There was a collective “Whoa!” as we gathered around the girl who had just joined us at our playground. A brown and white shaggy rabbit in her arms had us transfixed. We gaped in wonder at the little fellow she had been hiding from us for so long.
She mumbled something as she placed it on the ground, now, in the center of our circle, and stood aside to let us feast our eyes on it. As if selling us some idea, perhaps?
The rabbit sat still where it was placed, its floppy ears twitching nervously, its button eyes shining like red rubies in the afternoon sun. We continued scrutinizing it like observing bacteria under a microscope in a biology lab and murmured to each other in awe.
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We spoke softly as we discussed the creature, but dared not touch it. It was a rabbit, and rabbits were supposed to be cute. But this one was all dirty, unwashed, stinking; a pitiful version of the adorable ones we saw in our books.
We bombarded her with questions about the rabbit, most of which she replied to in murmurs we couldn’t decipher. But the one answer that we did catch on was why she was there with her pet rabbit out in the open.
“What? Your father really asked you to throw it out, Sharmila?” I gasped, incredulously, my eyes peering into the girl’s who was there to abandon the poor rabbit, as per her father’s orders.
I imagined a scary-looking man reclining in his rocking chair in the patio, taking in the gentle summer breeze, issuing orders to his kids to get rid of all the clutter lying around the house, which also included their pet rabbit.
“Yes,” she mumbled, feeling ashamed, I think, as she bent her head and looked at the creature with a sad look in her eyes. I think she felt bad for it but also felt helpless — her father lay down the law at their home, and his every wish was their command.
I don’t know what came over me, but on an impulse, I picked up the stinky rabbit, gingerly — never having handled an animal in all of my twelve years — and announced with a hint of bravado, “The dogs will kill the poor thing here. I will take him home. We love animals!” stressing on the “love” for added effect.
“The girl should feel ashamed, abandoning a helpless animal like this,” I muttered as I hurried home with the rabbit.
I hadn’t thought of asking mom, or dad, or wondered what to do with the rabbit if they denied it an entry into our home. I just remember losing my heart to the little guy who looked so vulnerable. It needed a home, and I would give it to him — the momentary rebel in me had made up her mind.
We were never really pet lovers; we hadn’t ever had a conversation revolving around pets until that day. Dinner time conversations were always about school and studies and how we had to finish whatever was served on our plate because there were so many poor children out there who weren’t as blessed. Animals, or pets, weren’t a topic of discussion; a trend that would soon change, thanks to the new arrival, I thought to myself. A much-needed respite from discussing the dreaded school.
I reached home with the furball, pushed open the gate with one foot, and called out to mom to come, see what I had brought. I don’t remember what she said, but I clearly remember my grandmother voicing her displeasure as if I had picked up some trash on my way home. Thank god I had my grandfather’s support — an advocate at a high court, he knew how to defend a helpless soul.
“Let it be, please! The child has brought it home with a pure heart. We will keep the rabbit,” he announced. That was it. No one dared oppose grandpa. My heart was filled with love for the sweet, old man. No, not just because he didn’t reprimand me for doing something without asking for permission. But there was an intrinsic sweetness to him (just like the rabbit I now held in my arms) that appealed to me and made me favor him over my grandma, or even my dad, for that matter.
My sweet, sweet grandpa.
I did have a nagging fear about what dad would say once he returned from work. I had grandpa’s support now, but still…
Surprisingly, for me, dad accepted the rabbit without a protest. He also offered to take it to a vet for a thorough check-up the next day. Now, that was completely unexpected of this man. I was so overwhelmed by emotions, I felt my heart would explode!
I had always had this image of dad being the strictest father in the world. Mom often recounted how I, as a little girl, would ask her why we even needed dad; mom took care of me, so what was dad doing there, anyway?
But, the arrival of the rabbit changed it all.
Yes, he was still strict and very particular about our performance at school, which was rather dismal, but with the rabbit by our side, dad was all mush.
Every Wednesday — his day off — dad would carry the rabbit in a cloth sling bag, travel by bus to the animal hospital an hour away from home, get it treated by the vet for its various infections, and return home in the evening.
Dad would then recount all that happened during the journey to and from the hospital. How someone asked if they could hold the bag for my dad who couldn’t find a seat on the bus; how dad told them there was a rabbit in the bag, and how they would look in awe at the bag and take back their offer.
How we delighted in hearing these stories! Our evenings were now happier, too. There was a lot of laughter now, even after dad returned home from work. With our homework done, we would all spend time together, playing with the rabbit.
These precious moments filled my heart to the brim with love for this man who I had regarded with fear all my childhood.
Mom had always been the epitome of love and warmth, but dad, too, had a little bit of it tucked away somewhere in his heart. That was new to me — new and appealing.
But as all good things should come to an end, this one did, too.
After six months of living with us, our rabbit passed away.
It was a shocking experience for me and my brother; we hadn’t seen death at such close quarters until that day. We were devastated. We cried our lungs out that evening as we walked alongside dad to the creek near our home to give our dear rabbit a water burial.
All those beautiful memories with that adorable creature. Those precious moments of love and laughter watching dad’s gentler side. All of it came rushing to my mind’s eye as we walked back home with a heavy heart.
In hindsight, I think we all needed that rabbit in our life. A calming presence that brought with it an unbridled joy, and some precious moments for us kids. A soul who gave us the chance to see our dad in a new light.
I think life brings precisely those people to us whom we need more than those whom we want. We don’t realize it just then, but years later, when we reflect upon life, we understand how some tough times were relatively easy to put up with, all because a certain someone walked into our life, unannounced, and changed the way we lived