(A longer post – so many things happening)
Some nights we hear noises in the ceiling, loud scrambling noises, like squirrels having a fight to the squeaking death. Perhaps it isn’t squirrels but something worse…
In the morning I found a rat sulking in my blue wire trap. Hooray! Caught the bugger. But now, what to do? Already dressed for the gym, now I had a new mission: to carry the rat cage down to the stream by the railroad tracks. I used a broom handle and a hook to pick it up so as not to get fingers close to the jumping animal. We marched down the steep driveway.
Crossing the road I passed a parked truck with the driver inside. People stare at foreigners in this rural neighborhood but he must have done a double take to see this one carrying a rat in a cage. I didn’t know what to do: no way was I going to fiddle with the latch with that big animal jolting around. I summoned my hatred for this beast and decided to just throw the whole thing into the stream and let him drown. As I made the toss, the truck horn blared and startled me, and the cage flew too far and landed on the far bank next to the stream.
The truck driver was wiping his windows and must have hit his horn by accident. He responded to my glare with “sorry, sorry” and went on wiping. I knew I could not leave the animal sitting in that cage to slowly die, so I took a breath and plunged into the grass, looking for snakes, and waded across the disgusting water of the polluted stream. Luckily I had the broom in hand so I was able to poke at the cage and push it down to the water. The animal’s intense will to live gave it super strength, and it forced itself out through an impossible gap in the door and disappeared in a flash. Whew, I was inwardly glad for the rat. I hooked the empty cage, recrossed the stream, and climbed the hill back home. That’s when I noticed that my bare legs were being attacked by several leeches.
Karen meanwhile was being wrapped in her beautiful complicated straight jacket of a sari by our upstairs neighbor Maheshi who did a fantastic job and finished off with a kiss on Karen’s cheek. It was Karen’s first day of a new course so she went dressed in traditional style, though she wouldn’t be able to reach high up to write on the board.
As Karen’s support person I undertook a mission to deliver her passport to the bank in Colombo that needed to verify her new residence permit directly. This meant a three hour train trip on the afternoon express, which makes very few stops. I actually could nap despite the bumpy ride. Arriving after banking hours, I took a bunk in my favorite capsule hotel, then looked forward to dinner with Francis, our new French friend in the big city. I almost suggested the Cricket Cafe but thought it better to let the Frenchman pick a restaurant.
In a surprise, our French friend in Kandy, Mickaël, had just arrived in town with a colleague from Alliance Française, Ann, so the French trio wrote back: let’s meet half way between us. How about the Cricket Cafe? Ha, parfait. I asked them to speak French amongst themselves so I could listen and try to understand. We had dinner and beers and when we parted ways at eleven a thundering downpour commenced. Somehow I managed to flag a tuk tuk with all rain guards down and dashed across the sloppy pavement to climb in. The dark, quiet city streets were flooding as we raced back to my hostel in the Fort district.
The next morning I climbed out of my capsule to have the simple breakfast served in the common area. I overheard a woman tell another woman of being bitten by a street dog and the shots she’s having. She said the dog just came up stealthily from behind. With new caution I went out into the city to accomplish Karen’s banking mission and then spend several hours as a tourist. I passed a court where teams of leg amputees in wheel chairs played doubles tennis. I joined dozens of uniformed school kids touring the artifacts on display in the National Museum. I passed the young, smooching couples, some hiding under umbrellas, in Viharamahadevi Park, where a statue of Buddha watches the doings of the Municipal Council across the street. I paid to enter Gangaramaya Temple, which looks more like a knickknack shop, with organized cases of various used items apparently donated by devotees.
After a fancy lunch at a Thai restaurant at the high class Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel, where a napkin is placed on your lap, and food is dished onto your plate for you, I watched a crow pilfer scraps from an abandoned table outside, and then made my way to the railway station to catch the 15:35 express back to Kandy.
Upon arrival yet another torrential downpour began, and the tuk tuk driver (with rain covers on) took me up an unusual route high above what he said was the flooded road down at lakeside. Our detour was also flooding and in fact we saw a car that, having braved a “puddle”, had one front wheel deeply stuck into a sink hole. A man was hopelessly trying to lift the front bumper.
Karen was nestled into a corner table at Slightly Chilled with three co-workers and I joined the ladies. One was a new teacher named Irena, from Serbia. It was an evening of recollecting the jobs they’d had in different countries and how they knew a lot of the same people, this English teachers circle being surprisingly tight.
The next day was full moon and therefore a Poya day with most Buddhists taking the day off. Karen, of course, was working. Our landlady Malar came by and together we cooked some clay pot dishes, eggplant and green beans, while her husband directed some young fellows in fixing our leaky roof and stoppering up the hole the rat was gnawing in the corner of the ceiling. But with sunset came another heavy downpour and the roof was quickly leaking even worse, and closer to my computer desk. Sigh.
