Bunny to Lion
By Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar
It was March, almost spring now. Winter had been long, cold and hard for the Parker family. Mr. Parker had been home, sick, since the beginning of last October. He coughed incessantly and his sputum changed from pale cream to a putrid yellow, while the family’s financial condition went from green to yellow to a stark red. He was getting a highly reduced paycheck and all the family’s savings had been sponged up by the medical and heating bills.
Mrs. Parker, who did not work outside of the house before, had been working two jobs to support the family since November: one as a stocker in a supermarket, another as a dish washer in a late-night diner. Her back ached from the lifting and bending at the supermarket and her hands were chafed from the harsh dish detergents at the diner.
She could not buy any gifts for her two sons that Christmas. She put up the tree with the lights like every year, but the floor was bare underneath. She tried to stay strong but her faith was slowly being eroded. She stopped going to the church, feeling forsaken.
Their elder son, Nate, turned 14 last December. His voice had just changed and facial hair had just started to sprout. He was a good child, but poverty was playing havoc with his adolescent needs and hormones. He sulked and lost temper when Mrs. Parker asked him to help with housework and errands or with his younger brother’s homework. He said all his friends hung around in the adjacent coffee shop after school. After getting back home, they played video games or chatted on their phones late into the night. He had no money for the lattes or cappuccinos, his video games were outdated, and his phone was now on a limited plan− so he was rapidly losing friends.
Spring break was upon them. Mrs. Parker needed money to enroll Nate in the spring tennis session. That was one activity that calmed Nate and made him happy.
“Nate,” Mrs. Parker said one evening while stirring the potato stew, “I saw an advertisement outside my supermarket for an Easter bunny. Can you apply there for the spring break?”
“Me? Bunny?” Nate looked up from his math homework, surprised. “The cute costume. No, thanks, Mom.”
Mrs. Parker explained her need for some extra bucks, but Nate said he’d forego tennis but never don a bunny costume. A lion’s costume, he’d consider.
Mrs. Parker did not press further, but next day, Nate visited her supermarket and asked to fill out the application for the Easter bunny’s job. He said he’d changed his mind for the love of tennis. And the costume would have a mask, so no one would know it’s him.
Nate applied for the job and got it after a small interview the next day. Mrs. Parker smiled but was broken inside. She could not afford a movie or a bowling trip and now Nate wouldn’t even be able to sleep in during spring break. She’d started doubting the presence of God.
Next Monday, Nate went to the supermarket with Mrs. Parker. The clerk gave him a furry, pink-and-white bunny costume, and an overhead mask with long, white ears. Nate’s face turned a ruddy red at the sight of pink. He hated that color. He hesitated, held on to the costume for a minute, then slipped it on, and covered his face with the mask quickly.
Soon, Nate stood outside, rigid and unhappy, holding out a bucket of candy for kids. The kids were excited and wanted pictures with him. Their happy, innocent faces moved something in him. The costume was warm enough, too.
Next day, he started waving to kids, lifting them up, even lifting his mask, and making funny faces for pictures. The kids squealed happily around him, pulling his long ears or his stubby tail.
Nate and his mother shared a large sandwich and soda for lunch every day at the tiny café inside the supermarket. Four days passed. Nate did not complain after the first day.
On the fifth day, at lunch, a bearded, middle-aged man in a black coat approached them.
“Hello, I am Jim. I’ve been watching you from the library across the street,” he said to Nate. He explained that he was a writer and play director, planning to roll out a new kids’ play, based on the movie Madagascar, in summer. The play would be performed in theaters in and around their town.
“Would you like to work with me over summer?” Jim asked Nate. “As Alex, the lion.”
Nate looked at Mrs. Parker. Happiness shone in his eyes. He used to love the movie, Madagascar.
Mrs. Parker made a cross over her chest and shoulders and said a silent prayer. “Why, yes!” she said. “Nate loves drama and the lion’s costume was his favorite growing up.”
Jim discussed the hourly rate and perks he would offer Nate, shook their hands, and exchanged telephone numbers. It was more money than Mrs. Parker could’ve expected.
As they walked to the big automatic doors, a little boy, holding his mother’s hand, squealed, “Hey, Bunny!”
“Soon a lion,” Jim shouted back.
That night, Mrs. Parker knelt down before bed.
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India. She now lives in the United States. She is a Pushcart nominee for 2017 and her work has been published in The Ellipsis zine, The FormerCactus, The Same, Star82 Review, The Sidereal, and elsewhere. She blogs at Puny Fingers and can be reached at twitter @PunyFingers.