Just Like Humans
Oshodi Chronicles 16
Two occasions I have read about rats and cringed: Albert Camus’ The Plague and Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Another Day of Life — Although, for the fact, Kapuscinski did not actually talk about rats, he only talked about cats and dogs, but in a way you, as a keen-eyed reader, would know the rats, too, were there.
It must have been a grave oversight to have so animatedly talked about the first two animals without a mention of the latter. But this oversight, in all its graveness, I suppose, is one that can expressly be forgiven. One can argue that the author had passed the rats like a novelist would pass the shadows of his protagonist, writing hundreds of pages about a character without ever talking about the elusiveness of his shadows, thereby leaving it in the mind of the readers to know it’d been there all along. In the lives of humans, the rats have always been there, even when we don’t talk about them, even when we don’t acknowledge their roles in the chain of our existence.
Or, perhaps, the omission was deliberate: In his story, Kapuscinski narrated a society on the verge of death; the human population were running to the shores, a war behind them; the cats were dying and swelling to a burst from what must have been a pestilence peculiar to them; the dogs, having been abandoned by their rich owners, were running blindly into the wild, chasing the wind in the paths of their distant relatives. But, again, you ask “What happened to the rats?”
They, too, must have died of course. Certainly before the cats — in fact, their deaths most likely instructed those of the cats. It was just unfortunate Kapuscinski didn’t write about this in his prodigious prose, which left me with a tinge of disappointment. But I think I can fix things my own way, heal myself of the shortcoming I had felt, the hiatus left in my thoughts on this matter.
I started feeling I can do something when, after two days, the Lawma hadn’t come to my area to evacuate the waste we had piled up at the front of the house for their arrival. On the third day, as I arrived from work, I saw the dirt leaving their neatly piled up state and spreading out in litters. “The rats!” I had said under my breath. “If these Lawma people won’t come in another two, three days, we would witness these decay spread back into our rooms.”
True, after two, three days and the Lawma people were not still in sight, the decay did spread, spread like a hurricane just swept through the land. What do we do? We couldn’t kill all the rats, could we? It was such a dumb idea to think we should give it a try. We couldn’t revisit our filth and repackage them either; such an unhealthy thing to do. So maybe we should kill the damn rats.
Some of us had thought repackaging would only mean having the dirt spread again after a few days if the Lawma were still sitting back in their indolence. So not to end up with the situation of ‘somebody tun ile se; somebody da ile ru’ between humans and rats, we decided the rats must be eliminated. But who kills rats around here anyways? — all of these rats!
I’ll tell you how rats die out here: If not on very few occasions where they have the misfortune of getting involved in an accident claiming their lives, rats here die of old age. Yes. They grow old, hairs gone from Androgenic Alopecia, tails long and thick like ropes used in docking boats, fangs like those of carnivores; good old age, before their peaceful last breaths. Just like humans. And their death rite is to be thrown to the streets, where passing vehicles smear their plump bodies to the asphalt or the bare ground as the case may be. No grace of swelling, bursting and causing a public nuisance with the stench. End of a life well lived from a baby cradled in dark crevices between walls of human abodes; to stealing away as a child and sniffing into various bowels of kitchen utensils; to the rough and noisy plays with mates in the ceilings of living rooms as an adolescent; to roaming the fields, the filths, mating and reproducing without caution as an adult; to the courage of crossing paths with humans without the fear of heights, of their being human — this, by the way, is equivalent to graduating from high school — ; to being a breadwinner for their immediate families; to being grandparents; and now to a peaceful death and a laying on the street, where, having parted with their souls, they shed themselves off blood, water, fat, bones, and become one with nature again, grounded to dust and becoming nothing.
That‘s how rats die out here; just like humans.