Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Rat and I




Mom and her rescue dogs, Barbados, 1962

Another memory, this one from the West Indies, back in the early sixties. Mom and I lived in an apartment in Bridgetown, Barbados, one that was near the race track. Who knows what it’s like now? In those days, this was a quiet pleasant residential area. We shared the house with the owners, a pair of elderly British ladies who lived beneath us on the first floor. All sorts of stories could be told about events that took place in this house, but one of the third-world variety recently came back to me.

Our kitchen was down a flight of stairs, an add-on affair at the back of the house. Outside the door, as was common, was a step over a gutter. Gutters ran along the sides of the streets everywhere and were to be avoided. When someone drained gray water, from a sink or whatever, it went down the gutter, right out in the open. You saw whether someone had washed their dishes, or their hair, or whatever and bits and pieces traveled along the gutter as well—bits of food etc. It was a common sight—and smell--here, but of a kind that I, as a middle class American kid, was not accustomed to.   There were chickens—they belonged to someone who lived along the street—wandering wherever they wished, looking for bugs and odds and ends, like the bits of garbage that ended in the dish water.
Island Inn, Barbados, 1959
Other critters found food there as well. Rats were common, especially outside at night, but I didn’t expect to see them inside the kitchen, which was where I met this one. I’m going to assign a sex and call it he, though I don’t know. He was quite tall and large, and seemed especially so because he was standing on his hind-legs, getting ready to leap up onto the table just as I came down the stairs.

The rat spun around and stared at me. I stood on the last step and stared back.  It was one of those frozen moments, a perfect picture left behind. He was rather pretty, actually, athletic, sinewy, and glossy brown. His beady eyes were bright, and not particularly anxious.  He’d apparently come in through a broken screen on the kitchen door; his home was probably beneath the gutter step just outside. We were neighbors, it seemed, although uneasy ones. Who knew how many times he'd come in that way? Fortunately, we kept all our dry goods and things like bread shut away in a cupboard.
I could almost hear him thinking about what to do next; I certainly was. When I reached around the corner to grab a broom—the only weapon within reach—he shot away through the ragged screen and vanished beneath the step.


~~Juliet Waldron 
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