“Rajeev, tidy up your room before you go to sleep”, he could hear his mother call out from the hallway, just outside his room.
“Yeah, mamma, I will surely do that”, the cherubic little boy yelled back through the closed door of his room.
Rajeev stared at the huge poster of Superman, taped to the back of the door. Wouldn’t it be great to be him, he thought.
“OK, don’t spend too much time on the computer and go to sleep early”, she replied, walking back down the stairs towards the kitchen.
It was a Saturday and so he has allowed the liberty of spending some time on the internet before he went to sleep. Infatuated with superheroes, he clicked and browsed the site that he had bookmarked and kept last weekend: superheroesforreal.com.
Rajeev was ten years old; like most boys his age, super heroes, dinosaurs, magic, and stories of adventure fascinated him immensely. They sparked his imagination, and often found their way into his daydreams; sometimes even his sleeping dreams. Every Saturday night, when he was allowed time to spend on the computer; he would imagine that he was one of the super heroes.
He clicked on the homepage icon and read the introduction to the site: SUPER HEROES FOR REAL! “Is there such a thing as a super hero? Do you believe there are men and women that walk among us with abilities to effect positive change, and reduce the crime rates in our communities? If your answer is YES, then you’ve come to the right place. If the answer is NO, then leave now, oh non-believer”.
Right next to the “homepage” icon was a “heroes'” icon. He clicked it and a list of super heroes from all over the country was displayed. There must have been at least fifty of them, more than he could have possibly imagined. There was a full colour photo of each super hero, his or her name, and a background story on each that popped up when their picture was clicked on. Wow, how cool was that! He scrolled down to look at all the pictures first. Most looked good in their costumes, around half a dozen looked awesome; as good as the more popular ones he had seen in a movie or comic book.
Three of them were right there in his city. There was Captain Blue, he was this guy all in blue body armour and pads; he had a blue cricket helmet too. Then there was Gizzard, he looked like a creepy wizard or something; he was all dressed in black, wore a cloak, a very wide brimmed hat, and a scarf that covered his mouth, perhaps the one with the coolest costume. And finally, there was Horse Man who looked like a jockey; all in bright, canary yellow, and wearing purple goggles, the one with the worst looking costume, ever. Still, they were real super heroes, he thought.
Rajeev read every background story for each and every super hero on the entire site, but couldn’t find what he was the most interested in knowing. He wanted to know what their super powers were. Was it a major oversight, he thought. Or maybe, they didn’t want to reveal them to just anyone. If a super villain or evil mastermind knew what their powers were, then they could invent or find something to defeat the super heroes with, his mind started pondering.
“Rajeev, why are you still awake”, it was his mom with the light check signalling that it was time for bed. “Not feeling sleepy, Mamma” he turned off the computer, and quickly rolled over to his bed as he heard the door knob turning.
“OK then. Do you want me to tuck you in”, he saw his mother peeping in through the half opened door. “No Mamma, sleeping now”, he replied wondering if ever Superman’s mom tucked him in when he was ten. No way, he immediately dismissed the thought and closed his eyes.
The next morning at the breakfast table, Rajeev didn’t hear a thing of what his parents were talking. He was daydreaming again. He was thinking about all the super heroes on that website, and imagining what their secret super powers were. Captain Blue looked like he could take some damage; bet he was super strong too, probably picked up cars and stuff. Gizzard seemed to have magic powers; maybe he hypnotized bad guys or even conjure up demons from the underworld, not the evil demons, but the good ones. The Horse Man seemed a real mystery looking like he should be riding a horse lassoing the bad guys but still not dressed like a cowboy. Maybe the jockey look was just a camouflage but surely the costume and name gave out no clue as to his secret powers. Rajeev made up his mind that he just had to meet these local super heroes.
He looked at his Dad who had just finished his breakfast and was engrossed in the newspaper. “Dad, could you take me to meet the super heroes”, he asked. “What super heroes”, his Dad looked up from the newspaper and asked. “The ones that are patrolling our streets, and keeping us all safe at night, there are three of them right here in our own city!” he spurted out.
