Fluffy Xavier Junior Rests Here : A short story by Purnesh Bhattacharya

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Fluffy Xavier Junior Rests Here : A short story by Purnesh Bhattacharya

From the shortlist of the first Short Story Competition organised by Bengaluru Review.

The sound of heavy knocking on the door.had made me jump out of the sofa. My parents were asleep in the other room. I was in the drawing-room watching something on the television. As the knocking continued, I was taken aback by surprise. I looked at my watch. It was around 1 am. Who could it be? Possibly a drunkard was again knocking at our door. Living on the ground floor of a rented apartment in Saki Naka was an omnipresent challenge. But this time it was my friend Edwin Xavier knocking relentlessly on my door. When I opened the door, he was panting for breath. On a moonless night, it was Edwin Xavier, standing right at my doorstep. Before I could question him, he spoke out in a breathless tone.

Fluffy is missing. We have been looking out for him for the last two hours. By any chance, do you remember seeing him somewhere?

Oops! His question left me wondering. Was this a breach of trust? We had made a pact. Mr Gupte, Edwin's immediate neighbour, was supposed to get in touch with the Hakim brothers to negotiate the deal. He was supposed to convince them to sketch a plan to abduct Fluffy Xavier. Mrs Mirkar and Mr Bharti were supposed to supply the twin brothers with the additional intelligence on Fluffy’s whereabouts. Even though Fluffy never left the territory of Alpana Niwas, none of us could rule out the eventuality of him crossing over to any of the nearby apartments. No one could ever keep track of his notorious mind and his fascination with rapid movements.

The pact was about getting Fluffy abducted by the Hakim brothers. Mr Karnik and his sons, Mr and Mrs Pradhan had pulled out of the treaty at the last moment. As far as Mr Gaitonde was concerned, he was never interested in the affairs of Alpana Niwas. The owners of Alpana Niwas were ready to support us in carrying out the plan. In short, all the eight households, excluding the Xavier family to whom Fluffy belonged; the Karniks, the Pradhans and the Gaitondes; all the other eight homes held something personal against Fluffy Xavier. We were all awaiting our turn to seek revenge on Fluffy; the trouble maker. But it was Mr Gupte, who seemed to be more instrumental in sketching out a plan.

Thus, Edwin's knocking on my door filled me with doubt. Had somebody double-crossed me? Had someone switched sides? Or Edwin had caught wind of the pact! To cover up my involvement, I chose to reply as calmly as possible.

No Edwin. I hadn’t seen Fluffy since last evening. When did he go missing?

In a fit of anger, Edwin blurted out.

I am sure someone or a group of people are involved in his disappearance. I know, Fluffy wasn't liked by many. Even you never liked him. How could someone hate Fluffy?

I certainly disliked Fluffy. On many occasions, he had chased us out of the secret corner, where Kanchana and I would often meet. Kanchana was the 40-year-old daughter of one of our owners from the Gawand family. Still single by her own choice, I was nobody to stop her from seeking romantic interest in a 22-year-old guy like me. Fluffy had derailed many of our plans of making out. It was enough for me to dislike him. Edwin had brought Fluffy – The Successor home after the original Fluffy Xavier (real name Francis Xavier), his father had gone missing mysteriously. Since Fluffy Xavier Junior had grown into a nuisance, everyone held their angst against Fluffy. Mr Gupte was his favourite target. Fluffy left him severely wounded on many occasions; soiled his clothes after his spondylitis afflicted wife had washed them clean. Mrs Mirkar’s pickles could never see the light of the day. Fluffy had pushed the jars off the gallery wall, on which Mrs Mirkar would leave the pickles to soak in the sun. She was heartbroken at the sight of such indigestible loss. So she chose to keep an eye on Fluffy and keep reporting every movement of his to make the plan successful. Mr Bharti’s daughter was shuffling in and out of nervous breakdowns because of Fluffy Xavier’s relentless terror. Mr Bharti wasn’t in a mood to show any mercy to Fluffy either. Our owners, the Gawand family, wanted Fluffy out of Alpana Apartments at all cost.

Edwin made a proposition.

Tomorrow morning, I am planning to go to the Saki Naka police station. We will meet Inspector Mandar Ponkshe. Let’s register a complaint. Help me find Fluffy.

I instantly agreed. I would do anything to save myself. If someone had tried foiling the entire plan or hinted at my involvement; I was not letting anybody frame me. I mentally prepared myself to witness the drama, which was supposed to unfold at the Saki Naka police station.

Edwin was yet to come downstairs. But before he could join me, Mr Gupte met me. I couldn’t believe what he had just revealed.

