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Zinco Wants To Paint
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Leena is a girl who dislikes animals.
What happens when a vulnerable squirrel comes into her life?
Leena's fear of animals started when she saw her cousin being bitten by a Pomeranian dog.
Her cousin eventually recovered and started playing with dogs, but Leena turned the other way when she saw paws approaching.
Another day she saw a fluffy street cat savouring a newt.
Leena no longer found cats cute.
'Cute ones were the most deadly' she thought.
She started getting scared of birds flying close to her.
One particular pigeon deliberately seemed to flap his wings on her head, before soaring high. Leena sought an earth free of animals, birds, and reptiles.
It was spring and every plant proudly showcased its blossoms and delicate flowers held firmly to their stems.
Leena was happy with life as she returned home from her special classes one evening.
As she came close to some bushes she heard mice chasing one another.
She began to hurry home.
All of a sudden she saw a small head peep out of a hole. Large eyes looked into hers and said, "Hey!" Leena almost screamed.
Since she didn't know how to scream, she ran.
She heard a faint voice calling out to her. Was it the rodent's thin countenance or the curious appeal in his voice, she didn't know; but her curiosity got the better of her and she slowly walked back.
The rodent had come out of his hole and she realised that he was a squirrel.
"Hey Leena" he said in a squeaky voice.
Leena almost ran back; then she tried to compose herself.
"Hey, you can speak." she said shakily. "How do you know my name?"
"I heard your friend Clara calling you last week."
Leena looked shocked.
The squirrel continued, "I was born with an ability to understand all languages; those of humans as well as animals."
"You are magical then?"
"If I am, the speaking part is the only magical thing about me. I am vulnerable to climatic changes, fear predators and have the same eating habits as that of other squirrels." he said in a soothing voice.
Leena stood, absorbing all this information; she no longer wanted to run away.
"Do you have a name?" she asked, interested.
"Do you know that all animals you come across have names? Even the reptiles, ants and tiny insects. Mine is Zinco, by the way." he added.
"That is a cute name." Leena smiled. She was at ease now.
Zinco hesitated. "Leena, can you teach me to draw and paint?"
Leena stared at him.
He quickly continued "I heard Clara saying that your painting was lovely and that you had won a drawing competition some time ago. Well, I have always wanted to draw. Can you help me?"
"But how and where?"
"Please take me home with you. I can watch, observe and learn."
Leena looked at his pleading eyes and immediately relented. He seemed harmless and vulnerable.
"Can I crawl up to your shoulders?"
Leena felt her old fears resurfacing. "Why don't you walk beside me?" she asked.
Zinco looked sad. "Please trust me. I don't bite."
Leena thought for a moment and held out her hand.
There was something very reassuring about that squirrel.
She almost shook him away as he crawled up to her shoulders.
But she bore it and smiled with an effort.
She really wanted to help this squirrel and he felt light!
On the way home Zinco told her about his childhood in a mango tree.
"I was healthy and chubby" he said "but some people cut down the tree to make way for a multiplex. Since then I have been homeless."
When they reached home nobody noticed them, as Leena's parents were too busy watching a TV program on animal miracles.
Leena had no siblings.
She tiptoed softly to the kitchen and fetched some almonds.
"Do you like my room? Here, have some almonds." offered Leena.
Zinco devoured one, hungrily.
'What shall we do tonight?' Leena thought for a minute.
"I need to complete my record work. Want to watch?"
Zinco eagerly jumped on her shoulders.
As Leena paid minute attention to the details of her record work, Zinco watched in silence. After half an hour, Leena realised that Zinco had been perched on her for more than half an hour and she never once felt self-conscious or disgusted.
"You are so good." he said admiringly.
He slept on the top of a wooden cabinet.
"Are you feeling cold?" she asked.
"No, it feels like a tree. It used to be one, after all!"
Leena explored oil painting the next day.
Zinco, in an attempt to familiarise himself with the colours, poured some of the paint over himself by mistake.
Leena laughed, "You look so colourful, very odd in fact."
That evening, as Leena chased her squirrel down the lawn, a neighbourhood dog lunged forward. Leena was ready to bolt when Zinco jumped up and made some weird noises.
The dog opened his eyes wide and stared at Zinco. Later he relaxed and barked.
Zinco explained to Leena. "Blacky wants to be your friend."
