Circle of Life

They had been eagerly awaiting this occasion; the birth of their first child. And to celebrate it, had decided to throw a huge party. Everyone in the family, along with neighbours was invited. The date was fixed for two weeks after the birth, so as to enable the ‘pinkie’ to see properly.

Oh, a little confused? Sorry, let me introduce you to the family properly.

Meet Mrs. and Mr. Musculus, the resident mouse-couple in Mrs. Nice’s basement. Mr. Buck Musculus is a handsome, furry, long-whiskered brown house-mouse. Mrs. Does Musculus is a pretty brown house-mouse with patches of white giving her a very distinct and attractive pattern. And now, please welcome their firstborn, the cheese of their eyes, lovingly named Julius Cheesar, JC for short. Mind you, when JC was born, he was one of a litter of seven. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for six of them. Only JC survived. Being a pragmatic couple, they decided to celebrate the new life rather than dwell on the loss and hence the dinner party.

The said party was in full swing. No expense had been spared. There was bread, cake, cheese, nuts, seeds, cardboard pieces, wood shavings, colorful rings of wires and for the non-vegetarians there was a big bowl of beetle-grasshopper mix.

“Oh, he is just so adorable.” said Grandma Musculus, touching JC’s cheek tenderly.

“Yeah, look at him, he has his daddy’s eyes.” joined in JC’s Aunt. The conversation continued and JC who was just getting his sight, looked around with avid curiosity.

Once the party was over and the nest had been cleared out and the guests had left, JC’s parents tucked him into his bed and covered him with a blanket made from scraps of clothes.

“I love him, with all my heart and soul.” said JC’s Mom as she gazed at him. Mr. Musculus put his arm around his wife and they stood like that looking down at their son for some time.

A few days after the party JC was already driving his mom crazy with all his questioning and exploring. He and his cousins and friends would spend the whole night exploring the boundary of their compound; the edge of the cardboard boxes inside the basement and the white stones that marked the edge of the flower-bed outside the basement where the dumpster was kept at the back of the house. They had very strict orders about never crossing the boundaries.

“Do not ever cross the boundary JC. Beyond the boundary is danger.” Was something his mother could be heard saying constantly these days.  

That night before going to play with his friends, JC decided to ask his parents about it.

“Mom, Dad, you have to tell me what is danger? What does it look like? If I don’t know what it looks like how will I avoid it?”

“You will avoid it by not crossing the boundary.” snapped Mom.

“Don’t snap at him, honeybun. He is naturally curious.” Dad said looking at Mom.

Then he turned to JC and said, “Do you see these cardboard boxes all around us?” After an affirmative from JC he continued, “These boxes have old stuff in them, things that Mrs. Nice does not need but does not want to throw away either. That’s good for us. These boxes hide us from anyone coming into the basement. They will have to come into the basement, to this farthest corner, move these boxes and only then they will be able to see the holes in the wall and floor. All this gives us plenty of time to hide.”

“Who is Mrs. Nice and why do we have to hide?” asked JC, eyebrows raised and whiskers twitching.

“Mrs. Nice is the old lady who owns this house.”

“How old? As old as Granny?”

“Yes.”

With awe JC replied, “Oh, she is sixty-three weeks old too.”

Mom and Dad burst out laughing. Mom said, “Yes JC, she is sixty-three weeks in human years.”

“Ok.” said JC trying to figure out what that meant. Then he remembered his other question, “Why do we have to hide?”

“Well son, the humans think of us as pests and try to ext..” Dad stopped mid-word after a glare from Mom; then cleared his throat and continued, “Let’s just say they don’t like us and will take measures to run us out of our homes.”

“I see.”

After JC left, Dad had a quiet word with Mom.

“Honeybun, we cannot mollycoddle him. He needs to know the truth. Danger is not getting thrown out of the house, the real danger is being eaten. He needs to understand that.”

“I know, you are right. But he is too young.”

“Precisely for that reason. He has no idea of the danger and kids are naturally curious, they are bound to cross the boundaries. We need to educate them, so that they can take the right decisions when the time comes.”

“That’s true. Tomorrow, before he leaves to play with his friends, we will tell him.” sighed Mom.

The next day his parents told him about various dangers but JC showed no fear and kept exploring and learning. One day JC saw a strange creature near the cardboard boxes. In his four-week life, he had not seen such a creature. The moment the creature saw JC, its legs started trembling, all of its eight legs as JC counted. The effect was comical, to JC it looked like the creature was dancing because his trembling legs made his tiny body bob up and down. So, JC started dancing too. This confused the creature and it stopped trembling.  

“Hello, who are you?” asked JC.

“I am a spider.” stuttered the creature.

“Ok. Why did you stop dancing?”

“I wasn’t dancing, I was scared.”

“Of what?”

“You.”

“Me? But why?” squeaked JC.

“Because mice eat spiders.”

