I did not think anything was amiss when rats no longer scurried across our living room, their movement only captured by the corner of the eyes.
This was because the rats tended to disappear, or reduce in number, from time to time: victims of poison or the stray cats that now and again made their home under the water tank at our backyard. Perhaps I should have been alarmed when less and less rats darted away from my headlights as my car felt its way into its customary parking space beside the large water tank where the charging units stood, regal, blinking in an electronic symphony. I was also not alarmed when first the compound and then the house proper was saturated by the stench of putrefying meat. I was not too bothered and easily laid the reason for the deaths squarely on a highly efficient poison.
No, I did not apply any poison and my wife, a nutritionist, who had wanted to be a nurse, abhorred poison of any kind and so could not have applied them.
I could have asked the neighbours—they occupied the upper floor of our one storey house—but a week before, Adunni had quarrelled with the wife. ‘She keeps throwing dirty water on my vegetable garden,’ Adunni fumed when I asked what the war of words was about. She forbade any of her brood from speaking to them. Adunni, I confess, has the temperament of a rattlesnake and can take things very far when she feels she has been ill-treated. Did I already mention how sharp her tongue could be? So, even though she was cussing all through the grimy task of seeking for putrid rats in crevices, cracks, and worst of all, inside her stow-away box, where she stashes all her favourite special-occasion Georges, Hollandis, Synto-wraps and other party-going wrappers and blouses, she still persisted on not asking the neighbours what kind of wonder rodent killer was at work.
For a day and half, we—Adunni, our twin girls and I—struggled to rid the house of dead rats and their stench. However, by the time we finished with the house, carrying the little dead things into the collection bucket my wife had thoughtfully kept in the middle of the parlour, with hands that were, as per her instructions, wrapped in plastic bags; we discovered that the stench coming in from the open windows was as strong as the one indoors.
Out into the compound, we went.
Out came the shovel and leather gloves.
It was easy gathering the rats we could find in the open, however, those in holes and deep crevices – even though they did not smell as bad as the ones in the open, posed a challenge until I came up with the idea to seal them up where they lay. We made easy work of the buggers: a shovel of earth here, a well-mixed lump of cement and sand there.
I noticed my wife getting madder and madder as we worked. Though she did not say what the matter was; I caught the upstairs neighbour’s wife peeping from her bedroom window and that gave me enough insight into the source of her anger.
‘Please don’t let her spoil your mood, you know she sees this type of work as beneath her,’ I said, trying to calm that storm brewing in Adunni’s eyes. She had never liked Nneka.
Our neighbour’s wife, according to my wife, was a spoilt brat, the sort whose parents granted too many concessions to make up for their lack of parental qualities. I do not know how true her assessment was, but knowing how annoyed she already was about them not paying attention to the stench she insisted they caused, I felt it wise not to inflame her more. Adunni moved away from me. It was as if my words irritated her. I was surprised when she beckoned me over to the large pit I had dug to bury the dead rats. I followed her pointing finger, and saw for the first time the bluish secretions on the nose of first one, then with glowing alarm, on all of the rats I could see: those not already covered with earth or other rats.
“What is that?”
Reading Virulent for the first time? Read part one here