Here I am, standing atop a pipe, green as freshly cut grass, that goes down into the earth. Past through the brown stone-paved platform, into the underbelly. Am I scared of sliding down the pipe large enough to accommodate me and drop into what lies underneath? (Oh, and I should say there’s no ladder to help me climb down. Once I push myself down and reach the roof of the underside, it’s a free fall drop; until I touch the equally hardened, albeit blue-bricked, earth).

Well, I’d have to say I’m not; but, the truth is, a part of me is.

Down there is where darkness comes alive. And, come to think of it, except for the envelope of blackness, things aren’t really that different. The underbelly is as rich – in terms of the wealth of its villains (turtles, monkeys, squids, and even a creeper that emerges from tunnels like the one I’m standing on) – as the upside is.

But what makes the upside far better is the perpetually blue sky, with a recurring stationary cloud that smiles at you. (Well, except, when four worlds down, the monstrosity that is Latiku appears; man, that Spinies he throws down scare me.) The sky, which never goes dark, doesn’t even change its shade. Here, I feel alive. I feel… purposeful. Optimistic. Motivated to bring back my princess, the lovely Peach of a woman.

Oh, no. Not Luigi. We have our differences – and he’s perpetually mad at me that mum gave me the red-and-blue uniform and he had to settle with white-and-green – but he’s my brother, after all.

And, in case you’re wondering, I’ve only begun my journey. World 1-1. Just ate a mushroom a few paces ago, stomped on a couple of Goombas; isn’t the squeak they make before they’re reduced to nothingness somehow cathartic. I live for that!

So, yeah, till now, life looked pretty good.

But now, with 350 remaining on the clock (and this is another thing which infuriates me, the bloody clock; why can’t I just… enjoy), I’m standing on a pipe which, if I were to slide down, will transport me almost to the end of this stage. The underbelly is relatively safer down here, so I suppose that’s an advantage. And, what’s more, on my way there through the underbelly, I’ll get richer too. I can skip the half-smiling half-angry turtles – oh, I’m sorry, they liked to be called Koopa Troopas – though, I won’t lie, chasing their shells after stomping on them is quite gratifying.

But, hey, I’ll also miss out on the flower! Though, agreed, I’ll have to shed my red-and-blue uniform (and I’m sure Luigi does a little dance each time the flower changes my wardrobe; red-and-white doesn’t have the kind of appeal that red-and-blue does), but that’s a small price to pay to get a stock of firepower in your armoury, aren’t I right? I won’t even have to wait for the Troopas and the Goomba to get near me to stomp on them. It’s the magic of fire. Just blast a ball – or even two, who cares? – at them and watch them burn and… poof.

And, hey, the star! Got to love the star. When was the last time you could be, both, invincible and glamourous? Running with that temporary cloak of glitz is superlative. Style and strength; now that’s a combination I dig. Too bad, though, it only lasts a few seconds. And how, for lack of a better word, slithery it is. Bounces away as soon as I pop it up from that question-mark-inscribed brick. Time and again, I ran into a Goomba while chasing it.

It’s embarrassing to be killed by a Goomba!

But, then again, glory comes at a price, doesn’t it?

Choices, choices! What do I do? Do I lower myself into the pipe, take the easy way out? The promise of a safe passage into the next leg of my journey? I’ve got a long way to go; Peach is waiting in the eighth world. Luigi would surely hold that against me. I can even hear him saying You don’t deserve that uniform, you’re number 2! (to which I’ll probably ask him to go find some better plumbing insults, because this one is too thin; but that’s neither here nor there right now). And I won’t even lose a life!

Or do I skip the pipe, and face the Goombas and Troopas head on? But that would mean giving them a chance to… kill me? Die before I meet the formidable, perpetually angry King Bowser a few doors down (unless I take the warp zone, that is)? No, I can’t ruin my reputation like that.

The clock’s down to 315. Can’t believe I’ve squandered 35 Mario-seconds on it.

What do I do?

Shaurya Arya-Kanojia authored his debut novella, End of the Rope (, in 2019. He likes sports (cricket, mostly), eating out, and watching reruns of The Office and Everybody Loves Raymond. His social media handles include @shauryaticks (Twitter) and @main.hoon.ek.sharara (Instagram)

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