The Ragout rabbit
by Luu Quang Minh
At the age of nearly seventy, Grannie lived with her son and his wife and her grandson. Her son was a general practitioner, who worked all day at a busy hospital. His wife worked for a municipal consulting centre until late in the evening. Their son was at school from dawn to dusk. After returning home, he took a shower, had dinner then retired to his own room. "Would you mind not disturbing me while I'm reviewing my lessons, Grannie?" he asked his old grandmother. But whenever he left the door open and she passed by his study she only ever heard him shouting, "Bang bang! Bang bang!" as his hands scrambled over the keys of a video game.
So Grannie was alone most of the time: from morning to afternoon, from afternoon to evening, and sometimes until late at night. Her main chore was to prepare meals for the whole family. Early in the morning, she went to market to buy meat, fish, fruit and bundles of vegetables for dinner. Sometimes after she spent all day cooking and dinner was on the table, the phone would ring and her daughter-in-law's voice would be on the other end saying in a consolatory voice, "Mum, you have dinner with the kid. Don't bother waiting for us – we're going to eat out."
In free moments, she often watched TV or read the newspaper, but owing to her poor eyesight, she could only watch soap operas for a few minutes and mostly scanned the news bulletins.
Frequently, she just sat in the afternoon sun light watching the golden sun beams filter through the bars of the gigantic gate, a grey strand of hair tousled by the breeze.
As usual, she went to the market in the morning. At this bustling place, she walked through the crowd amid the stench of fish and the sweat of buyers and sellers. Back bending painfully, she stepped slowly forwards with one hand holding the basket full of vegetables, fruit and food, while the other tightly clutched the bundle of banknotes provided by her daughter-in-law in her blouse pocket.
"Ma'am, do me a favour, please," a childish voice called at her side. She turned back. There was a little boy sitting on the corner. His eyes were a bit wet and had a gloomy look. Walking over to him, she felt a special feeling surge in her heart.
"What's the matter with you?" she asked.
"Would you mind buying this little animal, ma'am?"
In front of him lay a living black rabbit the size of a closed fist. It looked very thin and its fur was a mess.
"Who would want to buy this poor little thing?" she asked herself, feeling the animal's bones through its silk fur.
"Why don't you keep it?"
"Take pity on me by buying it, ma'am," he insisted.
At once, she took some banknotes out of her pocket and gave them to him.
"OK, I will," she said.
The first thing she did when she reached home was to let the poor creature eat a carrot.
"Poor you!" she exclaimed when she saw it relishing the vegetable. All of a sudden, she was taken by aback in fear that she might be reproached by the young couple and their kid. She thought about the bad things that might soon be headed her way.
"Anyhow, I'll let her stay here with me. It won't cost me much, I think," she told herself.
She went to the kitchen to prepare dinner for the whole clan. "OK! May God bless you!" she called out.
The rabbit wiggled its little nose and ate the carrot, down to the last piece.
The rabbit was not good-looking. From afar it looked more like a big rat than a real rabbit. Usually, rabbits have white hair with two long ears, but this one was quite different, with black hair and short ears. Her daughter-in-law would have beaten it to death when she first saw it, had Grannie not intervened in time. However, the girl hated it with venom.
"Mum, you're going to make a dish of rabbit ragout with it, aren't you?" her daughter-in-law asked sarcastically.
"Killing her for meat? No, never! Anyhow, she's too skinny to be worthy of a plate of food."
"How crazy you are!" the girl said.
"Don't worry! I'll care for her properly," replied the old lady. She found a cardboard box and kept the animal inside, placing it near the hen coop.
Every morning, whenever she went to market, she would bring back a carrot, a cabbage or some other kind of vegetables for her bunny.
"Ragout, eat your full and you'll grow up very fast," she said to the poor animal. Ever since her daughter-in-law's outburst the little creature had borne the name of the well-known dish of stew.
Evening after evening, she sat alone on the veranda to enjoy fresh air beside Ragout the Rabbit, who would eat carrots, nestled around her feet. Again and again, she caressed its smooth hair, which was by no means as smelly as that of the dog or cat. Moreover, what made her like Ragout the Rabbit was that it did not cry. On the other hand, it could only stare at things around it, run here and there and gnaw on carrots or grass.
"My dear Ragout, do you take pity on me?" she asked. Perhaps, she loved the rabbit because she had always wished to embrace her grandson, rub his head and tell him lots of stories. For a long time she had not talked to him or listened to his soft voice. "My dear grandson, eat more to grow up quickly," she whispered to the rabbit.