“Do you know what your son is talking about”, his Dad stared at his Mom and questioned. “No idea and he’s your son too by the way. Rajeev, what’s all this about”, it was her turn to question now.
Rajeev looked at his parents; he couldn’t believe they didn’t know. “There, are, super heroes, here, in this city.” He made sure to say it real slow.
“That’s nice,” his father said before he dug his eyes back into the newspaper. “Oh, Rajeev, you have such an imagination”, his mother smiled that loving, knowing smile that could almost make him hurl.
“I’m not making stuff up! They have a website and everything”, Rajeev jumped up from his chair and yelled. “OK, I’ll check it out after breakfast”, his father replied waving at him to sit down and finish his meal.
Rajeev frowned and stabbed at the buttered toast with his fork, “this is so burnt…” he uttered. “Eat,” his parents said in unison before he could even complete his sentence.
Immediately after breakfast, Rajeev sat down with his Dad at the computer. “Now, what’s the name of this website”, his Dad asked. “Super heroes for real dot com – all one word” Rajeev still couldn’t believe his Dad and Mom had no idea.
“Here we are…. Hey, come and look at this”, his Dad called out for his wife. She turned the TV off; walked over to stand behind them, and leaned down to get a closer look. “So, there are real super heroes after all,” she smiled and winked at her husband. “Yes, it would seem so,” his Dad confirmed, smiling back.
“I want to meet them, please!” Rajeev started pleading. “Now you know how he gets when he’s like this” his mother was surrendering even before Rajeev started his incessant whining and begging. “Yeah”, his Dad breathed out the word in resignation. He clicked through a few pages until he found what he was looking for. “Here’s something…. They have weekly meetings, and there’s one today evening at 6:00 p.m. It says all are welcome to come”.
“Can we, Dad”, Rajeev pleaded again. “Yeah, sure”, his Dad looked at his wife, and shrugged his shoulders. She gave him back a look that meant, “Just do it”.
Evening took forever to arrive; Rajeev had been ready since morning. He had printed out the local heroes’ photos so he could get their autographs on them, even the guy that looked like a jockey.
Rajeev’s Dad drove his excited son into the downtown area. He had convinced his Dad to leave well into late afternoon itself so that they reach on time. For the most part, it was a relatively safe area. It was nowhere near as bad as some other parts of the larger city. Sure, there was the occasional drunken brawl, even the odd murder, and there were a couple of gangs around; their graffiti was noticeable here and there. But he was never concerned when he came downtown at this time of day by himself. It’s just that, he was now here with his son, and he didn’t want to put him in any harm, even if there was a remote chance of something happening. His son really wanted this bad, but he still felt a little guilty for bringing him to this seedier part of the city. Well, at least it wasn’t dark, yet.
He parked the car in a small parking lot just across the street overlooking some shabby shops and being a weekend, he could easily get one. One of those shabby shops was supposed to be the super heroes’ hangout. As they walked closer, he could make out a second-hand bookstore in one unit; another was being used for a local politician’s campaign headquarters.
“Dad, look! Here it is!” Rajeev shouted, as he pointed to the sign on the door; he read it out loud: “Super heroes are real and we are here now”. His Dad smiled wondering that it was like one of those two-sided open/closed signs, imagining that the other side would say, “Super heroes are all out for lunch”.
Rajeev ran over and tried the door knob, it was locked but a bright light glowed from the wide gap at its bottom confirming that there’s someone inside. He pressed the doorbell; a few seconds later, the door opened and out walked…”Captain Blue!” shouted Rajeev gleefully, as he clasped his hands together.
Soon Rajeev and his dad were sitting around a wobbly table with all three super heroes in full costume. Rajeev noticed his father looked a bit uncomfortable. “We like to think of this as our round table, as in the Knights of the Round Table,” Captain Blue pointed out to break the awkwardly long silence.
