Once upon a time, my common sense left the house for a walk around the block and returned bearing two tiny ducklings bought from a woman in Sunday bazaar, Karachi’s bustling weekend market.
It wasn’t as if we lived on a farm, or even an independent little bungalow with a sweet little back garden and a pond. Not as if aforementioned common sense gave even a passing thought to where the ducklings would bloom and grow. No. It just saw two fuzzy yellow, beady-eyed, flappy-footed creatures and thought, ‘Must have!’
We kept them in a basket lined with newspaper and gave them crumbs of bread and water. The very same night, common sense had a heart attack when it realized that the ducklings were VERY demanding and made a LOT of noise.
But as with all disasters, one quickly learns to cope, and the brain shuts down in self defense. One even urges one’s daughter to think of suitable names for the new pets. And so it came to be that 5-yr old Amu decisively pronounced the bigger one to be Apple and the smaller one to be Cherry, her two favourite fruits at the time.
Apple was the better looking of the two ducklings. Cherry always looked duller, more woebegone. Who knew how to figure out their respective genders.
The idea was for little Amu to learn how to take care of little animals, and she did, dutifully chopping up slices of bread into bite-size pieces for baby duck beaks to tackle. It was a delight to watch them gobble and drink so feistily! But Amu had school and homework and had to go to bed early, and the ducklings grew louder and chirped incessantly if they lost sight of any of us. So I ended up spending more time with them than Amu. They grew pretty fast too, and within days, the basket could no longer contain their curious souls. They quickly learnt to jump out of there and run around our tiny apartment, Apple the venturesome one and Cherry following trepidatiously in his footsteps. If we wanted to fool them into thinking it was bedtime, we’d cover the basket with a cloth and turn off the lights and if we were lucky they’d settle down and go to sleep, cuddled against each other. But the slightest sound would wake them, and so we all learned to be really quiet at night lest we woke the little imps.
A month or so went by this way, during which we filled tubs of water and let them swim as long as they liked. I made them a bigger home under a wicker bench in our tiny 6th floor balcony. After experimenting with different types of food, it had been determined they loved chopped ribbons of green lettuce, so we always kept a supply in the house and Apple and Cherry devoured every last scrap of their treat with frequent sips from their water bowl.
I could never have known just how much of a bane those two cuties would become to my existence. All they did was eat, drink, poop (they even ate their own poop!) and generally make a huge mess of their balcony habitat. All I did was feed them, hang out with them, worry about their food if I had to go out for too many hours, and clean up after them twice a day. I began to dread coming home, and lingered too long in bed in the morning so I wouldn’t have to get up and chop more lettuce. The newspapers I used to line the floor of their makeshift cage would be sodden with water and green poop and it stank to high heaven. I’d have to don my gloves and wrap a scarf around my face before Operation Cleanup.
I had two T-rexes in my balcony!
A couple more months went by this way, Apple and Cherry were now 5 times their original size and our house smelt fowl. I thought wistfully of the days when the house smelt of fresh laundry. Huz and I had had a few guilt-ridden conversations about how to find a more natural environment for them. I finally understood why Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother could do what she did. The only place I could think of taking them to (and leaving them there) was Hill Park.
One of the oldest parks in Karachi, Hill Park has, at the centre of its undulating landscape, a large man-made pond. Full of geese. And…..ducks. People visiting the park would buy popcorn and feed the ducks and that would be the highlight of their excursion.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense. I imagined a kindly grown up duck taking Apple and Cherry under her generous wing and teaching them the ways of life in a ducky community. I pictured them finally working out the meaning of their lives as they took to the pond like…er…ducks to……hmm.
So it was that early one cool Sunday morning, we packed the ducklings into a wicker basket and set off for Hill Park, just to scope out the territory. We let Apple and Cherry out and they walked in wonder and bafflement in this strange new grassy environment. That was when I saw how scrawny and small and vulnerable they looked compared to those magnificent fully grown specimens of their own kind, who were all mostly sitting around the edge of the pond, preening in the morning sun. My hopes of finding an adoptive mommy-duck began to seem ludicrous.
The cross-specie maternal instinct kicked in when Huz pointed out a mean-looking tomcat gazing steadily at our fledgling duckies. No way could we leave them behind unprotected over here.
Amu scurried to grab the two and bundle them back into the picnic basket, and as we walked back to the car, my mind had already started thinking about Option #2.