That is how our hero Hermano found himself leaving the new, modern Amazon Depository in his ancient rainforest, in floods of tears, boxed, packaged and FedXed to New York.  Hermano was travelling, all alone in the dark, although cushioned in his bubble wrap, wondering what on Earth was happening to him. Suddenly the rat was in a truck, Hermano knew it from the sound of the growling engine, and all the shaking and bumping. Then he was in something that roared like a panther and seemed to lift high, high into the air, which if he had known it was a great big aeroplane. That night Hermano cried himself to sleep.

After what seemed an age, certainly a day and night, Hermano and a lot of other modern postal parcels and packages were in a car in a high speed train. A train that finally arrived in no less than Grand Central Station, in the heart of New York city, in the distant land of America. Which isn’t so far away at all these days. Hermano might have ended up anywhere, if the rat hadn’t realised how long ago it was since he had chewed on a delicious piece of Brazil nut and how very hungry he was too. If he hadn’t had very sharp little teeth, typical of a spiny tree rat, but made sharper by Brazil nuts and so begun to nibble and gnaw at the FedX box. Which was much easier because Hermano had cried so many tears he had made the thing soggy.

Now cardboard doesn’t taste very nice, but it isn’t poisonous like Yage’s skin, being made of wood pulp and paper anyway.  So soon not only was his stomach full again, but Hermano had made a hole himself and could see the light, as he pushed out his long nose. The Light?  What lights Hermano saw, high up in the domed ceiling of Grand Central station, like judging eyes glaring down on him. But it was what he saw when he popped out of the FedX box, onto the station floor, that terrified him. Just before a US Postal official and his friend the female Customs officer sent his box on its way again.

Hermano’s spines were bristling again like gruzzly daggers. The tree rat saw a forest of legs; bare legs and trousered legs, booted legs and jeaned legs, skirted legs and even the odd wooden leg, like that man in the story. They were scurrying back and forth like the million army ants that march through the Amazon all the time, these human commuters, but far bigger and faster than anything Hermano had ever seen before. Hermano moved too now, fast, right across the lobby of Grand Central station, trying desperately not to be stepped on and squashed by the hurrying humans, just as the US Customs woman spotted his escape in horror.

“Hey, stop that dirty little rat,” Hermano heard her crying furiously, “He’s an Alien, an illegal alien. Gruzzly. It’s a disease.”

But Hermano escaped, out into the streets of the greatest city in America: New York.   Oh no.  Hermano had never seen anything like this in his entire life.  It wasn’t just all the people and the yellow cabs rushing by, the belching cars and the huge black limousines, nor the smells and terrible noises, nor the folk scurrying along the sidewalks, with pocketbooks and briefcases and telephones. It was those buildings rising before him: The Empire State. The Chrysler tower.  The Flat Iron building.  Very famous buildings indeed, that climbed like those ancient stone temples in his forest, or like gigantic trees.

Up and up and up Hermano’s bulging brown eyes went now, climbing the great, soaring buildings like a Brazil nut tree. But they seemed to go on and on and on forever, so that when the tree rat’s eyes almost reached the top, they were as high as a hundred rainforests, a jungle of giant skyscrapers under the clouds.   Hermano felt sick and dizzy and never wanted to climb anything ever again.  The tree rat saw too up there, in the heat of that hot summer day, one of the hottest days on record, in fact, that one of the City canopy tops seemed to be smoking, as if it was one fire and then Hermano heard a wailing siren call too. Now the Amazon jungle is a hard place, a dangerous place sometimes, but with its great leaves and bursting flowers, with its rich grasses and thick, moist earth, it can be a soft place as well.  New York City wasn’t soft, on no, it was made of pavements and concrete and glass, of metal and cement, entirely man-made, like the modern Depository. It was as hard as the shell of the hardest Brazil nut, which are very hard to crack indeed. Hard too in the way people live there, day and night, some never sleeping, never stopping, never being very natural either.

Now Hermano found himself being swept along by all those moving city feet, running for his life, huge, blinding tears falling from his eyes.

“Perhaps they build all this and move so fast,” Hermano found himself thinking, “because they really don’t won’t to die, like grandpapa Raoul, although that was only natural.”

As Hermano went though, at least the tree rat was a little reassured that there weren’t only humans in this terrible jungle city, but animals too, so his tears began to dry.  Hermano saw birds everywhere now, although not like the glorious coloured sunbirds of the Amazonian jungle. For these scrawny urban pigeons were dull and grey, as they tottered along the pavements, or looked down from the city ledges and cooed nervously, or dropped guano on the sidewalk and the people’s heads.

Hermano saw cats too, like the prowling wild cats of the forest, but these were lounging on the Manhattan balconies, arching on the stoops and slinking down the alleys: City cats. There were dogs as well, everywhere, Poodles and Chiwawas, Terriers and Labradors, Saluki’s and Pomeranians.  Dogs that were being walked in the parks, among so many human children, or strolling down the sidewalks, wearing little coats, or having their coats groomed and shampooed in the windows of expensive New York beauty salons. There were huge dogs, and medium sized dogs and dogs so small they looked like toys you could put in your pocket. Sometimes Hermano could not tell if the humans or the animals were in charge of the city.

