<%-- Page Title--%> Slice Of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 150 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

April 16, 2004

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>

One Hot Afternoon

Richa Jha

It is the stuff of fairy tale romances- this whole frog, princess, and prince thing. In real life, the truth is slimier. Try looking at a garden frog (not a toad, which is uglier with its warts and marks) closely, and you'll know what I mean. I have also read recent versions of these tales with a slightly better replacement, the house lizard. The change is understandable. With patches of green disappearing, it was natural that the modern day princesses look for easily accessible options closer home, even if that may make the results a tad incestuous. For, lizards and we grow up like siblings, sharing the same bed, hiding behind the same curtains, using the same floors, even the same toothbrush. We recognize them by the colour of their skin (unfortunately, no fairness crèmes have been introduced for them, so far), the black ones being the most noticeable whenever they scoot across the bare walls. One lizard dies, several more replace it, and so on. Until the next massive pest control that wipes them out completely.

I have nothing against house lizards. At least not like my room mate at the university hostel who was often discovered jumping and uttering delirious profanities precariously positioned on her study table that had been pulled to the centre of the room, pointing madly at some lizard in one corner of the room, trying to verbally shoo it away. I wonder what made her think that the lizard was not capable of creeping up to the ceiling right above that table, and then perform a free-fall from there. But then, perhaps it was this belief that saw her through her frequent ordeals.

I am impartial to their presence, but I notice them around. The only time they cease being un-intrusive is when they fall upon me, but such accidents are few. In general, they don't trouble me much. But it is a different tale at my in-laws' house where I am holidaying these days. There is an unchecked cultivation of these creatures and there's no saying where you'll bump into one. So alarmingly infested the house is with these friendly reptiles, that they cease being friendly.

Look at what happened this morning. The punctilious mother-in-law (MIL) proudly brings out a freshly baked cherry almond cake from the kitchen and we express our rehearsed hallelujahs down to the exact much-favoured intonations. My little one cuts the cake, as he does with anything that comes out of the oven, and, for the nth time this year, we all sing 'happy birthday' for him. The mini celebration over, the cake is left there covered with a net basket. Anyone is free to go and peck on it. The MIL offers it to me, but I say I'll have it later.

In the afternoon when everyone's enjoying their siesta, I want to have a bite from it. Only, what stands guarding the treat is a fat black lizard that has decided to enjoy its afternoon snooze curled up under the cake dish. The net has slid off the dish, and this fat lizzy looks unusually pleased with itself. I know this lizard. I've seen it around in the cabinet where MIL stores her nuts. It must be the almond in this cake that has brought this creature asniffing. Even as I inch towards it, it seems to be in no hurry to scurry off. And why would he? For all I know, it may be as deaf as The Hubby is when he's sleeping. I am certain it is a male lizzy.

It is a repulsive sight, as you'll agree if you try and visualize it. I have several options to work upon- raise an alarm and wake up everyone, particularly the MIL, and show all, as is where is (lest I be singled out for declining to taste her fare by design); shoo it away, cut myself a slice and then pretend as if nothing happened; or let the sleeping lizzy lie and hope and pray that the MIL sets her sight on it later, and sensibly decides to throw the cake away. Or I need not have a bite now, but tell her later, without blinking, how utterly mouthwatering the cake was, and also get my pen and paper along to take down her secret recipe.

Of course, none of these happen. Even as I stand there deliberating, the creature's sense of foreboding being stronger than mine, it languorously lifts its head, looks in my direction and then clambers away. Good for me, because now I can forget about the cake and the incidence, and others in the house needn't be told about this unpleasant episode. The MIL would be heart broken to see her creation being refused by everyone in the household. It's all right. No one ever died having shared a bite with a lizzy.

But that's the problem, you see. Lying doesn't get me far. I start stammering, sweat gathers on my upper lips, my cheeks become red, and even before I've said the lie, I'm found out. So The MIL needs to be informed. When the old woman wakes up later, it is an a-climactic debriefing. And I have not even reached the part where the lizard is to be mentioned, when she says, "Oh, so that black lizard was there today as well? Yeah, it probably rests here to beat the heat, this room is cool. Harmless creature. Did you have the cake?"

Avalanches usually happen in cooler climes, but for me they always happen at times when the heat is unbearable. "Cake? Err, sure, mmm, no, actually, I was not feeling hungry after all that heavy meal we had…”

"So you can have it now…" Now we know where The Hubby's gets his traits from.

"Ah, sure, of course, that's what I've been dying to do since I took off from Dhaka…"

She stands there as I struggle with a slice. As I lift it to my mouth, a million repulsive images stream down my mind, and a nauseating smell pervades my senses. That is when something from within makes me throw the slice away. I say "no, I can't eat it, it makes me want to throw up." Hah! The household is stunned into silence. With deep un-amused frowns, the MIL has just witnessed the most blatant act of mutiny in her personal life.

The puckered forehead and the livid eyes tell me I am doomed. As of this afternoon, my opinion of lizards stands revised. A pest is a pest, and it is bound to make your life miserable. Period.





(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star