“…And there was a mighty tempest on the sea
so that the ship was like to be broken …
But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship;
and he lay and was fast asleep.
So the shipmaster came to him and said unto him,
“What meanest thou, O sleeper?
Arise, call upon thy God … so that we perish not.”
Jonah 1 v 4-6
(King James Version)
Brandishing in his right hand a 5 ml syringe, with the needle aiming at the ceiling like a miniature anti-aircraft gun with the trigger at the ready, Antonis Polatsoglou, otherwise “Kid”, a nickname acquired at the gymnasium and still in use, ambles up to the smallest cage in the laboratory, right at the back and slightly apart from the other big one. He lays the syringe down on the ledge and gets out the key.
He unlocks, releases the bolt, and the little baklava-shaped door grates almost noiselessly and opens. The pure white mouse – entered in the workbook under the code name “M-106” – crouching in the corner motionless like thick milky froth, is completely ignorant of Kid’s intentions. He sees the predatory hand spread over him but has no idea of what is in store for him. Because, because for the mouse, Kid is god.
In reality, however, Kid is not god. He’s a grey little man, in and out: over forty, a bachelor because of a conjuncture of circumstances, grey-haired with an incipient bald pate, stagnating for years in the same job: the caretaker of a “guinea-pig” laboratory in the research department of a large multi-national pharmaceutical company, he is in charge of the laboratory animals. He is the one who feeds and waters them, who cleans them, gives them medicines and also removes the dead animals when the experiments, by design or coincidence, sometimes result in fatality. Yes, Kid is actually the laboratory kitchen-boy.
The rhythm of his own life, however, is also joyless. An obedient pendulum of working hours, tick-tock home-work, tick-tock work-home, he has a robot-like attitude, not even android, it’s enough, you think, for him to breathe. He never has second thoughts, is a regular reader of the newspapers, a frequent surfer on the internet, but that’s it. No calling into question. He is what they call a meek, law-abiding citizen.
The only thing which clashes somewhat with his conservatism is the nickname “Kid”, but even this only half belongs to him: he shares it ab indiviso with a friend from the gymnasium. He’s a doctor, now permanently resident abroad. They meet occasionally in the Antarctics of Cyberspace or even sometimes in their dreams.
“Kid” they shared like a handshake in the contacts between them from the time when they became close friends, because they had the same craze: incurable cowboys, they devoured Westerns, especially the “spaghetti” ones of Sergio Leone, watching on the screen in the summer, open-air cinemas, like anthropomorphic owls, the same film once, twice, three times. So that they could reproduce the duels better. Hence the misappropriation of “Kid”.
In time, the solitary horsemen fell into decline, the brash philosophy of the Wild West no longer appealed, but “Kid”, “Kid”. Even today, in the email messages they occasionally exchange, they greet each other with the same name: “Hallo Kid!” and afterwards, out of habit, they proceed to the commonplaces and the cordialities.
In the laboratory, Kid is for the animals, yes, the absolute ruler, the master of everything, the impartial judge, the one who determines death or life. The animals, however, inferior to him by nature, cannot fathom his real intentions. About the meaning of their existence, the purpose they serve in the hands of men, they surely make many guesses, in various variations indeed, perhaps even hope in another life after death, a better one. Who knows? It may be so. Weak creatures usually believe this. The cruel and the irrational truth, however, they will never learn.
Kid is indeed all-powerful to them but alas! Despite his absolute dominion, in practice he is not very different from the mice. He carries out in full the orders of his superiors – whom, let it be said in parenthesis, he has never met in person – but because of his limited knowledge and his temperament he himself will never comprehend the deeper purpose of the experiments, the real intentions of the super-brains who give him orders.
The omniscient intellects of the planning offices may, it is true, allow nothing to leak to the outside, but they, too, are scourged by the same black despair: each time they solve one riddle a new one springs up, the jar of knowledge is totally emptied and, because of tough competition, this misery/ordeal has no end. In this intellectual inadequacy of theirs, yes, they indeed resemble the joyless worker Kid.
