The day Dhruv first rode his tyrannosaur to school, all the kids came crowding round to gawk, even before he could come in through the gate.
“Is that the one you told me about?” His best friend, Arif Hussain, asked, reaching out to touch the tyrannosaur’s feathers. “He looks great.”
“Yes, he’s the one,” Dhruv said proudly. The tyrannosaur, unused to so many people and so much noise, shifted unhappily and fluffed his feathers. “Don’t crowd round,” Dhruv added, feeling the beast’s uneasiness. “Give him room.”
Reluctantly, the kids moved back, except Arif, who stayed by the tyrannosaur’s flank, stroking the feathers. “Wonder what Kotu will think about this,” he said. Kotu was the class teacher, Kevin D’Costa, whom they all disliked and feared in equal measure. “He’ll tell you off for sure.”
“My dad took permission from the princi,” Dhruv said. “Kotu can’t do anything about it.”
“That won’t stop him,” Arif said. “Did you ever know anything the princi said to stop Kotu before?”
Dhruv shook his head. “It’s different. It’s official permission this time, right here on my dino driver licence.”
Arif shrugged, unconvinced. They’d come to the dinosaur parking pens, and Dhruv – with a fair amount of difficulty – persuaded the tyrannosaur to back into one. The young animal snorted unhappily, and Dhruv patted him on the head and slipped off his back.
“Why are you all crowding around?” he asked the kids, who were blocking the entrance to the pens. “Anyone would think you’d never seen a tyrannosaur before.” Actually, of course, he was pleased but never would have admitted it.
“What breed is he?” Arif asked, looking back at the black and white feathers. “Splash White?”
Dhruv shook his head. “Barred,” he said proudly. “You won’t find many of his sort around.”
Arif whistled. “Yes, I’ve only seen one on TV before. Is he hard to take care of?”
“Not at all. But then I’ve been caring for him since he was born, so I’m used to –“ Before Dhruv could say anything further, the bell went for class and they had to rush.
Kotu waited till after roll call before he began in on Dhruv. He’d been stuck into Dhruv for several days already, anyway, so at first it seemed more of the same old thing.
“Some of us think they’re much better than the rest,” he announced. “Dhruv, don’t you agree?”
Dhruv looked up with a start. “Sir?”
“Day-dreaming of how much better you are than everybody else, are you?” Kotu looked triumphantly around the class. “Or were you merely asleep?”
Everyone tittered. Not to be seen to be tittering at Kotu’s sarcastic sallies was to risk being picked on next, and everybody knew that. Those of the kids who were in Kotu’s good graces tittered louder than the rest, because they wanted to stay in Kotu’s good graces. “Were you asleep?” Kotu repeated, when the titters had died down.
“Then you admit you were day-dreaming, right?” Kotu looked around again triumphantly. “Day-dreaming about how much better than the rest of us you are?”
Dhruv said nothing. Anything he said would make things worse.
Kotu wasn’t anywhere near to being done. “What about that dinosaur you came riding to school? Do you think that makes you better than the rest of the class since they come by public transport?”
“I never said –“ Dhruv realised his mistake and shut up. Too late.
“Did I mention what you said?” Kotu was in full flow now, spittle flying from his lips. “Are you going deaf as well?”
“No, sir? No, sir? Then you’re being impertinent, are you?”
Dhruv shook his head.
“Then just what were you doing, instead of paying attention?”
“I was paying attention, sir.”
“Lying, too? You’re going down, Dhruv, that’s what’s wrong with you. Hell of a bad, Dhruv. You’re going down.”
Things never recovered from there. Dhruv could scarcely wait for the lunch break, and when it came round at last, he rushed down to the dinosaur pens. Kotu was already there, with a few of the more obsequious of his good-graces group. “Which of these animals is yours?”
Dhruv pointed. “That one, sir.”
“Hmm. Who gave you permission...” Kotu pronounced it paarmeeshawn “...to bring it to school?”
“The principal, sir.” Dhruv reached for his licence, and thought better of it. “My father got permission from him.”
Kotu glared at him. “I’ll talk to the principal,” he said. “I don’t want you bringing that dirty animal here again.”
“He’s not dirty, sir,” Dhruv protested. “He’s...”
“Are you trying to talk back to me again?”
Dhruv knew enough to shut up. Kotu muttered something else under his breath and stalked away. A few of his acolytes remained behind, gawking.
“What’s its name?” one of them asked. He was a tall, gangly boy named Anup Pratim Sharma, who never missed a chance to kiss the ground Kotu had trod and was accordingly rewarded with top grades in tests. “Does it even have a name?”
“His name is Piggy,” Dhruv replied curtly, fondling the tyrannosaur’s feathers. “Don’t you have better things to do then hang around here?”
