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Animal Chronicles - III

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on September 04, 2020

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

“Before returning to your den,” says Rockette the raccoon, “there’s one last thing we must do.”

We’ve spent the whole night roaming the sleeping city. She’s taught me how to catch moths: Jump‘n’snatch. Where to find clean water: Bird-baths. Good places for fun: A kiddies’ playground, where we swing crazily on the swings and climb the jungle-gym. Best of all, where to find dessert: Humming-bird feeders! People leave small containers of sugar-water out on their porches, with hollow plastic flowers in their spouts. During the day, hummingbirds stop by to sip the sugar solution by thrusting their long slender beaks into the flower. All we have to do is chuck the flower out and glug the sweet stuff straight down!

We’ve hardly stopped moving ever since we crawled out of the bathroom window of my apartment. I should be tired, but Rockette says that raccoons are like cats: They sleep for much of the day and are awake for much of the night. I’m not wearing a watch, so I don’t know what time it is. There’s a lull in the sounds of the night: The bats and owls and other all-nighters are winding down, while the early risers are just beginning to stir.

We’re close to where I live, in someone’s backyard. “You can’t end your first night out as a raccoon,” says Rockette, “without experiencing the finest thrill in the urban animal’s schedule: Garbage tipping!!” Eek! No! My whiskers go tense. “Ummm,” I say, stalling for time. “I don’t know if I...” Rockette jumps around, so that her black wet nose and sharp white teeth are right up next to my black wet nose. “Listen!” she hisses, “there are no options on this menu, okay? It’s ALL or NOTHING!”

Directly ahead of us are two towering shapes. Jumping up on one, Rockette expertly snaps the lid off the other one. “Come ON!” she calls to me. “It’s really full. Too heavy for me alone.” The human side of my brain is tugging hard at me: “Don’t do it! You know how much hassle it is, to clean up after a raccoon raid... you know how much we all hate the mess...”

But a moment later, there I am, alongside Rockette pushing the garbage can over. Down it goes, with a deafening crash! A whole week’s worth of chicken bones and squishy tomatoes, stinky cheese and half-eaten pizza floods out onto the driveway! “Quickly, quickly!” chitters Rockette, “they’ll come running out any minute now!” And sure enough, even as I pounce on a packet of soggy french fries, the lights come on in the house!

We race away in the nick of time. We scramble back into my house, up through the window. “Whoops!” I squeak, as I dive into my clothes, lying in a pile on the floor. “How do I...” Then I’m back. Human again. “Goodnight!” says Rockette, snatching the chips from my hand. And vanishes out the window.

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 September 04, 2020