WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Losing Packlebell Rabbit by Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY (December 29) — We woke up this morning and he was gone from his cage, the door flung wide open. Searching for him in the yard proved fruitless. Sage sagged against the cement block on the front porch, dejected. It was some time later before she said, “I’m trying to convince myself it’s the way it should be. If he had gotten out of his cage all by himself, he might be somewhere hiding in the tall grasses now and maybe that really is where he belongs. Who wants to live in a cage? But if someone got him out and they’re having rabbit for lunch, well… maybe they’re hungry and just because we won’t eat rabbit… People have to eat.”

“True. But it’s wrong to steal. If he got stolen,” I said.

It’s not the first time something we had went missing. We once had turkey roaming the yard until, one by one, they got lost. Hubby plays at breeding guppies and what aquarium fish he could get his hands on. They disappear from his tanks when we’re not looking.

Since we moved in, there’d be someone who’d come through the gate and take what he came for – lemongrass, banana leaves, cacao nuts, firewood. They feel safe to tell me about it when I see them on the streets, knowing I won’t begrudge them anyway if I had been home to give permission.

There was another time when a neighborhood kid came by to confess that they had been helping themselves to the clothesline. Mostly, kids would call out over the fence for permission to reclaim their chicken or climb the mango tree. Or to pick malunggay or kamote leaves for soup. Some neighbors also come by for young coconut to help ease kidney problems. The banana clump out in the yard grows more fruit than we can possibly eat, so we also have to give them away before they rot.

Liane wakes and vents her anger on Facebook, convinced someone stole her most loved flop-dead rabbit who made her learn the Skinnerian principles of operant conditioning. She’s got Packlebell’s tricks on video, too.

Hubby goes out and does circuit laps in fits and starts around the house, hoping to coax the bunny to emerge from the hedges and play tag. He calls out softly: “Packle, come here. Packle-packle-packle.”

Nope. That doesn’t work either.

Gloom.

I guess this is how it feels when baby’s all grown and has left home. You worry where he went and whether the world is treating him right. And you miss him. Terribly.

Hubby and the girls had gotten him last summer at the Ising Juncture in Carmen, Davao del Norte where there are lovebirds, turtles, snakes, doves, and other small animals for sale. They hid them in the sala hoping I’d be kindly disposed to the little ones when I got home.

I know pets are good for growing children, but I don’t really like having little animals running around inside the house. For years, hubby had been begging me to get a baby crocodile. I said I might consider it if I could get me a white pig, which I haven’t done yet. We also had a succession of turtles – Sheldon, Leafy, and Holly the Holothuria – who eventually waddled away to parts unknown.

The girls had a puppy, but it got run over by a motorcycle. Sage takes care of several black cats, her familiars. Beibania Catherine (aka Baby Cat), Tiddlywinks, Choco, Dapple, Amity, Rocky Road, Underfoot, Adventure, and several others I can’t call by name. They stay in the garage, although sometimes we find them in Liane’s room.

Packlebell isn’t the first bunny we’ve had. We once had Bunny-La, a pure white female who was someone’s idea of a Christmas gift for a seven-year-old. Sage, who never failed to shed a tear over The Velveteen Rabbit at bedtime, was so happy to have her. Hubby built a hutch for Bunny-la among the tall grasses under the mango tree. That was where Sage found her bloody and dead, the hutch in ruins. The tomcat beside it was still licking the blood off his chops.

At seven, Sage believed that love can overcome differences and had nursed hopes that her cats and the bunny would be friends. I thought Bunny-la didn’t die a meaningless death. I thought it taught Sage to recognize the limits of behavior when natural predators come upon natural prey. It got her to understand that cats couldn’t help it and that you don’t kill the cat or throw it into the Bangkerohan River because it slaughtered your poor, helpless bunny. Even though he did that, he’s still the tom you raised from birth that now catches the rodents, delivers the offering at your feet, and expects a loving chin rub while he’s licking his chops with a self-satisfied smirk. Cats do not define right and wrong the way we do.

And so, I didn’t think it was a very good proposition when years later Sage decided to try again. Soon after we got Packlebell, she tried to introduce him to the kittens in the garage. Baby Cat – now Mama Cat – promptly chased the poor rodent all over the yard. Sage ended up losing her slippers in the muck just to rescue the cowering bunny from under the house.

In the months we’ve had Packlebell, the kids had gotten him housebroken and thinking he was a dog. To his credit, he wasn’t hard to look after. He came when called, ready to play. He liked flopping at our feet or inviting us with a merry binky or a mischievous nudge. He’d run circles around our feet until we’d stand and run around ourselves, the bunny hard on our heels.

Packle grew big real fast. Mercifully, it was only a short time that he liked nibbling at the telephone wire and leather shoes. Mostly, he’d bolt up and down the stairs and hide behind the piano or under the sofa, in the bathroom or under the sink. His mates – four so far – kept dying though, so I guess without rabbit company he’s identified with humans more.

Or, more like his humans have identified with him. I call him Paco. Late at night when I’m wrestling with edits, he’d remind me to get a snack and we can eat together. He wouldn’t stop bumping my feet and running off to the refrigerator, waiting patiently while I take out carrots or donuts for his food dish. Hubby said to feed him grain pellets and fresh greens only. Late night carrots and donuts were our secret. I find it sad when Paco’s not there to share the secret.

I really thought he was gone, so it was a pleasant surprise to look out the window hours later and see him streaking after an orange cat. We all rushed outside to bring him in. Maybe he missed us, too, because he did not give us much trouble this time.

Maybe he needed the escape so he could finally get his back up. Now bigger than the cats, he sure looked like he meant business when he was chasing that confused feline out of the yard. Packlebell Rabbit had conquered the yard.

I changed my mind about little animals inside the house. I wish Paco Rabbit won’t budge from warming my feet under the dining table ever. .”

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected] “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).

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