Anup Pratim ignored the question. “Piggy?” he laughed, a high neighing sound. “Talk about a failure of imagination. If it were me I’d have called him Tyrant or Rex or something like that. Piggy!”
“There are reasons he’s called Piggy,” Dhruv said curtly. Taking out the long-bristled brush from the saddle pocket, he began grooming the tyrannosaur, who closed his eyes in ecstasy. He had no particular reason to like Kotu’s clique. They despised Kotu yet stuck to him for what he could give them. It made Dhruv sick. “Get lost,” he said. “I don’t want you disturbing him.”
Some of the others drifted away, but not Anup Pratim. “Must be nice,” he said, “having money enough to buy a tyrannosaur. Your dad must be raking it in.”
Dhruv snorted. “My dad didn’t buy him,” he said. “I worked all last two summer vacations, and bought him as an egg from my savings. They don’t sell them except as eggs.”
“You and your eggs,” Anup Pratim said. “You should sit on one, that’s all you’re good for. Anyway, sir’s going to stop you bringing him here, so you better enjoy it while you can.”
“Oh, is he?” Dhruv asked. “What do you know about it?”
“You wait and see,” Anup Pratim said. “Sir and the princi are close friends. Everyone knows that.”
“Fine,” Dhruv said. “I’ll see.” He turned back to brushing the dinosaur. When he looked back, Anup had gone.
“He’s not going to let you get away with it, you know,” Arif said.
They were walking down the street side by side, Dhruv holding on to the tyrannosaur’s harness with one hand. People stared, and a few took photographs, but nobody had said a word.
“Who do you mean?” Dhruv asked. “Kotu?”
“Who else? You know he went to the princi and asked him to ban you from bringing the dino to school?”
“I know. The princi called me to his office after class, didn’t he?”
“He did?” Arif squeaked. “What happened?”
“Nothing. I showed him my licence and the letter he’d himself signed allowing me to bring Piggy to school. He seemed a bit surprised to see that. Maybe he didn’t really read it through before signing.”
Arif watched Piggy preening his feathers for a couple of minutes. “Did he cancel the permission?”
“No,” Dhruv said. “Can he do that?”
“Of course he can,” Arif said. “They can do anything they want.”
“Well,” Dhruv said, “he didn’t.”
“Kotu won’t be happy,” Arif said gloomily. “He’ll make your life twice as miserable, you just wait and see.”
“He’ll do that anyway,” Dhruv told him. “He’s picked on you, he’s picking on me, and when he tires of me he’ll pick on somebody else. Except for Anup and his gang, of course.”
“Of course he won’t pick on them. They make sure of that by kissing the dust on his shoes.” Arif checked his watch. “I’ve got to be going. See you at school tomorrow.”
“Yeah. I’ll have to get groceries on the way home, including food for Piggy. You wouldn’t believe how much his kibble costs.”
When Dhruv got home, his mother was waiting with a worried frown. “I had a phone call from your principal.”
“What about?” Dhruv asked, though he knew.
“He wants us to meet him tomorrow, your father and me. Something about the disruptive effect your dinosaur’s been having at the school. Dhruv, did something go wrong at school today?”
“No, at least nothing to do with Piggy at all. But Kotu...”
“Don’t talk about your teacher that way,” Dhruv’s mother said automatically. “I know you don’t like him, but he is your teacher and deserves respect.”
“He’ll get our respect when he stops picking on us,” Dhruv said. “I’ve told you plenty of times how he harasses us, but you don’t believe me.”
“Come on, it can’t be that bad. Go wash up and I’ll feed you.”
“What will you say if the princi tells you to stop me from taking Piggy to school? He didn’t cause the slightest problem, I promise!”
“Well, since your father’s not in town, I said we’ll meet him next week. If he says he’s withdrawing permission...we’ll ask for his reasons. That’s fair, isn’t it?”
Dhruv didn’t say anything. There was no point in it. He stabled Piggy, fed him, and went in to wash up, thinking that Arif was right. “They” would do as they wished, and go back on “their” own promises without a qualm.
Later, he phoned Arif. “Kotu’s behind it, of course,” he said.
“Who else?” Arif paused. Dhruv could almost hear him thinking. “I have a feeling that Kotu’s fan club will try and manufacture a ruckus, you know, some kind of disorder, to get your Piggy blamed for it. Do you think you’d better leave him at home?”
“I could,” Dhruv said reluctantly. “But if I do, then they’ll say I could get along fine without him, so why should I bring him to school at all. Besides, they’ll just get bolder if they think they’ve won a victory.”
“Well, then, you’ll have to be careful, won’t you?”
“I’ll be careful,” Dhruv said. “Don’t worry about that.”
