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Animal chronicles

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on August 21, 2020 Published on August 21, 2020

ILLUSTRATION: MANJULA PADMANABHAN

Residents of the building in which I live aren’t allowed to keep pets. So I can’t ask Rockette the raccoon to live with me. Not that she wants to. “Yuck!” is her response when I apologise. “Who would want to stay in a human house?”

“Well,” I say, “I’m quite like having a warm dry home, with running water and electricity...” But Rockette’s shiny black nose curls up in a combination of amusement and pity. “That’s just coz you’ve got used to being in prison!” she says. According to her, the only useful feature of human life is our food. Specifically cookies. “All right,” I say, ignoring the shadow of an insult lurking within these remarks, “in that case, why did you seek me out? You did seem to enjoy my bathtub, for instance!”

“I did enjoy it,” says the little furry creature, “but only for the novelty.” She’s giving me an appraising look, as if making up her mind about something. “The reason I came here wasn’t to stay with you.” She hesitates again before continuing. “It was to invite you to come outside! With me.”

Huh? I simply cannot understand what she means. Raccoons live up in tree-hollows or the crawl-spaces under buildings. They sneak around using the storm-water drains as highways through the city and raid garbage dumps for food. How can I, a large hairless human being with no claws on my paws, no whiskers and no foraging skills, possibly enter the world of my raccoon buddy?

Rockette chitters with laughter at the confusion on my face. “Oh, what a crazy idea!” she giggles, before saying something even more bizarre: “I meant, come outside AS A RACCOON! Not as a human.” What? “I can’t understand any of this,” I say, wondering if I’ve finally caught Covid-19 and descended into instant delirium. My furry buddy gives me a withering look. “Don’t you believe ANY of the books you read in childhood? Uff! Just shut your eyes —”

A moment later, my whole body is gripped in tingling shudders. My boundaries shrink. My head flattens, my snout shoots out forward, my ears pop out on either side and my skin ripples with fur. There’s no time to feel afraid! “Open your eyes,” says Rockette. She’s no longer speaking in English. I’m wholly entangled in my clothes. “Help!” I yelp, my voice making a funny growly sound. “My head’s stuck in my sleeve!”

Moments later we’re scrambling out of the bathroom window that my buddy had thoughtfully left open earlier in the day. “Oh-oh-ooo!” I yelp as we jump down into the thick grass. My body feels as flexible as a rubber balloon. And a tail — I have a huge fluffy tail! “This is SO AMAZING,” I gasp. My nose is smelling in CinemaScope and Technicolor: Grass, leaves, insects, garbage, birds, bats, oh my! “Welcome to the real world,” says Rockette as she vanishes into the undergrowth. I twiddle my whiskers with delight and plunge in behind her.

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 21, 2020
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