“Looks square to me”, his Dad observed dryly, much to the discomfort of Rajeev. “Yes, but the corners are rounded”, Gizzard defended. “Point taken”, his Dad wasn’t going to push it anymore, thankfully Rajeev prayed. “So, what do you fellows do”, his Dad enquired. Rajeev leaned up to whisper in his Dad’s ear, “Ask them about their super powers”, not eliciting any reaction from his Dad.
“First, let me welcome you”, Captain Blue began. “We don’t get many visitors here, but we are always looking for new members, and are always open to the public. I’ll let Gizzard answer your questions, he’s better at that sort of things than me”.
“We are a subculture of heroes, based in reality, that don elaborate costumes to reflect our strong, inner resolutions to become part of a comprehensive solution in solving the extreme problems we continuously face in our urban communities in this space-time continuum”, Rajeev stared at his Dad and then each one of them one by one finally fixing up his eyes on Horse Man, unable to comprehend a word of what was just said.
“What he means is that we patrol the streets as a group, and that our visibility in the community helps to keep crime down”, explained Horse Man, who had been forced out of silence by his stare. “We also participate in food drives, and other charitable things throughout the year”.
“Oh, OK, that sounds good.” His Dad was relieved by the second answer, perhaps making him put off his excuse for getting out of there in a hurry. “So, you guys are basically providing a community service; whatever might be needed at the time”, he quipped.
“Yes, that’s it in a nutshell”, said Captain Blue. “What are your super powers”, Rajeev blurted out not a bit convinced by the conversation so far. He couldn’t stand not knowing any longer.
“Kid, we don’t have any real super powers. We’re super heroes, not super humans, there’s a difference. Super, for us, just means that we’re very good at what we do, and we like to think of ourselves as heroes to our local community; thus the term ‘super hero'”.
“Oh”, this was worse than when he found out Santa Claus was a fake. He wasn’t going to cry though. Super heroes, even fake ones, never do.
“Sorry, kid. Anyway, thanks for dropping by, but we need to hit the streets, and start our patrol. It’s getting dark and its Sunday night, a perfect storm for crime”, the Captain said.
“Sure, Thanks for your time. Come on, Rajeev”, his Dad said as he got up. Rajeev stood up, but was now staring down at the yellowing tiled floor, and with a frown that no amount of chocolate ice cream could ever reverse.
“Say goodbye to the super heroes, Rajeev”, his Dad mentioned rather cheekily. “Bye,” he said meekly in defeat, and trailed behind his Dad to the front door.
No sooner were they out the door than the sound of shattered glass was heard. They looked in the direction to see their car being broken into by a gang. There were five young men in their late teens or early twenties. Individually, they would have passed for any typical looking youth from the rougher part of town, but together, with their body language, and of course the group’s interest in the contents of the car, it was immediately obvious that this wasn’t going to be good.
“Get away from that car!” Rajeev’s Dad yelled, as he walked toward the gang. Rajeev looked back towards the door, as if trying to get some help from the super heroes. The three heroes were running down to be with his Dad who was walking towards the gang fearlessly all alone. Rajeev was glad that after all the disappointment that he had so far, there would be some excitement to follow.
The gang stopped at what they were doing, but stood their ground, and waited for them to approach. At first, all were speechless; stunned really, a middle-aged man charging at them fearlessly with three costumed companions as backup. Then one started to laugh, then another and another.
“You’re joking, right”, one said. “Look, its Captain Ameri-can’t,” said another. “Who are your friends?” a third added. “That one looks like Zorro, or is that Zero, but your mask should be over your eyes, not your mouth”, said the first one, who could barely force out the words between his bouts of laughter. “Should be over his whole face”, another added. With this, the group broke down into hysterical laughter. “You yellow dude, I think your horse is five miles that way”, the first one could barely talk, but managed to point in the general direction of the racetrack.
Rajeev’s Dad wasn’t amused. “Are you guys finished?” The link in the chain of jokes had been broken, and the laughter soon died down. The group now focused their attention back to the business at hand.
