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Norman and Alex were two members of a creative team of three. A third rat named Beatrice served as their lead singer, belting out what sounded to be a combination of folk music and jazz.

They reminded me of the numerous garage band friends I had met over the years, but for obvious reasons, these rats weren’t concerned about record deals and ‘making it big’. Their sheer joy in performing was a lot different from the exhaustive work I was used to from those starting bands, all in the hopes of getting a record contract and getting paid lots of money.

Even I couldn’t remember when was the last time I did something solely for the pleasure of it. If it was one thing I could envy the rats for, it was for that.

My assignment was to write down as many songs as I could. Norman would then help me write out the music for Alex. I needed a quiet place to concentrate but I didn’t want to spend all my time underground. Even though the rats had built as many windows as they could, you could still spend a lot of time without seeing natural light. It made telling the passage of time disorienting.

I didn’t want to embarrass myself with something vapid and Top 10ish just because I knew the words inside and out. How couldn’t I? Radio Jockeys only played the singles twenty times an hour.

Since I had chosen a Sarah Mclachlan song to audition with, I figured it would be best if I kept my collection to her music. What could go wrong with Sarah Mclachlan? Okay, maybe a mass suicide but I would try to keep my choices to her more happy tunes, that is if I could tell the difference.

I was so intent on choosing songs I didn’t realize I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. With a hard bump I crashed into someone, all my paper scattering to the floor.

“Rats!” I yelled out of now ironic habit.

“Oh, I’m really sorry about that!” The rat answered, bending over to help me gather up my pages. “I should have noticed you coming down the hall.”

I recognized the voice at once. “Jinnai,” I replied, suddenly flustered much to my amazement. “That’s okay, they’re all blank anyway.” I grabbed at the paper, crumpling them as I did. Jinnai smiled, picking up the rest of the pages with a little more care than I was.

We both stood facing each other. I ran my hand through my hair impulsively. “So, what are you doing here?” I asked, not wanting him to walk away.

Jinnai hesitated with his answer but not out of not wanting to tell me. He didn’t have many people asking him about anything outside whatever work he did. “Meeting. They’re never ending. Sometimes I feel I’m in meetings more than I’m actually working.”

“Don’t let Justin hear you saying that,” I answered, giggling. “He’ll schedule another meeting to address that.” I paused. “So, what is it exactly you do anyway?”

Jinnai shrugged his shoulders. “I keep an eye on supplies, food, things like that, make sure no one is taking more than they should be.”

“You watch supplies? I though you were a guard.”

“I am,” he replied with a little twinge of resentment. “I guard supplies.”


I adjusted the papers into a semi-neat stack in my arms. Jinnai glanced around, scratching the back of his neck. “Well, if you’re okay then I’d best be going. You look like you’re heading somewhere anyway.” He was about to take a step when I stopped him.

“No, I wasn’t going anywhere specific if that’s what you meant. I just wanted to go topside and find a quiet spot where I can write. Where are you going?”

There was a pause then the dark rat turned back to me. “Same place you were I guess,” he answered. “Nowhere specific.”

“So you’re off duty?”


“Would you like to join me?”

I felt myself hold my breath as I waited for his answer. I couldn’t believe I got nervous over such a simple question. Jinnai looked just as confused.

“Uh, I don’t want to be a bother.”

“I wouldn’t have asked if it was.”

The moment felt so awkward we just stood there in the hallway, waiting for one of us to move. “So,” I started. “You know this place better than I do. Any suggestions for a nice quiet place where we can get some fresh air?”

Jinnai nodded quickly. “Sure… sure…” he stuttered as we both started walking. I barely remembered seeing Justin standing at the opposite end of the hall, watching our whole exchange with narrow, intense eyes.

We sat overlooking the artificial beach the rats had made for those unbearable summer days. The day was still warm with rat children taking advantage, splashing and playing in the inviting water.

I was lying on my stomach in the grass, writing as many lyrics as I could. Sunlight warmed my body but I was too busy concentrating and softly singing to enjoy it. Jinnai on the other hand was sitting under a small brush, watching the playing rats below and looking at the valley beyond them. He obviously preferred to be in the shade however I questioned whether his intention was to avoid getting sunburned.

I turned my head, watching him for a little bit. His fur wasn’t really black, as I had originally thought instead a very dark gray. Jinnai was about as tall as Justin except not as slim-built. I also wondered how much younger he was to the leader of the rats.

