Seasoned 24-watchers know that at the end of every episode, a clock ticks down to zero to signify the end of the hour:
The other day, the clock ticked down making that awful bleeping sound. I switched off the TV from the main switch, threw the covers over myself and shut my eyes determined to drift off into slumberland. Suddenly the shrill tick-tock started up again. I can never mishear that sound, for it always sends my blood pressure shooting up.
I peered out from under my cover and listened closely. It sounded less high-pitched, and more metallic, something like a robot sneezing. But to my astonishment it maintained the tone of the 24 clock.
I flung off the covers and got down from the bed. My poor toddler followed suit, as she had been rudely disturbed from her sleep.
I called my maid, and all three of us crept towards the apparent source of the noise – the balcony. Rows of carefully selected plants bordered the edges of the verandah. My maid tiptoed across the room and switched on the balcony light.
The potted plants glared back at me.
I scanned every inch of the landscape, but no living thing or device capable of emitting metallic sounds surfaced on the horizon.
Then my maid elbowed me in the ribs. She pointed at the potted palm tree. One of its long spindly leaves was fluttering more than the others.
Then I noticed it – a long green insect walking along the slender body of the leaf. Its colour matched the exact hue of the leaves. We edged closer to it. The sound increased in volume. It probably wasn’t too happy at the thought of us invading its turf.
We scampered out of the balcony and back into the room. I pulled the gate shut, and closed the sliding doors. After a minute or two, the metallic countdown stopped.
My husband came in a few minutes later. I told him the whole story.
‘It turned out to be a grasshopper,’ I said in conclusion.
‘Not a grasshopper,’ he said, assuming the air of an entomologist. ‘A cricket.’
‘A cricket makes shrill sounds! This was metallic!’
‘It couldn’t have been a grasshopper,’ he said, still in the guise of the aforementioned insect expert.
‘Yes, it was,’ I said, because a grasshopper looks like this:
And a cricket looks like this:
And I’m pretty sure what I saw was a grasshopper. But he hasn’t come around to my point of view yet. In the meantime I have changed my mind and decided that it was probably a cicada (yes, even if they’re apparently not found in India).