As it turned out, though, he wasn’t quite careful enough.
Dhruv had been expecting Kotu to pick on him even more the next day, and Anup Pratim and his cronies to pitch in with all they could do. He was surprised, then, to find that they all left him strictly alone. It wasn’t as though they were civil to him, of course, but they weren’t actively hostile. In retrospect, this should’ve warned him, but he was too grateful at the respite to be suspicious.
Therefore, it was an even more profound shock when he came down after class and found Piggy missing from the parking pen. The dinosaur had been fine at lunchtime, and had nuzzled him affectionately. But now, he was gone.
For a long speechless moment, Dhruv thought he’d mistaken the pen. But the number was the same, and the remaining pens were either empty or held other dinosaurs. Piggy was gone.
The dinosaur, of course, hadn’t gone off on his own – he couldn’t have, because he was trained from birth not to go anywhere alone, for any reason. Someone had taken him away.
It wasn’t anyone with good intentions, of course. His mother wouldn’t have done any such thing, and his father wasn’t in town. No ordinary thief would have stolen a dinosaur, because the veterinary microchip meant that it would be almost impossible to sell the animal. That left only one solution: one of Kotu’s acolytes had stolen the tyrannosaur.
He had been standing looking at the empty pen for so long that he was startled when Arif came up and tapped him on the shoulder. “Aren’t you ever coming?”
“Piggy,” Dhruv said. “He’s gone.”
“Oh.” Arif summed up the situation at a glance. “Stolen, of course.”
“Couldn’t have been Kotu – he was in class. And he wouldn’t want to be caught in the act either. Must have been one of his fan club.”
“Do you remember if they were all in the class?”
Arif shook his head. “You know I taught myself to pretend they don’t exist. They could come dancing to class in war paint and I wouldn’t know it.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. But what should I do – go to the princi? Or should I call the police directly?”
“The princi won’t like it if you go to the police without telling him. He won’t like it anyway that the dino was stolen. He...”
“Wait. I’ve realised something.”
“They must be expecting us to go to the police,” Dhruv said, speaking very fast. “They want us to go to the police, so there’s a big fuss, and you know how the princi hates fuss. Then there’s not the slightest chance that he’ll let me bring Piggy to school. That’s the way they figure it.”
“And they’re right, aren’t they? How are we going to get through this without the police getting involved?”
“Let’s find him first,” Dhruv said. “You can’t just steal a tyrannosaur without somebody noticing.”
“It won’t be easy,” Arif predicted.
Actually, it proved extremely easy. The owner of the shop opposite the school gates, where Dhruv and Arif frequently stopped to buy everything from chocolate bars to ballpoint refills, answered at once when they asked him. “Oh yes – that black-and-white one. A couple of boys led him away about an hour ago. I noticed because it was an odd time, with the school still on and because you don’t often see a tyrannosaur with that kind of striking colours.”
“A couple of boys?” Arif wanted to know. “Who were they?”
“I don’t know their names, but one of them is the tall thin one with a round face and glasses. I’ve seen him around.”
Arif and Dhruv glanced at each other. The description matched Anup Pratim.
“Which way did they go?” Dhruv asked.
“Down the street, that way. They weren’t going too fast. The dinosaur didn’t look very happy, come to think of it. They almost had to pull him along.”
“Thanks, Uncle,” Dhruv said. “Come on, Arif.”
As they walked, he spoke quickly. “If they’re pulling him along they won’t have gone far, especially if there are only two of them. Piggy can be really stubborn if he has a mind to. We’ll just have to ask at all the side streets and turnings which way they went. Somebody’s sure to have noticed them.”
They struck lucky at the fifth side street they tried. “Oh yes,” a coconut-water seller said. “They went this way, about ten or fifteen minutes ago. The boys were hot and sweating and I thought they might buy a coconut, but they didn’t even look at me. Do you want to buy a coconut?”
“We will,” Dhruv promised. “We have some work and when we’re coming back we’ll buy a coconut each from you. And thanks.
“Ten or fifteen minutes,” he said to Arif. “We’re catching up.”
“And what do we do when we do catch them?”
“I thought of something. We’ll see.”
They heard the dinosaur before they saw him. Piggy was not the kind of tyrannosaur to suffer in silence when he was annoyed, and he was annoyed now. He’d been taken away by people he didn’t know, and been dragged along for well over an hour along unfamiliar paths, and he was hungry and he wanted to go home. Finally, he’d had enough. Planting his legs firmly, he leaned back against the reins and began to hiss his displeasure.
