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It was winter again. Jijo’s favorite day came in winter. The “Annual Excursion Day”. All of junior school was packed into four buses and dropped at one of the cut and dried locations with a handful of trainee teachers as caretakers. This time it was to be the local zoo.
They gathered outside the school building sharp at nine, indistinguishable rows of ironed uniforms and oiled hair. It was no different from other gray mornings; the wind blew heavy towards the north. Jijo peered outside the bus window at the gathering clouds and remembered the new word he had learned in class. ‘Sinister’.
It excited him, the thought of impending doom. He imagined himself as a supervillain from one of his favorite comic books. In his excitement he pushed poor Ketu sitting next to him. When the boy fell on the greasy floor, Jijo pointed a finger at him and said, “Your end is near” in a venomous voice.
When the PE teacher stood in line to get entry tickets, Jijo saw the first board. “Do not tease the animals. Do not throw stones at them.” He didn’t intend to either. All he wanted was to go inside and buy a softy with the money mother had given him.
The first cage was always the giraffe’s. He liked the giraffe and the zebra best, they looked the least insidious. If he was a beast in the wild they would have been his favorite hunts. But it was not until they reached the tiger’s enclosure, surrounded by a moat and distanced from the public that he saw the second board. This time the language was harsh. “Do not tease the animals. Do not throw stones at them. There are consequences for your actions.” The tone was almost challenging.
In a few minutes the phalanx of thunderclouds broke and everyone ran for shelter. The teachers started counting heads, only Jijo managed to slip away. He managed to find the softy store but in his rush forgot about the note inside his pocket.
When he brought it out it was soaked beyond recognition. Savagely he tore it into pieces and started walking back. It was the smell that repelled him first. Of animal skin, termites and oxidized iron. Then he saw the monkeys, cramped inside a boxy coop, looking straight at him as if mocking him for his idiocy.
And there was the third board. “Do not tease the animals. Do not throw stones at them. There are consequences for your actions. And vengeance will be theirs.” That was it. Jijo picked up a stray piece of rock from the wet mud and hurled it towards the cage. The rock hit the biggest one on the head and it squealed in pain.
Something happened that moment. Jijo felt victorious but his head felt heavy and vision got blurrier. When he could see clearly again, he first saw the rusty iron bars. Then he extended his dense furry arm and felt the icy corroded steel. The repelling stench was now seeping inside his system.
Outside the sky was clearing. The stray rock lay at an arm’s distance in his cage. His own body stood outside, free and smiling at him. With the monkey now inside.
Sayantan was born in Calcutta, India and currently lives and writes in New Delhi where he works as an editor for a publishing house. His work has been published in The Aerogram, Northeast Review, Reading Hour, The Bangalore Review, Antiserious, The Missing Slate (forthcoming) among others and one of his short stories was longlisted for the DNA-Out of Print short fiction prize 2014. He was also a part of the 5th UEA-India Creative Writing Workshop (2015) led by Amit Chaudhuri, award-winning author and UEA Professor of Contemporary Literature, and Ian Jack, memoirist, Guardian columnist, and former editor of Granta.