Someone screamed again.
The relative silence that separated our worlds was broken by a brief commotion. The girl was halfway-up on her chair, her face contorted by childlike terror. Fellow ladies stood back, away from their cubicles, as if some horrible creature lurked in the shadows beneath respective desks. The guys looked amused, grinning.
It was a small rat, one that our utility personnel had a hard time getting rid of.
As long as it stays away from my area, it’s not my concern.
* * *
“I saw this video, how you can make a mouse trap from a bottle of soda.” Jane said off-handedly. I nodded. I saw that video long ago. “It’s pretty effective,” she added.
“Yeah, except they simply let the rat out after catching it.” I retorted.
“What’s wrong with that? Why kill it when you can just bring it somewhere else, somewhere that it won’t be a pest.” Jane argued.
“And how do you know it won’t become somebody else’s pest?” I asked.
“Well, how do you know it will be?” she retorted.
“If that’s the case, shouldn’t we treat other pests the same way? Like flies. Or mosquitos. Or even cockroaches. We shouldn’t kill any of them; just catch them, place them in a jar or something, then release them somewhere far, far away.” I sarcastically said. She grimaced. “Rats are different from cockroaches.”
I didn’t reply. I hated cockroaches just as much as she does.
* * *
Those annoying scratchings again. I stared outside the dark window, where the roof was outlined by the urban moonlight. A pair of bead-like eyes glistened back at me, and I tried to telepathize: “Don’t you dare get inside my room.” I doubt if it received my telepathic communication, or if its rodent brain was able to comprehend it. But it did respond with something more universal, something more fundamental: I threw a slipper at the window screen, and it scampered away.
An hour or so later, I heard a scuffle. Must be the cat, I thought with a pleased smile. Good cat. I fancied catching smaller rats, and directly feeding it to the feline warrior. I was too cowardly to confront the bigger ones— especially the ones that I found skulking in the corners of our corridor, whenever someone irresponsibly leaves a pile of trash outside their door. Part of me wanted to attack them, kick them as they ran past me. Part of me hesitated— what if it attacked me instead? So I chose the status quo: Don’t bother me, I don’t bother you. It felt like an unspoken deal. I wish cockroaches were more open to peace negotiations.
* * *
“Why did God have to create cockroaches?” I lamented. I had a bad night. Like, attack-of-the-12-zombie-cockroaches bad. “He could have stopped at butterflies and fireflies. But noooo— He had to make the cockroach. And mosquitos. And flies.”
Greg stretched lazily, his glass of iced tea almost drained. We were both stuck in the heavy rain; not that we cared. He smirked as he said, “Maybe it’s so people who work in the pest control business can earn something.” I looked at him, annoyed. “I’m being serious here.” Greg laughed. “Well, you’re being too serious. Who knows why God created them, and frankly, would it make a difference? Like, would you stop killing cockroaches if you found out what God designed them for?”
I didn’t have to think long to reply. “No, I’d still kill them. They’re evil.”
“Well, the Bible did say that everything God created— He called them ‘good.'” Greg paused dramatically, glancing at me. “That includes your beloved cockroaches.”
I grimaced. “Good? How can He call cockroaches good? Or mosquitos? Or flies? Or rats?”
“Or viruses.” Greg added.
“Do these… animals… insects… creature… do you think they have souls, or something like that?” I asked. Greg shrugged. “Does it matter? Will it change how you look at them, or treat them?” His phone rang, and courteously, he nodded at me for some privacy. I leaned back and focused on my own thoughts.
I thought about an animated movie about a rat, and almost fancied myself befriending one, keeping it as a pet. But Greg’s sudden grave face threw those fantasies away. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s Nancy’s daughter,” he said,”she’s in the hospital. Leptospirosis.”
* * *
Sometimes, fate just drops out of the sky. Or in my case, a rotted ceiling. What mattered was it didn’t land on my lap.
Maybe it was luck, or divine intervention, that the huge rat didn’t fall on me. I probably would have screamed if it did land elsewhere, where I would be panicking trying to avoid the rat. No, for some thank-God reason, it shooted perfectly on the big drum of water.
The drum wasn’t full enough for the hapless creature to escape. It swam and swam, and I stared at it, confident in the safety of my distance beyond its reach.
Part of me felt delight. Yet part of me felt pity.
And so I reached for the only weapon in the bathroom: a plunger.
I stared at his eyes, stark terror and helplessness driving him madly to survive, to brave this monstrous human who seems to be hellbent to drown him. For a moment, I wondered if I should just walk away… leave him to his fate. I wondered if maybe, if I show it kindness, it would someday repay my kindness, too— like in most stories with moral lessons go.
He was just a rat, just another doomed living being in God’s creation.
For a moment, I wavered. And almost dropped the plunger on the drum of water.
He was quick. He immediately grabbed the rubber, climbed, and was about to race along the wooden bridge of life that chance gave him. My mind suddenly cleared, and before I knew it, I was pushing him under the water, frantically and purposely drowning the poor creature until at last it ceased to resist.
I went out of the bathroom, and almost vomited.
Nausea passed. I didn’t want to touch the dead rat. I was afraid it would suddenly come alive, like a zombie, and exact its vengeance on me. I was afraid of the water, of how contaminated it could be. And so I went through so much effort to scoop out the corpse with a dust pan, throw it on a garbage dump outside the building, carefully throw out the water from the drum, scrubbed everything with bleach and soap.
Then I vomited for real.
He was just a rat.
It was just another rat.