Operation Rescue Rabbits

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Our neighbour Mr Jose’s garden, in the backyard of his house, is a mesh of knots and tangles – weeds and brambles are growing like an insidious disease. The leaves of Yellow Nut sedges – having long tapered tips – and the heart shaped leaflets of the low growing Lemon Grass are burgeoning like the tentacles of an octopus all across the ground. Little bucktoothed creatures – having ears like a TV antennae – gambolling about the labyrinth that they call a garden was the only splendid sight: the family had been domesticating a  herd of rabbits comprising a few red eyed American white rabbits and greyish-brown European rabbits for over a year.

All the fuss started three weeks ago when it dawned upon my father – an animal lover in general, and a rabbit and goat lover in particular, who often went over to play and “converse” with the rabbits like ‘Ricketyy Ricketty boo, Come to Papa, Kitkat’ or ‘Ricketyy Ricketty boo, nibble on, babies’ –  that one or two of the rabbits would be missing every time he visited.

‘I could not find Kitkat anywhere,’ he grumbled once.

‘Raddish has gone somewhere,’ he cried on another occasion.

‘Er… it escaped to over there,’ Mr Jose would usually say, pointing towards the thick growth of clusters of Yellow Nut sedges around the extreme corner of his garden, when my father enquired about the missing rabbit.

This explanation, however, never went down well with my father, who was growing more frantic by each day like an old woman not being able to find her dentures.

‘You’re a rather nosy man, if not outright paranoid. The rabbits might have fallen sick having got wet in the rain and died due to lack of care. The family’s lackadaisical attitude is well-known. Haven’t you seen the plight of their garden?’ remarked my mother irritably at last.

There was still a dubious look on my father’s face.

‘Mr. Jose is a good man. Why would Mr Jose lie to me?’ asked he impatiently.

‘Isn’t that obvious? He is ashamed to tell you about what clumsy, careless gits his entire family is,’ snapped my mother.

At once, my father zoomed out and barged into Mr Jose’s garden to watch over his springy bucktoothed friends. He thoroughly checked them. None of them looked sick at all. Scowling, he made a beeline for the front door and rang the doorbell. It was Mr Jose himself, luckily, who answered the door.

‘Are your rabbits dying due to illness or something? Is that why the number keeps dwindling?’ asked my father, simpering enough to conceal his rage.

‘Er… they escaped to over there,’ replied Mr Jose tentatively, pointing towards the back of his own house – at his disarrayed garden – where the weeds were creeping up profusely all across.

‘I’ve had it, Sammy! I will have to unravel the mystery of the missing rabbits,’ my father told me, the next day, through gritted teeth.

Austin, my younger brother – who was friends with the youngest Jose – was deployed to spy on the Jose family by my father in lieu of a bribe.  For weeks, Austin continued reporting to my father after returning from his play dates at the Jose’s. My mother was kept in the dark about this until Austin blabbed it to her in a fit of excitement for his promised brand new bicycle. To my father’s relief, however, by that time, the purpose of the deployment had already been served.

Last week, my father came home all gleeful and jubilant from his evening walk.

‘I’ve solved the mystery of the missing rabbits,’ exclaimed he, looking complacent and gloating over his wisdom, which clearly irked my mother.

‘Really? Congratulations,’ said my mother, sarcastically.

But my father was too overwhelmed to notice the sarcasm in her tone.

‘Thank you,’ replied he and went on with his monologue about our neighbour Mr Jose’s rabbits.

‘So…um… my dear Austin told me that he saw Mrs Jose bringing in the youngest one, the one with a gashing scar above his left eye, and attended to him for some days inside the house. The next time Austin visited, the rabbit was nowhere to be found. Even its cage strewn with half-nibbled carrot pieces was empty. That very day, Mr Jose’s son told Austin that he had a feast the other night. His aunt is visiting them, you know,’ my father explained patiently, ‘Anyway, he told him that he ate the most tender and soft meat he had ever tasted in his life.’

His face flushed. He took a deep breath as though he were suppressing his exasperation and said sternly, ‘Those nasty rascals are gorging on their pets. I mean, how can one eat his or her own babies? Always knew that Jose was a filthy liar!’

My father feigned elation for days. But I could clearly see the shade of despair in his eyes. Austin wanted to cheer him up with some juvenile plan of his. I decided to assist Austin in his top-secret Operation Rabbit Rescue (as Austin called it) due to two reasons – Ms Anne taught us in the third grade that helping your parents was a good thing, and Uncle Kumar, a veterinarian, always says: ‘Kids that befriend an animal, get heavenly caramel’; although I never understood what exactly was ‘heavenly’ caramel. Austin says that it is the caramel that trees in heaven have in their bark!  Anyway, I, along with Austin and my best friend Annie, devised a plan. I took a clue from what my mother had said to my father earlier: ‘The rabbits might have fallen sick…’ Nevertheless, it was Annie who gathered the required information and equipments.

Two days back, all three of us sneaked into Mr.Jose’s garden when the entire family had gone to Church. Austin was on the lookout near the front door. Annie and I trudged inside and assembled all the pairs of innocent red and brown eyes.  We then seized open up the tote bag that we were carrying with us. She took out her Mom’s razor and began shaving the body hair of the rabbits in round and oval spots. I was tinting the hairless spots with acrylic paints of colours brown and yellow. We finished the task quickly and were about to leave when one of the colour bottles spilled onto the grass. That very moment, a car horn was heard by us. We exchanged horrified looks. At once, I saw myself wiping the grass with my skirt to prevent the colour from drying. But some of the grass, which had dried, had to be plucked and crammed into the bag. We got to our feet and peeked from behind the back wall to see if the route was clear. The car was somebody else’s. We heaved a sigh of relief. Having gesticulated Austin, all three of us sped out and scurried to our house like rats escaping a rat catcher.

‘Nobody eats sick rabbits,’ exclaimed I, catching my breath.

‘Yeah!’ chorused Annie and Austin.

We all chortled in unison.

Right now, Austin and my father are playing with Mr.Jose’s rabbits in our small yet manicured garden. Evidently, the Jose family found rabbits with rashes unfit for consumption. Besides, none of them cared for the rabbits enough to pay for the vet’s fee and medicines if he came to check on their pets. So, my father -being the only one available to take the rabbits in adoption- was granted with the “privilege” (in Mrs Jose’s terms) of having the “exotic” rabbits. As far as my father is concerned, he knew the rabbits were painted the moment he saw them. He had been wondering as to who would have done such a thing until my mother scolded me for getting an indelible paint stain on my new skirt. My father, for the fun and kind man that he is, just grinned and grinned.

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