"But I don't," said Leena fearfully. "He is so scary and huge."
"He says he has never bitten anyone in his life; even kids who threw stones at him."
Blacky walked softly towards her and sniffed her hand. Then he whined.
Zinco turned to Leena. "He knows you are scared of animals; that is why he didn't jump up and lick you."
"Thank you Blacky, you are a good dog." Leena stroked his head, hesitantly.
"He doesn't like his name by the way, he wants to be called Rock, as that suits his personality."
Now Zinco had started holding brushes and crayons between his teeth, attempting to draw and scribble something. By the end of the week, he was able to draw a circle and a line.
Zinco the squirrel was making a steady progress in his drawing lessons when something happened.
The street cat had been eyeing Zinco for some time.
So when Zinco was resting on the lawn one day, the street cat jumped down the wall and began chasing him. He was about to pounce when Zinco squealed something.
The cat's eyes widened, just like Blacky's had done some time ago. Then he stepped back. Leena entered the lawn with her glass of milk. She saw the cat and stopped short.
"It is OK Leena." squeaked Zinco. "Tommy the cat knows everything. He has agreed not to harm me."
Tommy now directed his green stare at Leena.
Zinco made a laughing sound. "He envies me; he wants to be your friend."
Leena was silent and marvelled at how the animals she disliked wanted to be friends with her.
She sat down with the milk.
Tommy immediately walked up to her and sat on the ground, he curled his tail around her legs. Leena poured some of her milk on a saucer and set it down next to the cat.
Tommy lapped it up.
Leena felt a warmth surge through her that comes with the feeling of being loved.
Tommy rested his head on her lap and she wrapped her hands around him.
That night, as she was experimenting with crayons, Zinco asked her "Your friends live far away and you don't have any siblings, aren't you lonely?"
"Yes I am. My Mom loves cats and begged me to raise one at home. But I was too scared."
Zinco swished his brown tail, "But isn't it always the other way around, children begging for pets and parents refusing them?"
"But my case is different." Leena brightened. "I am not worried any longer though, I have you."
Zinco did not reply to that.
He progressed every day and a month had passed since he came.
One day Tommy came to Leena's lawn, his paws bleeding. Some kids had thrown stones at him. Leena cursed them and nursed Tommy.
Then he began visiting her every day.
Blacky's owner, a college kid named Larry, agreed to let Blacky spend time with Leena every evening from 5 to 6 while he practised baseball.
Leena was so happy with Blacky (alias Rock) that she even forgot Zinco for a brief period of time. Instead of feeling left out, Zinco felt happy with their camaraderie.
One morning, as Leena came over to her study, she was amazed to find a beautiful painting of a sunrise over an ocean. Zinco stood there, an amusing sight, with a brush in his mouth.
"Wow, Zinco! You have done it. It is perfect." exclaimed Leena.
"It is not as good as any of your work, but I tried." replied Zinco, with modesty.
"Zinco, it is a lot better."
The squirrel thought for some time. "Leena, I was thinking. Maybe, it is time for me to leave."
"I need to find a home of my own, I am meant to live with my kind."
"But, isn't this your home? Aren't you happy here?" Leena was shocked that Zinco would even think of leaving.
"I am very happy. But all the while I have been feeling a sense of emptiness. I belong to nature, I belong to the trees. I may speak all the languages but I am the happiest with fellow squirrels."
Leena looked at him, dismayed. But pleading and crying did not change his mind.
Finally it was time for Zinco to leave.
"I can't thank you enough Leena. You taught me to draw despite the fact that you distrusted and disliked animals."
Leena felt a lump in her throat but composed herself.
"I should be the one thanking you Zinco. You taught me the gift of caring for other living forms. You raised me out of my shallow hole and I will never be the same again."
Leena continued with tears in her eyes, "We have decided to adopt Tommy and mom is ecstatic. With Rock and Tommy around, I will not be lonely any longer."
"I am very happy for you Leena." peeped Zinco before parting.
"You see, the same nature that created you has created animals. We are crude and lack your sophisticated ways, but we need love and care as much as you do.
Even more than you do perhaps, as we cannot express ourselves.
We look up to young people, like you, for love and support,"
Leena watched Zinco go, misty-eyed, till his long tail disappeared around the bush.
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