So much happened in 2015 that made me happy and perhaps more happened that made me sad. I got the chance to learn a lot and I hope that I did. I also got frustrated quite a bit and I think as a result of that frustration, I’m slowly finding out what I really want from my life. It was a bitter-sweet year for me, as for a lot of people, and to conclude that bitter-sweet annual journey, I’ve written this story.
Drat! A rat!
It was at midnight that the rat entered the house. Everyone was fast asleep and it was as good a chance as any for the rat to find a new home. You see, the rat’s old home, a 40 year old neglected ruin, had recently been razed and replaced by a swanky new mall with “rodent bait stations”. Needless to say, the area had become too hostile for the rat and he had to move. And so he did; he moved first to the sewers, but the sewer was constantly flooded. He went to the shanty towns but the rats drove him away. They said that it was too crowded in there. So he went to the garbage dumps, but the rats there were fierce and didn’t like competition. He tried becoming their friend, but nobody wanted to be the friend of a weak and lonely young rat with no clout. There were no gardens left in the city where he could burrow himself a nice home. The streets were the only place left for our dear rat.
He slept on the streets, constantly on the vigil for cats and cars; cats that could devour him in no time at all, and cars that could crush him under their smooth tires. Then one day as he prowled for a few tidbits of food in discarded wrappers, for this city had a people who were prone to littering, he came upon a row of apartments. They said that it was impossible for a rat to survive inside an apartment. Those humans had come up with ingenious ways to drive out a rat or to kill him, or ‘it’ as they referred to rats. This was how they convinced themselves that they could kill the rats, by denying them the traits that humans could have. For them, the rats were pests. A pest couldn’t be a he or she, ‘it’ was a nuisance and ‘he’ or ‘she’ had to take care of ‘it’.
But desperate times call for desperate measures. It was cold outside and also dangerous; while on the other hand, the apartment smelled of cakes and cheese, this being Christmas time, and quite warm and inviting. The rat couldn’t resist. He waited near the potted plant at the entrance and when the family arrived after a night of revelry and opened the door, he made a dash for it. It wasn’t hard for the rat to make it past the maze of legs and to the relative safety of the darkness under the kitchen sink.
At first the humans of the house were all surprised. They had never imagined that a rat would be able to infiltrate the electric fences, CCTVs, housekeeping and security of their gated community. They began to wonder about the promises of the builder and the amount that they paid in exchange for them. After all, if a puny rat could do it, who knows who else might come in next. This worry soon gave way to the fear of the disease that a rat infestation brings. It also triggered a chain of thought about the embarrassment that such a revelation would cause to the family and it culminated in a scream from the young daughter who was particularly vulnerable to this vicissitude of circumstances.
The father quickly took the situation into his own hands and managed to calm everyone down. The mother took hold of the daughter and they both sat down with their feet on the sofa, while the father and the son stepped forth to perform their duty of ridding the house of this pestilence. In that moment, the family were a perfect picture of what they are expected to be: damsels in distress protected by valiant gentlemen.
Father and son got a couple of brooms and made as much noise as possible, hoping to scare the rat out of hiding and if possible, out of the house itself. After half an hour of trying, they realized it wasn’t going to work and that they needed the services of a professional. The rat was relieved that he made it, but he knew that he needed to find a safer place if he wanted to live to see another day. He wondered why the family was so hostile to him even though he had caused them no harm. But then he it occurred to him that he would act in the same way with an intruder in his own home. Nevertheless, he understood that to survive, he needed to steel his heart to such abuse or better yet, avoid creating such a scene altogether. A good way of doing that would be to make himself invisible to the humans.
In the dead of the night when everyone had gone to sleep, he quietly went about looking for a good spot to hide. He thought about the store room, but that was too obvious a place for a rat. The pile of laundry was out of question because it got raked up everyday. The pile of dusty gym equipment was a good place, but he knew that it was close to new year and there was a good chance someone would come to get these soon. He made a mental note to check out that place after a month. After a while, he spotted a small hole in the side of the bed that led to a hoard of kitchen utensils that the mother had saved to give her daughter on her wedding. The daughter was young, so he knew this stuff won’t be taken out for a long time. He decided that was the spot for him.
That’s where the rat was hiding when the exterminator came looking. He looked in all the places that the rat rejected and laid down traps to catch the rat. The rat observed all the poisons and mouse traps closely. He was not going to fall for them. The exterminator left after this and everyone went back to their business. The rat had not been seen since the time he entered the house. The family were confident that there will be an end to their misery soon.
The rat had a misery of his own to end, that of hunger. The exterminator had instructed the family to leave not a morsel out and they did exactly that. The only thing left to eat outside was the poisoned food left by the exterminator. The rat was determined to stay put. He closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep on an empty stomach.
Next day, the exterminator came to check his traps. None of them had anything. He decided to give it another day and instructed the family just like before, to be careful about the food. Yet again, the rat had nothing to eat. The pangs of hunger were too strong. He tried to calm himself by drinking copious amounts of water from the basin, but it simply wouldn’t do. Famished, he takes a bite of the poisoned ball of bread. He’s careful not to eat too much, as it might kill him. He gets back to his hiding place. After a couple of hours, his hunger rages on, but now, he’s also sick because of the poison.
The exterminator smiled next morning when he saw that the rat had taken a bite off the poisoned bread. He showed that ball of nibbled bread to the family and told them that there will be a dead rat soon. He assured them that this was a special poison that drives the rats outside the house to die and that they won’t have to deal with a dead rat. They weren’t convinced but they pay him anyway. They hoped that their rat problem would now be over.
That night too, the family locked all their food away and left nothing out, not even a morsel. Luckily, the boy let slip a piece of candy that fell into the farthest corner behind the couch. He couldn’t be bothered to pick it up. This piece of candy was the rat’s dinner that night, and it would be an understatement to say that he was grateful for it. After eating the candy, the rat gets a sugar rush, but controls every urge to go berserk and gnaw on something. He cannot afford such a betrayal of his presence in the house.
For four days, the rat sniffed out every little bit of food that may have slipped out of the hands of the humans and sustained himself on it. After four days, his penance ended, for it was new year’s eve and the house was full of guests who ate and spilled merrily. That night, the rat enjoyed a feast of potato chip crumbs, strawberry shortcake, tandoori roti and the odd pizza that fell off the plate of that guy who tried to eat it with a fork and a spoon.
It has been a year now since the rat has been living in that house. He has lived quietly and apart from a few dry spells, he has lived well. The humans of the house haven’t yet noticed that he is there, he has been careful not to give them any reason to do so. The young daughter is still unmarried and so, the rat still has a home. He heard recently that she doesn’t believe in marriage, so he is confident that he won’t be disturbed any time soon. In some ways, this is a better life than before and it’s not like he doesn’t contribute to the house. He takes care of the leftovers and makes sure he doesn’t allow any other pests into the house. While he’s not guilty of being a free loader, he still has to remain underground and invisible. It’s a lonely existence and he wonders if he should start a family of his own to have some company.
But today isn’t a day for melancholy introspection, it’s the new year and the party has just ended. There’s KFC chicken on the floor and it’s finger lickin’ good!
~ end ~