This is the fourth in a series of autobiographical short stories by author Rita Antoinette Borg, collectively titled A Funny Thing Happened to Me….
A funny thing happened to me when I walked my dog around the block yesterday. I saw a shy, timid rat sunbathing on the sidewalk. She was not afraid of my dog, nor was she afraid of me. This chance meeting ignited a need to write about two of many encounters with these mammalian species we humans love to hate.
Psychology states that whatever you hate in something or someone else reflects what you hate about yourself.
Rats are very much like humans. Rats have been invaluable to the exploration of cardiovascular medicine, neural regeneration, wound healing, diabetes, transplantation, behavioural studies, and space motion-sickness research. They are widely used to test drug efficacy and safety to save human lives. Ironically, we kill millions of them each year. We hate rats.
I love animals; all kinds. I would let a pet rat roam on my back, but not so much a wild one that might carry disease. No sane person would. However, like with alien beings from outer space, a rat encounter can be a very inspiring experience.
One of the sweetest meetings I have had with these rodents is still fresh in my mind. While crossing a grassy pathway near my house in Mosta, an albino rat with pink eyes, white fur, and pink ears jumped out in front of me from the rocky walls. He seemed to have popped out from a fairy-tale. We gazed at each other for about 10 minutes. We had a moment. He saw me. He had no fear of me. I was only two feet away from his face.
I was, however, thinking he could easily bite if he was so inclined. I could only guess what he was thinking, but I thought what a hard life this rat must have. He’s a misfit. I knew that feeling very well. I understood. I named him Rutherford, and before I left, I promised him he would become a character in one of my stories. Would he forever remember me? I know I would always recollect him.
Rats are very much like humans
Another meeting with a new member of this ‘pest’ animal was during work at the old Luqa airport. I had an arrival from the East Midlands, UK. As an airport ground hostess, one of my duties was to greet passengers entering the sliding glass doors of the arrival lounge. At first, nothing unusual happened as I welcomed the 250 passengers of a British Tri-Star.
Stopping at the gate, I guided them to passport control. As usual, I greeted them one by one with the words, “Welcome to Malta”, smiling with all the energy I could muster. Then, suddenly, in the corner of my eye, behind the long line of people… at the very end... trailing behind everyone, as if he had joined the queue - I saw him!
A fat, black rat, happily hopping and skipping along. He was following the line of holidaymakers. I panicked. What could I do? I pondered. I paused. I deliberated. There was only one thing to do for the safety of all. I rushed the passengers into the arrival lounge. I did it in the politest way I could muster from within myself. I calmly told them, “Come in from the heat. The Maltese sun is relentless.”
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And so, human beings being human, they all rushed indoors. As they rushed in to fan out towards passport control, I closed the sliding door. Then, ponderingly, I gazed at this fat rat outside the glass door. I felt I had thwarted his plans to enter, or, who knows, perhaps he came from the East Midlands on the plane. All I know is that when he got to the wide drainpipe clasped on the wall near the sliding door, he hopped-skipped and jumped inside and climbed up. I imagined him arriving home, after a long day of food foraging, and crying out to his family, “Hey! a funny thing happened to me today!”
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