“Lucy, you don’t think a gecko could eat all this, do you?”
It was a fairly innocuous question posed to me by my flatmate R one morning, as he proffered a half-eaten potato.
It was a question I had little trouble answering with a resounding negative, even halfway out the door on the way to work.
We were familiar with our house gecko, comfortable with him. He made occasional appearances, chilling in the bathroom sink, scooting across the floor in a flash if you returned home unexpectedly. Occasionally, late at night, you would look up to see him brooding on the ceiling.
He was an utterly familiar part of our day-to-day life, a known entity.
But, gazing on this potato, I knew immediately that we were dealing with something unknown and sinister. A force to be reckoned with.
I had, at this point, no idea of the extent to which my feelings of foreboding would be borne out by actual events.
A brief conversation confirmed that the culprit of this potato-theft must be either a cat or a rat. We live on the top floor of a 13-storey building - so our house attracts the heat - and R, a freelance journalist, often preferred to leave windows and doors open to cool everything down at night.
We prayed that our hungry visitor was a stray cat prowling around the rooftops in search of rogue potatoes to munch on. I recollect making a vague promise to myself that if any stray creatures turned up, I would find an alternative place to stay until they had been dealt with. R was going to Turkey for ten days; I couldn’t afford to take any chances.
Or so I thought.
R departed, and I spent Thursday evening at a friend’s house, returning to the flat on Friday late-afternoon. As I walked into the flat, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the cupboard to the immediate right of our front door, filled with odds and ends that do not belong to us, was ajar. I thought little of it, and went to sit down in the large, open sitting/dining room which is the focal point and heart of our flat.
I took off my glasses, without which I am as good as blind. Lost in thought, I noticed a creature of indeterminate (but significant) size and shape run down the stairs to my left and jump into the cupboard, with its door standing ever so slightly ajar.
Blind or not, I could see that our culprit bore the gait of either a rat or a ferret. It was larger than a mouse but smaller than a cat. It was brown. It was agile. It was here with me in the house while my flatmate was in Turkey for ten days.
Panic stricken, I called a friend, Crazy Salsa Dancer. My high pitched voice no doubt said it all. “Whatever you’re doing, please, you need to drop it and come and help me right now. There’s a creature in my house!”
For 45 minutes, I sat immobilized, my eyes glued to this cupboard.
To his credit, Crazy Salsa Dancer not only turned up but brought a friend. Together, the three of us circled the cupboard like reticent hyenas. Opening the door, the two of them started poking at a pile of sheets and towels with the long stick they had brought as a weapon. No response. They began berating me; clearly the creature had run away. I was adamant – I would not rest until I had searched through the whole cupboard to make sure there was nothing inside.
So we erected a barrier, consisting of an old mattress, outside the cupboard. We started removing old sheets and towels from inside.
One sheet …nothing.
Two sheets ….nothing.
Three sheets ….out jumped a kamikaze rat, teeth bared, eyes flashing fire. It’s hard to tell whether he was actually a black belt in karate or whether I just imagined it, but in any case he expertly ricocheted off the mattress and ran into the kitchen – while I, as if burned by fire, ran squealing into the hallway.
It took ten minutes to calm me down, by which point Kamikaze Rat was trapped in my kitchen. A fruitless search by the boys, with the long stick, proved that he had either escaped through a hole in the mosquito netting covering the kitchen window, or was still in hiding. They had to go.
We barricaded the kitchen door like the poor veterans of the First World War barricaded the trenches. Cushions, chairs, towels – everything you could think of to prevent a Rat Escape. And, it being now 10pm, I could think of nothing more productive to do than go out, get drunk and sleep on the sofa. So this is what I did.