The Otter

 

Translation by Adrian Krajewski

Polish version

Fern leaves furled above my head blocking nearly all the light. Just very few sunny trails managed to shine through the foliage, creating golden spots on the forest bed. I arrived at the lake. The water was calm, and there was an otter laying on a mossy rock. She played with a pebble by throwing it between her paws. She didn’t look at it at all, yet always caught it perfectly. As soon as she noticed me, she abandoned her toy, sat on the rock and looked at me suspiciously. 

– It is a very pretty lake. – I broke the uncomfortable silence.

– Oh yeah, it isn’t bad. – The otter said staring at me.

She slowly approached me while keeping her eyes fixed on me. When the otter spoke, her snow-white and razor-sharp teeth flashed. It made me nervous. I gulped loudly. I should have just said hello and leave. But now it was too late. The otter sniffed at me.

– Where are you from? – She asked.

– From Taro. – I replied.

– You are not here to spy around, are you?

– What do you mean? – I was petrified with her question.

– We’ve had quite a lot of ‚visitors’ lately. – She explained. – They come here dressed like ramblers, with waterproofs, backpacks, tents, water bottles and all that. They sleep in groves and meadows. They all say how they love nature and are only walking by. But we noticed that they secretly survey the land and make precise maps. It cannot mean anything good for us. Maybe they want to cut the forest and build a city, just like they did in a neighbouring county? Are you one of them?

– I have neither a tent nor a backpack. – I stumbled stupidly, instead of just saying: no.  

– Indeed, indeed. – The otter said as if she knew better. She kept on inspecting me and pressed her wet and warm nose against my trousers.

– I’m here to pick mushrooms. – I added and showed her my basket.

– Right. – She replied but didn’t seem to believe me. – Well, have a good picking then. – Said the otter and she finally let me go. The investigation was over, but I could still feel her eyes on me as I was leaving.

I sighed with relief as I entered the forest. I looked around. It was beautiful, rich and varied. The air smelled with conifer needles, resin and mushrooms. Some tree trunks were so massive that four people wouldn’t be able to embrace them. There was the white bark of birch here, a tall pine standing straight there. Above them all, majestic oaks and beeches spread their crowns. Despite my best efforts to move quietly, squirrels and birds fled and frogs leapt from under my feet as I was walking through the forest. I found a snail sitting on a large boletus cap and I leaned down to look at it. The snail was covered with morning dew and chewed on the mushroom slowly. It looked as if it had the whole eternity only for that. I felt enchanted by the slowness of its moves and jealous of its freedom. I don’t know how much time I spent looking at it, but eventually, I had to move on. I took the last, long, conscious breath, filling my lungs with fresh air and looked around before starting the work.

It seemed I was alone. With a heavy heart I checked the coordinates and made sure I was in the right spot. I was to measure the denivelation of the terrain and find out if it was suitable for development. There was a town to be erected here if the ground wasn’t too damp. All the trees would be cut down. I took out my laser measure and tripod. I put the gear together, and when I pointed the red dot at a nearby tree, I heard a grunt behind me. I turned around. Leaned against a tree with her paws crossed, there stood the otter I had spoken with earlier.

– How full is your basket? – She asked poker-faced, piercing me through with her eyes. And without giving me any time to respond she said: – I have an offer for you. You will get a piece of land by the lake here. In return, you’ll help me and a few of my friends to get to Taro. We have some business to do there.

I stood there motionless, analysing the situation, trying not to let my thoughts out. I was not the city person. Currently, due to the lack of better options, I worked in a low-salary, government position. I couldn’t afford to save up, so buying a plot of land like this one was out of the question. I could build there a small wooden house, quitting the job. There’s plenty of food in the forest, I would fish and wouldn’t worry about a thing ever again.

– OK. I agree. – I said and thus become a double agent.

We discussed the whole idea and signed the contract right away.

The otters planned to counterattack and stop the human invasion on their land. They were tired of guarding the forest against greedy and nosy people. They have been preparing for war for a long time. Now they had the plan ready and only needed liaison behind the lines. As it turned out later, I was one of the first humans whom they made contact with.

My role was to smuggle a few otters into the city. I received such a generous offer because my responsibility was to move and hide the leaders of the resistance. Not wasting any time they entered my mushroom basket. I was to cover it with a cloth and take them to the city.

I got through control points without problems. Every time I showed my government ID, the guards urged me on. At home, as I had no other fish, I treated the otters to canned herring in tomato sauce. And they loved it! Then I poured water in the bathtub, so they would have somewhere to swim. They claimed they thought best while swimming. It meant I couldn’t bathe for a week. That’s how long the whole operation was supposed to take. My flat was their headquarters, which they were leaving for various meetings in the city. They even arranged one in my living room. There must have been fifty of them. I bought plenty of their new favourite delicacy, herring in tomato sauce and later on, in order not to look suspicious, I had to take empty fish cans out to the bins in a few runs.

Finally, on 14th June the otters attacked. Hundreds of them bit through all possible cables, wires, pipes, car tyres and anything they could destroy. Their actions paralysed the whole city. When a cable or pipe got patched up, they immediately gnawed through it in ten other places. The sewage and transport systems stopped working. Stores became empty because no deliveries could reach them. Waste piled up everywhere. Initially, people tried to fight, but the war was uneven. The otters were well organised, invisible and smart, so after a few weeks of fruitless fighting against the veiled and pertinacious enemy, people started to abandon the city. The otters triumphed. They let nature to claim the city back. Lawns turned into meadows and parks became forests. Tiny seedlings got into smallest cracks of concrete walls and split them with their roots. Forest animals and birds moved in. Everything was getting back to normal.

As promised, I was given my plot of land by the lake. Grateful otters helped me build a wooden hut in which I lead a quiet and happy life. I grew vegetables in the garden, swam in the lake and took long hikes in the woods. After breakfast, I often would go to the mossy rock by the lake shore to find the same otter I met on my first day here. I would sit next to her, cross-legged, as she threw a pebble between her paws and we would discuss all possible matters until noon. Once every while I organised a bonfire and invited all otters from the neighbourhood. I served local fish in tomato sauce, which I’ve learned to make. The dish was always a hit and made me well-known in the neighbourhood.

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