At this moment, Kid who, with the syringe in his hand, holds dominion over the ostracised mouse, does not have bullets in his belt nor is he brandishing a pistol like in the old days. Then, swooping down from the shanty town, he would despatch – always in perfect cooperation with the other Kid, now abroad – up to fifty Indians in each attack. In contrast, he now has a special pouch secured at his waist, like a kangaroo, in which he keeps all sorts of little bottles and vials of various colours and sizes. They are the substances used in the experiments of which he is ignorant, together with the syringes, cotton wool and all the related items. He gets out the key; it’s visiting hours and the gaol opens …
The owl-like mouse is in fact a ball of wretchedness. In the blackest depression, wedged in despair, he is indifferent to everything. You would say it is because that he is pining in slavery that he doesn’t speak. But no! It’s all Kid’s fault, who yesterday, at exactly the same time, filled the mouse’s veins with a hormone which shatters morale. It is since then that the mouse has been steeped in depression. The injection swept away his spirits, like a detergent with blue particles washes away stains.
Today, however, Kid is carrying out to the letter the second and final stage of the company’s pioneering experiment. Today, in short, he intends to dose it with a chemical the opposite to the first: a stimulant, booster, which theoretically must put multi-coloured spectacles on the rodent soul. So that afterwards the world of “M-106” becomes an attic full of light with all the cheeses of the world.
In the syringe he has already also mixed – always in accordance with the orders of his unseen superiors – the hormone of sexual attraction which every brain that is in love produces. In the same proportion that was given yesterday to the other mice in the next-door cage. This is the reason why from next-door only sounds of revelry, only a happy uproar can be heard: the drugged, shining mice, continue to leap around with shrill Chinese-like cries and are brighter than the sun as they wallow in voluptuousness and dolce vita. Clasped in worm-screw like embraces, they sniff and suck greedily at one another, mount and are mounted shamelessly. Does it matter if it is all counterfeit and artificial, an illusion, a dreadful temporariness?
Kid does not waste time. He grasps the lonely mouse by the scruff of its neck carefully, as if holding a glass full to the brim, and before giving it its stimulating medicine, approaches the big cage of paradise, opens it and throws the mouse in, free, exactly in the middle of the dance floor. Nothing. No emotion, the same face, the same expression, gloomy and frowning. The female mice – so flirtatious, all caresses, tongues out, drooling. A wasted effort. Sulkily he pushes off and hides away from the crowd, alone and miserable, a hermit of life. Kid sets the chronometer and waits.
In half an hour he looks at the chronometer. “Now”, he whispers and opens the cell again; he grabs the harassed mouse, takes it out, the mouse instinctively makes to escape but Kid dexterously pushes its muzzle into the jar of anaesthetic and in half a minute the worn out mouse is asleep, and the wretched mouse immediately starts snoring. With his pointed teeth now blunted, it is easy to handle him: Kid turns him upside down, lifts up his skin and carefully inserts the needle and lets the cocktail enter his blood milligram by milligram. He waits again.
And when the mouse begins to wake up he lets it loose in the cage with the crazy females. Nothing. A boring scenario of a Greek film festival, it goes and presses up against the wire again, away from the crowd and freezes. It remains there for ten to fifteen minutes and suddenly cheers up, has an erection! He turns back, timidly at first but then like a tornado invades the vulgar mob, a furry mass dancing the “Lampada” crazily. In the uproar he comes upon a provocative female: “Unconquerable love”, he falls for her in a big way and can’t control himself.
Kid is full of enthusiasm. The change in the mood of the solitary cowboy mouse so excites him that he himself begins to move to and fro to the rhythm of the fagged out rodent and never thinks of recording the changes in its behaviour. In the turmoil, however, he misses his step, makes a grab at the bench and the huge jar of anaesthetic falls down and breaks. The atmosphere thickens dangerously.
He himself manages to hold his breath in time but he simultaneously thinks that perhaps the mice will not survive the fumes so he makes a sprightly leap, reaches the cage, pulls the bolt sharply and sets them free. They jump out, rolling on the floor like cotton-reels, scatter up and down, left and right, then all together, a milky stream, they flow towards the way out, they escape once and for all from the gas chamber.
Yes, they break through the ring of anaesthetic but Kid does not. In his effort to save them time passes, he turns blue, can hold out no longer, takes a deep breath and collapses like a sock. Deep sleep overcomes him and he snores.
The mice in the meantime are already out of the laboratory, far away from the company building, on the roads of man, lost in another world, equally unforeseen, equally incoherent and irrational, carrying with them the truth about love and life. The mouse who escaped, “M-106”, took also the proof with him. Everything in the end is a matter of hormones and Kid didn’t even manage to make notes.
But even if he had, even if and the entire Universe learnt it, what benefit would it have been to Kid in the end?
From “TIPOTA, TIPOTA” (“Nothing, nothing”, 2003).