I stumbled inside, half-asleep, carrying my partially sodden foam mattress, my path dimly lit by my cell phone’s flashlight. Something was wrong. Several books were strewn across the floor, not on my table where I'd left them. My shampoo bottle was laying on the ground, too, a small puddle of liquid pooled around its nozzle. And – what was that? – oh yeah, the glue rat trap I’d bought in Thies was upside down on the floor, too. As I looked, the trap suddenly clicked and scuttled towards me.
I shrieked and jumped. “Oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god!” After three kinds of rat poison hadn’t done the trick, I’d bought the trap hoping to catch the rat, but this possibility had honestly never occurred to me. I thought if the trap did work, the rat would die instantly and peacefully, allowing me to sanctimoniously drop it in my latrine hole with a shrug and a silent apology (“Well, I’m sorry, but you did it to yourself, you know.”) Unfortunately, the rat didn’t agree to that plan, and he wasn’t going down without a fight.
My heart was racing. I cowered in my rain-drenched sleep shorts as I considered my options.
1. Ignore it until morning and make my host brother deal with it. Although this was the most attractive option, it was not possible. It was raining too hard for me to go back outside, and I doubted the rat would sit still until daylight. I wouldn’t be able to sleep with it running all over.
2. Toss the whole mess outside, rat, trap, and all. That would mean touching it, which there was no way I was going to do. Rat scratch fever, Hantavirus, the plague…no.
3. Kill the rat. I didn’t want to do this, but I couldn’t think of any other possibility.
I reluctantly strapped a chaco sandal on my right foot and breathed deeply, trying to get up the nerve to stomp the trap. I wished I’d brought a nice thick baseball bat to Senegal for this occasion. The trap was still now, which I interpreted as the rat silently and serenely accepting his fate. I muttered encouragements to myself. “Come on, Barb. You’ve got this. Just do it. You can do it.”
Five minutes passed, silent except for the wind and rain and my racing thoughts, completely dark except for my flashlight beam. I realized there was no way I’d survive a zombie apocalypse. I knew I was being a baby, but I still couldn’t move. It was just a rat! I reconsidered option 1, leaving the trap until morning. As if it were reading my thoughts, the trap moved, scraping noisily against my concrete floor. “Oh god oh god oh god oh god!” I shuddered, closed my eyes, and stomped the chaco as hard as I could in the center of the trap.
But the rat was not in the center of the trap. It was far off to one side of it. The trap was also not very well made – its surface was slick, wet, and barely sticky at all, the masking tape of glues. My stomp only served to slide the gluey cardboard off the rat’s back and onto his hairless tail. He yelped, scared and angry, then limped away from the trap unencumbered, his fur shiny with wet glue. I knew I should chase him. I knew I wasn’t going to chase him. I watched as he walked, fearlessly and purposefully, out my open back door into the rain. Lightning flashed and – I swear – he looked back at me over his shoulder before disappearing into the tall grass, where (I imagined) he’d clean himself off, gather his friends, and prepare a counter-attack.
I tucked my mosquito net in very carefully, telling myself the thin gauzy fabric was ample defense against a revengeful rodent. I eventually fell into a fitful sleep, had a mefloquine nightmare about Zombeavers, and woke up in a puddle of my own sweat.
Africa: 1, Kadiatou: 0.