They call me Tar. It is short for my real name – Suttar. I don’t care for names though… they are just labels, and me, well I am something more that. No one calls me by my name anyway.
I live beneath the world of names. In the shadows I remain, hidden away from prying eyes. It is better this way, for when people see me they look away in disgust. They have contempt and hatred in their eyes. I don’t know why they hate me. I don’t even know them. I never met them. They just hate me because of what I am. It is sad to be hated for who you are because you cant change that. I was born this way. I hate myself sometimes because of it, because I cant change who I am, and because everyone hates me for it. I can understand hating someone for the way they act, but for me they just hate me no matter what I do.
And so I hide away from the world, live in the shadows, sleeping on the streets in places not often looked upon – in bus shelters, under park benches or in the undergrowth behind some bushes. I come out at night and only spend time with my fellow street dwellers. They are my only friends and we live the streets together. Friends because no else what’s to know us. Friends because we understand our plight. Friends because we face the prejudice together.
It is best when those other types, the people working their jobs in the city, pretend we don’t exist. It is easier that way. The less they know about us the better, probably for all of us, I reckon. Sometimes they raid us. It is a purge, a genocide. They come on us hard, and try to break us, destroy us and run us into oblivion. We are too smart though. Survivors can always get by, especially when you are hated by everyone. It keeps you wary, and well hidden, untrusting of the others. People don’t even notice me most of the time. They are disgusted by me. I watch them and wonder what they would do if they knew I was nearby… scream probably, and then chase me off or run away as fast they can.
I steal all my food from garbage bins. It is not really stealing because the food has been thrown out. And I don’t want to let it go to waste. No wants it. I may as well have a nibble.
I live in an alley way in the city. There is about five restaurants all in a row, and the each kitchen backs on to the alley way. There are always scraps of food, and leftovers, bags of rubbish and uneaten dinners. The chefs throw bags of this glorious food out the back, in the alley bins, and then I scurry over as quickly as possible, eat what I can before they return for a smoke. I open up bags and try and find the tastiest morsels. I eat anything… you name it, I’ll eat it. Potato skins, fish bones, fatty meats, half eaten chicken drumsticks, chips, old fruit and vegetables that have gone off, cheese, pizza, anything. I don’t mind how old it is or if it is cooked or raw or half eaten. It is food, and it is better than nothing. Meat is my favourite though. I love it, and it is rare to find so always a treat.
The alley is packed with others like me. We live on the street, under bins, behind benches, anywhere there is a little shelter. When the food comes out we all get up and head over to the bins, ripping open the bags as quickly as possible, competing haphazardly for the food. It is important to be quick, and to get to the leftovers first, otherwise it might all be gone, and I’ll be left foraging on the ground for the last scraps that remain. The offcuts that not even my fellows of the street want to eat.
We get on okay. They have their lives and I have mine. We are in this together. At least we know what is like to be each other. We can empathise as downtrodden brother, and can feel together the contempt that people have for us. Yeah we get our own food and have our own patch of land, our bed to sleep in, with a bit of straw or some old cloth. We still know each other and communicate when we need to. When there is a run on for food, we pile over each other to get it, and grab what we can. Occasionally there is a tussle or fight, but usually this doesn’t last long and we quickly go back to our life on the streets. Most of the others are nice enough. I haven’t got a problem with them, and as I said, we live in the shit. We are the forgotten vagrants of the world. We are treated with disdain, and people sometimes even try and kill us. I’ve seen people come along and go after some of my friends. Chase them away from a park bench, curse at us. Throw things towards us with evil intent. We can’t fight back, they are too strong, and it is their society, not ours. Best to keep the head down and avoid another purge. What are we? Nothing! They would rather we didn’t exist. They hate us and call us names and make us feel worthless. Like scum. It is discrimination. And it is horrible. I know how others must feel who have been discriminated against, for their race or colour, for what are they, for how they were born, for the sound they make, or the way they chose to live their lives.
I chose the alley way, with my fellow friends, at the bottom of the rung. We are who we are and we are not going away. So yell at us, try and kill us, scare us away, in don’t make a difference because we are going to be here forever. We are survivors.
I know because I have been surviving for years. I have seen a lot. I have seen people come and go, restaurants open and close, our allies change with the times, and I’m always there, under a old awning, by a pile of rags that I collected myself. Over the years it has everything I have ever needed. It is my warmth, my shelter and my camouflage, and my protection from the world.
