Danny didn’t know whether it was the same mongoose that darted from the bushes every day, as he passed the narrow path on his way to the sawmill.
But his mother was worried only about the stray dogs.
“Don’t give them eye-contact, Danny. And never look back if you feel they are following you. That’s a sign that you are worried or unsure, and they inch in on you if they sense it. Just walk confidently. Use the stick only when they are very close to you”, she said.
“What about the mongoose?”
“They’re harmless. They don’t care for the food you carry, and avoid humans.”
But he felt this mongoose knew him and his daily route in the evenings. Its actions seemed deliberate. It hid behind the bushes and crossed the path right in front of him to scare him. Or was it just being playful to fight its boredom? Was it capable of feeling lonely like him, and bored to an extent that it was doing something crazy, like him? He threw stones at the coconuts high above when no one was watching him.
He felt happy whenever the stones hit their target and bounced in unpredictable directions. He knew that the adults would scold him if they saw him doing that. He didn’t want to damage the coconuts, but he couldn’t help throwing stones at them.
He felt the mongoose knew about his crazy acts and was trying to scare him off from them, by the way it darted off from the bushes when he expected it the least.
His father asked him to buy him two packets of cigarettes from the market. It seemed father was getting ready for the forbidden alcohol party with his friends in the sawmill. He didn’t drink the tea or touch any of the snacks Danny brought from home. Danny was expecting father to wait outside, as usual. Danny always watched him pour the tea in a small steel tumbler and gulp it down before opening the tiffin box in which the snacks still stayed warm.
“Tell mother that I’ll come late today”, he told Danny.
It was already late after his errand, when Danny walked back home.
“Don’t waste any of your time now. Just walk straight home before it’s dark, and tell her that I won’t need dinner tonight.”
Danny didn’t throw stones at coconuts on his way back home. It was already dark and he wouldn’t be able to see whether the stones bounced back in his own head. When something moved in the bushes, he thought it was the mongoose. But there were more swift movements, and he saw that the mongoose jumping in a circle around a cobra with its raised hood, trying in vain to strike or escape, all cautious and defensive. He climbed on a rock and craned his neck for a better view, awed that the mongoose had at last got its golden chance to fight and strike with utmost precision.
Jose Varghese is the author of ‘Silver Painted Gandhi and Other Poems’ and his short story collection ‘In/Sane’ was a finalist in the Beverly Prize, UK. His poems and short stories have appeared in journals/anthologies like The Salt Anthology of New Writing 2013, Unthology 5, Reflex Fiction, Mulberry Fork Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, The River Muse, Chandrabhaga, Kavya Bharati, Postcolonial Text, Dusun, I Am Not A Silent Poet and Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis. He was the winner of The River Muse Spring Poetry Contest, a runner-up in the Salt Flash Fiction Prize and Faber QuickFic, and a second prize winner in the Wordweavers Flash Fiction Prize. He was shortlisted in Hourglass Short Story Contest and two of the Eyewear Fortnight Poetry Prize competitions, and was commended in the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize. He is the founder and chief editor of Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts and Strands Publishers.