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Roshan Siddamsetty

How Gregory fared.

Gregory lived in a tiny, tiny hole in a big, big tree, and she had just had children! Four tiny, quivering squirrels, eyes closed and noses twitching. Her friends called her Gregory because squirrels can’t tell boy and girl names apart – they’re silly like that. This was the first time she had had kids and she was very happy. She liked how they all craned towards her for warmth and milk. How even before their tiny eyes opened, they knew how to find her. 

She stepped out of her home after a very long time, the kids were old enough to be alone for a while now and the food that she had stored was running out. Her eyes lit up when she caught sight of humans in all shapes and sizes running about in the vicinity. She had always liked the humans, though she had never really met one up close yet. She especially liked the smaller ones, because they seemed as curious and industrious as her friends and herself, always poking around places and picking up trophies. 

When she was but a tiny squirrel, Gregory’s mother sometimes brought home food that wasn’t either fruit or nut; she told Gregory that these were things that the humans had left behind. Now, squirrel society is divided into two clearly distinct schools of thought, the ones that like human food and the ones that don’t – not that they take up arms over it or anything, but that’s just the way it is. 

Gregory herself couldn’t stand the ghastly stuff, she would choose her nuts and berries any day and that’s exactly what she intended to feed her kids. Besides, she knew that human food is not always safe for squirrels; she still remembered the time that Uncle Agatha gobbled up this round, shiny thing that looked very much like a berry, only bigger. He couldn’t bite into it, which surprised him, so he just swallowed the darn thing whole and it just wouldn’t go down. Uncle Agatha couldn’t breathe, so he choked and died. He was her favourite uncle too, always the one with the jokes. Like, “What did the mad squirrel say to his food when he decided to leave home for good? – I’m going, nuts”. She wondered how the humans ate these things, and if they didn’t eat them, of what use were they?

So, no human fast-food for her pretty babies, she didn’t mind scurrying around to gather what she liked; after all those days in the hole she quite appreciated the chance to stretch her legs and feel the wind through her tail. She gnawed on some bark to get her teeth in shape and then, feeling dressed for the occasion, she set out to bring home the bacon, so to speak. 

She couldn’t carry much at once, so it was a series of quick dashes and skirmishes for this proud new mom. She brought in yellow berries and green berries, brown nuts and pink nuts, but she knew well enough to avoid the pink berries, for they would give her little ones upset tummies and might even kill them. Cousin Eustace could’ve vouched for that, but she wasn’t around to share her wisdom anymore.

When she felt she had nearly enough, she went out for one last forage. She was taking in the sights now, satisfied with a job well done, but also incredibly tired. She spotted two small humans who were looking for something nearby; she presumed they wanted something to eat too. So Gregory got very excited at the prospect of sharing her food with them. She had tried theirs and hadn’t liked it at all; but maybe they would like her food, they had to! And so, even though this would mean a little less food for herself and her little ones, she used her last forage to gather some food for the small humans. She was still incredibly shy, so she quickly scuttled towards them, left her pile of food nearby and ran away to observe from atop a tree. 

Surely they would notice! Such delightful food just lying there, no need to go looking for it, while continuously on the lookout for a snake or an owl in need of a quick snack. Gregory was really petrified of snakes even though she never admitted it openly. The two humans seemed fully absorbed in whatever it is they were doing, they didn’t as much as throw a glance towards her gifts. Gregory felt a little disheartened, and as her excitement died down she suddenly remembered that she needed to get back home now because the fruit must have all been eaten and her babies would be waiting for her to break the nuts open with her strong teeth. Oh! How she loved the way her kids relied on her.

But as she was about to scurry away, one of the small humans seemed to head towards her pile of gifts, and her heart soared! She stared excitedly as the kid picked up a nut from the pile, examined it and…and threw it at the other kids head! This started a vigorous to and fro of her berries and nuts, being flung by one kid at the other. She just couldn’t understand why they would put off digging into such delicious food and play with it instead. She just hoped they would get over this stuff and nonsense soon enough and eat them all up. Meanwhile she had other, more appreciative mouths to feed.

She scurried back home, whiskers twitching all the way, on the lookout for snakes. She was right, the soft fruit was all gone and her little ones clung on to her with those wide, expectant eyes that only hungry babies seem to be able to put on display. Gregory cracked the nuts open carefully, trying to keep shards and rough edges to a minimum. The kids ate well and looked content, now leaning towards her for warmth and a good nap. All Gregory had eaten the whole day were two berries, and a nut that she had used up at a pit stop along her tiring forays. The food she had left for the little humans would have filled her tummy, but she was glad to have been able to share the experience of what was so dear and precious to her with them. So she slept, legs tired, stomach half-empty, and her heart slowly calming down to match the rhythmic thud of the four heartbeats now thumping against her chest.

She woke at the break of dawn the next day, to tiny gnaws at her teats. The milk had stopped for a while now, but her little ones seemed to get an incredible sense of comfort from the suckling, so she would let them. After a quick spruce up and some bark gnawing, out she went again, hungry and determined. As she scurried up the third tree to her right, something caught her eye. Could it be!? She thought she laid her eyes on the rare purple fruit! She absolutely loved these, and to find one in such pristine condition so close to home was nothing short of a miracle in the squirrel world. She could already taste it, that tender, sweet and juicy outer flesh and that crunchy, nutritious nut on the inside. It was a squirrel’s two most favourite things in one glossy package! But she had no plans of eating this marvellous specimen, oh no, this was for her beautiful babies. How pleasantly surprised they would be! Their first taste of the rare purple fruit, this was truly a momentous day.

