And I Won't Save You from the Rats

The girl hurled over her head a full rubbish bag that was almost half her size, aiming with anger-driven precision at the scurrying rat that simply explored his newfound pile of potential food. She was 7 or 8 at most, a tiny thing with a small frame, dark hair and even darker eyes.

As the bag hit the pile she didn't even care to look if she had hit the rat too or not. She didn't care that much about the rat or about *that* rat. Its unexpected appearance was just the straw that had broken the back of her thoughts turning them rather suddenly from gloomy resignation into sharp insight coloured by despair - hence the anger. Such insight, such despair and out of such a simple task that it had caught her entirely unprepared - if one can ever be prepared for such a thing anyway.

Throwing the rubbish out would be a simple task indeed but not there, not then - simple only in other places, inaccessible places and in other times, long-gone times. Where she was and where she was going to grow up, there was no such thing as a simple task, the environment itself would not permit it. And the complexity of the simplest task was always maddeningly irrational for it didn't come from the task itself but always from the surrounding bits and pieces that stood forever in the way of everything. But it was not even the unexpected and unnecessary complexity of something as banal as throwing the rubbish out that had her despair of everything - it was simply the suddenly obvious, uninterrupted and neverending pattern of brokenness that she had glimpsed abruptly on such a scale that seemed to her to entirely negate any possibility of finding a way out of it, ever.

The throw-out-the-rubbish chore should have been in normal times simply a matter of going with the bag to the building's rubbish chute on the same floor as the flat the girl lived in. But the chute didn't work anymore because someone had thrown down it something that had gotten stuck and nobody seemed to care enough to fix it. And so one had to go downstairs as many floors as was needed, except the lift was of course not quite working, as electricity would go on and off frequently and get one stuck in between the floors. The stairs were pitch dark too, sometimes for lacking light bulbs and sometimes for lacking electricity but at all times for some lack or another. To go up and down those gray, concrete stairs, there was at best of times only a flicker of light coming intermittently - if you knew how to look for it - from the hole between the rails in the middle. The building had at the back a door that led closer to the rubbish dump but the door could not be opened anymore because those not seeing the point of a working rubbish chute did not see the point of an opening door either. And now the rubbish dump at the back of the building had also overflown into a big rubbish mound that attracted - as she had just had the pleasure to discover - some rats to grow and possibly take over the building if they managed perhaps to compete with the cockroaches that had been entrenched in the building's basement for years already.

She quite expected nobody would really mind the rats either, at least not in any way that would make the slightest shred of difference. After all, they hadn't minded the stuck chute, nor the cockroaches, nor the unusable lift, nor the lacking lightbulbs or the ligthbulbs lacking electricity, nor the heating lacking heat, nor the food lacking meat, nor any of the other abundant lackings that made the very substance of daily life there, nor anything at all. That was really the insight that had hit the little girl that day in a visceral way for she hadn't found yet quite fully the words to say it: she was growing among those who had no capacity and no disposition to ever mind effectively anything, no matter how awful or how broken or how entirely insuffereable it would get. Other than perhaps a few more grumbles they just carried on as before, for them everything was equal to anything else and none of it mattered or could possibly matter.

I was once that little girl and every time when an exposed fault is ignored, every time when the choice between fix or live with it broken is made, I see again very vividly the mound of rubbish and the rat, the cockroaches and the pitch dark, the concrete gray wall blocking for hours the way out of the lift's tiny cage, the endless and inescapable string of lackings that end up making the "daily life" of them choosing comfort over painful fixing of whatever is uncovered to be broken.

And now tell me, as in those dear-younger-self fashionable exercises, what exactly would you tell that little girl and mind you that by that point she'd had already stared down "adults" before for talking "comforting" nonsense of the very empty sort.

What exactly will you tell your own child if one day they figure out just why and wherefore all the lackings they experience come from? Or is that really why you won't allow them to do much by themselves: the fear that they will inevitably find out how broken their environment really is?

2 Responses to “And I Won't Save You from the Rats”

  1. What a delightful read! Well put, and let it haunt.

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