“What are you doing?” I ask the secretary, Nancy. She and the school’s psychologist, Virgen, are emptying one of the shelves in our library of all its boxes, books, and didactic materials (“The teachers never use these!” laments Virgen).
“Oh, we’re taking this shelf out to put another one in,” comes the reply from Nancy. Sounds fair enough.
Some fifth graders are called in, which is pretty standard whenever any physical labor has to get done. No worries if it pulls them out of class, right? They get to work moving the old furniture out of the library, maneuvering it through the narrow doors, and taking it to one of the far-off classrooms.
Next piece to go is the smaller bookshelf. The kids empty it and pull it forward, ready to take it out too. This is when the fun starts.
We all see it at once. A little brown flash shoots out of the bookshelf, Virgen and Nancy scream and run out of the library, and the kids are all excitedly shouting “Ratón ratón ratón!” The mouse realizes its error in showing itself, and it pulls a quick U-turn to hide back behind the remaining bookshelves.
But it’s only a matter of time, mouse. See, Dominican boys are pest-killing machines. They sling pebbles at pigeons and then take them home to fry and eat. Once I was walking with a muchacho, and before I knew what was happening he had knelt down, grabbed a rock, and hurled it at a lizard that had appeared on the path and–BLAMMO!–it was dead. Another time, I was playing cards on the porch with a bunch of kids, and someone screamed “TARANTULA!” Everyone jumped up, flip-flops in hand, and ran to where the alleged tarantula was, slapping the ground and the walls and eventually the spider itself, leaving its curled up corpse for the cat to eat.
Like I said, killing machines. This poor mouse doesn’t stand a chance.
The director, Ramón, and the coordinator, Tomás, come in to assist in the mouse hunt. The doorman, Nery, is eventually convinced to help out too, despite his quick and fearful exit when the mouse appeared. The three of them, with a handful of muchachos, are pulling the bookshelves away from the wall, smacking the books, and swatting behind the shelves with sticks. I’m sitting in the corner, paralyzed with laughter.
Eventually, there comes a shout and the room is all action once more. The mouse is found! Swat swat swat CRACK whap! ”I got it! I got it! I killed it!” A muchacho emerges from behind the bookshelf, stick in hand, victorious. But the moment of victory is short-lived.
Another scream. A second furry flash as a second mouse makes its way, lighting quick, through the feet and table legs and out into the lobby. It disappears. We pause, looking at each other, measuring our options.
A distraction from the predicament appears. The kid who killed the mouse appears from the library, scooting his prize along the ground with a stick. He leaves it in the middle of the floor for his curious classmates to examine with prods and pokes. ”Get that nasty thing out of here!” shouts Virgen. He obliges, and resumes pushing the body along the floor, this time with his foot.
Someone appears in his way, there is a loud exchange, a shuffling of feet, and I watch, in amused horror, as one of his sneakers comes down on the mouse. Another scream, this time from Nancy. The guts explode out of the mouse’s bottom, staining the floor red. People are screaming, laughing, looking at each other. The muchacho who struck the blow looks up at me, half guilty, half grinning. I’m struggling to hold in my laughter. It’s all too much.
Virgen, who had pushed herself up against the wall and was holding her hand over her mouth, eventually composes herself and takes charge. ”NOBODY step there. You can get all kind of diseases from the microbes. Someone get me some bleach. And something to clean it wi–NO, not that mop! We can’t get blood on that mop!” The kids are, of course, crowded around looking at the corpse and guts. Then one of them stands up and says, “Look, it was pregnant!” Sure enough, little red baby mice litter the floor next to the big mouse. Gross. The whole family is swept out the door and Virgen gets to cleaning the blood off the floor. I return to the library.
A few minutes pass in silence. And then, yet another scream. ”The other mouse! I found it! It was under the water cooler and I scared it out with the mop and now it’s IN THERE.” Virgen points at the narrow metal door to the cabinet where we keep tools and medicine. The mouse must have gotten in through the crack between the door and the floor. But no worries, the muchachos spring into action yet again. I grab the key and open the closet, and the mouse killer crouches, ready with his stick. ”We’re going to play pool!” he shouts, a little too eagerly. The door opens, the mouse scurries around, and dies with a swift poke from the stick.
The nightmare is over.
I didn’t get very much work done that day.