Roller moves

Roller the hedgehog was very content to live in his hedge. The hedgerow ran around the village orchard, which was filled with berries and fruits. It had a cozy corner with a comfortable nest fashioned out of twigs and leaves. The hedge also teemed with bugs and beetles, and Roller could get a mouthful any time he wanted, without moving a spike.

Then it started to rain. Normal rain wouldn’t have bothered Roller. The hedge had always protected his nest from the splashes and splotches of rain. But this time, it was as though someone was pouring buckets of water from the sky. And it was accompanied by a howling wind that pierced into Roller’s ears, even though they were well-hidden under his spikes.

For a whole night and day, Roller and his mother stayed curled up in their nest, wet and shivering. That evening, his mother took a grave decision.

“We got to move to the woods,” she said, and Roller’s heart-shaped face crumpled.

No hedges were there in the woods. Also, there were no orchards or berries. And to make things worse, the woods were full of owls.  Roller did not like the woods at all and said so to his mother.

“There is nothing wrong with the woods,” said his mother. “We must go before all the dry and warm holes are taken up.”

And so, Roller took all his belongings and followed his mother as she trundled toward the woods at the edge of the village. It was not a toy or chair or potted plant that he took. It was a tiny bundle of hay that he had collected to lay on his nest. This, he clenched between his jaws and walked across a bridge, through somebody’s lawn, and along a muddy road. It took half the night for them to reach the giant rock that marked the beginning of the woodland.

Roller felt a shiver pass through his spines. This rock was the abode of the eagle owls.

“Wait here,” his mother told him when they reached a tree that provided some shelter from the rain.

“But we are near the owls’ rock,” said Roller, after putting down the clump of hay.

“The storm has driven the owls away. Don’t worry. You’ll be safe here. I will go and find an empty hole.”

The wind whistled through the trees, making the grass sway in a lazy dance. Roller moved closer to the tree to escape the raindrops and gazed into the dark interiors of the woods. He wanted to return to his hedge. His paws absently searched for the hay that he had laid on the ground. Not a single strand remained. The hay must have chosen to travel with the wind and would now be spread all over the woods.

It had taken him two clear nights to collect the hay. Why did his mother have to bring him to the woods? He would never talk to her ever again. But he had to let her know how miserable she made him feel. He will tell her that and then never talk to her ever again.

“Would you mind moving out of my way?”

Roller jumped up and scrambled away from the tree. A tiny beak poked out of a hole in the tree trunk. It was followed by a small disgruntled face and ruffled feathers – an owlet.

The owlet hopped to the ground, spread out its scantily feathered wings, and screeched at Roller.

Poor Roller! He was bigger than the owlet, but he did not feel bigger than the screeching, swelled up owlet.

Roller began shivering violently. The owlet advanced toward him with slow steps and bulged-up eyes. Then the wings drooped, the eyes shrunk, and the owlet began to weep.

“Who am I kidding?” it said. “I don’t know the first thing about hunting hedgehogs.”

“Oh!” said Roller, the sound struggling out of his throat.

“My mother told me I had to be older to know how to handle the spikes,” it continued. “I wish she was here now.”

“Er … where … is your mother?” Roller asked.

“I don’t know.” The owlet sighed. “I didn’t see anyone after the storm.”

“I … I better get going,” said Roller.

“No, wait. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I sat in that hollow for two nights and two days, hoping someone would come looking for me.”

“But I don’t want to be eaten by you,” Roller blurted out.

“I know only to pick spiders from tree barks,” said the owlet. “My mother will teach me to hunt hedgehogs after I master the capture of mice and squirrels. But when she comes, I can ask her to prepare you for a meal. So wait here.”

Roller had no intention of obeying the tiny owlet, and he knew exactly what to do. He climbed the tree to the hollow vacated by the owlet and rolled up in it, with his spikes blocking the entrance.

“Come back,” screeched the owlet.

Roller did not move. The owlet screeched, again and again, fluttering up to the hollow. In another moment, a different and louder screech rang through the air. Roller stopped breathing. Enormous wings flapped outside the tree.

“I came to look if anyone was left behind,” said a deep voice.

“Old Bubo,” cried the owlet. “I thought you were my mother.”

“Our family found shelter in the forest,” said Old Bubo. “Come, I will take you there.”

“Is my mother also there?” asked the owlet.

There was a long pause. Then the older owl spoke. “She did not make it to the forest. The storm took her.”

“Come now, little one,” said Old Bubo. “All of us will look after you. Don’t you worry. Let us leave now before the wind gets worse. Are you hungry?”

Roller curled up more tightly.

“No,” the owlet said in a trembling voice. “Let’s go.”

There was a swish and a swoosh and then silence.

Roller remained where he was, counting his heartbeat. He would wait a long time before getting out of this safe place.

“Roller, Roller, where are you?”

Mother.

Roller uncurled, scrambled out of the hole, and fell to the ground. In another moment, he was clinging to his mother.

“I found a nice little hole,” said his mother. “You will like it. I have laid some pine straw for you to sleep. It is so soft. But let’s hurry. I heard an owl’s call.”

“You wouldn’t believe what happened, mother,” said Roller. “I have so much to tell you.”

That day, Roller did not sleep on the pine straw bed. Instead, he lay close to his mother, listening to her rhythmic breath. The hole was not so bad. It had three chambers. He would explore them in the evening. As sleep made his eyes feel heavy, he wondered whether the tiny owlet made it safely to the forest and who would now teach it to hunt hedgehogs.

(Timeline: During ‘The Hedgehog Trail’)

Illustration—Mythili

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