The room was reeking when he returned from the office, and the moment he unlatched the front door, the smell reached to him like a gust of wind. He retched, and though his ribs ached nothing came out from inside. He had never vomited in his life, not even when he was an unweaned child. His mother used to tell him that he had a strong stomach, and whenever she told this to him or to anyone, she would, the very next moment, to prevent her son from an evil eye that her words might attract to him, turn to one of her sides lest she spat at the interlocutor and do a ‘thoo-thoo-thoo’ in the air. He never understood why she did that, but then there are many things that mothers do, all the time, that makes no sense to anyone else.
The smell had filled up the ill-ventilated room like remorse fills up an aged man from within – suddenly and leaving room for nothing else, making it hard to believe that he had last stepped out of the house only this morning. And then as if through an epiphany his face lit up in glee. And he hoped that the smell was emanating out of the rat, leaving him alone in peace, lying dead somewhere.
The rat had pestered him for what now seemed always. He was convinced that there was just one rat. And it would never get out of his small house. A house that had almost nothing to offer to anyone for he never hoarded any food. He ate little, and whatever he ate was either at his workplace or by the small kiosk that stood at the end of his colony and offered cheap food. Still, the rat was persistent – like someone on the better side of the one-sided love, happy with whatever was being offered while being oblivious to the intentions. It’d scamper beneath the table he worked on, sometimes nibbling at his toe and at others just crossing his toe like a meager hurdle in the path. It had always been a nuisance in his otherwise untroubled life. And once when he was asleep, it was nibbling at his eyebrows or he was dreaming of that but when he had woken up the rat was standing on its two feet and smirking at his face, right in front of his eyes. He had decided to kill it that night, to get done with it once and for all. It was late and it had seemed as if the whole world save for the two of them had gone to sleep. He chased it with all he had in him, threw a few utensils at it, but the rat was fast, and he had to give up on throwing things at the bloody rat because the landowner had woken up and inquired about what was going on.
He even bought the orange flavored cream biscuits – which the onerous chases after the rat had taught him that the rat happened to like the most. He tried to ensnare it with its favorite biscuits, but it ate the biscuits he used to lure it with and then, thanks to the figure the rat had maintained due to the lack of food at his place, it managed to escape from between the parallel iron rods of the cage. And then growing tired of it all, and he went to sleep again. He often thought if there was ever a man who lost to a rat more than him. And so now standing at the gate and thinking about all these things that happened between him and the rat he wanted nothing more than the rat to be dead.
Placing a handkerchief before his mouth and nose, he rushed towards the window – the only source of ventilation in the room – and opened it. Two spiders crept in opposite directions, like lovers at the sight of relatives. He headed out and stood in the balcony waiting for the fresh air to take its course in the room and render it at least bearable. He took a cigarette out and scanned his pocket for the lighter, and not finding it he stuffed the cigarette back into his pocket. In hindsight, it was the first time he had stood on the balcony without a cigarette in his hand in the two years he had lived in that house. He stood like that for some time but the longing for it soon returned. And so he rung the doorbell of the opposite house and asked for a lighter. The occupant of this house and he had a bond that is formed between two people the moment they share a fag. Such bonds are usually born out of an unquenchable desire for a drag and are further strengthened by the recurrences of the same – perhaps the strongest of all the bonds formed on the precarious state of being desperate. He took a few drags from the cigarette and having burnt it completely bent over the parapet and scanned to his left and right to ensure that he was not being observed by anyone, and having convinced that no one was around to watch him he threw the cigarette’s butt into the puddle of water in front of the house – to hell with the discipline and cleanliness.
And when minutes later he entered the house again, he found the rat smirking at him and then it scurried beneath the bed. He stood akimbo for a while, perplexed about the foul smell that was still persistent.
He returned to the balcony again but this time more out of an indignation – like someone who had been cheated on – and stood there not thinking about the rat or the reek for a while. And when the smell had diminished he entered the house again and searched for its source, only to find a dead rat by the side of his table. He was wrong in his calculation about the number of rats. And when he looked at the dead rat it looked so different from the rat he had known to be the only other occupant of the house. The body of a restless animal now contorted, its eyes shut permanently, the mouth that used to nibble anything it encountered was now mum – like a meditating saint tired of the world and its pretense. Placing its lean body on a dustpan he brought it out of the house and scanned the surroundings from the balcony, and again there was no one overlooking his deeds. But this time he just couldn’t muster the courage to throw the now meek animal from a height. He carried it carefully all the way down and placed it by the side of the road.
That night, when he had retired to his bedding, he mused about what would have happened if the rat that had indeed died was the same rat that he had wished it to be and there would no longer have been any more rats left in that house. He would have been rendered alone, no one waiting for him, no one to disturb him while he tried focusing on things. And while thinking about these things he felt a kinship with an impatient animal, convincing him of a sense of companionship that he had always failed to establish with any other human. He kept on thinking about how wrong he was when he had wished the rat to be dead. Would he be able to tolerate the silence that would have then ensued?
And then thinking about the dead rat and ‘his’ rat that was still alive, a thought struck him. He got up from the bedding and made his way to the table where his backpack was. He took the orange flavored biscuits out of the bag and placed a few biscuits on the ground by the side of his table.
The image, which I am assured is the best rat you’d see today, has been downloaded from google.