Extract from 'The Stories of George the Hamster'

THE REST (part chapter)  

‘O dear,' cooed the pigeon as he peered over the coping of the three-storey building located in the centre of a busy thoroughfare at the peak of the humans' weekend shopping.

Brightly coloured shops and fast moving cars glistened in the bright sunshine that bathed the street scene with heat and glare.

Men, women and bored children hurried past, to and fro, snapping up bargains, buying food or chatting amongst themselves as they sat out round tables sharing a coffee and a few biscuits, totally unaware in their freedom that somewhere above them an anxious pigeon paced nervously up and down the flat roof behind a slightly elevated coping.

‘O dear,' he repeated. ‘O dear, dear, dear.'

The pigeon bounced to the edge, one step away from a forty-foot drop down onto the pavement below. He stretched out his wings as far as they went, closing his eyes to all the sounds and conflicting thoughts that reverberated through his brain.

He swallowed long and hard as he stood there, calling up his courage to push him one more step forward into uncharted territory.

After what seemed like an eternity, his eyes opened, peering below him at the hustle and bustle of a frantic Saturday afternoon. As a frown settled upon his mind - a very worried frown at that - he folded up his wings into his body and hopped down from the coping to begin (all over again) the pacing to and fro on the roof.

‘No,' he squawked fearfully, ‘no, it won't do, it just won't do.'

He hung his head in shame as despair flooded his consciousness and sorrow welled up from deep within. One solitary tear came to his eye.

‘Why wasn't I made like other birds?' he continued. ‘Why can't I fly and soar effortlessly into the sky like I know I should?'

Not only had the pigeon continued this way for many hours, but he trudged relentlessly on, back and forth, well into the day and the early part of the evening.

Still he moaned, still he complained, as his head drooped ever lower to match his failing will.

.)(.

Trepo the hamster had had a restless day trying to grab what sleep he could before the inevitable approach of night, when the energy inside seemed to get switched on and he'd dart round his territory in search of food and fun like a headless chicken.

But, as I've said, it'd been a restless day's sleep.

Trepo lived nestled around insulation that filled the cavity between the flat roof above and the ceiling beneath. An old ventilation duct gave him access to the rooms below and to the roof upon which the pigeon paced backwards and forwards most of the day.

It was this that had kept him awake for, although he was used to the occasional bird landing above him in search of food, the frequency, consistency and accompanying loud squawks were like a constantly dripping tap in his ears that dispelled sleep from his eyes and rest from his body.

In a vain attempt to eliminate the distraction, Trepo had screwed pieces of insulation into each ear and buried his head into his nesting material. But the bass of the noise could be felt, not just heard, so that any attempt was doomed to failure.

Three hours before he normally got up to groom in anticipation of the first darkness, he decided to risk a look onto the flat roof to see if the tapping could somehow be eliminated.

He poked his nose out of the ventilation pipe, taking a good long sniff. Well, it certainly didn't smell like there were any predators about.

Still erring on the side of caution, he tentatively looked over towards the coping and was surprised to see a grey pigeon pacing up and down with its head drooping with sadness, almost scraping the surface of the roof.

‘Hey, gumboots,' Trepo shouted, ‘can't an honest hamster get a little rest?'

‘O dear,' he cooed, not hearing the squeaks that emanated from a small opening two feet away. ‘O dear, dear, dear. What am I going to do?'

‘This is pointless,' Trepo thought. ‘So caught up with his own problems he can't hear a thing that's going on around him! Easy prey...easy prey - it's a good job that there're so few predators in these parts!'

He watched him for a full five minutes before deciding that the only course of action was to go over and sort him out. Trepo scanned the skies for gulls - there were few other dangers for him other than those most gigantic of birds, which would swoop down on unsuspecting rodents from great heights, swallowing them whole in a matter of seconds.

He'd already lost part of his tail through a close encounter and, as far as he was concerned, that was going to be the last!

But this pigeon was no threat - he was only a seed eater.

Trepo pulled himself out of the hole and paced slowly over to the edge of the roof. The pigeon was so pre-occupied with his problem that he never noticed the small tan and white object as he neared hesitantly, questioning in his own mind what an absurd scene he was witnessing before his eyes.

The bird once again peered over the coping, down into the dispersing crowds who were by now scattering for home, then resumed pacing up and down, head bent over, voice shaking whenever he squawked a few anxious words of doubt and fear.

As the pigeon began once more to pace up and down, Trepo jumped into his path and stood with teeth bared in half-threat and half-smile. The bird took one look at him and froze to the spot - it wasn't fear, only surprise, for he'd thought himself alone.

Trepo put his teeth away, sitting on his rear paws and eyeing his feathered acquaintance with a questioning stare. The pigeon returned it, baffled as to the reason why a non-predator challenged his right to pace on a piece of land - well, roof, actually.

And what was a hamster doing up here in the first place?

‘Do you realise what you've done for the past day?' Trepo's tone was indignant at being kept awake the best part of the daylight hours.