There were signs of yet another rat on premesis so I set the trap again, using a bit of my precious Tillamook cheddar. In the morning the trap was sprung, but empty, and the cheese was gone. The rat had pulled back a weak bar of the cage and squeezed out. There was fresh dirt on the floor under the rat hole: the workers had failed at that job, too. I sat out on the sunny patio and mended my rat trap with stiff wire. At noon there was more rain and more leaking. It went hand in hand with trouble Karen is having at her flat in Edinburgh where water is coming in to her flat: there the problem is not poor workmanship but the hurdles of bureaucracy and agencies and communications with other owners. She can commiserate with her tenants there.
When the landlord came again the next day with his fellows to re-fix the roof I moved away all my computer gear in fear of a sudden failure of the ceiling and a gush of water. He explained that they found their mistake and fixed it, and then he showed me that they had shoved a rock into the rat hole to plug it. I was dubious. He said, “watch it for two or three days.”
I’d given our upstairs neighbor Rohan a sack of rice that was too big for us to deal with and at lunch time he brought me in return portions of the big meal he had cooked to deliver to a client. It was six different delicious curries, among them eggplant, fish, potato, mushroom. There was enough for a second meal, which I ate while Karen was out again in Kandy with some friends. Firecrackers were going off: I wondered if some big sports game had been won? Karen had a look during her speedy tuk tuk ride home but didn’t see any signs of celebration near the university. On arriving home she spotted a fat column of large ants marching in the night and I went out to see and stood too close and received a fiery bite like a bee sting on one of my toes.
In the morning we learned what all the firecracker commotion had been about: the President’s governing coalition had broken down and in a big surprise move he had appointed the country’s former strong man president to be the new prime minister. Big wheels turning. We paid a visit to our neighbor Shiva to ask about the situation: he’s well educated, travels to Belgium, and owns a beautiful large house. He was worried about the situation.
Later I called our favorite driver – and now friend – Sampath to take me on errands. I asked him also about the news. He, and a lot of the common Buddhist people, are happy about it. The new prime minister is “a lion”. He’s the one who crushed the Tamil Tigers (but at the cost of many civilian lives in actions some are calling war crimes). We passed the large oil storage facility next to the Peradeniya railway station and someone had lit a string of big firecrackers that were bursting loudly about thirty feet from the oil tanks.
It’s good to be something of a local now: at the railway station I was short two hundred rupees to pay for a ticket, but the station master, whose private collection of foreign currency notes I have contributed to, spotted me the difference. I borrowed the money from Sampath, paid the ticket anyway, and then paid back Sampath when we got home.
Karen and I finally got the chance to open a special bottle of wine, custom labeled “Wiggerston Reserve”, I’d brought back from Australia in July for a “date night”. We had dinner at the newly re-opened Pinnacle Hotel, our neighbors, which has been closed for renovations. The curry meal was delicious as ever. Mr Vijith and the owner sat down near us to discuss the political situation. They are full of fears about it.
The next few days were nervous ones, watching the news, as a few incidents resulted in a few deaths, and international condemnations came in, and exhortations to follow the constitution. Sampath warned us to stay away from Kandy. Ministers were replaced with blinding speed: Karen has a new Minister of Education way above her now. We’re not sure what effect that will have.
Firecrackers popped less and less over the week and planned street demonstrations didn’t materialize and our thoughts returned to more mundane matters. This new rat needed to be caught. The human mind is a wonder of imaginative power: as I lay in bed I devised traps and played out the sequence of events and even considered alternative scenarios. It all happens first in the head: then we can take steps to make it play out in reality.
The hardware store had a bigger, better rat trap, unbreakable, and I set it out with a wedge of Happy Cow cheese dangling inside. I knew this trap was going to work, but, what to do then? The rat streaked by under my feet as I worked scanning my notebooks into the computer. I heard it rattle something as it climbed around in a cupboard. My mind grew dark. I remembered taking the previous catch to the filthy stream, the leeches, the barking dogs, and that people said if you release a rat too nearby it will return. I formed a new, simple plan.
In the morning – it was Halloween – I checked the kitchen and, indeed, the third rat was caught. On this appropriate day I played the Grim Reaper: outside I filled a large bucket with water, came in to snatch the trap with its victim, marched it outside without ceremony or second thoughts, and dropped it into the tub. I saw the underwater prisoner dart around, and her last squeak came out as a small train of bubbles. I couldn’t watch more, so I put a lid over the bucket and went back inside to dwell on it. A murderer! Couldn’t I have found a way to take it miles away, far from any houses, and release it? Maybe that’s the question for the next time. Half and hour later I went out and tossed the body far into the bushes, then went back in to scan more notebooks.