The Hakim brothers haven’t abducted Fluffy Xavier. I had called them. They had to leave for Malegaon last afternoon to attend their uncle’s funeral. He seemed to have succumbed to bird flu.

Before Mr Gupte could make a move, Edwin stopped him midway.

Gupte uncle. What a plan? Don’t worry. I will get you arrested. I will make sure that Inspector Ponkshe puts you behind bars.

As Edwin kick-started his bike, he signalled me to join him. As he put the bike in motion, he looked at Alpana Niwas and screamed.

I am going to spare no one. If anyone of you is involved in Fluffy's disappearance, speak up now. Or be prepared to face the police.

Riding pillion, I couldn’t rid my mind off what Mr Gupte had shared. The Hakim brothers hadn’t abducted Fluffy. So did Fluffy Xavier foil the abduction himself or it was his good luck.

At the Saki Naka police station, Inspector Mandar Ponkshe listened to Edwin intently. Offering a glass of water to Edwin, Inspector Ponkshe asked him to calm down. He then spoke politely.

Edwin, but all of us know that Fluffy Xavier, your father has gone missing. Aren’t we trying to locate his whereabouts for the last one year? And now you are telling me that someone abducted him the previous evening. I hope Edwin; you haven’t been hallucinating.

Inspector Mandar Ponkshe didn’t get it wrong. Edwin’s father, whose real name was Francis Xavier alias Fluffy Xavier had gone missing for the last two years. He had left home on the pretext of wanting to smoke. None of us had seen him after that. Thus, Inspector Ponkshe was now left miffed over Edwin’s fresh claims. Little did he know that Edwin was speaking about another Fluffy Xavier, who wasn’t his father but still a part of the Xavier family.

Just as I had imagined the scene, it started playing out on its own at the Saki Naka police station. Edwin started speaking.

You are right, Inspector Ponkshe. All of us have already been looking out for my missing father. You have been very instrumental in helping us with the search operations. But it is not him who has gone missing. He has been missing for the last two years. But this time it is our rooster, Fluffy Xavier, who has gone missing.

Suddenly, everything fell silent at the Saki Naka police station. The conviction with which, Edwin was speaking all this while, never let out the reality that he could be talking about a rooster’s disappearance. Unable to contain his laughter and irritation, Inspector Ponkshe banged heavily on his desk and spoke.

Rooster. Seriously, Edwin? You had approached us two years back after your father went missing. We understand. The situation is dangerous. An aged man goes missing one day. But you didn’t tell us about your possession of a rooster. You also didn’t update us of you having named him after your missing father; the same nickname; maybe to keep his memory alive or to bring some relief to your grieving mother and ailing sister. And I must say, you have got it what it takes to act stupid and get us, the police, involved in launching another search operation to locate your missing rooster! Have you gone nuts?

Edwin felt insulted. I felt a little odd, as well. It was never wise to get the police involved. If I was not mistaken, complaints of missing animals were to be launched with that world-renowned organization, now entrusted with the responsibility of protecting animal rights. The government too, was supporting them. Their movement has compelled even the Indian film industry to add the line, right in the beginning of the movie – No animals were harmed during the filming of this movie.

But Edwin refused to bend. He believed if Inspector Mandar Ponkshe could take up the case of his missing father; he should take up the case of his missing rooster too. After branding us insane, Inspector Ponkshe asked us to leave Saki Naka police station immediately. Before leaving, I ran back and pleaded.

Please forgive him, Inspector Ponkshe. Edwin is a bit disturbed. I urge you personally to not give up on the search for his missing father.

Inspector Ponkshe gave me a long look and assured that he wouldn't discontinue his search operations to locate the original Fluffy Xavier. On our way back, Edwin said nothing. For the first time, silence had taken the middle seat between Edwin and me. The disappearance of that so-called rooster Fluffy Xavier had built a wall of silence between us.

Once we returned, Edwin put his bike on the middle stand and headed straight to his home. The same night, we the conspirators teamed up on the terrace. Mr Gupte was furious. He looked at Mrs Mirkar, then at Mr Bharti and finally at me. He then spoke out with anger in his husky voice. Pinpointing at me, he said:

So Rohan, we had made a pact. Who broke it? Leave alone breaking it... Who abducted Fluffy Xavier? What if the cops come calling? Or that organization PARA (Protector of Animal Rights Association) comes investigating. If we get caught, we will have to pay a hefty penalty. Trust me; it would be a bad situation for us. The Hakim brothers too had to leave so suddenly. Had they abducted him, they could have slaughtered him quietly and sold him off to some prospective customer. Or they could have simply kept him locked with other chickens in their cage. The other chickens would have united against Fluffy Xavier; perhaps bullied him too. Nothing of that sort has happened. We are doomed. Our plan has gone bust. Instead of we getting that troublesome rooster abducted, the rooster himself has gone missing now. Look, look here, look at this wound on my wrist. Look, look here, the scar on my ankle. That rooster had pecked me so severely. I used to be so terrified at times; I found it so difficult even to take the stairs to the first floor. Such a tricky rooster; bloody Fluffy Xavier managed to foil our abduction plan too. Shame on us. Shame on you, Rohan. Shame on you, Mrs Mirkar and shame on you, Mr Bharti. What did all of us do in the name of making a pact?

