By Richard Boughton
I found a rat in the outdoor rubbish bin. At first I didn’t know it was a rat, for its body was half-hidden within a crisp bag, with just one end protruding – whether head or posterior I could not on first inspection say.
Clearly it was not a comely creature. I thought it was maybe a frog or a lizard or part of a snake or a very large cockroach or merely a banana peel (my eyesight is not good); but a brief conference with my wife concluded the thing to be a rat. Or not a rat, actually, but a similar creature known in these parts as a cucurut.
Having been thus identified – his cover blown – the cucurut and his Chitato bag began to move, and in this a second cucurut was disturbed and began to move as well, emerging from the deeper parts of the bin in what seemed a fairly lousy mood, such that it felt compelled to pounce upon the first cucurut from the rear. A brief scuffle ensued. I retreated a few steps whilst my wife retired to the living room.
“Should I let them out?” I called back to her.
“Just leave them.”
“Do you think they would bite me?”
“Just leave them.”
“But that seems so … hard-hearted.”
So I’m standing there between porch and bin wondering how the critters got into the can to begin with. It’s a mystery not unlike another Bali mystery I have written of in the past – to whit, how small frogs can end up on my front porch when the steps are far too high for them to jump. That, and now this thing with the cucurut – both seem to defy reason. They defy natural science. They defy physics and every other science.
Clearly the mouth of the garbage bin is far too distant from the ground to be attained by a leap from these diminutive critters, and the proof of the same, if it even needing proving, is readily apparent in the failure of their ongoing efforts to jump out of the bin from within – which is something they are rather vigorously attempting to do just now. They leap, accomplish maybe half a foot in height, and then fall back to the padded floor of their prison, emitting little shrieks of irritation. In this last I note that these Balinese cucuruts are much louder than the common western rat, and that there seems something almost human in the tone of their frustration. Aduh!
So their predicament was not accomplished by a leap. No way.
What then? Tiny ladders they had constructed in advance? Roman-like siege towers? Ah, but where is the evidence of these ladders and towers? Ropes made of vine, grappling hooks, stacked doll furniture, miniature helicopters? Again, no such machinery appears.
The bin is about half a foot distant from a stone wall, itself about seven feet in height, from which they may have dropped like paratroopers, I suppose – but again, how might they have reached the top of the wall to begin with, and how pull off this seven-foot plunge without serious injury, barring the use of tiny parachutes? No, a descent from above seems no more likely than ascension from below.
How then? I simply do not know. Perhaps they were deposited by human hand. Perhaps someone else had them at first in his own bin, did not want them and so transferred them to ours (but that leaves, at the very least, the question of how they first got into his bin) It may be, as is the apparent case with the frogs, that they fell from the sky. It may even be some form of black magic.
In any case, the growing fever of these two little guys’ attempts to escape the pickle they’ve got themselves into – their rattling and shrieking, thumping and scratching – eventually chases away my preoccupation with the mere fact of their presence, and I begin to wonder again how I might free them, or whether indeed I should free them.
It is not such a simple question. There are moral considerations. And there are personal safety issues. Do cucuruts deserve freedom? Do they even know what freedom is? And if granted their freedom, how will they use it in the future? Have they learned anything from this present experience? Can I myself, morally, “just leave them,” as my wife had advised, knowing then that they must surely perish (unless somehow removed by the same magic that got them there)?
I approach nearby, peer into their personal pit of hell – that same which must have seemed heaven in the beginning, now become a heartless grave – and it stirs something in me, tugs a heartstring, touches a nerve of commiseration.
Ah, there but for the grace of God go I.