Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 12
continued from last Sunday
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
The next day began well enough. But by the time Tomba took out the materials to start his work, the skies closed with dark clouds and he thought so here it goes the as soon as possible work. He had to shift the cage further in where raindrops from the sides could not reach. He could complete only one coat of paint of the woodwork and second coat of the wire net after the first coat of the previous day by the time he had his midday break.
By then, it appeared as if the rains were over. But to get good results the sun had to be bright. There was yet no sign of sun although the rains had stopped. He decided to keep the final coat pending even if there was enough time in the afternoon. Tomorrow might be a little friendlier, he thought. He reasoned that if he could catch the early morning sun when he did the final coat even if it rained later, there would be some respectable shine.
When he heard Rajen entering the house that day, Tomba came out and said, ‘No way to keep the cage ready for use. The rain was the culprit’.
‘Let’s see how it is’, said Rajen as he followed Tomba.
‘I know, Inspection Time. I will not let you down tomorrow’. Tomba spoke.
‘Why, it’s ready. Except that the colour is a little dull ’, Rajen appeared pleased.
‘No. Only two coats of the paints have been done. God willing, the final coat will make it a lot better. The shine will come after that and I am sure it will acquire the bright red we anticipated’, Tomba explained.
Just as Rajen went closer to examine, Thoibi came in followed closely by Thembi. Thembi spoke first, ‘Why red? I was looking forward to a nice colour.’
Before anybody could react, Thoibi also said, ‘I was expecting some nice colour like blue.’
‘Or, green.’ Thembi joined.
It was already late for these views. So he decided to ignore them and firmly said, ‘The rabbits are to drive away the rats. So strong colour like red is suitable. So, mother and aunt Thembi, blue and green are definitely nice colours but they are suitable for other things, not for the cage’.
‘Why, more friendly colours like blue or green will appear more persuasive to the rats. As it is the rabbits are only two and they cannot possibly be relying on force to drive away the rats. So the rabbits should appear friendly enough to persuade the rats to leave.’ His mother was now interesting but he could not take the discussion further.
‘Yes, we should have also consulted you earlier. Now, it will not be possible to change the paint. Brother Tomba, will it be possible to paint something different over them?’ Rajen wanted Tomba to intervene.
‘No. It’s too late, If only the primer was done, then we could have gone for any other colour’. Tomba replied.
By noon the next day, the final coat was done and Tomba gingerly took out the cage in the sun to dry.
When Rajen came home, in the evening, it was not completely dry but no longer sticky. Tomba said, ‘I don’t think we should put the rabbits in the cage today. Although it is almost dry the smell is still strong. Can we not wait till tomorrow?’
‘No. You have taken a lot of time getting the cage ready. The rabbits will soon get used to the smell of fresh paint.’ Rajen was obviously impatient.
‘Okay, then, I am taking the cage out. Where do you want the cage to be kept?’ asked Tomba.
Rajen signaled that Tomba should wait for him and went inside. When he came out he was carrying battery torchlight and said, ‘Let’s take it out. Follow me’, and Rajen walked out with the torchlight showing the path in front.
He went to almost the centre of the backyard where the little rodents were most active. He indicated that Tomba should place the cage on an even portion and said, ‘Let the rabbits be here. And we’ll soon know how they scare the rats away.’
The red cage was now slowly lowered. After that Tomba went in to fetch the rabbits. The rabbits in the basket looked pleased with a lot of vegetables and roots.
The door to the cage was pulled up slowly and the two healthy rabbits were put into the cage. The vegetables and whatever was there in the basket were introduced into the cage. So for him, here there was: The Red Cage, two healthy rabbits and countless rats; was it going to be a war or a battle? However healthy the rabbits were, they could not be any match for the faceless rats who could go underground at will. A War it was going to be; more spiritual than material; because from all appearances there could not be a physical encounter. Could anyone say why the presence of rabbits drives away rats? So anything, which could not be explained plainly had to be, of course, spiritual. Rabbits pitted against rats in a Spiritual confrontation were something to be anticipated. Would it not have been nicer to trap the rats? The irony of it all was that the rabbits that were to launch an offensive were caged. But then Spirits, wherever they were would not make a difference. Wasn’t it a nice idea to cage in “Spirits”? Wholesome matter in the open. And spirits in a Red Cage were to bring peace.
The rabbits were thus left there. In that dark autumn night, the red cage with its occupants was to do what was expected of them. It reminded him of violently made-up women soliciting at the street corners in late evenings in Calcutta.
Tomba must have thought what he had been doing for three days was only a chore. When he woke up early as usual the next morning, he did not show any special interest to have a look at the rabbits. But it was different for Rajen. He woke up much earlier than his usual time. Although it was early for him, it was later than his wife, Leima, his mother, Thoibi, aunt Thembi and of course much later than Tomba. However, when he woke, he moved around as if he was ready earlier than the others and called out. ‘Brother Tomba, are you ready? Let us see how the rabbits have performed.’
Tomba came closer and said, ‘Of course. Let us go there. The night was colder. It seems the winter is going to be early.’
The rats were of course there all right. The fresh burrows were however further away from where the rabbits’ cage was kept.
‘What a sight!’ called out Rajen as he approached the cage. All he saw was the two rabbits bundled together in a corner and they were definitely not looking healthy.
‘Oh! It must be the smell of fresh paint’, said Tomba as he bent to take a closer look.
Rajen was not pleased but he decided to keep quiet and only said, ‘Let’s take them out and see if they are okay.’
Tomba went in to fetch the basket.
As if awakened by his presence the two rabbits moved a little. In fact they moved away from each other. He now thought that if it was the smell of fresh paint it was better. But if it was the cool autumn night the problems was more serious because winter nights later were going to be harsh.
By then, Tomba had slid up the door of the cage and held one of the rabbits to be led into the basket. Then the other one. When both of them were in place, he took the basket to the veranda and placed the upturned basket firmly. Then he said, ‘I’ll give them some fresh vegetables.’
Rajen then went back to the spot where they had placed the cage. The bright red cage stood there empty. He pushed it a little aside to see what it was like on the ground the rabbits had spent the night. Satisfied, he called out, ‘Come, Brother Tomba, the rabbits made sure that rats were not near them.’
Tomba took care to nurse back the rabbits to become healthy once again. For two days they were kept in the basket again and the cage was kept in the open to clear it of the smell.
Then the rabbits was reintroduced into the cage and kept at almost the original spot. Even during those two days it was noticed that there wasn’t any fresh burrow in that three feet by three feet area of the ground, which was once a fertile part of a vegetable garden.
…to be continued
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