“Mum, were you afraid of dinosaurs when they were here?”
“I wasn’t alive when dinosaurs were around.”
“Where were you?”
“I didn’t exist yet.”
“Were you in Heaven?”
“No, I hadn’t been born.”
“Mum, do we exist forever?”
After that conversation, I found Gandhi the gerbil looking like he would die by the morning. I rang my Mum.
“I don’t know where I’ll bury him,”
“I think people put them in the bin.”
“You always told us you buried our pets in the garden.”
“We did,” she said, “but I think a lot of people put them in the bin.”
“Well I am not just putting him in the bin,” I said. “I can’t bury him in the garden. I mean, we haven’t got a garden – I can’t bury him in a pot.”
Tom loves those gerbils. He’s always collecting the tubes from loo rolls for them to chew. When he had to fill in the gaps on his lopsided family tree for a homework exercise last week, Gandhi and Duncan had their own places. He said his teacher said pets didn’t count. I think they do though, to keep the numbers up when he is talking about who he lives with, so it’s not just me and him. My sister tries to wind me up by saying we are like the family in About a Boy because I am a vegetarian and I once bought Tom a Peruvian cardigan when he was a baby that had llamas and cacti embroidered on it.
“Jesus,” she said. “He really is going to look like the boy in About a Boy in that.”
With hindsight, having a gerbil called Gandhi probably makes me sound like the nutty woman off About a Boy. And Tom probably sounds more like the boy from About a Boy when he tries to make out the gerbils are bona fide family members.
Gandhi didn’t die anyway. Every morning, he was still lying there huffing and puffing with his brother Ducan grooming him. The man in the pet shop near us hates gerbils and he doesn’t often smile.
“They chew everything,” he once said, deadpan. “And one day, you’ll come downstairs and they will have chewed each other.”
That was a worry, so on the third night, I separated them. Gandhi was so painfully thin, I could still feel his spine on my fingers for ages after I had put him in his own little box. In the morning, he was still alive, but I had been asked to go to the assembly at school because Tom was going to be presented with a surprise award. He actually got two awards*; one from his teacher for ‘wicked work’ and the Headteacher’s award for being polite and cheerful. He stood at the front with his hands in his pockets and his mouth wide open like a gormless 14 year old.
Afterwards, Gandhi was still alive. I found a vet who did euthanasia for £10.21. I put Gandhi in a bag with a hot water bottle because I didn’t want him to get cold. When I got there, they said it was best if I didn’t go in, making me think they were going to break his neck, not give him an injection. They wrote ‘Ghandi’ on the consent form.
“It’s G.a.n.d.h.i.” I said. People always get it wrong.
I didn’t get really sad, because I had to go to the funeral of a close relative of my best friend. That was sad – my friend and her sister were brave and beautiful and I couldn’t hug them hard enough.
After the wake, I picked Tom up in a taxi and told him about Gandhi.
“Oh, my little boy’s gerbil lives in Gerbil Heaven, so they can meet each other there,” said the taxi driver. Handy that.
“Gerbil Heaven is brilliant,” said Tom, “It’s got all of gerbils’ favourite things, especially loads and loads of toilet roll tubes.”
And that was that. Tom was alright and I was exhausted.
*I also won two awards, last year at The Manchester Blog Awards. This year I am judging them. It will be a good night, at the Deaf Institute on Wednesday 20th October. There is a category for music blogs this time, which is good news.