Hang

Animal politics

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on December 27, 2020

Even before I’ve opened the door to my apartment, I hear loud cackles from inside. It’s Rockette, my semi-wild raccoon friend. “Kiki-kiki-KEEE!” she chortles, rolling about on the carpet, with my iPad open beside her.

“What’s going on?” I ask. I try not to sound annoyed. She’s not allowed to use my iPad when I’m not at home. But Rockette has sharp teeth and claws, whereas I have only sharp words. So I’m careful how I speak to her. “I watched a hilarious video that your friend posted to you on Facebook,” says Rockette. “It’s about a human who finds one of my kind stuck in her Christmas tree — and she thinks it’s a cat!” It’s true: A woman in Florida hears a sound from her living room at 4.30 am. She and her dog go to investigate, only to find that it’s a full-size raccoon.

“The best part is,” Rockette continues, “she was filming the whole time! With one hand she’s holding the camera, with the other hand she’s hitting the tree with a weapon!” “It’s not a weapon,” I say, still feeling a little cross. “It’s a frying pan.” “A FRYING PAN??!” shrieks Rockette. “What was she planning to do — eat the wild comrade hiding in that funny-looking tree? And did you see her mad black dog? Barking its head off one minute, then howling the next, when he gets scratched by the brave, terrified visitor fighting for survival?”

“Now, now,” I say to Rockette. “I understand that for you it’s just another sign of human craziness. We love dogs and cats as pets while other furry creatures are treated like mass-murderers if they so much as place one paw out of line. But try to see it from the point of view of that poor lady! She had no idea whether the raccoon was friendly or mean or... or...” Rockette is looking at me with narrowed eyes, while stroking cookie crumbs out of her whiskers. I recognize the look. “What’s the matter?” I ask her. “You don’t agree with me?”

There’s a long pause before she says, “Of course not. I can’t ever agree with you.” When I look hurt, she says, “Look! Humans are crazy, okay? No animal wants to become crazy in that way. We use humans if it helps us get ahead but none of us wants to become you!” It’s my turn to go silent. I’m remembering the time that Rockette transformed me for a night, so that I could experience my city from the perspective of a four-footed nocturnal creature like herself. It was a scary-thrilling adventure. But I realise now that she’s never expressed a desire to spend a day as a human.

“Oh cheer up,” she says, going to the window through which she entered the house. “It’s not all bad.” She’s on the sill. “Wait!” I say, “what d’you mean?” She grins cheekily. “I didn’t empty your cookie-jar!” Then she’s gone.

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

Published on December 27, 2020

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