I live in the rags, they are dirty like me. Although I do clean myself and will wash myself in the nearby fountain when I get a chance. I am cleaner than people think. Some people think I carry diseases. That I am unclean and if they come near me they may catch some virus or something. It is not true, maybe once someone like me had a disease that was passed on, and maybe some people died. But there are hundreds of disease and anyone can catch them. There is no great plague that I am carrying. It is just hatred. To be angry at me, to be angry at us all, to claim we are all filled with disease; that we are dirty vagabonds that don’t deserve to live… well that is a lie, and awful dangerous lie that has led to the deaths of many of my friends. I think that those who think like that don’t deserve to live.
Surely we can all get along. There is a spot for everyone. I keep out of the way. I live here in the alley. I don’t disturb anyone. I don’t even come out in the day. I hide away, and then come out at night and scavenge some food, see what I can find on the streets. I’m doing a service, cleaning up what the others leave behind. Without me and my lot the streets would be filled with rubbish and leftover food scraps and then there would be disease. It would be everywhere. I stop disease I don’t cause it as so many like to say. I am hero, protecting the people of this world from disease.. I have had some cousins taken in too, by people in white coats. I don’t know where they go, but one of them escaped and told me that he was locked in a cage and each day the people in white coats rubbed different creams on his back, and gave him injections. He thinks they were using testing the creams on him, analysing their effect. He died shortly after, I think he was poisoned. Another hero dead.
We are able to do things that others can’t. Our senses are heightened from this life on the street. We need our noses to survive. I bet we could sniff out bombs and others things if required. We could be helpful to this society. Instead we are looked at with disdain, treated like vile criminals. It is not fair, but I don’t care. I am who I am. If they don’t want my help, I’ll just carrying on living my life, getting by on the street.
Someday I imagine all of us fighting back, or gathering together in one big grey and dirty protest. I could get everyone who lives near me in the alley way or all around the city and we could stand up for our rights, and walk down the street together, thousands of us as one. Remind people who we are, what we are, and how proud we are that we are this.
I am smart, I know things, I can sort things out, I can work out problems and I always get by. I evade the traps and the poisons set for me. I am too smart for them, too street wise. That is what you get from living on street, looking after yourself all day, not trusting anyone, you learn to be smart. You have to for it is the only way to survive.
I have a crush but I haven’t told her yet. I am waiting for the time. She is like me. She lives in a park nearby. We understand each other, because we know what we have been through out here on streets, surviving each night with guile, grabbing food where we can. I think tonight I will take her some meat if I can find some and her. When the cook comes out with his bag of delicious scraps, I’m going to get their first and find the biggest bit of meat I can. A leftover from an uneaten meal. Their loss is my gain, I suppose. Then I will dive in to the bin, and find it, and run off with it as quick as I can. I’ll hide behind a little wall, there is a tunnel that I can squeeze into, and no one will able to get at me, no one can take my chunk of meat. I’ll protect it with my life and then when the time comes, I’ll race out as fast as I can, avoiding the people wandering the streets, darting here and there in shadows, crossing roads with care, making sure I don’t let the meat get dirty, until I get to the park and then I will find her and lay the meat at her feet and she will be happy. Maybe we could live together. She can come to my little corner with the rags, or I could move to the park, where the air is cleaner and there are trees and shrubs to play amongst. Less food, but we will be right, we will have each other, and maybe one day we can start a family. Why not? There are people out there who will say we shouldn’t breed, it just causes more problems, more mouths to feed, but why is my mouth any less worthy that other mouths. I only at what I need. I don’t go to fancy dinners and leave half eaten plates of food. I just eat what I need to survive. I live a modest life, with my rags, and a few things to keep me occupied. I am sick of people saying my life is worthless. I am strong and I can have a family if I want – and they will survive because we rats are survivors. We have been surviving since animals came onto the earth, and we will survive long after most have died. We can survive in the country, and in the cities, or even on riverbanks. We rats get by. So all you out there who look down at us, who look at us with disgust remember that we are creatures too, our lives are just as important as every other creature. And next time you came across us, maybe instead of running away or screaming, you could leave a little food out, for we always appreciate that.
I am a rat – small and fury with a long pink tail. I am a rat and proud of that.