When she was about two leaps away from landing her furry paws on the fruit and lost in thought, her intuition picked up a disturbance in the vicinity and snapped her brain back to reality. A snake perhaps? She hoped that it was just a frog or something relatively harmless like that. She froze where she was and dared not bat an eyelid even to look around. Was it.. was it.. Oh pshaw! It was just her old friend, Jonathan the rabbit (Rabbits, inexplicably, seem to have this whole gender-specific-name thing down pat). He hadn’t even noticed her on the tree. Gregory decided not to call out to him at the moment because she hadn’t met Jonathan since a few months now so there would be too much catching up to do, and she was otherwise predisposed at the moment. Also, he would insist on coming home and meeting the little ones, but she wanted them to grow a little bigger before introducing them to funny looking uncles with long ears. 

So she leapt towards her glossy prize, plucking it in one smooth swoop, and beat a hasty retreat out of the neighbourhood. That scare, as false as it may have been, had helped her gather her wits about her, and she trotted along now, laser focused. The weather was especially nice today, and she had also found a good stash of nuts to carry back to her kids. This was turning out to be quite a good day! 

On her way back home she heard a skirmish in the woods again, but this time too loud to be the cautious approach of a predator. It was those small humans again, the exact same ones from yesterday! She was amazed – this had never happened before. Bumping into humans was a rare enough occurrence, but bumping into the same two, two days in a row, was unheard of! She took this as fate – obviously they were meant to be friends! Her resolve to make their acquaintances only strengthened. She looked down at her prized purple fruit, the most valuable thing currently to her name. But surely they would love this, the humans. She couldn’t ever conceive of a situation where anyone would not approve of the rare purple fruit. So she made a hard but necessary decision; she would part with her prize today, to gain a couple of friends. The glossy purple fruits were a rare treat for sure, but human friends were even rarer.

She scurried right up to the one with longer hair and plopped the fruit down right in front so the human wouldn’t miss it like last time. But even as she put it down and raised her head she saw the huge shadow of the human’s foot about to come down on her like a swooping owl and she jumped out of the way just in time. They clearly didn’t see her there, but they saw her gift and that’s all that mattered. She wanted them to try it and be overwhelmed by how tasty it was and wonder who could’ve left them such an amazing treat. Surely such beautiful things don’t just fall from the skies. Then they would look around for their benefactor and that’s when she would leap out from behind the bush, reveal herself, and that would be the beginning of a most glorious friendship. 

She had it all planned out, no loose strings. The human picked it up, clearly fascinated by how shiny and smooth it was. Gregory was beaming. The human wiped it with its paw and took a nice big bite out of it and seemed really pleased! Gregory noticed the juices running down the kid’s chin and could totally experience the sensation the human must have had at that point, digging into that sweet meat! She began her little sprucing up ritual and was just about to hop out of the bush when there was a sharp sound in the distance, kind of like an elephant’s trumpet but shriller. Her human friends ran away in the direction of the sound and she was left once again with only her nuts and the slim hope of meeting the humans again tomorrow. Even she knew that expecting to bump into them three days in a row was a bit much. She retreated home to feed her little ones and indulge in a well-deserved nap.

She woke the next day to a racket made by a bunch of birds. Oh, how noisy they were! It was all well and good to pursue the early worm, but did they have to terrorize the whole neighbourhood like this? 

After a quick grooming session for herself and the kids, she set out to perform the duties of the day. She decided to follow the same path as the past two days for today’s jaunt, hoping to come across the little humans again. And just as she crossed the tiny creek where the animals usually congregated for a drink after a hard day’s work, her wishes were answered! She could hear the humans in the distance but she realized she didn’t have anything to give them today! She remembered how they liked the rare purple fruit and didn’t seem to care much for the other goodies she had offered up. So she scurried away to look for a couple of rare purple fruits if she could. She ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, tail swirling to maintain poise and balance. She could sense that the human sounds were getting farther and farther away and she wanted to find a rare purple fruit before they all but disappeared. This could very well be her last chance at making friends with the, by now elusive, human kids. She must not let it go!

She found a couple of rare purple fruits in a tree nearby, which were even better looking than the one from yesterday. She couldn’t believe her eyes! The treat she had found yesterday was, in her opinion, the epitome of purple fruit perfection, but here were these two specimens, making her feel incredibly stupid. This discovery pretty much cemented the imaginary friendship in her head. Nobody could sink their teeth into such an indulgence and not swoon a little. She thought of her kids again – they hadn’t tasted a rare purple fruit yet, but it looked like they would have to wait a little longer. She dashed towards the tree, with tunnel vision aimed straight at the fruits. 

Her left ear twitched suddenly just as a pair of saliva riddled fangs sprang out from behind a rock and sank into her abdomen. Her tiny body froze in shock and she could feel it shutting down rapidly. Gregory lay there, mouth and eyes open, completely helpless. As the snake began swallowing her head first, she thought of her kids. There she lay dying, all because she yearned for the affections of two people who, in all their innocence, didn’t even know she existed. 

Maybe she should’ve introduced Jonathan to her kids the other day. They could really use an uncle right about now, however funny looking.

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