They didn’t notice me. If they did, they couldn’t have cared less. They sat, arms crossed, looking deeply pensive. They didn’t move for the longest time. Two house mice in my bathtub.
I tried dabbing them with a pole, attempting to scare them off. They remained resolutely still. I nudged them with a sheaf of rolled-up newspaper. To no avail.
“Do you have an empty plastic bottle you have no use for?” I asked my mom.
“Why, what happened?”
“There are two little mice in my bathroom and I want to get them out”.
A bathroom is the last place on earth you want company. When I was a schoolboy, we used to have yoga taught by a Naturopath (a doctor who treats patients using natural remedies). He was an energetic man in his early 30s, but spoke and moved with the zest of an adolescent. He had twinkling eyes, foppish hair and always wore half-sleeved shirts, untucked. A well-maintained mustache covered his upper lip, and he always wore a warm smile.
We had to close our eyes during the class so that we would feel uninhibited while doing the yoga exercises. Even while making us stand on our heads or touch our foreheads with our knees, the doctor took care to keep the atmosphere relaxed and light-hearted. He would crack jokes, would whisper in your ears if you were doing something incorrectly.
“Why do you grunt, instead of answering normally when someone calls you when you’re in the bathroom or toilet?” he once asked us.
We giggled and there was muffled laughter.
Knotting his brows into a frown, tying his hands behind his back, he strode back and forth in the classroom.
“Mmmmmmm….. what?” he said in a shrill, childlike screech of a voice.
“Tell me mom!“
He was mimicking how we’d react in such a situation.
There was more laughter, this time free and unrestrained.
“What is it?“
“Isn’t it true?” he said, turning towards us.
He had stopped pacing.
“Do you know why? Because those places are the only ones where you are completely with yourself. You’re completely free, there is no one else you need to worry about. No one wants to be disturbed while in there”.
He spoke of it like it was a spiritual experience.
That has stayed with me, for some reason. Maybe because it helps, in part, explain the appeal that solitude holds for me. I like being around people with whom I don’t have to apologise for who I am, either through speech or gesture.
The bathroom is where I close my eyes and make my dreams. I soap them and nurture them. It is where I give myself a thousand affirmations, the place where I draw my energy for the day to come. And now there were two little mice sitting there.
Rummaging through the kitchen cupboard, I secured an empty 2-litre Sprite bottle. I turned on the gas stove, heated a knife and carved an opening in the bottle big enough for mice to get in. Then I slipped a slab of peanut chikki, an Indian sweet made of jaggery and groundnut, inside the bottle. The idea was to coax the mice into the bottle, capture them and release them outside the house. A trap, but without the spring.
I rushed back to my bathroom, bottle in hand. “If a mouse jumps at me, I am going to bat it away with a defensive flick,” I thought, gathering a rolled-up newspaper in my left hand and willing myself to recall my cricket-playing skills. “Just remember, as far as the mouse is concerned, you are a much bigger animal”.
Taking small, tentative steps towards the bathtub, I noticed that the two mice were in exactly the same position I had first seen them in. They could have been in church. I placed the bottle — the side with its open mouth — near the mice. I nudged them with the newspaper. Their tiny eyes darted back and forth, as if aware something was afoot, but not serious enough to demand movement. Finally, I gave a resolute push at one of them and it bolted straight into the open bottle, while the other scurried to the end of the tub. I immediately placed the sheaf of newspaper at the mouth of the bottle, trapping one mouse.
I gingerly lifted the bottle and headed for the terrace. Common sense said I should let the mouse loose right that moment. But that’s what growing up with a brother does to you. They two mice looked very similar to each other. They also looked like they hung out together all the time. They scaled walls, traveled distant lands… anyway, I was reminded of me and my elder brother. When we were kids, we used to be a two-member gang. My brother is the extrovert and I am the introvert, so I used to tail him wherever he went. Our parents taught at a university, so we lived on campus. We used to hide among the mulberry plants and bunk school, rear puppies in secret in a mango garden, run scams selling wrestling stickers to school mates. We even fell off a tree once, together. We were fellow travellers, co-conspirators.
No, I would set both mice free together. What if they were brothers? I didn’t want to make them lose each other.
Holding the paper at the mouth of the bottle, I placed it upside down on the floor. I added a hefty notebook on top as contingency, in case the mouse was too strong and tried to topple the ‘trap’.
The second mouse had hidden itself in the bathtub drain when I returned. I would have missed it if I was not looking for it. Welding itself into the edges of the drain, like a furry Letter C, it was impossible to prise it free using a newspaper. I finally placed an empty bathroom cup near the drain and specked a few drops of water on the mouse. It sprang from the drain on pure reflex and ran straight into the cup. My coup was complete.
Closing the open end of the cup, I sat it down near the other mouse upside down. One by one, I then took both of them to the terrace. Standing behind a railing, I first let go of the mouse in the bottle. It fled my presence in a series of hurried hops and was out of sight in no time. The peanut chikki lay on the open terrace, unbitten and gleaming in the sun. I hurried to release the second mouse. When I set it free, it too scuttled away in short, rapid leaps. It seemed headed in the same direction the first mouse had. I hoped they hadn’t lost each other. If they had, maybe they would come back for the peanut chikki.