Bad fortune needs no introduction.
I sat on the teak table, idly poking the contents of a fruit basket that lay upon it. Cleo’s barks continued ceaselessly. I wondered if this member of the canine species never got fed up of its own voice. I mean, if I were to talk aloud for that long, I would end up either dying of asphyxiation or simply boring myself to death. Clearly, Cleo was not well versed with either of those theories. Even if she did, she was clearly viewing this case as one worth dying for. I heaved a sigh laced with exasperation. Where was that Priya when you needed her the most?
Over the past fifteen or so minutes that I had spent perched upon the table, I had tried to contact the dear cousin nearly sixty three thousand times. Invariably, she had failed to answer. I had even found time to locate the remote control to the television that had occupied the table alongside me, and surf aimlessly through a few channels. I was pleasantly surprised to find one of my close school friends making an appearance on a Tamil singing reality show. Great guy. We used to be partners-in-crime in nicking mangoes off the trees in the orchard. In fact, there was this one time that we nearly got caught by the caretaker. It was a breathtaking chase, involving an incredible sprint and an unparalleled set of leaps over the … Never mind. That is a story for another time. As it stands, I was still stranded on the dining table with Cleo now executing with canine perfection, her rendition of a Mozart piece.
I let my mind casually drift to the possibility of me killing off Cleo by dropping the fruit basket with its contents on her head, and making it look like an accident. My stomach let out a low grumble; I hadn’t had lunch yet. Cleo’s incessant barking had thankfully subsided though. She now patrolled the post under the dining table like a self-proclaimed guardian of Asgard. Every now and then she shot a glance upwards at me, as if to make sure I was up to nothing funny. I continued sitting cross-legged on the table, frowning down at her. Here was a dog who was no pleaser; half of humanity could hate her and she couldn’t care less. With steel resolve she held me captive, waiting for her master to come back and put me to justice.
“Look. I’ll leave the painting here and walk away in peace. Deal?”
A menacing growl. Clearly she was not open to negotiations.
I grabbed a banana from the fruit basket. A man cannot think on an empty stomach. Doesn’t this Cleo feel hungry at all? I waved another banana at her, hoping to incite hunger. That would make her go away to get something to eat, perhaps. But, not quite. She showed as much interest in the fruit as Hugh Hefner in a hand-loom exhibition.
Would she be in a mood to play fetch? I dangled it over her for a bit and flung it to a corner of the room and yelled “Fetch!”. She glared at me with the disapproving look of a mother.
“Darn it.” I thought to myself. ‘What a boring dog. I hope her pups don’t grow up to be like her.”
They should be in Uncle Sudarshan’s room – the first room on the right of the corridor. If I moved to the other end of the dining table, I could be able to get a glance into the room. So I did, and sure enough, I could. The pups were nowhere in sight though. The room was rather dark as well. But I could see the outline of what seemed to be a basket. There was a good chance the pups constituted its contents.
Cleo had made her way to the other end of the table as well. She glared up at me suspiciously. She had no faith in my good motives. I grinned down at her as I grabbed an orange from the fruit basket.
“Well, hello, hello, Cleo” I said, as I tossed and caught the orange in my hand. “I think it is time to test your maternal reactions.”
Cleo fumed. I doubt if she could understand what I was saying to her, but clearly my tone was pissing her off. I sounded too happy for her liking. I, on the other hand, was reveling in the glory of my plan. In my head, I congratulated myself. To be honest, I hadn’t thought I would be able to conjure up such brilliance in such a tight situation. I mean, for me to …. Oh, what was the plan, you ask? Pretty straightforward.
I planned to evoke the primal instinct of a mother to protect her offspring. The mother in question, being Cleo. (Hard to believe, I know.) All I needed to do was, to make the pups feel threatened by a lethal weapon – in the current scenario, an orange. That would surely cause Cleo to rush to their rescue. A fool-proof plan, no doubt.
But then, you know what they say about fool-proof ideas – no idea is truly fool-proof as there is no telling the ingenuity of a fool. I hadn’t heard these words of wisdom back then. Had I heard them, I might have taken greater care in what was to follow. With a smirk at Cleo, and a final toss of the orange, I took a nonchalant aim at the outline of the basket in the room and let fly.
The orange decided to follow a bewildering looping trajectory and hit the frame of the door to the room with great aplomb. With a grand ‘splotch’, its peel gave way and its constituents deposited themselves upon a rug on the floor in an unspectacular heap. I stared at the horror of the mess and my pathetic aim.
Cleo looked back up at me and I could swear I heard her chuckle. I shot a panicked look at the fruit basket again. No more fruits. Just great, Hari, you hog. If you hadn’t eaten a banana, and tried to play outdoor sport with this lumpsack of a dog, you’d have had more ammunition. Now all I was left with was the remenants of my great meal. Wait a minute! The peel!
It would take an incredible aim to hit a basket in a dark room with a misshapen, gooey object. But there was no choice, was there? I’d either have to hit it, or die trying. I had to take a shot. Cleo seemed to follow my trail of thoughts and know how desperate my situation was. She also seemed to know that this was not a Chetlur to be taken seriously under pressure. She leant against the leg of a chair with the air of a character from Mad Men I can’t quite put my finger on. In fact, if India had legalized gambling, I’m sure Cleo would have gone ahead and put her month’s savings on me not hitting the target.
I sat crouched on the table with all eyes on my target. That must have been what the legendary archer, Arjuna must have felt like while taking aim during his exploits, but then this was no time to revel in that feeling. I prayed to the deity of Trichy, of Madurai, of Tanjore, of every temple that my parents had taken me along to visit, and a couple more. Satisfied with my prayers and the opinion that all of those Gods would have given up and showered their blessings on me, I took aim and fired. Cleo’s eyes followed the projectile.
The peel landed splendidly into the basket and must have landed on a pups head. It let out a startled expression and continued to whine. Cleo shot off like a tracer bullet into the room. Not a bad mother after all. I, on the other hand, sensed the opportunity, jumped off the table and neatly shut the door to the room behind her. All in a good day’s work.
With a puff of the cheeks, I grasped the painting and hung it up in its place again. I glanced at the dancer. She seemed least perturbed by the proceedings. “Farewell then.” I said. She continued to avoid eye contact.
I slipped the tongs back into the kitchen, disposed of the squashed orange peel and headed out of the back door again, latching it from the inside though the window. With a cursory glance around, I exited the premises through the front gate and trotted towards home again. Priya would be furious when she would hear this. But at least I had a clear conscience; for now.