It was a quite remarkable hiss. It was a hiss so loud that it was audible two lanes away. It was a hiss so loud that people gathered to watch. Some of them began yelling advice, further adding to the commotion. When Dhruv and Arif arrived, Anup Pratim was pulling on the reins as hard as he could, while the other boy, Saurav, pushed on the dinosaur’s haunches. It didn’t work. Dhruv could have told them it wouldn’t work.
“Stop that,” he said. “Give him back to me now.”
Anup Pratim turned a red, furious face towards him. “What are you doing here? Why should I give this dinosaur to you?”
“Because he’s mine. You stole him from me.”
Anup Pratim laughed. It came out as a dried-throat cackle. “Stole him from you?” he said. “That’s ridiculous. You never had a dinosaur in your life.”
“In that case, why is he so glad to see me?” Dhruv asked reasonably. At the sight of him, the dinosaur had stopped hissing and was trying to nuzzle him. “Doesn’t that prove he’s mine?”
“Proves nothing,” Anup Pratim snapped. “He just got tired of hissing when you came along, that’s all. Do you have anything to prove he’s yours? Do you, huh?”
“Well, do you?” Arif murmured in Dhruv’s ear. “Got your ownership documents along?”
“No,” Dhruv whispered back. “They’re at home. I just have my licence with me. But it won’t matter if this works.”
“If what works?”
“You’ll see.” Dhruv turned back to Anup Pratim. “Look, we could keep quarrelling like this, but I think we both have better things to do. So I’ll just propose a simple test. If I lose, you can take him. Fine?”
Anup Pratim eyed him suspiciously. “What test?”
The people gathered round had begun to murmur among themselves. Dhruv looked around and raised his voice so they could hear him. “You claim he’s your dinosaur, right?”
“Of course he’s mine. So?”
“So, you feed him and take care of him and everything, do you?”
“Naturally. So what?”
“So, if you give him food, he’ll eat it?”
“He would – if we had food with us. But of course we don’t.”
“No? There’s some in that pocket on the saddle. Why don’t you have a look?”
Anup Pratim looked as though he was going to refuse, but it was too late. “Yes,” someone in the crowd yelled. “Check the saddle.”
“Get it yourself, then,” Anup Pratim snapped. “If you’re so sure that it’s there...”
“No, I want you to get it. I don’t want you saying afterwards that I slipped it in there while nobody was watching.”
Anup Pratim glared at Saurav. “Check the pocket.”
Saurav, a small boy with a wizened, monkey-like face, looked unsure. “Anup, maybe we could –“
“Get the damned food!”
Reddening, Sauruv plunged his hand in the pocket and came out with a pouch of kibble. “What do I do now?”
“How should I know?” Anup snapped. “It’s his test, not mine. Ask him.”
“Open it and put it on the pavement in front of him, Anup,” Dhruv said. “Go on. Let’s see if he eats it.”
Anup Pratim took the pouch and set it on the pavement. Everyone stared at the tyrannosaur, waiting. Nothing happened.
“Eat, damn you,” Anup Pratim said. He looked as though he would have liked to hit the dinosaur, but didn’t dare. “Eat!”
Still nothing happened. Piggy sniffed at the food, but made no attempt to eat it.
“He’s not hungry,” Anup said.
“Isn’t he?” Dhruv replied. “We’ll see.” He walked over, took the pouch and set it down again. “Piggy,” he said, and held a finger up in the air. “Piggy...food.” He snapped the finger down at the second word, pointing at the pouch. “Go!”
There was a pause – a very brief pause. And then the crowd let out its collective breath.
Face buried in the packet, Piggy was eating.
“But how could you be sure?” Arif asked, raising his face from a green coconut. “How could you be certain he wouldn’t eat when Anup gave him the food, and would eat when you did?”
Dhruv shrugged, sipping at his own coconut. “There’s a reason I call him Piggy,” he said. “When he was a chick, newly hatched, he would eat just about anything put in front of him, all kinds of rubbish. I had to train him to eat only what I ordered him to. You saw how I did it.” He looked affectionately at Piggy, who stood beside them preening his feathers. “He’s completely conditioned to eating only on command. But he’s always hungry. That hasn’t changed.”
“What will Anup and gang do now?” Arif asked.
“What can they do? I didn’t threaten them or anything. There are plenty of witnesses that Piggy obeys my orders, is under complete control, and that they stole him. The police didn’t get involved, so the princi won’t have anything to say. I don’t see what they can do after this. Kotu will pick on me, of course, but then he’d pick on me anyway.”
“Hell of a bad, Dhruv,” Arif said, mimicking Kotu’s voice. “You’re going down.”
Dhruv laughed. “That’s a compliment coming from you.”
Piggy snuffled loudly and nuzzled Dhruv’s shoulder.
“Yes, from you too,” Dhruv told him. “You, too.”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2013