As he looked over to whatever he was he was looking at, I couldn’t help but notice his bright eyes and the overwhelming sense of sadness that seemed to rain over him.

“So, what are you thinking?” I asked as I propped my head on my hand.

“Nothing,” Jinnai replied as he looked over. His toes stretched and wiggled, grabbing at the new grass. I pat the area next to me with my hand.

“Why don’t you come over here instead of hiding?”

“I’m not hiding,” Jinnai answered, self-conscious. “I like being in the shade.”

“You look like you’re hiding to me,” I answered as I sat up, stretching my arms over my head. “If you don’t want to be here, you can leave if you want. I don’t mind.”

Jinnai’s blue eyes widened visibly upset. “I didn’t mean to make you think I don’t want to be here,” he answered almost pleadingly. “I don’t mind being here. I just don’t want to be…”

“Where anyone can see you?” I finished for him.

He became quiet. “I seem to make people nervous,” he softly said. “I don’t like the feeling of making others uncomfortable.” He shrugged, letting out a small sigh. “So I just stay out of the way.”

I felt sorry for him. “You don’t make me nervous,” I answered. “You don’t have to hide from me.”

I felt Jinnai get more uncomfortable causing me to gathered up my papers.

“Well, if you’re not going to come out here, I’ll just join you in the shade.” I went over to the overhanging brush, taking a space next to him. Placing my papers on my knees, I began to write. I felt Jinnai fidget next to me.

“What are you doing anyway?” he asked, looking over at my paper.

I wrote down a last line, lowering the paper for him to see. “I’m writing down songs,” I answered. “Alex and Norman need a singer for a concert tomorrow night. I’m doing this to help them out. Having something to do doesn’t hurt either.”

“That sounds neat,” Jinnai answered. “Can I hear something? Just sing what you have written down.”

My face began to heat up, the tips of my ears turning pink. “Why don’t you just come to the concert? You can hear me all you want there.”

Jinnai became playfully insistent. “Come on, give me a sneak preview.”

I nodded my head. “Okay, but just the first couple of lines.” I took another breath and started.

Hey your glass is empty
it’s a hell of a long way home
why don’t you let me take you
it’s no good to go alone
I never would have opened up
but you seemed so real to me
after all the bullshit I’ve heard
it’s refreshing not to see
I don’t have to pretend
she doesn’t expect it from me
Don’t tell me I haven’t been good to you
don’t tell me I have never been there for you
don’t tell me why
nothing is good enough

“You have a beautiful voice,” Jinnai half-mumbled unsure if he should say it at all.

“I’ve been told,” I replied, listening to the loud rushing in my ears. “So, are you coming to the concert tomorrow night?”

Jinnai lowered his head. “I’m sorry, I don’t go to those things.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t”

I closed my eyes, shaking my head. I can’t imagine how long he had to endure being ostracized before convincing himself he didn’t belong anywhere. I could hear in his voice he didn’t want to believe it but no one would give him an outlet to prove otherwise.

“Jinnai, can I ask you a favor?” I gathered up the courage to finish my question.


“Tell me about your father.”

His whole body started shaking so hard at my question I couldn’t tell if he was angry or frightened by it. The dark rat jumped up, overwhelmed by what he should do, feeling as if he were about to snap. Instead he pointed at me, waving his finger.

“No one asks about my father!” he hissed. “There is nothing you need to know and I’m not going to let you use it for whatever you are going to do!”

“What do you think I’m going to do?” I yelled back both exasperated and confused. “I already have an idea what your father did. I’m still here aren’t I? I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t interested in your side of the story!”

Jinnai clenched his fists, trying to control his embarrassed rage. “Who’s to say you won’t start ignoring me like everyone else once I do tell you?” Jinnai replied, stepping back. “Why should you be any different than any other rat here?”

“Because I am not a rat.” I answered. “And I’m asking you. If I want to hear exaggerated rumors I’ll ask any of the many rats willing to fill me in. I’m not interested in that though. I want to hear your story. I want to hear why a kind rat like you, one who looks like he couldn’t hurt anyone even if he wanted to is willing to live a punishment belonging solely to his father. Why are you doing this to yourself?”

It was too much for Jinnai to bear. He spun away, running back underground. I followed a bit but kept my distance. I called out his name to no avail. He disappeared around a corner. I walked back to my pile of papers, kicking the sheets, sending them scattering.

