me on a Sunday again.
best way 2 avoid the moon is not 2 luk up. idk how long i can last tho, lol.
I frown. Had he been drunk? I check the next ones. Texts from a bunch of my friends.
‘This moon thing is crazy yo. Imma just stay inside all day.’
‘Yeah, even the govt told us not to look. This is legit.’
‘Don’t look, Raman. I know you’ll wanna. But don’t.’
‘Check the news, man. What do you think about all this?’
As I read the messages, my confusion grew as I struggled to understand what was happening. I switched over to the news and read a couple of headlines;
‘DRDO, NASA warn civilians not to look at the moon for one night.’
‘This is a life or death situation, says official.’
‘Looking at the moon illegal as of 8th March, 2025, declares centre.’
I scroll through all the notifications, trying to make sense of what I was reading. Don’t look at the moon? What kind of absurd order was that? And yet the order came from the government and reputable agencies. Was this all a huge prank?
But a few more minutes of scrolling told me this was all real. There was a very real threat, literally looming right above us. And we weren’t allowed to look at it. It didn’t make sense, and none of the articles gave any insight into why this was happening. But it all seemed very scary.
I looked at the clock. 6:30. If it wasn’t cloudy, then the moon would be visible by now. Was I really going to obey these orders? My friends and family, my colleagues, even my boss – they all seemed to be very scared, and they were very serious about abiding by this regulation. Surely I could keep my eyes on the ground and stay inside for half a day?
I glanced at the window and realized that it was eerily silent outside. The neighbors weren’t blasting music from their speakers today. The street lights were off. The neighborhood seemed to be in sync with the ominous climate. I took a couple of deep breaths and took a few moments to realign myself.
Okay. Okay. Don’t look at the moon because the government said so. Can’t hurt. And surely I will know tomorrow what this was all about. It all would make sense – some astronomical anomaly, some chemical in the air that spread from looking at the moon? Unheard of, but we’ve been through worse, haven’t we?
I sighed and stuck the sandwich back in the refrigerator. Maybe I would read a book. Could I switch on a light? Nothing said I couldn’t, but the thought filled me with a strange fear. What if I mistake the moon for the glare of a bulb? It didn’t make sense, but… I kept all the lights switched off, drew all the curtains and parked myself on my sofa. Could moonlight hurt me? What about reflections? Didn’t I see everything outside because of the light reflecting off the objects? Was I already infected?
My stream of consciousness was cut off by an unfamiliar tune. I looked at the buzzing phone in my hand, marveling at how rarely I kept my phone off silent. Why was my brother calling?
I answered, “Hello?”
After a few seconds of silence I heard the strangely hushed voice of my brother. “Raman?”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, but why– ”
“Mom said you weren’t picking up calls, so I wondered… Have you read the news?”
“Yeah I did. Can you believe it? I hope it isn’t another pandemic,” I joked. Too soon?
A few seconds of silence. Then my brother said something that caught me off guard.
“Look at the moon, Raman.”
It was not just what he said. It was the tone, the seriousness, paired with the hushed volume that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I shifted on my sofa.
“Look at the moon,” he repeated. “You have to.”
“Are you crazy? Have you read the news? This isn’t a joke, Pratham. This is serious.”
“I know how serious this is. You know I don’t joke.”
He was right. He was five years elder to me, and a man of utmost seriousness. It was probably why we didn’t get along that well, but I usually trusted his judgment blindly.
“Tell me why, Pratham. Why should I look? Wait… did you look?”
My voice was unnaturally shrill.
“Yes, Raman! And I-”
The line went silent.
I furiously dialed his number again and held the phone to my ear.
The number you are calling is currently switched off. Please try again…
Maybe his phone didn’t have much charge? I tried calling his landline. It rang off.
I set my phone down and raised my thumb to my lips and chewed at the nail furiously. I could hear my brother chiding me. I replayed the conversation we had just had over and over again in my mind. Did I trust my brother? And with a ‘life or death situation’? Maybe it was all a prank? My birthday was a month away, but maybe this was a surprise joke? Anyway, surely many people had already looked at the moon right? They possibly couldn’t stop the whole world from looking, could they?
Five minutes later, I found myself on my rooftop, my eyes fixed on my feet. It was silent; there was absolutely no wind. I could feel the moon right above me, nudging me. Look. Look, Raman. I look beautiful tonight.
“Pratham, you asshole,” I murmured right before looking up. “This better be worth it.”
And I looked up.
I stared at the moon for a while. I waited for a pang of pain in my eyes. It took a minute for my eyes to tunnel in on the moon. And it looked… normal.
It was almost a full moon. My mind searched for facts about the lunar cycle to draw conclusions upon, but drew a blank.
The night sky was pretty tonight. Cloudless, it stretched across my vision like a navy blue canvas. The moon was almost full, except for that one edge, where –
My eyes widened. I blinked a couple of times. I rubbed my eyes. I pinched myself. But I was sure of what I had seen.
The little part of the moon that was dark, it had… folded. I could see the creases on the white of the moon and I could see that it had folded like a piece of circular cloth whose stitches had ripped. And I realized why the sky looked like a stretched canvas.
I went downstairs. And I sat down on the sofa.
My phone rang and I answered to hear Pratham’s frantic voice on the other end.
“Did you see it? Did you see the moon, Raman?”
I sat unmoving for a while. Then I pushed the words out of my throat.
“No. I did not see the moon. I don’t think you’re supposed to, either. The government has its reasons, I’m sure.”
“No, Raman! I’ll tell you what I saw! I-”
“Go to sleep, Pratham. You don’t know what you saw.”
I switched off my phone. And I went to bed.