Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Several torn containers full of sirloin steak lay near the top of the open bin. It was strange that the restaurateur should have forgotten to replace the lid on the large green waste receptacle, but not unheard of. There were no shortage of rodents patrolling the alleys and poking their little eyes from out of gutters and vents, from rooftops and narrow cracks in the pavement.
Perhaps they were all watching the restaurateur as he disposed of the meat that was past its best. That day was his birthday and his daughter had bought him a thin red mp3 player. As a thoughtful aside she had charged it up and filled it with many of her father’s favourite songs.
‘No More Heroes’ by The Stranglers was blasting into his eardrums during those moments when he walked away from the unclosed bin.
The birds were the first to land. It’s funny that vermin are usually thought of as an unusual presence in our lives, a creature that looks out of place in our streets, parks or gardens.
And yet the pigeons and the scavenging gulls you see each day, that caw and dive and shit without discrimination, are as verminous and multitudinous as any brown rat or white mouse you may encounter in a split second, on a quiet road, of a dark night.
But yes, once safety seemed assured, these skulking creatures of the depths and shadows came forth to see what they could seize.
It seemed in a moment they were thriving. Hissing, biting, fighting and ripping the hunks of tender meat apart. For them, it mattered not that their red meal had begun to turn green, that bacterial spores had gotten there first to massacre the meat, that its smell could turn and throw a stomach. They were just happy for the chance of survival.
And it was with thoughts of survival that the rats left the meal as swiftly as they had joined it. A tom cat prowled by.
He leapt into action, but he had not the same need for food. He was well fed, he had a warm place to sleep. He chased for sport.
The proud gulls and the lazy pigeons probably knew this, for they stayed on the rim of the bin, turning their heads to eye the cat just in case it was hungrier than it seemed.
The tom cat spied some discarded meat, sniffed, gnawed and played with it for a while.
He knew the rats would be back, but he had other things to do. Somewhere a fire was blazing and hands waited to fuss and stroke him. It really wasn’t worth the effort.
Just then he bounded away as a door opened loudly. The shopkeeper; he shooed the birds and slammed the lid of the bin, as if to compensate for his earlier absent-mindedness.
Somewhere, close by, one hundred little watching eyes drooped and seemed to sigh.