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Animal Chronicles II

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on September 04, 2020 Published on August 28, 2020

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

“Come on!” says Rockette, in her growly husky voice. “Keep up!” She and I have been scurrying through the bushes along the sidewalk. “But I want to stop!” I whine. My raccoon-voice sounds to my ears like a snarl with squeaky edges. “There’s so much to smell!” And taste. And touch. Being an animal is a feast for the senses.

“Later!” growls my companion. “It’s still early. Lots of...” she pauses diplomatically, “...people about.” I can tell that she’s using a polite word. A moment later, “Eek!” she squeaks, stopping so suddenly that I plough right into her white ringed tail. Instantly, she whips around and nips me hard, on my ear. “OUCH!” I yelp, “that wasn’t ...” “HUSH!” she hisses and pushes me, so that I’m forced to back up.

Suddenly there’s a deafening roar accompanied by plumes of acrid smoke and blinding red lights. I flatten down instantly, cowering in the dirt, even as the human side of my mind informs me calmly: It’s just a car! Backing out of a driveway! Entirely unlikely to plough into these bushes, squishing us flat! With further deafening roars and clouds of suffocating poison gas, the monster speeds away. For long minutes, though, I remain trembling and witless, the earth shuddering beneath me.

We resume our journey, me trailing behind my sure-footed friend, doing my best to avoid bumping into her. Apparently it’s considered extreme bad manners to step on someone’s tail. My nose is smarting from the horrid fumes. Of course, the vapour is all around us, now that we’re scurrying along the roads. It’s a relief when she finally swerves away and dives under a different kind of hedge, with long, fragrant leaves.

We emerge into a quiet, spacious area, dotted about with trees. No lights! What bliss. “It’s part of a college campus,” Rockette tells me as she leads me towards a tall stately beech. I’m exhausted, not ready to climb. I want to rest my jangled nerves, enjoy the rich scent of the grass, chew on that tasty grasshopper, but “No! It’s not safe,” says my furry buddy. There are dog-walkers about with their frisky, panting pets just dying to give chase. “Best not to climb when you’re panicked,” she informs me. “Especially when this is your first time.”

So we start up. It turns out that I’m lousy at this business of clinging to the tree’s smooth bark with my claws. Yes, yes, they’re sharp, my paws are strong and all that but still! “Ooch!” I squeak, “I can’t — I won’t — I’m falling!” I’m wiped out by the time we finally reach a branch. Rockette is already stretched out, relaxed. “Not so easy, huh?” she grins. I’m panting like a steam engine and my paws are literally dripping with sweat.

“Aaargh,” I groan even as I feel a familiar grumble inside me. “I’m really hungry!” Rockette makes a sudden snatching movement in the air. Hands me a fat juicy beetle. “Here,” she says. “Have a flying cookie.

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

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Published on August 28, 2020
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