None of us had any answer to Mr Gupte’s angry questions. At the same time, we feared Edwin's ire. What if he got wind of our plan? Would he ever forgive us? Would Edwin forgive me, his friend Rohan? After the meeting, I called out to Kanchana. We hadn’t met for long. Tonight we could get a little naughty. Maybe we can steal some kisses. The moment I called out to her, Mr Gupte came rushing in and held me by my collar.

Can’t you postpone your plans for some time? Why are you calling out to that lady now? Hold that horse of yours, which is always in a mood to gallop at the sight of a 40-year-old enchantress.

I seriously didn’t want to pay any attention to Mr Gupte’s warnings. But somewhere, an inner voice asked me to tame the so-called horse, which did gallop now and then (within my trousers).

It was almost a week; Alpana Niwas had descended in the state of a riot. Edwin Xavier went on a rampage. Edwin ransacked Mr Gupte’s home. He scanned through everything in Mrs Mirkar’s possession. Mr Bharti couldn’t slam his door on Edwin’s face. The four brothers of the Gawand family couldn’t control Edwin’s fury. Kanchana came rushing down, seeking my help. But Edwin searched through our home as well. My parents were furious at him. Surprisingly Edwin went with equal rage in combing Mr Karnik’s, Mr and Mrs Pradhan’s and even Mr Gaitonde’s households. Fluffy Xavier was still missing.

I thought to myself, what if Fluffy had choked to his death? It could turn out to be a probable scenario. But we hadn’t found his dead body? Edwin hadn’t given up. He kept unleashing new destructive plans every day. Till one day, Edwin’s mother called out to him.

Edwin, Look, who's here. Fluffy is back. Oh, my God. He is back.

Thrilled, all the conspirators, accomplices and neighbours rushed to the Xavier residency. Fluffy Xavier was indeed back. But it was not the rooster. It was the original Fluffy Xavier who was back. Mr Francis Xavier, Edwin's father, was nicknamed Fluffy by his batchmates during his college days for his fluffy flow of hair. The original Fluffy Xavier was back after two years of disappearance from Alpana Niwas. According to his version, he had stepped out for a smoke. At the shop, someone had hypnotized him. Someone had robbed him of his belongings, which comprised his wallet, his watch, his pocket transistor and his gold ring. He only remembers to have followed the person who hypnotized him. After that what happened during those two years of his disappearance, he had no memory of it. We were miffed. On the one hand, we were all looking for that Fluffy Xavier who had now replaced the original Fluffy Xavier. And on the other hand, the original Fluffy Xavier had suddenly returned home.

We still remember Fluffy Xavier's dramatic entry into Alpana Niwas. After Edwin’s father had gone missing, his mother sat grieving all day. So, on one of his visits to the Bandra church for Sunday mass, Edwin had come across this older man who was selling newly born chicks for Rs 10 each. Edwin had brought one home. Over two years, the chick not only grew into a beautiful white coloured rooster, but he had also become the reason for terror in Alpana Niwas. No one could escape the rooster’s lethal attacks. If Mr Gupte was getting pecked by him repeatedly, Mrs Mirkar’s jars of pickles were always at risk of Fluffy’s notorious interests. Mr Bharti’s daughter was so terrified of Fluffy’s attacks that none of us could save her from panic attacks. On many occasions, Mr Bharti had narrated that his daughter would wake up in the middle of the night and start crowing like the rooster to tease him. The Gawand family, owners of Alpana Niwas, were never happy about Fluffy Xavier – The Rooster. Kanchana and I held our plan against the rooster because now and then, he ran the racket of exposing our affair.

The original Fluffy Xavier's return should have marked the end of the search for Fluffy Xavier Junior. Yes, Edwin planned to call the rooster now his father's junior. In Edwin's own words.

Fluffy is no more the rooster; we are looking for Rohan. Fluffy Xavier is now family. Dad hasn't seen him yet. But sensing our love for Fluffy, he has asked us to call him Junior.

