Monday, 27 August 2012

The kids turn against Hayley and Riley and the story about the empty cage

It happened last Sunday (on Eid) morning. We had just come home from visiting my family when Elizabeth, the domestic worker, looking really alarmed, summoned us closer to the guinea pigs' cage.

Lying motionless were two dead newborn guinea pigs. We were shocked; we had not even known that Hayley was pregnant. Then, to the kids' horror, they witnessed a disturbing sight which they will not soon forget. Hayley was chewing on one of her babies'  necks, actually drawing blood!

Luckily only the older two kids saw this horrific sight. They felt sick. Eid was ruined, Shakeel (13)said. He hated the guinea pigs. They were horrible. They had murdered their own babies and were busy feeding off their remains! He and Tharaa (10) insisted that we take them back to the pet shop.

We reminded them that we did not know what had happened. People, to whom we spoke, said that certain animals tended to kill off their first borns. Nobody knew the reason for this. Another explanation provided was that the parents would sometimes kill their babies if they saw that the babies suffered from some or other abnormality.

None of these explanations comforted the kids. They did not want to see the guinea pigs in the house anymore, so we let them (the guinea pigs) sleep in the separate quarters with Elizabeth. Shakeel did not care about any explanations we offered; i.e. that they were animals and their actions were dictated by instinct rather than malice. This was the way of nature. Then he hated nature, he said. He no longer wanted to study and work with animals. (He had recently been torn between his ambitions to become either a paleontologist, a marine biologist or a veteranarian).

Ironically, it was precisely his love of animals that was making him turn against his pets. How could they hurt their innocent little babies? He could not understand it.

So, the difficult decision was made to return them to the pet shop. This decision would not drastically change life in our home, we'd thought. These guinea pigs were very skittish - since we had brought them home, they had not really enjoyed being handled. They darted away nervously each time I tried to feed or stroke them. Riley had bitten my finger, drawing blood, one day when I'd tried to stroke him. They preferred to be in their cage instead of running about the house among us. Summer time had been better for them.We had put them on the grass patch in the yard and they had run about freely with the budgie and quaker parrot. But since we were indoors for the whole of winter, they pretty much preferred to remain in their cage, which made us feel really uncomfortable (not to mention guilty).

So, on Saturday we decided to take them back to the pet store. Maybe they could find a home in which they would be provided with sufficient of their own indoor space, wherein which they would not have to interact with humans (which they clearly so disliked).
Upon hearing our plans, both older kids had had second thoughts. Maybe they wouldn't harm any other babies to which Hayley might give birth. After all, someone had suggested that it would be best to separate the guinea pigs from each other as soon as the female becomes pregnant. That was an option, wasn't it?
But eventually they resigned themselves to the fact that letting the guinea pigs go was for the best.
As we'd expected, Nuha (7) took the news really badly. She is generally very devastated by goodbyes - whether we are parting with pets or people. She even cried like a baby when we sold our old beetle, which had been standing outside our home since before she was born and which had never even been able to drive during her lifetime.
Added to that was the fact that she knew not a thing of her darling pets' unfortunate filicidal and cannibalistic tendencies. So all she saw were her cruel parents giving away these two cute balls of fur for no reason at all.
We told her that these animals were so reluctant to leave their cage and we had no suitable cordoned-off area which we could set aside only for their use (so that they could wander about uninterrupted by us). Maybe they'd find a family with a large home, who could perhaps provide them with this lovely lifestyle.
But her sentimental nature blinded her to all logic. She did not care about what we had to say; all that mattered was that the guinea pigs did not leave.
But eventually she resigned herself sadly to the fact that it was happening. The kids gathered around the cage and said their sad goodbyes.

Nuha (7) utterly heartbroken

Nuha and Aisha (2) spending their last few minutes with Hayley and Riley
[Now, in case you were wondering about Aisha's interesting choice of headwear in the previous pic, let me explain: She had just finished throwing a mini-tantrum about the fact that Nuha had on a hoodie and she didn't (She just loves headwear of any sort). But soon she was distracted when she spotted a fez, which she has not yet realised, is an article of men's headwear. That pacified her within seconds. ]


Nuha, completely spent after an hour long grieving session

 Anyway so off we headed  to the pet shop, which is based in the front of a house just two blocks away from our home. Mo explained our predicament to the pet store owner, who insisted upon reimbursing Mo for the animals, or swopping them for another pet. However since we felt so bad about returning them, we obviously refused.                                                                                      
And then something happening which we had not anticipated (but probably should have). With all eyes on Nuha, we had completely overlooked Aisha's potential reaction. So before Nuha had had her chance to shed her final guilt-inducing tears, we heard a familiar, yet still terrifying shriek emanating from where the kids were huddled around the empty cage.                                                               
''I want my guinea pigs! Give back my guinea pigs...noowww!'' she yelled, crying and stomping her little feet furiously. The older kids looked uncomfortable (as they usually do during her public tirades) while a victorious gleeful smile spread across Nuha's face.                                                                      
The other customers in the pet shop looked on sympathetically, clearly empathising with the screeching little girl whose heartless parents had chosen to deprive her of her loving pets.                                                                                                      
Mo and I glanced at each other uncomfortably, while trying to avert our eyes from everyone else's judgemental stares. And then the pet-shop owner, our hero and saviour, called someone to bring us (what he promised) was the friendliest and most loving bunny. Mo protested - really we were not interested in another pet just yet - but in the face of the shrill piercing shrieks emanating from just outside the door, his protests were now noticeably weaker and filled with doubt.

And then it came and was placed into my loving arms - the snuggliest friendliest rabbit ever! I walked over to the kids and bent down wordlessly. Joyful smiles replaced their uncomfortable expressions. It was as if someone had pressed an invisible mute button as Aisha's screams ceased instantaneously and were replaced by giggles.
And that is how Bugs became part of our family. Initially Mo told the pet shop guy that we were bringing him home provisionally, just to distract Aisha from the empty cage. But now, two days later he has already made himself at home and is already either running around the living room or scampering over couches.
I'm even pretending not to notice my runny nose; teary itchy eyes and the headache which develops each time the rabbit is close by. And that these allergies were precisely the reason we had had to get rid of our little kitten after just a day of it living with us.

So after all the drama of returning Hayley and Riley, I have resigned myself to suffering in silence, with swollen eyes, a snot-clogged nose and a perpetual headache - rather than daring to return from the pet shop with another empty cage.

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