The bird searched his memory. ‘Done?' he thought. ‘All I've wanted to do was fly!'

Before he could answer, Trepo continued. ‘I'll tell you what you've done! You've been pacing to and fro, backwards and forwards, up and down, this way and that, on the roof of my nest ALL DAY LONG and I haven't yet snatched two minutes of sleep!'

The bird hung his head in shame.

‘O dear,' he cooed. ‘O dear, dear, dear.'

As if the burden of failing as a flightless pigeon wasn't enough, the thought of keeping this rodent awake added to the already great sorrow that had flooded over him.

After a long silence, his head drooped further downward as he whispered, barely audibly, ‘I...I can't fly.'

Trepo looked puzzled. ‘Can't fly? What's wrong with you that you can't fly?'

‘Nothing's wrong - I just can't fly.'

The rodent thought for a moment. ‘But there must be something wrong with you if you can't fly...' and, throwing his paws up into the air in puzzlement, he continued. ‘...All birds can fly - that's what makes 'em birds!'

‘Perhaps...perhaps...' he searched for words to describe his feelings, ‘...perhaps I was meant to be a gorilla.'

‘Gorilla?' Trepo half-laughed at such a suggestion: the other half questioned himself as to whether this pigeon might be in the process of having an identity crisis.

‘Well, if you were meant to be a gorilla, you're the funniest looking one I've ever seen!'

The bird's head drooped still further. If this wasn't all-so-very-serious, Trepo would have been rolling about in a fit of giggles by now.

‘What's needed,' he thought, ‘is some drastic action.'

‘My friend,' Trepo continued, ‘hop up here onto the coping a moment and let me point something out to you.'

Both animals peered over the edge of the roof, down onto the pedestrianized street that carried the last of the late shoppers.

‘What do you see?'

The bird eyed the scene carefully, reeling off a list of observations.

‘Very good,' encouraged Trepo, ‘but you've missed one important sight. Look there!' and he pointed at a small red brick that stood out from the others. ‘Do you see that ant?'

‘Ant?' squawked the pigeon in complaint. ‘How am I supposed to see an ant from this distance?'

‘O yes, I'm sorry - I forgot that you birds don't have as good an eyesight as us hamsters,' (which was, incidentally, a blatant lie). ‘Wait here a moment while I go and get you a magnifying glass.'

As Trepo scurried back across the roof, the bird strained his eyes to try and make out the insect, leaning ever more forward to see this important sight. All the while, Trepo squeaked as he went away from the bemused pigeon.

‘You see, my friend, I know that you can fly because you were born a bird. If you'd been born a gorilla...' Trepo kept a tight control on his laughter, ‘...you'd act like one and you don't.

Everything about you tells me that you're a bird - and, if a bird, then you were made to fly.'

He turned, having reached the other side of the roof, and faced the pigeon who continued to strain his eyes to see where this ant was.

‘Now let me explain my final point to you...' Trepo broke off abruptly, accelerating violently towards the bird who, by now, was starting to wonder why it was taking the rodent so long.

As he neared the edge of the roof, the target firmly in his sights, he leapt upwards and made a brief but hefty impact with a bundle of feathers. Trepo bounced back onto the roof. The pigeon had disappeared over the coping.

.)(.

Three days later at the close of the day when Trepo had exited from his nest onto the roof for a short drink from the rainpools that formed close to the ventilation duct, there was a clap of strong wings and the rustle of feathers as the pigeon landed on the roof, inches away from the rodent who stopped drinking immediately, looking upwards at the visitor.

‘I suppose you thought that was funny!' the bird began. ‘Pushing a poor, fragile bird to an early grave!'

‘Grave?' said Trepo in defence. ‘Pardon me if I don't see the tombstone! - you did fly, didn't you?'

Inwardly, the pigeon had been happy and smiling long before he ever landed on the roof, but had adopted a serious frown to see Trepo's reaction. His sullen face now broke into a radiant smile, cooing with glee the way only pigeons know how to, as he scratched the tarmac roof with his left foot.

‘Yes,' he chuckled, ‘and what an experience that was!'

The hamster began squeaking repeatedly, rubbing his nose with his paws and blinking with excitement.

‘But tell me,' he squawked, ‘what made you push me over the edge? Why not persuade me to stretch out my wings and fly?'

‘That would never have worked! It was a desperate problem that needed a desperate solution. Pushing you over the side forced you to confront the problem that no amount of arguing would ever have done. You had to fly, you had to stretch out your wings and save yourself - and you did!'

‘But what if....'

‘Ha!' Trepo interrupted, half leaping into the air as if a violent sneeze had suddenly come upon him with no warning. ‘Never mind the "What if" - in the confrontation you proved who you are - a bird's a bird and it's natural for him to do what birds do!'

Trepo paused and smiled knowingly at his feathered friend.

Then he giggled as the pigeon's words came back to him.

‘Huh!' he squealed. ‘Gorilla, indeed!'

.)(.

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