With an incredulous look on his face JC replied, “Who told you that? We only eat what our mothers give us, like bread, cake, nuts. We never eat raw food. We certainly don’t eat spiders. And even if we do, I will not eat you. Will you be my friend?”

“Generally, a mouse and a spider don’t become friends.”

“Well, there is a first time for everything.”

“I suppose so.” said spider extending an arm. “My name is Eileg.”

“I am JC, Julius Cheesar. Nice to meet you.” They smiled and that was it, an unusual friendship was formed. JC’s cousins and friends teased him about his friendship with Eileg but JC was not bothered. He was just happy to have a new friend.

Thus, continued the life of little JC, till he hit puberty around five weeks. Things got a little heated. There was a lot of walking out in the middle of conversations. JC thought that his parents were cramping his style. His friends had started crossing the boundaries and had interesting tales to boast about, while poor JC was always held back by his mother’s voice in his head, “JC you are our only child.” He was getting fed up of that voice in his head and he was getting perilously close to doing something untoward.

That evening JC was out with his cousins and friends. They were playing near the white stones when his friends Catnip and Whiskers challenged him to touch the cherry tree some fifty yards away. For a few seconds he just stood there and just as the group started to make fun of him, he dashed out, touched the tree and ran back for his dear life. His heart pounded with fear, excitement and exhilaration.

“So, what did you guys do today?” asked Mom, when he got back in that morning.

“Nothing.”

“Young man, that’s all you have to say to your mother?” said Mom crossly.

“What do you want me to say?”

“The world beyond the boundaries is dangerous, son.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. You have told me that a zillion times.”

“And yet you crossed the boundary last night.”

“Who told you that? No, wait, let me guess. It’s uncle Mouncer. He sits near the entrance and yells at us to be careful.” JC said angrily. “He needs to mind his own business.”

“JC, don’t speak about him like that. He loves you and looks out for you.”

JC mumbled and stalked off to his room.

This reckless behaviour continued and with each successful outing, the distance increased. Now they were running to the edge of the backyard lawn where the picket fence separated the house from the road. Raging hormones and youthful cockiness are a dangerous mix and this made them feel invincible, till disaster struck.

That night JC raced with Peanut, one of his cousins, to the picket fence. That’s when they came face to face with their archenemy, a cat named Socks. Only a fence separated them. Socks looked down at the two, with a slow evil smile spreading on its whiskered face. For a second everything was in suspended animation. Then the trio burst into frenzied action. The mice turned around and started running back as fast as they could, while Socks slipped through the fence in one fluid move. It was a race for life or death. Even as JC ran, he realized that they may not make it back. They needed a distraction. Just then he heard a painful squeak from behind him and his heart sank. He turned his head to look back and was horrified to see that Socks’ had a piece of his cousin in its mouth and he was struggling to get away from the cat. Even as JC turned back without worrying about this own safety, he heard Uncle Mouncer shouting.

“Run JC, run back home. I will take care of this.” Saying that he barreled straight at the cat distracting it, which gave JC enough time to go back and rescue his cousin. As soon as the cat realized that its injured prey was getting away, it ignored Uncle Mouncer and started chasing them, but it was too late. JC with his cousin literally dove back into the safety of their hole that lead to the basement. Meanwhile, Uncle Mouncer too ran back to safety.

Even as he stumbled through the hole, friends and family gathered around to take care of them. His heart was pounding and his ears were buzzing. He knew that they had been terribly lucky today. If it hadn’t been for Uncle Mouncer, either or both of them would be dead. His eyes welled up with tears. Peanut was patched up and prescribed rest. Others came over and praised him for going back to help Peanut. After everything had settled down, JC went up to his mom and simply put his arms around her and cried his heart out. Mom too put her arms around him protectively, realizing that this had really shaken him up. Later when he had cried himself out, Mom kissed his forehead and told him to clean up and rest.

Thus, passed a couple of weeks, where JC spent time with Peanut and also with his dad to better understand the organizing and running of the ‘mischief’ (group). But as is said, trouble comes in threes, that week too other incidents happened that had a profound effect on JC. The second incident was the visit of Mrs. Nice’s children. She was getting on in age and they wanted to help organize things for her. They started with the basement and saw evidence of mice infestation.

“Mom, you have mice in your basement.” said her son.

“I am going to call the exterminator and he will take care of it.” replied the daughter.

“Leave my basement alone. When I am gone you can do whatever you want. Till then it stays the way it is.” replied Mrs. Nice softly but firmly from the top of the basement stairs. Mrs. Nice was ok with some animals in her basement as long as they did not bother her.

Once they left, the whole group gathered together.

Mr. Musculus said, “We need to prepare for this exigency. One day, when she is no more, the children will not tolerate our presence. We can’t wait, we start our search for a new home today. We may have to travel great distances to find the right spot. It will definitely be dangerous, but doing nothing will be even more dangerous.”

