Pluto's Serenade

Short Story - By Eva Bell

“Be..au..ty, Be..au...ty, Be..au..ty.”

The golden cocker spaniel reposing on the windowsill raised her languid eyes to the call of the parrot.

“Be..au..ty, Be..au...ty, Be..au..ty.”

Below Nitin’s window a girl looked up to see who was calling.

Her bright young face broke into the cutest smile when she saw the parrot perched on the window, who went on with his love call “Be..au..ty, Beau..ty…ty, Come closer….Pluto calling.”

“No time now,” she called back, “I’m off to work.”

She waved Pluto a farewell, and with quick strides, rushed off in the direction of the bus stop. The girl’s smile, even though she had been completely unaware of Nitin’s presence behind the window curtain, was fresh and invigorating, and put him in a pleasant mood for the rest of the day. Nitin who had tried to stifle all tender emotions and believed them to be dead, realised with a shock that they had not gone away, but merely locked up in the secret recesses of his heart. There were chinks in his armour which had become obvious, when he looked at the refreshing smile of that young girl.

“I wonder how it would feel to have someone to love me in spite my handicaps,” he mused,

“My heart would sing like Pluto here. How many years since I’ve lived like a sceptic, fear, hatred and cynicism freezing my life. “

Until a few years ago, Nitin had been the most sought after bachelor around. He could dance like a wizard, sing like a professional, and was in love with the most beautiful girl in the world. There was so much he had to look forward to. An engineer in the Army, this energetic man had been commended by his higher officers for his initiative and vivacity.

But unpredictable incidents often wreck well ordered lives. It was during the last war with Pakistan. Nitin was with an Army detachment in NEFA. A few enemy paratroopers were believed to have infiltrated into Indian territory. Intelligence reports suspected that their intentions were to sabotage important installations and poison water reservoirs. So security measures were at their peak. There was an escalation of war-preparedness in the Armed Forces.

It was Nitin’s turn as Duty Officer for the night. He was making his hourly rounds through the campus with a sentry. A large moat ran around the barracks. To reach this outpost an intruder had to descend a steep embankment, cross a dry moat and clamber up to the wall of the barracks. As Nitin and the sentry walked around in the darkness, avoiding the use of a flash light, and literally prowling around, they saw a moving figure descend the outer embankment into the moat.

“Wait here,” Nitin told the sentry, “I’ll scout around and see who it is.”

He pulled out his pistol from its holster, and quickly climbed down. The black figure ran along the moat, and Nitin followed, stumbling over the stones, yet afraid to shine the light in case there were other intruders. He gave chase almost half way around the moat, when the moving figure ascended the outer embankment and made off. Nitin realised too late that this was no intruder but a foraging stray dog. Cursing himself for his stupidity, he put the pistol back in its holster and tried to make the ascent to the barracks, when he was challenged by the voice of a sentry.

“Halt. Who goes there?”

“Friend,” shouted Nitin.

“Password then?”

A chill ran down Nitin’s spine.

“Password? Good God! What is it? I can’t remember.”

The password was changed daily. Somehow, in the heat of the moment, he could not recall the word. The sentry advanced with rifle poised. Sentries were seasoned soldiers, deaf to entreaties and pleas, relentless in the pursuit of their duties. Now with war-fever raging, there was no telling what this fellow would do.

“I’ll run,” Nitin thought, “If I get back along the moat to the point where I made my descent, I can reach the sentry who was with me on rounds. He’ll vouch for me. He’ll prove my identity.”

Fear gave him wings. A stupid thing to have done under the circumstances. He was brought to a halt by a bullet that went straight through his spine. No amount of remorse on the part of the sentry could bring back the use of his limbs. Nitin’s life in the Army was over.

He had the best of medical attention that the Army could provide but it could not bring back the use of his limbs. He was a paraplegic, confined to a wheel chair forever. His bachelor brother insisted that Nitin move in with him. It was a spacious flat on the second floor of a building in Versova. These four walls were his home and his prison. Self pity, depression and anger had turned him into a bitter man. Sleepless nights spent in remorse for lost happiness, irritable pain-filled days of hopelessness and despair, bitterness and rancour against an uncaring God – this became the sad rhythm of his life. Surprisingly, it was Pluto the parrot who brought about a change in him.

Pluto’s repertoire was extensive. He could sing, scold, imitate or act coy. His vocabulary had been gleaned from many sources, and had grown immensely over the years. He practiced his charm on every willing listener. But his constant and faithful one-person audience was the spaniel Beauty. He teased, nagged, and serenaded her throughout the day. “Lazy bone….lazy bones… wake up,” he grumbled.

The spaniel would open one eye and wink. Whenever the parrot’s stomach was empty he whistled a catchy tune, which subconsciously began to play on Nitin’s mind.

One day, when he was not in such a black mood, Nitin sat at the piano and reproduced the tune. Then he added his own syncopations to it. It sounded like a catchy jingle, and Nitin was pleased with his effort. That night, he played the melody to his brother, who was delighted.

