Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why We Moved Out of Our Flat
“There’s a mouse in the pool, Daddy,” the kid tells me.

“A mouse?”

“Yes, Daddy, a mouse! A mouse!” She says the last bit slowly, plaintively, making sure I understand. Tara and I had done the Kid Handoff at the yoga studio, and Rowan and I had just pulled into the driveway of our flat.

Sure enough, she’s right. There is a mouse in the pool. The “pool” is a small pond at the head of the driveway, and serves as the center-point for the two flats and the large garden that make up our little compound. The pond is about a foot deep, with a foot-and-a-half lip. It’s perhaps 5 feet in diameter, and has been tiled with blue and white shards. An incongruous maple leaf design made from blue tile pieces sits in the white bottom. A short palm hangs its leafy arms over a pedestal with a statue of Mary on it, and Mary in turn looks down on the water. The 18-inch statue has been placed in what looks like a large glass ampule, as though perhaps a giant will amble by one day and toss back the mother of Christ like an ibuprofen.

Queenie Fernandes, the owner of the property, has three turtles that she lets flap around in the pond; the lip is high enough that there’s no risk they might climb out. The turtles have thick red swatches around their eyes, which you can see when they extend their heads from their shells. They do this when Rowan and I lean over and reach towards them. They’re fearless turtles, apparently, and it’s almost like they want to be petted. Queenie feeds them puffed rice, and once a week lets them eat some meat.

The turtles only swim when Queenie is at home, though. “People will come to steal them,” she tells me. “I can’t leave them in there without someone around.”

On the day Rowan spies a “mouse,” however, the turtles are not in the pool. It’s not actually a mouse, of course. It’s a dead rat that’s a foot-and-a-half-long.

The rodent must’ve fallen into the pool during the night and paddled about ineffectually, unable to claw its way up and over the lip. I hadn’t seen it that morning because I leave for practice when it’s still dark.

Let me tell you something about rats: where there’s one...

Goa was for a long time a Portuguese colony, and the Portuguese influence is writ large across this part of India, from the Spanish surnames and churches to the Christianity and the architecture.

Many houses are built with front-gabled roofs covered with red tiles. They slant upwards at a 45-degree angle on either side to meet in the center, which is different than, say, Mysore, where most houses have flat roofs. The ceilings are unfinished inside the flats, so you can peer way up to see the support ribbing and the underside of the tiles.

I don’t know if this is common, but in our flat there was perhaps a foot of overlap where the roof hung down and over the walls --- meaning there was a foot of open space through which moths, mosquitoes and flies could pass.

In our bedroom, part of the ceiling tiling had been replaced with sheets of corrugated tin. We would wake several times in the night to the tik-tik-tik of rat paws scraping across the roof, rat paws doubtless belonging to some 2-foot-long rat. And at least twice a night there would be a loud, rattling thump as something big and heavy landed on the tin. Dust, dirt and leaves would flutter down on our beds, and Tara and I would lie there, staring upward, waiting to hear if whatever was on the roof made its way into the house. I began sleeping with a broom stick next to the bed.

The open space between wall and ceiling meant that one morning, after I had gone to yoga, Tara was awoken by a furtive, panicked rattling in the kitchen. She woke up Rowan, and the two of them stood outside the darkened kitchen as something rocketed about, trying to find a way out.

“Mommy was freaking out,” said Rowan. Tara hurled a few empty water jugs into the kitchen, and whatever was there managed to find its way back out.

It’s gotten particularly bad during the last week, so much that Tara has been lying in bed, wide-eyed, staring up at the ceiling, unable to sleep. We woke up three times last night to rats on the roof, and that was it. We moved out. We’re spending our last week at Resort Melo Rosa.

I tend to be fairly ambivalent about pests --- hey, as long as I’m asleep when they’re around, I’m good --- but Tara does not like rats (or snakes), and by “does not like,” I mean “is pathologically terrified of.” But you gotta draw the line somewhere, and really, finding rat droppings in your bedroom was the final straw.

On the day we found the dead rat in the pond, we returned from breakfast to find that Queenie has thrown in the turtles. The dead rat is still there, and the turtles are beginning to eat the rat, nipping and pulling at it, worrying it with their mouths. That week, they got their meat a little early.

After that, Rowan and I don’t reach out to touch them.