the mouse

it was after work some weeks ago, and i’d skipped out at 4.45pm on friday with plans to meet my cousin and her daughter for a special dinner at the oxo tower. they were visiting from california, and it is a rare treat when a member of my family is both wonderful and kindred enough to warrant meeting up with…and also passing through london.

i wandered out of work into a blaze of april sunshine – a treat of a warm, dry day at this time of year – sun peeking through a few fast-moving clouds interrupting bright blue sky. with an hour until i was meant to meet them for our sitting, i thought about a gin and tonic, and given i was due to fly to asia for five weeks in just under 24 hours, a little celebratory sunshine tipple seemed just the thing.

i crossed blackfriars road at the busy southwark street crossing, battling the brisk wind that constantly blows down then up again from the huge glass building where i work. and then the raft of militant cyclists pouring up and down the cycle lane. i skipped past the mad hatter (the only victorian hotel pub within striking distance still standing in the midst of a glass uprising) and a mini-waitrose supermarket and found myself on marigold alley: a small, brick-lane pedestrian alley that connects upper ground to the thames path.

there was a dark-haired man wearing a messenger satchel slung over one shoulder, stopped just ahead, peering at the ground, and below him, a small creature barely moving. approaching, it became clear this was an injured rodent – a tiny field mouse with a broken leg.

the tiny mouse, which may have been a baby – note to self: brush up on murine anatomy and life cycle – was attempting to crawl helplessly across a small patch of the brick. above, yet another modern glass office building and in front a sliver of ‘garden’ consisting in the main of pebbles intersown with a handful of tufty sweeps of urban feathergrass.

the gentleman says he thinks the mouse’s leg might be broken, but it seems ok if not for being on the hot bricks. maybe if we could get it into the landscaped bit, it would fare better.

i don’t want to touch him though, the man says gently, with a tinge of guilt.

no, maybe for the best not to handle him, i agree.

simultaneously, and without speaking, the man begins rummaging in his messenger bag and i flick through the assortment of books, headphones, papers and printed travel documents in my canvas work tote, finding a couple papers i deem unnecessary in relation to the mouse’s life.

here, it’s a script but it should work. the man points a messy staple of papers at me and i wonder if he must be an actor on his way to a reading at the national theatre or somewhere in soho. maybe, like me, he’d taken a detour to walk along the riverside for a few glorious minutes in the london sun, and here we’d found ourselves, caring for a despised animal.

we work in tandem, putting the mess of script and papers down in front of the frightened creature, trying to delicately coax it onto its life raft.  finally, the mouse aboard, we hover in a silently coordinated dance, each holding a ream of papers, the mouse at the centre, walking quickly but unmovingly to the strip of landscaped pebble garden.

we gently lay the mouse down in the shade of the glass high-rise and breathe a paired sigh of some kind of relief. maybe it would be ok. then we stand there awkwardly for a couple of minutes, watching the mouse inhale, nose around and then and bobble carefully along the rockery.

well, hopefully he’ll be alright, i say and i am really hopeful.

yeah….well…thanks. sorry, and…thanks for your help, he says, pushing the mouse script back into his satchel.

it was nice being a saviour with you.

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