Travel Story India: The Rat

8 March, 2000

Rat India3:30 am. Can’t sleep. Just as sleep seems likely, I hear a noise. Not the noise of the rats on the roof as they scuffle, scratch and squeak their life away. There’s a rat in my room - I don’t like this at all! The funny thing is, I thought I had blocked the large gap in the corner under my door with that pad lock.

I get up and turn on the light. The brown beast, cute enough if you like rats (I much prefer cats), runs along the spare bed. Then stops. I start. And yell. Unlike cockroaches, rats are smart enough to run away when yelled at or threatened by a larger beast, such as me. I mean really run away, not just hide under some papers. It runs out the gap under the door, not even pausing to squeeze its larger body through the smaller hole. It just vanishes.

I do not see where the hole-stopping pad-lock is right away, but when I open the door, there it is on the balcony. I must have kicked it out there earlier in the evening. Funny, I don’t remember kicking it, but that must have been what happened. And another funny thing - the rat did not like the snacks in my room. Probably one reason Indians like curry is because rats don’t.

I block the hole under the door, but at this time of night, I am too lazy to jam the pad lock in place with the plastic bag, as I usually do. Back to bed. I hear but ignore a tiny noise. Did I really hear it? The rats on the roof continue to scuffle, scratch and squeak away above me.

I hear a slightly bigger noise. My flashlight silhouettes the rat sitting on the spare bed, shadow behind it on the white-washed wall, ears alert, eyes staring beadily into the flashlight. It runs behind a water colour painting I’d just made today, and hides behind the pillow. I turn on the room light. I hear a noise, which could have been in the form of a momentary indistinct grey streak, if I could see the sound. Where is that damn rat?

Grabbing a shoe in one hand, I use the other to jiggle the bed. No response. Either the rat is seriously hunkered down. Or it left the room. Impossible to know, especially with the continuing intermittent activity from above. Are they trying to chewing through the corrugated asbestos roof? Whatever they are doing up there, they have not broken through yet. But they very nearly sound as if they are in the room. How about my unwelcome visitor? I sit on my bed, still and quiet, and I wait.

Sooner or later, the rat will do something. If it is still in the room. Sooner becomes stale, and I am too impatient to wait for later. Time to flush out this rat, if it is still around. Rats are pretty astute. But if it is still behind the pillow, then it is in the corner of the room. Cornered rats must be respected more than cornered cockroaches. No matter how small the rat. No matter how large the cockroach. Especially just before 4:00 in the morning.

Shoe in one hand. Where is that rat? My hand shoots out and whisks away a large sheet of water-colour paper. Nothing. Grab the pillow and pull it a little. Pull my hand away quick! Scuffle, scratch, squeak … from above. No response at this level. A few other items on my bed get the lightning hand treatment, but the lightning is getting bolder, more relaxed. And bored. I want to go back into bed! Where I was resting. Resting before the rat disturbed my insomniac relaxation. I assume that the rat has left. I suppose. It must have! Did it?

The pad lock has disappeared from under the door. Opening the door, there it is on the balcony. Dragged back by a determined rat. Equally determined, I jam it under the door with a plastic bag. That will keep it out. Or in, if it didn’t leave. Never mind, I’m too tired to stay up and worry about it.

For a full week, I am plagued by rat-flea bites. What is worse, a rat or its fleas? At least they were not bed bugs. Bed bugs don’t carry the plague. Rat-fleas don’t keep me awake at night.


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