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Jakarta's Rats

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I live in Jakarta. It is a huge huge city, teeming with people. People who don't believe in disposing of things in ways that we do in N. America. Where there are sewers here, they are not covered but open ditches running along the side of the roads. Frequently on my way to work I am dodging trash being flung from car windows or open bus doors, along with closing my eyes to get through the smoke of trash fires burning on the sides of the roadways or in the aforementioned open sewers.

I live in Jakarta. It is a huge, huge city on the island of Java. When people lived and died for spices hundreds of years ago, the Dutch and English and other seafaring explorers came here on their wooden ships to trade and pillage. When they arrived they would de-rat their ships.

I live in Jakarta. It is a huge huge city teeming with rats. Susie our dog has killed one or two in our time here. I am scared to death of them. That all dates back to an experience I had putting on my shoes in my parents garage when I was a kid in Iowa. I generally am the one to walk Susie at night before we go to bed. On any given night there is something moving in the open sewers, there is rustling in the garbage 'pits', stuff is crawling in the shadows and squeaking all around us. Susie is at full alert as she is a rat-dog and I am filled with the heebie-jeebies. On a rainy night it is even worse as they must get flooded out of their holes and then party in the streets.

In the early mornings my fears are vindicated. There were rats all around us as we took our evening walk last night. I leave for work before 6 a.m. and there are dead rats in the middle of the streets all over the city. Some were killed by feral cats but most have been killed by automobiles or motorcycles. You can tell what killed them by how they look when the sun comes up. If they seem intact, it was most likely a predator that ended it all for them. If part of their bodies are fused to the asphalt rode way or they seem to have popped like a tube of toothpaste, a tire did them in. By afternoon, all that is left of them is a pancake in the shape of a rat where they died. The tires of the cars don't change their basic outlines as they flatten them into the road. You can still see their sharp little claws. They lie there, easily identifiable, attracting flies and emanating that one and only dead rodent smell for days.

I live in Jakarta. It is a huge huge city whose streets are peppered with remnants of dead rats. When I first got here and started biking I would avoid running over any rat remnants at all. Now I am unfortunately growing accustomed to them and don't swerve off of my course to avoid the flattened variety. I still won’t walk on them or let Susie anywhere near them, but my bicycle tires insulate me enough from the squished ones that I can keep on trucking. The fresh ones are a different matter. I avoid them like the plague that they carry. I cross the street, head into oncoming traffic, swerve dangerously on wet pavement, run people off the road, whatever it takes. Last year I was on my way to work, keeping pace with a motorcycle on a very curvy street. He came upon a fresh one too late to avoid it and I watched him lift his feet into the air, just like I would have done. I felt better that I wasn't the only one in the city afraid of them.

I live in Jakarta. I rode my bike to work today as I do most days. I was on my normal back road commute before I hit the busy streets. I was trailing two motorcycles. We came around a sharp curve and there was a rat lying in the roadway. He or she had already been hit more than once, but not enough times to be a rat pancake. I know because it was pulpy. They don't usually look pulpy. The lead motorcycle either didn't see it or didn't care. I think he must have recently bought new tires. He rolled right over it with that new tread and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it. It splashed. Like a bowling ball in a pool of milk. Like he rode through a red rat puddle. Guy number two, we can call him the victim, came very close to laying down his bike as he reacted to rat parts being sprayed into the air and then running into them. I skidded to a stop just in time and scratched off my gas mask so as to not wretch in it. When I finally got it off, it is a new one that has several straps I’m still getting used to, I was greeted with that one and only dead rodent smell.

I live in Jakarta. Sometimes I wish I didn't.

© Ab Bear

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