Hermano stopped again on the side walk, panting desperately in the heat and dust, and as his gaze went up again to that forest of buildings, his eyes began to bulge and Hermano felt terribly dizzy once more. In fear he pressed himself back against the dirty walls of the city library, breathing heavily.

“Vertigo,” said a gruff voice, and Hermano jumped as he saw a rather elegant Ginger Tom cat, although with only one eye, licking his right paw and watching him carefully. “I diagnose vertigo, buddy.  A pathological fear of heights. I’m a medical cat, see, and I’ve seen it in many of my patients, especially in New York.”

The cat’s single eye blinked slowly and he purred.

“Verteeeego,” gulped Hermano, feeling tiny and utterly spineless too, “A feeeer of heights, Senor?”

The one eyed cat tilted his head and looked sympathetically at Hermano’s tail.

“And a stranger too here, I see,” he said. “Or hear. An Immigrant, perhaps? Though I promise not to tell anyone. We’ll, you’ll be wanting somewhere to stay, I guess, but it won’t be easy, friend.”

“It won’t?” said Hermano miserably.

“Nope, it won’t.  Especially not for a rat in New York,” said the cat, with a cold, one-eyed smile. “They’re everywhere now, looking for accommodation and a place to be. They say in New York City that at any one time you’re no more than ten feet away from a rat.”

“Oh,” said Hermano, feeling a little reassured and wondering if he could make friends with his brothers.

“But not your kind,” said the medical Tom Cat quickly. “Dirty rats, I mean. Really dirty rats. Smooth black rats. The Criminal fraternity.  The mobsters of the East Side. Crooks. Otganised grime. They run the City streets. It’s an infestation. So keep a sharp eye and watch your back, or your crooked tail at least.”

Hermano remembered that angry, female human voice calling him an illegal alien and a disease too.  Perhaps then Hermano was a Criminal already and a dirty rat, after all, just like his cousin Cartel, even if he was spiny and not smooth at all? Even though he couldn’t dance.

“But what are you and where are you from, buddy?” asked the funny eyed cat disinterestedly. “A squirrel.”

“NO. I’m Hermano,” answered Hermano firmly, “I’m a spiny tree rat.”

“Ah, yes, and a Para spiny tree rat, I see, from Brazil. Mesomys stimulax,” declared the clever cat, “That’s your scientific name.”

“Stimulax?” said the Amazon rat with a gulp, much preferring Hermano, or brother, and not liking this label at all. “Well, maybe. But I’m from the deepest, darkest forests of the great Amazonian Jungle, although they’re cutting them down now, Senor.”

“So I hear, brother,” said the Tom Cat, rubbing his nose with his paw and giving a little cough. “So I hear. So soon no-one will be able to breathe. While the whole world will be nothing but concrete and petrol fumes and smog, perhaps. Dying.”

“Dying?” said Hermano in surprise. “But why won’t it be able to breathe, Sir?

“Don’t you know anything?” answered the serious Cat rather critically, wondering if he should try to eat Hermano. “Because trees and plants and flowers aren’t just pretty things, or wood you cut down to use for paper and fancy furniture. Oh no, Sir, they’re living things, that make air for the whole world, make Oxygen out of Carbon Dioxide, so everyone can breath and live. Like the rivers and the oceans. And what’s more precious than air, buddy? That’s just Science, little rat. So your home in the Amazon is like a giant lung, the lungs of the planet, in fact.”

Hermano was amazed by this erudite medical Tom Cat, and once more the tree rat thought of those mighty human civilizations that had disappeared back into the jungle. But he remembered Yage too and what he had said about everything being both alive and connected. Perhaps it was really true.

“Science,” said the one eyed cat archly. “The only way to see the world, Hermano, if you want to be really modern is scientifically. Though of course a way of seeing in your mind too.”

“Seeing in your mind?” whispered Hermano with a frown and thinking of the story of a white whale, which might really be God.

“Sure. I mean, you can’t easily see what’s really underneath with your ordinary eyes, even two of them, so you have to use knowledge and reason and science too.”

“Can’t see?” said Hermano in surprise.

“No Sir,” said the cat, squinting with that eye. “Of course not. I mean you can’t see that the sidewalk is really moving.”

“Moving?” said Hermano in astonishment, as humans hurried past, for it seemed the people were certainly moving, but not the hard ground.

“Well, not the side walk as such,” said the scientific cat, “but the molecules and atoms that makes up the stuff that makes it up. Like globes, or little balls, tiny little particles that make up everything. Though of course the Earth is a ball, spinning in space at 60,000 miles per hour.”

“Wow,” whispered Hermano and it was if a whole new world was opening up before him. Hermano could not believe the Earth was a ball turning round so fast though, because then why didn’t everything fall off? It sounded like magic.

