There were baby rats peeking out of the homeless man’s rucksack. It was a wet January morning. The sun was barely up. Dew was barely forming. Clouds were barely visible. And yet, through all this obscurity in form, the very first thing to grace my vision in H fucking D were the wiggling pink colored bodies of baby rats climbing over each other and squealing horrendously.
“Hi there.” The man smiled at me.
“Nice rats.” I knew my sardonic tone was the equivalent of engaging a deaf mute with Chopin’s Spring Waltz. I did not care. This guy showed me baby rats in the morning and then had the gall to be nice to me. What an asshole.
“They actually are, you know?” The man leaned backwards and plucked a squeaking rat out of his bag and waved it at my face. “Minnie gave birth to this guy last week, I call him Disney.”
I had already walked a few paces away from him when I saw him reach for his bag. I was about to sprint away fully expecting a baby rat to clatter on the back of my head when he laid the Disney line on me. I was hooked.
“First of all, do you breed rats? Second of all, you do know Minnie was a pretty famous rat, right? I asked interestedly,retracting my steps cautiously back towards him.
The man eyed me shrewdly. Then he shifted his focus on the baby rat and started picking out lice from it’s smooth pink skin. I swallowed a wave of puke that had threatened to burst through my throat and tried again.
“Did you, uh, hear what I asked you?”
He looked up from the delousing and stared at my face with utter contempt and offered lazily. “First of all, I am going to be needing breakfast and second of all Minnie is a mouse not a rat.”
I smelt a story. I could see my managing editor patting me on the shoulder and offering to buy me a drink. I saw his golden teeth gleaming in admiration. I saw jealous gripes from my colleagues; gnashed teeth, hoarse compliments and nervous smiles. I felt a little love for this affable homeless man who had come into my life bearing the gift of rats.
“Absolutely! I would love to buy you breakfast.” I said, squatting down beside him peeking into his rucksack to get a better view of the squealing rats. The man looked at me with surprise. I had clearly said something he had not expected.
“Did you ever try raising mice? You know, so that little Disney over there can live up to his fictional mother’s name?” I prompted him, trying to gauge his psychology a little better.
“No! Mice are horrible. No loyalty. Just blind instinct. Once you feed a rat, they will stay with you forever. I love them”
I rubbed my hands together. A rat breeder. I had found myself a filthy little rat breeder. And considering the dearth in good content the channel I was employed with suffers from, this man would make a splendid puff piece. Add it with his extensive knowledge on Disney and their assorted mice collection, it would have just the right amount of charming to negate the sheer distaste this whole thing naturally projects.
“People never offer.” The homeless gentleman had said something that was lost to me in the middle of my reverie.
“I said people never offer to buy me food. Why are you? He mumbled a little offhandedly. “Everyone just says I am crazy.”
“Oh, I don’t think you are crazy. Wait here, let me buy you a dosa.” I couldn’t imagine taking the man carrying a bunch of rats into a restaurant. How many health inspectors would commit suicide at that single act of cruelty inflicted personal hygiene, I wondered.
“Dosa? Are you getting me a dosa?” He is all perked up now. Eyes glinting in the sun and looking up at me with absolute happiness.
“Yes, sir. Would you like some coffee as well?” I asked him, calculating how much I would need to soften him up to get the interview from him.
“No, no. Just 8 dosas. No chutney please. Just the dosas.” And thank you so much.
I nodded kindly at him and set out for the restaurant. It took me ten minutes to buy the dosa. I walked back with the weight of eight dosas and the lightness in my heart that spoke of an imminent promotion. My smile faded immediately when I saw Disney’s squished body lying on a cardboard box.
“Um, what?” I stuttered.
“The chutney, of course. The younger ones have so much flavor.” Said the homeless man with an earnestness that was fit for a lactating mother as he leaned forward and grabbed the packet of dosas away from my numb fingers.