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The Brown Beast

Short Story by Sreya Sarkar

Colonel Bagchi glared at the ruined state of the mesh he had carefully canopied on a patch of soil with new seeds. It instantly curdled his early morning good mood. He knew the culprit of course. It was the brown beast again, living in the woods behind his house, regularly feasting on the young saplings and greens he was trying to grow in his garden. He noticed muddy paw marks leading away from the patch towards the animal’s burrow, giving him all the evidence he needed.

Brijesh Bagchi was a retired military officer, an ex-colonel, but people around him addressed him as Colonel Bagchi, even after ten years of his retirement. He had moved deliberately to this secluded town near the wilderness following his retirement. After spending most of his life managing insurgencies and upheavals in the north-eastern part of India, he had seen enough bloodshed to grow a permanent aversion towards mankind. His straight and sturdy body had not grown tired but his mind had aged and needed rest. When he moved into the old cottage, with creaky floors and drafty windows, that he had bought on a whim a few years ago, his grown-up children were aghast at the prospect of him living alone. Colonel Bagchi though, was rather obstinate about his decision. After his wife passed away, he realized that he was not obligated to spend time with human kinds, but little did he know that there were creatures other than human beings that could wreck his World as well. They seemed harmless, a part of the bountiful nature around him, but now the squirrels and birds and especially a brown hare—the brown beast, were proving to be quite a challenge for his happy existence.

The extra space around his cottage had given him an opportunity to grow a hobby and a garden. He soon graduated from growing easy vegetable plants to Magnolias and Orchids, the activity giving him a sense of discipline that he was used to in his career. Colonel Bagchi discovered that he enjoyed gardening. There was something about touching the soft wet soil that gave him the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile with life. He had seen so many people getting killed in combats that he felt refreshingly optimistic to see saplings raise their young head from Earth. The green shoot breaking through the top soil was like a celebration of life over death, creation over destruction, somewhat like Earth’s triumph over mankind’s complicated destructivity.

He muttered under his breath following the paw track with his eyes. This was the second time this week that the hare had disrupted his plan to grow his garden. To take his mind off the disturbance, he rode into the nearest big town with his gardener to get new seeds from the nursery, along with his daily grocery and medicines. His pension money was enough to support his simple life style and that made him feel happy and independent.

The next morning, he caught the brown beast staring at him with an open audacity. He pretended to concentrate on the newspaper in front of him but looked at the animal surreptitiously every now and then. It hopped towards the tomato patch and started chewing on a low hanging tomato with a natural ferocity that made Colonel Bagchi fume with indignation. It was as if the beast was mocking him with his decided impudence. Such was the degree of his annoyance that he took out his rifle and cleaned it thoroughly instead of cleaning his cluttered study, as he had planned to do the night before.

As Ashwini the cook, came to discuss his meals for the day, he seemed distracted. The grumpy middle-aged cook planted her hands to her hips and let out an exasperated breath. Colonel Bagchi was not in a mood to stand yet another soul’s insolence that morning, so he said quietly, “If you are such a hurry always, you don’t need to cook at all. You take what I owe you and disappear for good.”

Ashwini blinked a few times and retreated from her bold stance. “Something seems to be bothering you. What is it?”

“Its none of your concern. Get me my wallet from the bedroom. You take your salary and leave!”

Ashwini scratched her chubby chin and retired to the kitchen. She knew the perfect solution out of this conundrum. She made him a cheese omelet and coffee, a peace offering that Colonel Bagchi could not refuse, given his love for eggs.

After his breakfast his bad temper disappeared but his dismay at losing his plants remained. He told Ashwini about how the hare was eating up his garden. A week ago, the vegetable patch was walked all over, the beets, sprouts and parsley leaves were all gone. “That brown beast is treating my garden as its private salad bar!”

Ashwini squatted down next to him, trying to come up with solutions.

“Try slicing soap bars around your garden, rabbits don’t like the smell.”

“I have tried that already; this monster ate the soap as well!”

“How about mixing Tobasco sauce with water and spraying on the plants?”

“It likes spicy vegetables; can you believe that!”

Ashwini’s crooked, tobacco stained teeth came crowding out of her mouth making her look like a hideous ogre, only not green in color. She gave out a cackling laugh that made Colonel Bagchi look at her with disdain.

Bahadur, his gardener had just stepped in and contributed to the conversation without really being invited to it. “I tried planting onion and asparagus, and that didn’t work as well.”

Colonel Bagchi looked at his wiry gardener with a hippy haircut and threw his hands up in despair. “I give up. I don’t know what to do.”

Bahadur and Ashwini continued their animated conversation about the problem in hand while Colonel Bagchi thought of a fresh idea.

“Hey Pakhi, Dadu needs your help.” Pakhi, his sixteen-year old grand-daughter was the only person who was willing to do internet research for him anytime of the day. “How does one get rid of wild hares from their garden?”

Pakhi googled up the information and asked her grand-dad to note it down.

“okay…okay……fine. Thank you dear.”

That afternoon, Bahadur and he located a “potent” toxin in the market. Colonel Bagchi was determined to defeat his enemy in the garden field and protect his troop of young plants.

The hare was no show for the next two days. The sneaky animal had somehow sniffed out his intention.

On the third morning as Colonel Bagchi stepped out for his breathing exercise, his feet almost stumbled on something brownish.

It was the confounded hare. It had got so alarmingly confident that it could come right up to his door step. This was ridiculous. As he turned to look at the animal, he found it lying down. He waited for it to look up at him with its beady red eyes, but the animal did not stir. The gall of the monster. First destroying his garden and then taking a power nap right in front of him. He fumed while he waited on. The hare lay limp. This was not usual. Shouldn’t it skip away as fast as it could? As he took another step forward he saw a ring of flies circling him like vultures circling a corpse.
His garden was safe again. The flowers were untouched, the young spouts were upright and perky, the beauty of his creation evident once more. Bagchi sat having a cup of first flush outside alone. He had won his battle against the hare and that should have relieved him. But he felt no jubilation, no elation at his victory.

As Ashwini started the day’s cooking she asked him what he would like for breakfast.

“Nothing. I am not hungry,” he said rinsing his tea cup in the kitchen.

He went to his study and started tidying up, a task he had been avoiding for a while. There was an unusual sluggishness in his bearing, a bewildered listlessness in his conduct.

Ashwini followed him into his study. She cast a worried look at him. He was not eating well. “What is it now? The hare is dead, your garden is looking beautiful again. Doesn’t that make you happy?”

“I have brought some tomatoes from your garden, I can make soup for you, if you want,” she added, hoping to inspire him.

Bagchi closed his eyes and flinched. “How can I eat tomato now?”

He walked to the front foyer to put on his sneakers. Fresh air might do him good. He almost walked into Bahadur who was getting off his bicycle. Bahadur jumped aside alarmed at his speed.

“Where are you going in such a hurry? Didn’t you want to go to the town and visit the nursery?”

The Short Story continues here...