No matter how absurd it sounded, we are supposed to accept reality. Therefore, even after Fluffy Xavier Senior was back, the search for Fluffy Xavier Junior continued. Edwin also felt it was our responsibility to meet Inspector Mandar Ponkshe at the Saki Naka police station and inform him about the grand return of Francis Xavier alias Fluffy Xavier Senior. Inspector Mandar Ponkshe was pleased to learn about his return. He could now close the case. As we were about to leave the police station, Inspector Mandar Ponkshe called out to us.

Hey, listen. What happened to the other Fluffy Xavier? The Rooster!

Edwin replied in Hollywood style.

The search is on.

So, the search was on. Now and then, we could hear Edwin whistle or call out.

Aa, Aa, Aa…. Fluffy… Aa, Aa, Aa.

His father would join in as well. Fluffy Xavier – The Rooster was now missing for a month. Normalcy had returned to Alpana Niwas. The days of terror were over. We, the conspirators, had now become friends with the Xavier family again. We made a new pact. As the head of our team, Mr Gupte suggested, we agreed to grow compassionate towards the Xavier family’s loss. We decided that we should assist them with the search operation. Kanchana and I were back to romancing each other on the terrace. At times, Kanchana would herself imitate a rooster’s crowing to tease me when I tried stealing a kiss.

But, peace was short-lived. The reason for terror was back. Just like Fluffy Xavier Senior’s resurrection, it was now Fluffy Xavier Junior’s turn to resurrect. I remember that Sunday morning. The Xavier family had gone to the Bandra church to attend the mass. I sat reading a Sidney Sheldon novel. Dad was busy turning the pages of the newspaper. It was a pleasant Sunday morning for all the residents of Alpana Niwas. Suddenly we heard a rooster’s crowing.

The sight was unimaginable. Fluffy was standing on one foot. Mr Gupte seemed to have just returned from the market with his stock of vegetables for the week. It was a situation of one on one duel between Mr Gupte and Fluffy Xavier Junior. Mr Gupte called out to me.

Rohan, are you seeing what I am seeing? The devil is back. He looks so dirty. And he seems much more fearsome. Please save me, Rohan. This time, it might take my life.

I came rushing out to save Mr Gupte. By that time, the Xavier family had returned from the Sunday mass. Seeing me struggle to capture Fluffy, Edwin came running at me and kicked me away. I fell to Mr Gupte’s right side with a loud thud. When I gathered myself together, Mr Gupte looked at me, with sympathy in his eyes. But as I stood brushing off the dirt on me, I was looking at something, which even Mr Gupte wasn't taking a second look at. Fluffy Xavier was now facing Fluffy Xavier. Before Edwin's father could take another step, Fluffy Xavier – The Rooster pecked him deep in his ankle.

He let out a strange scream. Before Edwin could rush to his father’s rescue, Mr Francis Xavier had landed a hefty kick. Edwin had himself told us about his father being a martial art expert. In a single moment, Mr Francis Xavier had sent Fluffy flying nine yards away. We stood there watching it without batting our eyelids. Did that happen, for real?

Not seeing Fluffy move, Mr Gupte, me and Edwin rushed to the sight where Fluffy was now lying; motionless. He had stopped breathing. Edwin gently picked him up and held his ear close to the rooster’s heart. It had stopped beating. Looking at his father, Edwin screamed.

What have you done? You killed him. Did you return to kill him?

Edwin’s father was infuriated as well. He retaliated.

What did you say? Did I return to kill him? Am I a bloody murderer? Didn't you see, the way he charged at me and pecked me? Look the deep gash he left behind. I am bleeding. I don't understand this emotion of yours. The rooster is a pain. One or the other day, I could have myself slaughtered and eaten him.

We couldn’t comprehend the situation. Sensing that the personal equation between a father and son might derail, Edwin’s mother held back her tears. She asked Edwin to calm down. She asked Edwin’s sister to come downstairs and console her brother. Placing her hands on Fluffy Xavier Junior, she said.

Goodbye Fluffy. We would have loved you to continue being a part of our family. But your story seems to end here.

After that, she turned towards Edwin and instructed.

Edwin. Don’t waste time. Bury him. Let us all remember – Fluffy Xavier Junior Rests Here.

***

Purnesh Bhattacharya graduated with a degree in Economics and a Postgraduate Diploma in Advertising and Public Relations. Purnesh’s true calling is advertising. For the last two decades, he has been an integral part of the advertising fraternity in various creative roles. Since 2002 Purnesh has been doing creative writing. He now works in the capacity of a Creative Director. If you wish to follow his creative expeditions, follow him on twitter (@puruthegreat), keep up with his updates on Instagram (@instapuruinsta) or visit his blog .

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