“Look look, there’s our friend, Bushy the squirrel,” I exclaimed to my sister.
“Yes, let’s feed him,” she answered, her eyes sparkling.
The slender brown squirrel was running in a dainty dance around the parapet enclosing the cement terrace. There, our washed clothes sprawled across the clothesline. The squirrel’s bushy tail quivered to the soft hum of the breeze. Even amidst the striking rainbow hues of the clothes and the Bangalore afternoon sun pouring its liquid gold light generously over these silks and cottons, Bushy stood out. He posed elegantly on his hind legs and moved his head searchingly. His eyes gleamed at us like two little bright stars. We knew he was telling us he was hungry.
When Bushy showed up, he was our first visitor on that parapet. We children found it a joy to run up to him and give him a groundnut or two. How he loved them! On the first day we saw him, my sister and I took turns feeding him.
“Look how he’s eating out of my hand,” she gushed with a happy laugh. “I want to pet him.”
“Yes, let’s try, I hope we succeed,” I answered. However, the squirrel scuttled off right after being fed that day. So, we missed our chance then.
We wondered if he would return. To our delight, he did in a day on that very parapet. His little eyes seemed to smile at us. We crept up to him and fed him again. He crunched at the nuts in great glee, voraciously enjoying every bite. However, when I tried to touch him, he backed off. “I suppose they are too timid for this,” noted my sister.
“That’s true,” I answered.
In any case, we decided to address him directly as Bushy and see if he responded to his name. To our delight, it worked. Every time either of us walked up to the parapet, we’d yell, “Bushy!” From nowhere, with great gusto and energy our bushy-tailed friend would sweep across the air and appear on that very spot, ready for his snack. I could feel his radiance and warm smile.
Our moments with our friend became one of our favourite pastimes. The terrace and especially the parapet surrounding it were now our playground with our new companion. I decided to step things up further and dare to touch the squirrel and pet him. “I doubt he’ll let us. They are not tame like dogs or cats. And he might bite,” warned my sister.
“That’s true,” I realized again. Yet, I decided to try.
So, the next time, we chimed, “Bushy,” together and he showed up, I walked up to him and fed him. Then, I gently moved my arm to pet him. To my astonishment, he let me to caress his striped back and face. He even lay on his back and allowed me to run my fingers on his tummy, and seemed to enjoy a little massage.
“This is unbelievable!” exclaimed my sister.
“I’ve touched the three white stripes on his back,” I said, chuckling excitedly. “Those are the fingerprints of Lord Ram, back in the days of the Ramayana. Remember how Ram touched a squirrel with his fingers? The little one had helped him by carrying stones for him. So, Ram’s loving fingerprints are now on every Indian squirrel.”
“How lucky to touch those holy markings,” commented my sister.
We laughed a lot, feeling so fortunate to have these wonderful times with our new furry friend. Our personal connection with Bushy felt like a magical dream. The squirrel not only knew his name but responded to our loving gestures. He knew we were his buddies! I wish such a friendship continued.
However, one day, I yelled, “Bushy,” and he did not show up. My sister did the same. We did not see him after this. So, the two of us continued our search for the next few days, our voices echoing across the terrace. The breeze carried our sound as if helping us all the way down to the street. Passing urchins stared at us and imitated our voices. We panicked. Pacing down the road, we would yell “Bushy,” and only draw attention from passersby. Yet there was no sign of our friend.
Bushy never came back. I wonder what happened to him, whether he had found new friends and if we had perhaps, imagined the bond we had made with him. I also feared that he could be in trouble somewhere, injured or in some kind of danger. I prayed silently for his safety. My sister and I thought of him a lot. Even over time, I have missed him very much.
It is with sweet memories that I often remember his sparkling presence and trust in us humans. Many years later, I find myself feeding other squirrels. I always call them Bushy. They all respond to this name. However, they usually do that with any other name, or simply show up at the sight and crunchy sound of peanuts. None of them has ever let me pet him like my friend, the original Bushy did. However, some do grab a peanut from my hand and run off.
I don’t think they generally recognize anything more than the sight of a human hand and the peanuts that they love to grab and crunch. Yet, I’m glad to see them. It’s after all, through them that I try to seek the presence of my long-lost friend. Of course, I know Bushy was one of a kind. Even though it’s been so long, I still feel blessed at wonderful times with him on that cement parapet. There, he was a friend to us back in our childhood days in Bangalore!