I didn’t know what angered me more. The way he reacted or the fact that the rats had put him through so much abuse. And they called his father cruel.

I spent the rest of the time in the quiet recesses of the library, writing down songs with a calm frenzy. Other rats came in and out with a couple attempting coming over to me. Something at the last moment however made them change their minds. I figured it was because I looked busy. I knew better. I radiated anger as I wrote, waiting to roar at anyone who dared come close enough.

A shadow passed before me, garnering not one upward glance. I continued to write as the chair scraped the floor, the brave figure sitting opposite me. Jinnai must have sat for five minutes before I allowed him to see any acknowledgement.

Slamming my pencil down, I straightened up, leaning back in my chair with a stern stare. I folded my arms tightly across my chest, unsure as to what exactly I was waiting for from him.

Jinnai twiddled his thumbs, tightening his lips as he glanced away. His anger was gone replaced now with shame. We sat like that for a few more moments, the time passing until the library emptied save for the librarian who sat at her desk at the reverse end of the room. She scribbled away in her notebook, unaware of us. Feeling secure in the near privacy, Jinnai started to speak.

“I was young when it all happened. My mother was the one who told me that my father, Jenner was dead. We didn’t have time to mourn his loss though since we had to leave the rosebush soon after to make our journey to the Valley. I don’t remember crying when it finally dawned on me that he would never return for us. It was just as well, since I never remembered him spending much time with us anyway. My mother cried a lot though. She still does.”

My demeanor began to loosen up, my arms unfolding.

“I didn’t start learning about what he did until later. I guess everyone felt I should be protected from the truth, being so young. He killed Nicodemus by creating an accident. He almost killed Justin to keep him from moving everyone to Thorn Valley. He almost killed Mrs. Brisby because she possessed the Stone. What child would want to hear their father was capable of such horrendous things?”

Jinnai stopped, swallowing hard as he reined in his emotions.

“That was the worst of it although he wasn’t the greatest rat to be around in general. He was distant, quiet, always thinking but not thinking, you know what I mean? My mother says he wasn’t always that way, just something happened up here.”

Jinnai tapped the side of his head, his fingertip disappearing into the gray fur.

“He suffered from migraines that always seemed to start at a scar – it stretched from his temple to the back of his head. I don’t know what happened, his fur always covered it enough to hide it anyway. All my mother says is that he wasn’t always that way.

Jinnai traced his head where his father’s scar would have been. He looked detached, not realizing he was doing it.

“Concern for my mental well being didn’t last long when my fur color finally came in. I remind people too much of how my father looked. That doesn’t sit well with many. They hated Jenner for what he did. As long as I looked like him, they hated me too.”

Tears began to pool but I tried to keep them from falling. Jinnai saw my reaction, his own unease showing.

“My mother helped me through most of this.” He looked around at the full shelves. “I must have read every book here at least three times. When I grew old enough to start working nobody wanted me around. My mother had to convince Justin to give me the guard post I have now. Even then it’s a lonely job from late night to morning.”

He drummed his fingers on the table. “I don’t know what is it they want me to do. I can shave off all my fur and it still won’t change the fact that Jenner is my father. No matter how helpful or polite I try to be they can’t see beyond that. If it weren’t for my mother I would have left here long ago. But where would I have gone? We’re not typical rats. But what I’m definitely not is my father.” Jinnai stressed the last sentence as if he had to convince me that was true.

I wiped my eyes. “I know you’re not your father,” I answered. “Nobody is. But you can’t live your life a recluse because other rats are holding your father against you. They have no right to do that.”

Jinnai cringed in his seat. “I’m sorry for yelling at you before,” he added. “When you asked that question I felt set up, like I was only there as a curiosity until you got your answers. He tapped his thumbs together. “No one other than my mother has ever asked me how I feel. The fact that you did… startled me.”

“I’m not a typical rat either,” I softly laughed.

“No, you’re not,” And he gave me a smile that made my heart skip.

I shuffled my papers, raising them to avoid his gaze. “So, you never answered my question before about the concert. Are you going tomorrow night?”

“I said I didn’t go to those things.”

“Okay, then let me rephrase it. Will you come to the concert with me?”

“It would be a privilege,” Jinnai answered without hesitation.

I smiled shyly. I swore I heard his heart skip for a change.



Lyrics © Sarah McLachlan from the album “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy”

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