“Amma, I’m home!”, Raghu shouted as he kicked off his school shoes outside the door to his house. He ran in throwing his school bag over the diwan in the living room. He went straight to the kitchen expecting to find his mother there; Aparna was there instead. Aparna was his elder sister; she was all of two years older than him but believed that she was his mother.
“Where’s Amma?”, Raghu asked irritably.
“She’s gone to Radha auntys’ house”, snapped Aparna. “You better get out of your uniform and finish your homework before she gets back. She’ll be back in an hours’ time.”
Raghu had turned and walked away even before Aparna finished her sentence. He used to be close to his sister, but in the past years they had started to quarrel all the time.
Raghu ran out of the house to the backyard. It wasn’t much of land but where vegetables and flowers were grown for their own use. They also had a big rose plant which Raghu was proud of since he had planted it. It had a constant bloom of red roses.
Raghu noticed a new colony of small red ants near the rose plant. He took a twig and poked at them. He watched them scurrying about but was careful enough to stay out of the way. The bites from these red ones were only second to the big black ones. He noticed two new buds on the rose plant which were not there earlier. They should bloom into lovely roses in next few days.
Just a few branches below, he saw two small caterpillars which were around an inch long. They were bright green in colour with black spots all over. They looked extremely busy; one of them was chomping away on a leaf while the other was trying to find a new one.
“Why, I could keep these as pets,” thought Raghu. He imagined watching the caterpillars become beautiful butterflies.
He ran into the kitchen again and was glad that Aparna wasn’t there. He searched for something that he could use. He found what he wanted in the pile of utensils set out for drying. He picked up a medium sized glass jar and its matching lid and ran back out.
He carefully picked some leaves from the rose plant and put them into the jar. He also added some twigs and then carefully picked up each of the caterpillars, put them in and closed the jar. The caterpillars squirmed around a bit but then were crawling around in the leaves.
Raghu hid the jar behind a flower vase on his bedside table. As he was adjusting the vase, he heard Amma’s voice. He quickly changed out of his school uniform into some house clothes and opened out his books.
Raghu’s evening went by quickly with devouring the onion pakodas that Amma brought home, finishing his tedious homework, and playing some Business with Amma and Aparna. Finally, after having his bath, he had his dinner and watched some TV.
It was much later in the night that Raghu was ready to go to sleep. That was when he remembered about the caterpillars. Since Aparna was still in the living room, Raghu switched on the bedside light and took out the jar. He wanted to see how many leaves the caterpillars had eaten.
At first glance he couldn’t see anything other than the twigs and leaves. In a moment, he saw one of the little fellows crawling between the leaves. He repeatedly looked at the jar from all the sides including the bottom, but he couldn’t find the second caterpillar.
There was just one caterpillar.