The third trouble came on heels of this action plan. It was the dawn of the sixth night; one of the search parties came home minus two members, three badly injured and the remaining two completely shaken and exhausted from having to help the injured. One of the badly injured was JC’s Dad; for he led the search party that was taking the greatest risks to find a safe place.

“Why are you taking such risks with your life?” JC asked his Dad, after he had received medical attention and was settled as comfortably as possible on a nest of dry leaves, twigs and insulation.

“With leadership comes responsibility son. You cannot enjoy the benefits and shrug your responsibilities. You lead by action. The protection of everyone in the mischief is my responsibility.” he replied haltingly.

The greater part of the next week was dedicated to recuperating and recovery. In the meantime, these incidents had given JC a new found respect for the diligence with which the elders performed their task. These past couple of weeks JC had grown and matured. Since he had started taking on some of his father’s responsibilities, it was decided that he will take up the mantle of finding a new home under the guidance of his father and Uncle Mouncer. Thus, started a new chapter in JC’s life.

“So, how is it going? Which places did you reconnoitre today?” was Dad’s standard question every morning once the search party returned.

And JC’s standard reply would be that they had looked at some houses down the road. Then one morning JC said, “Dad, we need to cross the road. There is nothing on either side of our house on this side of the street.”

“Crossing the road means double danger JC. It will be very tough when we have to move the elders and the pinkies.”

“I understand that. But we have no choice.”

Later that night JC led his team to the picket fence, the same fence where he had seen Socks for the first time, the same fence he had not been to since then. He took a deep breath and looked at Peanut and they both nodded at each other. Fortunately, they didn’t come across Socks, unfortunately, the first three nights weren’t fruitful. On the fourth night, they ended up at a deserted, dilapidated mansion.

As they were looking around, a big fat mouse emerged from a hole and demand, “Hey, who are you? What are you doing here?”

“My name is JC and this is my mischief.”, he said indicating his fellow reconnoitres. “We are looking for a suitable place to shift to.”

“Why?”

“The lady whose house we live in, is getting on in age. We want to have a planned exodus now instead of a rushed departure later when she leaves for her heavenly abode. Her children will not let us stay.”

“You need to meet our leader.” saying so he led the way inside. He then spoke to someone JC assumed was the leader. The leader came over.

“My name is Jerry MoBlanc. You and your mischief are welcome to stay here. Not many families come this way. This house is said to be haunted and many are afraid of that. Think you will be ok with it.” he winked and said.

“The ghosts can’t be worse than humans, we gladly accept the offer.” said a grateful JC.

It was as he was turning around to leave that he saw her; standing with her friends at the back of the room. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Her coat was all white, shiny and soft. She had beautiful pink-rimmed eyes. Her whiskers were thick and beautifully fanned out from around her nose. And when she looked at him directly JC forgot to breathe. It was love at first sight for him. Now he had an added incentive to shift as soon as possible.

On the next visit, he got an opportunity to talk to her.   

“I am JC, Julius Cheesar.”    

She giggled when she heard his name. ‘Oh God, even her giggle is cute,’ thought JC.

“My name is Cleo,” she said.

Amidst all the planning and shifting, love between the two blossomed. Stolen glances, accidental touches, sighing, progressed to holding hands, quick pecks and eventually to slow, sweet, deep kisses. Nobody was surprised when JC informed them that he wanted to marry Cleo.

Thus, was organized a quiet, tasteful wedding in the new surroundings. JC’s friend Eileg specially came over to do the decoration. He spun the finest, silkiest webs in beautifully intricate designs. The groom looked dapper in his three-piece. The bride wore the most beautiful pristine white lace and a small pearl in her tiara, she was a sight to behold.

The wedding festivities hadn’t even settled when the good news of impending parenthood had everyone in a buoyant mood again. Four weeks down the lane, JC’s mom planned another party, for her first litter of grandchildren. That evening just before the party was to start Mrs. and Mr. Musculus stood in their new room, she in front of the mirror and he just behind her with his hands on her shoulders. Both were looking at each other in the mirror.

“We seem to have travelled a fair distance in our life, haven’t we? It feels as if it was only yesterday, I was chasing you to marry me and now we are grandparents,” said Mr. Musculus softly.

Smiling with pleasure, Mrs. Musculus replied, “Indeed we have. Life has come a full circle.”

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Glossary-

Mus Musculus – the scientific name of a house mouse
Buck – a male mouse
Does – a female mouse
Pinkie – the young ones of mice, sometimes also called pups
Nest – The house of a mouse is called a nest.
Mischief – the collective noun for a group of mice.
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Shweta Singh

Shweta Singh is a home maker and mother of on-the-verge-of-being-teenager twins. She is passionate about books and food – both interests inherited from her father – and loves to write and travel at every opportunity. A closet writer, who after encouragement from friends and family has embarked on the journey of self-discovery.
Shweta Singh

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