“Say Nitin, I think you’ve finally struck the right chord.”

Before the accident, Nitin had been an accomplished pianist. He sometimes wrote lyrics and set them to music. But he had done nothing since the accident.

“You’ve got two fine hands and healthy eyes,” said his brother, “Now put them to good use. Become a song writer. It will be the best form of catharsis for the anger within you. Besides, look at the number of people your music will cheer up. There is always a market for cheerful music, and when you’re ready, we’ll find you a good agent.”

This advice was the best thing his brother could have given him. It brought about a total change of attitude in Nitin. He began to take an interest in the life around him. He wheeled himself from window to window, peering down at the people below. But most of the time was spent at the piano, working out simple but lilting tunes. Each time he played, the parrot listened engrossed. When he whistled a tune, Pluto cocked his ears waiting for the moment when he could reproduce it, however raucous it sounded.

The girl who was so taken up with Pluto lived in one of the neighbouring buildings. She was young and charming, with a stray lock teasing her forehead. When she smiled a dimple appeared on her left cheek. She always seemed to be in a rush, but when she went past, she would always look up and say “Hi” to the parrot, who proudly ruffled his feathers and called “Be..au..ty, Be..au..ty..ty come here.”

She would invariably call back, “No time now. See you later.” This routine brought a moment’s happiness to Nitin, who hid behind the curtains and witnessed the exchange.

Months passed by, and one day Pluto developed a chill. He remained in his cage all day, refusing food that was left there for him. He buried his red beak in his wing and was the picture of despair. Beauty hovered below his cage, frustrated that she couldn’t help him in any way. Nitin looked down to see if the girl would miss Pluto. She stood there for a couple of minutes, looking up at the window.

“Hey parrot, where are you?” she shouted.

There was no answer. Nitin watched her face as she went dispiritedly to work.

That evening on her way back from her office, she stood below the window and imitated Pluto’s voice.

“Be..au..ty, Be..au..ty..ty.”

But there was no response. She hesitated whether to move on or to investigate. Then she turned into Nitin’s building. He knew she was coming in search of Pluto. He was overcome with conflicting emotions. Part of him was eager to get to know her. But in the background was his old diffidence.

The door bell rang and he had to open the door for her.

“What has become of the parrot?” she asked.

“He’s ill. Won’t you come in?”

She went straight to his cage and coaxed him with various endearments, until at last he raised his head weakly and cried “Be..au..ty.”

“He’ll be alright,” Nitin assured her, “Tomorrow he’ll be at his perch again.”

Then she turned to Nitin.

“Will he?”

It was as though she were seeing him for the first time. The rug had slipped from his lap, and at the sight of his wasted legs a cry escaped her lips. He quickly tried to retrieve the rug, but he lost his balance and slipped down to the floor. Nitin felt extremely embarrassed. He heard her gasp and run away from the room without bothering to find out if he was hurt. Nitin lay on the floor, a picture of abject misery. Beauty rushed to his side and whimpered sympathetically. Pluto, forgetting his own illness, flew down and nibbled at his shirt.

“Even animals and birds have more sympathy than pretty girls,” he thought.

Slowly he lifted himself up with the strength of his arms and slid into his wheel chair. More than the physical hurt was the deep gnawing pain of desolation within his heart.

Though Pluto resumed his vigil at the window, Nitin kept away. He worked feverishly at his compositions, and during those months of deep anguish and loneliness, he composed some of the best pieces of music. But not even news that his songs were selling, elevated his spirits.

More than a month later, the bell rang again. Nitin, who expected his brother early that evening, sped to the door. The girl stood there, nervously twirling the end of her sari pallav.

“Why have you come?” he asked brusquely.

“To see Pluto.”

“If you like him so much why don’t you take him and go away? But please don’t bother me anymore.”

She didn’t move. He could feel her eyes on the back of his neck, but he didn’t turn.

“I’m sorry,” she said at last.

“Save your sorrow and your pity. I need neither.”

Nitin wanted to hurt her. He felt that she had been rude and thoughtless to run away. But she was not be dismissed so easily. She moved forward to face him.

“I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry,” she said, tears coursing down her cheeks, “I know how it all happened. You are a brave man.” He did not say a word nor did he lift his eyes.

“I’d like to make amends in a small way, and sing for you,” she said, “I hope it will lift your spirits. I’ve just learnt a new number. It has such a haunting melody, and I’m sure it is going to top the charts.”

Nitin couldn’t help smiling as her mellow voice filled the room, bringing alive one of his own compositions. The girl was totally unaware of its authorship. Nitin sold his work under a pseudonym, as he didn’t want people coming to interview him.

From his perch on the window Pluto cheerfully called, “Be..au..ty, Be..au.ty..ty…..Come closer…. Come closer.”

The spaniel cocked an eyebrow and winked at Pluto as much as to say, “Hey Pluto, do you think what I think? I see great possibilities here. Hey, she’s even made him smile. Isn’t she great!”

Pluto answered, “Come closer…….Come closer!”



The End