For quite a long time, I had wanted a pet. When some of the neighborhood kids found a puppy and we went to look at it, it seemed obvious. I had to take it home. That would be nice. The way its tail wagged, like it was a separate entity trying to break free, might have convinced me.
I ran home. Pitched the idea to my parents. It’s a young puppy, so it can’t have the diseases you said older dogs have. It would be perfect. They disagreed. Reasons were given. Crying ensued. No budging was done that day.
I was visiting my mamaghar (mother’s childhood home), and went for a splash in the river with my cousin. He was very good at swimming. I saw some silvery fish and a plan formed in my head. I asked him if he could catch a couple for me. The next day, I was heading home with three Sahar fish in a plastic bag, maybe the first ones of their clan to undertake such a long journey.
A glass jar was repurposed from holding markers to holding the fish. It was kept on the living room table and some breadcrumbs were dropped. The next day, when morning arrived, the fish were found to be floating dead in the water. One was missing while the other two were headless. Rats were blamed. Rats were always suspects.
Time passed, intermittently. I moved to a new school. I lost contact with the few kids who considered me in their ‘fellas’ category. This new place was huge, House of the Dead huge, and too much to handle. It was like having a huge puzzle in front of you while the picture on the box was scratched, likely by rats. I did not know which piece to pick up first, or whether these pieces even added up to a whole. One day behind the laundry room, I found a bush with colorful ladybirds. They fluttered around and squirted yellow goo. They were nice.
But my time with them was limited to the few breaks we would have between classes and some minutes before the morning bell when my bus arrived early. I needed a way to keep them close. Some kid had kept a rhino beetle inside his geometry box and some other kid had found it dead. Variations of the story had persisted in the trustworthy publication that is the rumor mill for weeks. No, a geometry box was no place for insects. There had been an ad for a Horlicks that came with a free microwave bowl. A scheme clicked in my head.
Two days later, I went to the ladybird bush with a plastic bowl with some holes cut into it. The bugs were placed along with some leaves inside. Their biosphere looked quite natural, except the big red lid on top that must have been their sky. They were hidden in my bag during the day and under my table at home. There were eight of them at the beginning. One was a tiny yellow one that moved around a lot. One had no spots on its back. Two were more black than they were orange.
In a couple of days the ladybirds welcomed a newcomer into the neighborhood. Some of them felt envy, while some reconsidered the whole meaning of spots, since the new one had a lot, a lot of them. A few rocks were added to their abode, to liven up the place. Some flowers were experimented with, but removed as they ruined the ambience. In a few more days, the first deaths were seen.
There was no visible explanation. Minute care was taken to ensure the airflow was proper, the small insects that were the residents’ nutrition were available; even some sunlight was experimented with. Nothing seemed to delay the march of death inside the container. The eleven total bugs were down to four now, half the original populace, and one was looking particularly static.
All my actions were fruitless. Even adding a spider to liven the bugs up and introduce some danger was thought of, but quickly put aside. There was no other explanation; the ladybirds were being killed. By me. I, I was the reason. I had to let go.
That night, I burned the plastic hemisphere that served as the confines for my recently-parted friends. They were back in the bush, hopefully reunited with whatever family, friends and nemesis they had there. A few weeks later, I tugged my first friend in the new school to look at them - from a distance.