Every day for a month this summer, I rose at dawn and walked a half hour through a quiet village in northern Greece to work. At that hour the starlings were just awakening, and the last of the fat little brown bats were tucking themselves away beneath the eaves to sleep. The village was always quiet at that hour; the only people awake were the grocer and the baker—the sort of people who can’t afford to miss the morning trade from field hands and archaeologists.
As I passed beneath the underpass for the freeway leading to Thermopylae, there was always an abandoned mechanic’s shop to my right. There was a weed-overgrown ramp leading down to the old corrugated aluminum garage door, and set into the cement wall there was a water tap which still had some water flowing to it. That tap dripped, slowly, crystal droplet by crystal droplet, all day and all night. A trickle of rust ran down the wall into the weeds.
If I timed my walk just right, I would be the first human being every morning to pass that abandoned building, and I would come in time to see a plump rat who lived in the mechanic’s station. He would be sitting three feet below the tap, nose turned upward, catching a few droplets of water before the village cats and dogs woke to make their morning rounds.
When I came along, every morning, the rat would see me and scurry hastily back to the garage door and disappear into an invisible crack.
This pattern went on without change for three weeks. In the last week before I left however, there were one or two occasions when the rat seemed a bit less concerned about my arrival. He would still run when I came along, but instead of disappearing under the garage door he would wait, looking at me intently, to see whether I was going to come closer. And I reflected on this later…Marveling at the seeming complexity of the mammalian brain. At the ability of even the simplest mammals to learn by repetition, and eventually to grow weary of being needlessly afraid.
On the very last morning before I had to leave, I rose extra early to make sure that I would have my last sighting of Mister Rat. And as I approached the bridge, I looked to my right to the wall beneath the tap…
…and saw TWO rats! They both ran to the garage door. The plumper of the two disappeared immediately into the shadowy interior of the garage, as she always had before. And the second rat waited with shining eyes, as he had before, to see what I would do.
“There are TWO of you!” I said aloud, delighted—as if the rats had done a wonderful trick. “And one of you is brave!”
Because all summer long, I had thought Mister Rat was alone in the world.
But he had a companion the whole time.