“So, besides making us laugh to death, what are you going to do?” said the first one, the leader and spokesman of the gang. “This!” Captain Blue yelled, as he pulled out a cricket ball from one of his many utility pockets. The leader of the gang responded by pulling out a knife, and advanced on the overly padded crusader.
Like a pace bowler, Captain Blue used a standard fastball grip and threw the ball with all his might at the thug. Sadly, the Captain’s aim wasn’t very good, and the hard ball missed the targeted knife-hand, but did hit his groin dead centre. This brought down the leader quickly; he wasn’t laughing now, but Rajeev did learn a couple of new swear words. His gang wasn’t laughing either, and they too were now swearing, as they advanced on his Dad and the three costumed heroes. Two pulled out knives, but a third pulled out a small, black handgun.
But before they could take a second step, they suddenly froze in their tracks, as if encased in blocks of ice. None of them could move a muscle, or even speak, but they all saw the little boy who came out from behind the three costumed heroes.
“You are bad guys!” Rajeev shouted. “I don’t think I like you at all”. He gave them an odd stare while raising his small hands over his head.
The bad men were lifted up off the black pavement, and floated in place a couple of feet from the ground; their paralyzed muscles were useless. Only fear and disbelief could be seen in their eyes, as they stared at the angry ten-year-old looking up at them.
“Rajeev, stop that now, please,” said his father firmly, and walked across to stand beside his son. “But Dad, these are bad guys”, Rajeev replied. “I’ll take over from here,” he heard his Dad’s stern command. “You never let me have any fun”, he pouted, put his hands on his hips and started kicking at something invisible on the pavement with the toe of his orange sneaker.
Rajeev’s Dad held out his right hand; curled his fingers slight downward, and like puppets on strings, the bad men were lowered back down to the pavement. Then, with a flick of his hand, he released them from the hold. They just stood there shaking with fear; not one of them had anything clever to say.
“Now, get out of here and take your friend with you”, he shouted. One reached down to help up their leader, but the others just ran away as fast as they could. Rajeev’s Dad approached the three heroes who stood motionless with disbelief. “Forget”, he said as he gestured like a magician with a wave of his right hand. All three closed their eyes for a second; when they opened them, they had a look of total confusion.
“What’s going on”, asked Captain Blue. “Some kids were breaking into my car, but you fellows scared them away. Don’t you remember? Anyway, thanks again for everything”, his Dad said. “Yeah, sure, of course”, the Captain replied, as he racked his synapses to remember.
The three super heroes just stood there with blank looks on their faces, as Rajeev got into the car with his Dad, and drove off. Rajeev was still recapitulating what had happened a little while ago when his Dad broke the silence, “Rajeev, you did the right thing. I’m very proud of you”. “Thanks Dad, but why can’t I do it all the time? I’m a real superhero; not like those fakes” he retorted. “You were a hero today, Rajeev, but there’s no such thing as a superhero. It’s all fantasy; it’s only in films and books”, his Dad tried to explain.
“But what about our powers”, Rajeev enquired. “I’d rather want you to call them ‘abilities’. Remember, on this planet that we live, everyone has these abilities. And if everyone is the same, no one is really super. We should only learn to use it when it is required for us and for others”, his Dad explained. “Right dad”, he sighed, trying to understand.
His Dad wasn’t completely lying to Rajeev, but he knew it was only a matter of time before this shaky level of logic would no longer work. He knew that under different conditions, his son could be Earth’s real life super hero, but he knew the realities of this planet.
Super heroes were a reality, but the sad truth was that this world would actually never leave them alone. He didn’t come to this conclusion arbitrarily but after having read and understood its history. He knew how badly they had treated their own people with special abilities in the past.
“Just look what they had done to the son of their own God, what chance the son of an alien from the planet of Krypton has”, he had realised before he hung up his costume years ago to lead the life of a common man.
“So, how are you doing at school”, his Dad broke the silence yet again. “Pretty good Dad, I am sure I would get a distinction in at least three subjects this semester”, Rajeev replied. “You are surely going to be a hero in your life, making me proud of you”, his Dad smiled rubbing his hand over his child’s unravelled hair.