Friendly freedom

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on August 14, 2020

My sister drops me off in Elsewhere and zooms off right away, hoping to avoid mid-afternoon traffic. So she doesn’t see the mess that greets me when I open the door: Paw prints. Multicoloured. Everywhere.

Floor, ceiling, walls, windows. The door of the fridge is open and the contents strewn all over. Tubes of acrylic paint have been bitten into and squished. Hence the blue, green and pink and paw prints. The freshest prints are bright yellow. They lead straight towards the bathroom. My house is tiny: It takes me three strides to cross the main room, after closing the fridge door in the kitchen.

I can hear the sound of splashing. “Rocky!” I yell, “is that y—” Then I stop. It’s not Rocky, my raccoon friend of many years. “Hi,” says the furry creature lounging in the bathtub, with my shower cap on her head. “My name’s Rockette. I’m Rocky’s daughter.” She’s smaller and cuter than her dad, with a squeaky voice. “He taught me human speech and told me how to break into your house.”

“But... but...” I sputter. “What about the mess? And where’s Rocky? And since when did raccoons need hot baths!” I’m trying hard to be furious, but it’s difficult to stay angry with a wild animal, even when it’s a very cheeky, naughty one. Rockette is looking at me with a knowing expression on her stripy face. “Awww,” she says, “come on! Don’t make me spell it out about! The reason Dad isn’t here? Is because we raccoons don’t live very long, you know? The roads are dangerous? Humans are careless? Everyone’s gotta die, some day? And how about handing me that towel?”

She helps me clear up the mess — in the sense that eating all the food that had spilled out of the fridge and hunting for cookies is helping. She says that she’s sorry about the paint, the paw prints. “Dad told me that you needed looking after,” she says. “We’ve all heard about the Sickness that’s been mowing down humans like the cars on the highway mow down us wild animals. Just before he Crossed Over, he told me that more than ever, humans needed to reconnect with nature and the wild world.”

She looks around as she speaks. “He said there were two of you in this den. Where’s the other one?” I explain to her that Bins stayed back in India and that he’s happier there than here. “Actually, it’s a special day today in India,” I said. “The 15th of August. Independence Day. We won freedom from the British on this day 73 years ago.”

She twiddles her whiskers. “Hmmm,” she says. “That freedom stuff doesn’t mean much to us animals. Everyone’s got to eat and find a safe place to hibernate. No one’s free from those needs.” I agree with her. “And humans everywhere are imprisoned alone in their homes by a deadly virus,” I say, opening a packet of Oreos. “Thanks for keeping me company.”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on August 14, 2020

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