So. The Olympics have begun. Bins and I are trying not to watch, which is somewhat easier for us, since we don’t have a TV. Then again there’s always the Internet and the inevitable YouTube uploads. Hmm. Well. So I’m reclining on my bed on my side of the room, pretending to think deep thoughts when Kookie, our wild raccoon buddy, decides to pay us a visit. Bins is the one watching YouTube right this minute so Kookie ambles over to take a look.

It’s the US gymnast Simone Biles and her astounding performance on the mat. Kookie watches for a couple of seconds before yawning and saying, “Back flips? No big deal. Me can bust open garbage bin twice me height! Me can jump up tree of any size! Me can hide in sewer pipe!” Bins, who dislikes the Olympics on principle — big money, big government, small heart — nevertheless says, “Ah but consider this, my little furry bandit! We humans are weak compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. We have no tails or claws or fangs! For us to climb up poles or lift three times our body weight or jump across great distances — well? That is an achievement, for us. So we clap and feel proud and give ourselves medals.”

“Medals,” says Kookie, squinting at the screen. “Looks like cookies. Sweet to eat?” He has a chocolate chip cookie in either paw as he asks. He would prefer a cigarette, though, and is disappointed that we don’t have smokes to share. According to him, the taming of tobacco by humans is an achievement for which HE would gladly award a medal. I am shocked to hear this. I ask him how and where he learned to smoke. It turns out he was caught and used in clinical trials. “Was great. Much food. Thousand cigarettes. Yum.” How and why did he escape? “Me got bored. Me have four little cubs back in den. So me open lock on cage using safety pin. Like you teach me.”

I tell him I’m impressed. “Yah. We smart. More than dogs, more than cats,” says Kookie with a cheeky grin. “We wait for humans to invent cookies and TV. Then we enjoy. No need to learn to cook or use channel changer!”

On YouTube, there’s a medals ceremony in progress. National anthems. Flags. “What’s all dat stuff?” he wants to know. Bins tries to explain. “We humans belong to different groups. Some groups fight other groups. Sometimes to kill. But also sometimes in sport. Like these games.” Kookie growls softly under his breath. “Silly!” he says. “Time waste. Make more cookies is better.”

Bins says, “Now, now, let’s not be judgmental, huh? You animals also have your territories, your enemies...” Kookie’s claws twitch and he looks away. “Not like humans,” he says, twiddling his whiskers in irritation. But Bins persists. “What about opossums? Will you share your den with them, invite them for dinner—” Whereupon Kookie bares his teeth. “Opossum is not raccoon! They different — they marsupial, we placental! They smelly! Stoopid! Me HATE opossum!” To which Bins smiles sadly and says, “Touché, little bandit, touché.”

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

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