The sun's dappled rays danced on the four cold walls. Recently, her grandson had been talking back incessantly; he did not need her supporting hands for there were lots of attractive games waiting for him outside the gates. In the breeze, Ragout the Rabbit lay silently, head resting on her legs. Her eyes stung with tears.
Although the boy who sold her the rabbit was nowhere to be seen, she wished to meet him again. Now her rabbit had grown stout. On the way home her steps became faster and faster, for she was in a hurry to reach home early. However, her back seemed more bent with weariness.
Ragout the Rabbit grew up very rapidly, beyond her expectations. "Dear Ragout, dear Ragout, wait for me," she called out from afar and would hop over to her immediately. She had always thought rabbits were not as clever as dogs or cats, but now she saw things were not that simple. "Actually, you're very intelligent, aren't you?" she said to it in a soft voice.
She fed Ragout an entire cabbage, leaf after leaf, as she had fed her grandson spoonful after spoonful of porridge, coaxing him to eat when he was younger. "Eat up the porridge, my dear," she had urged him. Now Ragout the Rabbit enjoyed its food very quickly and, as a result, she had to tear up cabbage leaves incessantly.
"Ragout, you're getting fatter and fatter with every passing day," she observed.
Suddenly, she stopped short as she saw a dense steam rise from the pot boiling on the stove. Lifting the Ragout Rabbit up, she cuddled it on her lap.
In the meantime, her daughter-in-law paced up and down the room, in agitation.
"Mum, let's kill it for meat," she told her mother sulkily. Silence was Grannie's only reply.
Ragout the Rabbit was so fat that the cardboard box became too small for it.
By now, her grandson had returned home from school. As usual, he went upstairs to his own room. She had intended to call him, but on second thought, she kept silent. She had an impression that he was both near and distant from her.
She sat outside in the sun, enjoying the fresh air. "My dear Ragout, are you aware of sadness?" she asked.
Several yellow leaves drifted down and lay scattered on the courtyard. Ragout the Rabbit rushed out and sniffed at them. It was always hopping here and there, as if it was been looking for something to eat. Everything around it seemed strange. She just sat there lost in thought.
An early drizzle pelted them with tiny drops. She drove Ragout the Rabbit inside so it wouldn't get soaked. "My dear grandson, now let me lull you to sleep," she whispered. She held Ragout the Rabbit to her chest, nuzzling its fur. A few minutes later, it jumped out of her lap and began curiously sniffing nearby furniture. She smiled, thinking about her grandson. He used to run against the furniture in the living room and tumble down. He cried and cried. She had to rub his injuries with ointment until he stopped shrieking.
One day, she heard her daughter-in-law answering a call from a client at home. "The matter is not something to worry about too much. Sometimes, only a sincere piece of advice or a minor consideration is enough, in my experience," she said into the phone. She was dumbfounded, thinking of her daughter-in-law phoning, "Go ahead and eat without us, Mum."
She glanced down at her Ragout Rabbit, squatting on the floor and gnawing cabbage leaves with great appetite. "Eat a lot more, my dear Ragout," she whispered by the side of the tray full of cold food.
Some days later Ragout the Rabbit fell ill. It lay motionless on the ground. Grannie put cabbage leaves in front of it, but it refused to eat. All of a sudden, she remembered the time her grandson had a fever for several days on end. She just sat beside him in bed with an ice-bag on his forehead without a wink all night. "Sleep well and you'll soon get better, my dear grandson," she had told him.
Ragout the Rabbit had given up eating anything for several days. She became greatly worried. She rang up her son, a doctor, for help.
"My hands are full right now, Mum. Don't worry too much! Anyhow, it's only a rabbit," he said coldly from the other end.
"Merely a rabbit? No, far from it," she said to herself.
She buried her Ragout at the foot the big tree in the garden.
"You should have taken my advice that day and we'd of been able to kill it for meat," said her daughter-in-law in reproach. She just remained silent.
"My dear Ragout, should you miss me, turn yourself into the wind to cool me on hot sunny days," she prayed.
Evening after evening, she sat waiting for a breeze. Soon a mild and refreshing breeze caressed her cheek. Meanwhile, dead leaves dropped onto the verandah. She picked them up, one after another.
"So, you've come back to me, have you?" she whispered to the breeze.
After that day she lived on a diet, free from meat. She became a strict vegetarian.
Translated by Van Minh
Source: My link
Lưu Quang Minh is a young writer from Vietnam. He was born on May 18, 1988. His first story was written when he was 18.
[Vietnam] Short Story: The Ragout rabbit - by Luu Quang Minh
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