En route from Navy Mess to Situation Room, Wilbur warned me to expect one unusual amid the gathering.
Unusual how? A character seen mainly at night, in office or hallway, at to whom you might risk a sideways glance but never, never directly address. I hope not.
However, his was a guest I would most agreeably wish to meet – and, though a despised outsider, descendent of a celebrated hero.
As we scurried into the crowded space, my nostrils curled, not only in anticipation, but also in mild revulsion at malodorous airs wafting from the assembled various, who settled with a chorus of squeals and grunts.
Typical of White House meetings it was business as usual: an ongoing power struggle of factions; media leaks; currying of favor with the leader. And always the odd guests. Were they invited, or, as often suspected, stayed on in curiosity after early arrival just for the snacks?
As the Situation Room floor cavity emptied – voles drifting back to the grounds to resume their obsessive burrowing, mice dispersing towards the kitchen accompanied by some rats, roaches hanging about in private discussion, or was it plotting? – Wilbur called me over to meet our most esteemed guest: Sean.
“Sean, I’d like you to meet Ike.”
Sean was shorter than expected, as was his diminutive tail, and rather too small for his coat. He gazed at me steadily for a moment, then, without pleasantries, “Ike, huh? Guess you’re new here, Ike. You realise that name, more than any other, is chosen by newcomers.” The jibe was delivered smiling through beared teeth whose angular cusps seemed perfectly congruent with his small ears and tiny eyes. A friendly smile, nevertheless.
Voles, it seemed, like the human President, had no filter betwixt brain and mouth.
“You picked it in one. And what brings you inside?” Directness seemed to be in order.
Sean adjusted his ill-fitting coat in mild irritation. This was going downhill, as interspecies small talk often does. Wilbur intervened: “Ike, Sean is the sixteenth direct descendent of Osama.”
My eyes widened, nose twitched, whiskers a-tremor. Surely not that Osama – famous transgressor of the Rose Garden during a 2010 speech by President Barack Hussein Obama II, the infamous black-pelted human. Lips, don’t unpurse. Yes, it was.
“It’s a great honor to meet you, Sean. Osama was an inspiration to rodents and an extremely brave vole. Even we mice are greatly inspired by his courage. Please, tell me, are historical accounts accurate? Did he run the gauntlet twice?” Wilbur again intervened: “Sean might not…”
“No, no, it’s fine. I would love to share. It’s a tale I enjoy retelling… pun and all. And that’s no sarcasm, I assure you,” Sean insisted, quite sincerely. “Let’s relive it over crackers and cheese under Rose Garden boxwood – fine with you?”
The story of Osama went thus.
It was early summer in 2010 and the gardeners were busy with the usual planting of bulbs, chrysanthemum, and mature flowering plants from the nursery. Unfortunately, they were a bit aggressive with the voles that year. Winter ringbarking of a treasured shrub had intensified their angst over our eternal root-gnawing.
Osama decided it prudent to move his family to the northern side of the steps, his target being rosebush designated WHWW-RG31. He chose daytime to investigate, for the simple tactical reason that at night the predators were quite lethal – more so than the Secret Service who, in daytime, would, upon spotting a rodent, consider it an interdiction beyond their purview.
He chose May 20 to reconnoitre.
The Rose Garden was quite noisy, but was often so. Emerging from boxwood at the south end of the colonnade steps, Osama chose the more secure step second from ground level – and, according to tried and true methodology, bolted blindly forth. Half way across he encountered lectern cabling. Most disconcerting. This wasn’t in the tactical scenting brief. Disoriented by an acrid odour, dirty-handed roadie smell, and fur-tingling electrical emanations, he decided a retreat and regroup was prudent for a rodent.
After a lengthy consultation with elders, and review of oral histories, Osama felt a second attempt was indicated. He selected the pavement level under the lowest step and again forayed. By this time, the President – a tall lanky human with fearsome carnassial teeth – was addressing the besotted talent of a nation’s press corps elite.
The President’s statement lauded the end of a Senate filibuster on his financial overhaul, with an condign bagging of Wall Street “fat cats” – at which mention all rodents within earshot, and with an even rudimentary grasp of human language, shuddered in primal dread. It got worse when concatenated with “banksters” – a hitherto unknown term that yet sent paroxysmal shivers down the tiny spine of any vole exposed to its mere enunciation.
None of that mattered to Osama. It was just a human prattling on as they always do.
Sean paused to savor the anticipatory whisker curling and nose twitching of my furry little attentive face… at least I think he was. Voles are hard to read. Their tales are too short. They’ll eat anything. They’re over-weight. And they have tunnel vision.
Or maybe he was just out of breath.
And before them all – in all the short-tailed glory befitting a stalwart of the nobly bred Microtus – bolted my fifteenth-removed forefather: Osama bin Pennsylvanius. He made world headlines that day. He went viral on You Tube. Pride overwhelms me,” Sean gushed.
“Mightily impressed, I dessay, Sean. And how did he come by the name ‘Osama’?” I asked.
Legend tells,” Sean swelled in pride, “of a rebel whom the combined military might and intelligence gathering ability of the United States of America was unable to locate and capture for more than a decade. A hero of such cunning and derring-do it was the wish of every vole – hunted in and hiding under the wings of this loathed house of hegemonic power – to bear that revered name.
And, as it transpired, the crafty bearded human, tormentor of the greatest military empire ever known, was eventually found hiding in plain sight, luxuriating in a resort mansion within a steadfast ally’s country, a mere stone’s throw from their military academy. Lol. Good times.”
Sean had become startlingly fervent.
After all, we rodents, too, are considered terrorists, the bane of administration staffers. And like terrorists, we are impossible to eradicate. Moreover, futile White House campaigns of genocide – baitings and gassings – only makes us stronger and more determined.
We will be here long after they are gone.”
And, I thought, the roaches will be here… long after us.