“Like a drop of water,” the cat went on thoughtfully, “that’s round when a rain drop falls, because of the way the molecules connect, and because of surface tension and gravity. Although to our eyes water is just water, but if you could see it with stronger eyes you might see all sorts of things in it. Not just its own molecules and atoms, I mean, but things living in it too, like microbes and bacteria. That when we pollute it enough can cause disease.”

Hermano thought of that woman calling him an immigrant and a disease again and of the great Amazon River too and of all the things that lived in it, large and small. It had sometimes looked very dark and slimy indeed.

“You see the more successful humans are,” said the clever cat, “the more of them there are, and the more things they make for each other, the more they like to dump things on each other’s doorsteps. But I guess we don’t care about that anymore in America,” frowned the cat. “I mean not with the human boss Silas Trunk Junior in charge now.”

“Who?” said Hermano, as the cat turned his head and hissed at a huge poster of a man with a very bald head.

“Silas Trunk Junior’s the great big US President, junior now, their number one politician. Although he’s really just an hotelier,” said the cat, “if he acts like God.”

“God,” said Hermano, wondering what a politician is, “But I thought God was a whale.”

“Oh, I don’t mean a real God, rat, I mean metaphorically. I mean God doesn’t exist anyhow.”

“He doesn’t?” said Hermano in surprise.

“Course not.  But Trunk wants to put up borders, and go it alone and break all the new treaties between countries to stop pollution around the world. While whatever humans do, they love to dump garbage everywhere.  Like all their rubbish they just bury in huge holes in the ground. Landfill sights, they’re called. Except what do you do when you’ve filled up all the holes? Or like all the plastics they chuck in the seas and living oceans. Terrible.”

The cat scowled, but then his single eye lit up beadily.

“But I guess that’s the problem with Science too,” said the cat, looking around at the ceaseless city. “I mean it works and makes things faster and faster, but it drives humans in straight lines too, just like the grid pattern this city is laid out on. New York’s Avenues, up and down the island. Like the Romans laid out their cities centuries ago. Nature doesn’t have any straight lines though.”

“Oh,” said Hermano, wondering who the Romans had been.

“Yet there’s money and profits to be made now, even for a medical Cat,” said the cat, cheering up. “Like the new drugs they’re finding all the time in the secret places of the forest. I mean we all die, brother, and one day, in say five billion years’ time, the sun will go out anyway. So why should we worry about it all? “

“Well I’ll stop them,” said Hermano hopefully and a little heroically, feeling very hot under the city sun.

“Stop them?” yawned the one eyed Tom Cat, looking at all the humans swarming past, “but how, Hermano?”

“I don’t know, Sir,” answered Hermano humbly, “but I’ve come to find the man who owns the modern Depository in my rainforest, the warehouse, to ask him to stop it. I mean its Automated, so it doesn’t give the humans much work anyhow, despite what Che says. Perhaps I can make friends with a human being then, like my great Grandpop did long ago.”

“Friends with a human being?” said the cat in surprise, who certainly liked humans to feed him but was a rather independent creature. “Impossible.”

“And I’ve come to find a book too,” said Hermano. “All about God, or a human, or a whale, or something. Even if you say God doesn’t exist. To teach me to be a Shaman storyteller. And a real artist.”

“Oh,” said the Cat doubtfully. “Then I definitely diagnose delusions of grandeur, Amazon Rat. A clear case of Munchhausen syndrome, in fact. And a rat obviously not happy in its own skin. A little autistic too, or on the spectrum at least. Obvious, buddy.”

Hermano wondered if the cat was right and he wasn’t happy in his own skin.

“Well thank you,” said Hermano doubtfully, hating these labels even more and turning to hurry on. “And I will keep a sharp eye, and watch my tail too, even though it’s bent, I promise.”

Hermano hurried away again and soon all the sights and sounds of New York City were so bewildering it wasn’t just looking up that made the tree rat dizzy, but just walking along.  As he went though Hermano at least began to feel a little more at home in the strange modern city, and for one particular reason.    It was because if he was an Immigrant, suddenly FedXed to New York, a foreigner lost in the big city, trying to be an artist, Hermano realised that many of the other animals here seemed to be strangers too.

Crossing through China Town then Hermano met several Chinese pugs, and in Little Italy a Roman Canary that loved to sing Opera, and he even bumped into a Japanese iguana on a lead. He met a British poodle in a tartan waistcoat too, who looked very hot indeed, and several mangy pooches from Poland. As Hermano stopped at a famous place called The Algonquin Hotel he bumped into a Mexican Cayman too, a city crocodile, who was about to disappear down a storm drain. He told Hermano his parents had once been flushed down the toilet bowl in the fancy hotel, when their owners had got bored of their exotic but dangerous pets. So now he and several other little crocodiles were living underneath the city in the storm drains instead, ready to gobble everything up for their dinner. It sounded a little like the Amazon….


To be continued…..

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