My friend – Fitzcarraldo of the Osa – has two beautiful, spirited teenage girls at school in the capital and these days divides his time between taxi and chaperone duties there, and doing things with batteries, tractor parts, valves and orders here. His son, (henceforth StevenSon), grew up, for various usual and complicated reasons, away from the Osa but is now making up for it, undergoing full jungle immersion while working as an over-educated campesino and doing things with sticks and machetes on a potentially exciting new ecotourism project at the back of the property. Both arrived on the boat today. My friend will be staying for only a few days, but Stevenson, who’s been up in the city for a break, is back for an extended stay.
They have brought in with them boxes full of the kind of supplies that make jungle living just that little bit easier: not only mosquito repellent with high DEET content, but charcuterie, fine cheeses, artisan breads, filet mignon and chocolate, and we light the candles, find wine glasses and settle down for a right feast. It is almost civilised.
Now, there has been a mouse in this house from the day I arrived. As lovers of 19th century literature will know, rodents are often regarded as friends by orphans, prisoners and the solitary – and Thoreau (in the latter camp) was no exception. I said I wouldn’t quote from Walden for a while, but I lied. Here Thoreau, ensconced in his little house in the woods, describes those lovely visits from his mouse friend:
[It] “would come out regularly at lunch time and pick up the crumbs at my feet. It had probably never seen a man before; and it soon became quite familiar, and would run over my shoes and up my clothes. . . At length, as I leaned with my elbow on the bench one day, it ran up my clothes, and along my sleeve, and round and round the paper which held my dinner, while I kept the latter close, and dodged and played bo-peep with it; and when at last I held still a piece of cheese between my thumb and finger, it came and nibbled it, sitting in my hand, and afterward cleaned its face and paws, like a fly, and walked away.”
To me, this is all horrid. Had the resident mouse run up my sleeve for a game of ‘bo-peep’, I’d have leapt over the table and fled screaming into the night. I considered going to war, and read the labels on some traps I found out back, and examined the mechanism, but was unable to set them – not so much for the thought of little mice waiting in the forest for their brave mother to return with a peanut for all to share, but the thought of clearing up. (George once told his English school friends, ‘My Mum would rather deal with a live crocodile than a dead mouse’, which, as it happens is true).
Anyway, my approach to sharing a solitary life with a rodent was to abandon all claim on fruit and food not secured in plastic tubs, and to give it the run of the house from 9pm-6am. In this way we have been rubbing along.
Halfway through a little prosciutto and a nice red wine (organic, actually) there’s a distant, gentle scratching, and it becomes immediately apparent that my friend and Stevenson have a different approach to rodent control. A manly jungle approach.
“It’s a mouse, a mouse, a fricking mouse! Where’s my machete?” There’s some vaulting over furniture, heaving and straining, and a massive sofa is rolled over with a thunderous boof.
“The machete! Get the machete! Shine the light! Shine the light! The fricking mouse. I can see it’s fricking tail.” A few minutes of shouts and muffled expletives suggesting general frustration follow. Then a triumphant yelp. “Oh man, you’re going NOWHERE”.
Oh, but it is, and fast. More vaulting and scrambling and the glint of metal as the chase moves through the kitchen and to the non-functional fridge which is wobble-marched away from the wall. It seems the mouse is sort of in it’s workings.
“You bastard” (I think this is to the mouse). I’ve got it! I’ve got it! Say GOODBYE! This is it, you fricking RAT! . . . ” The mouse evades its foe once more. Five minutes while we all wait tensely. “OH YEAH! OH YEAH! . . . it’s coming to you, Dad. Get ready, get READY, it’s coming to you . . .”
“Oh no, don’t . . .” (that’s me, from the table, where I’m trying to finish my dinner). “Not while we’re eat . . .”
“Did you get it?”
“Um . . .” (THUD, THUD . . . thud) “. . .Yep”.
I do worry sometimes that I might be – I don’t know – too English for this jungle life.