The air was as still as the water which shimmered beneath the evening sun. It was as if all of nature focused on him, not daring to make a sound. He stood knee-deep in the river, eyes transfixed on the murky bed. Watching. Waiting. Until…
SPLASH! He dived, limbs flailing. Birds shrieked. Bushes rustled. Nature was alive once more!
The man eventually rose, prize held proudly overhead — a majestic snakehead fish.
Mouse had always been in awe of his father, who fished by hand near their home in Northern Thailand. He was the youngest of three boys. And the smallest. And the weakest. His size had earned him the nickname “Mouse”. That and his love for cheese sandwiches!
One night, their father announced that he would hand over his fishing responsibilities.
“I’ll do it!” Mouse piped up eagerly.
“It’s a man’s job,” jeered his brother, Chu. “You’re not a man, you’re a mouse!”
His father silenced them.
“One day Mouse,” he said calmly. “But the river’s no place for a young boy.”
Mouse’s heart sank. Nevertheless, he was determined to prove everyone wrong. The following evening he packed up a torch, jacket and of course, cheese sandwiches. He crept out into the chilly mountain air and headed for the river.
A light mist hung over the water. Mouse set his backpack on the muddy bank and waded in. He shuddered as icy water rushed around his ankles. Now all that he could do was wait.
Mouse soon grew impatient. Thoughts raced through his mind. Perhaps he should leave. Perhaps he was a failure. Perhaps…it was time for a break?
He scrambled up the bank, plonking himself beside his backpack.
Why is this so difficult, he thought, as he devoured his sandwich.
Mouse thought enviously about the families on his aunt’s television. Their fish came from a shop, in crispy batter with fluffy chips. Mouse had never even tried chips!
But things are different here, he thought.
A noise from the bushes broke the otherwise tranquil evening. He was no longer alone. He turned slowly, his stomach doing somersaults. Nothing. He stood. Watching. Waiting. Until…
THUD! Mouse felt his feet disappear from beneath him. He lay frozen. Someone’s warm breath tickled his face but Mouse didn’t dare to open his eyes.
You’re a man, not a mouse, he thought, forcing himself to face his attacker.
He opened his eyes. Two huge golden eyes gazed back at him.
Mouse lay frozen, hypnotised by the huge oval eyes that peered back at him. He traced the silhouette of his attacker. There was no mistaking it. Before him sat the strong, majestic black panther.
Terrified, he lay trembling. His brothers used to tell stories about the vicious sharp-fanged beasts that ate little boys for lunch. Today, he was the dish of the day.
As the panther moved closer, Mouse squeezed his eyes shut, awaiting his fate. But it didn’t come. He felt the beast tug delicately at his t-shirt pocket before hearing him creep away.
He opened one eye warily and was met with shock. The ferocious feline sat there, nibbling delicately on a wedge of cheese sandwich that Mouse had stuffed into his pocket for later.
He’s not a cat, he’s a mouse! Mouse thought, smiling.
Once the sandwich had been devoured, the panther eased his sleek body into the river, so gently that there was barely a ripple. He glided through the water, as graceful as a swan.
Suddenly, he halted. Mouse held his breath, convinced that the monster was going to return to finish him off. But he stood still. Watching. Waiting. Until…
CRASH! The huge creature hurled himself headfirst into the water, his long tail trailing behind. He thrashed about, splattering droplets of water onto Mouse’s trouser leg. Eventually, he emerged, his prize gripped firmly between his impressive fangs. A giant snakefish, the finest Mouse had ever seen.
The panther held the floundering fish in his jaws until he lay limp. He carefully placed his catch on Mouse’s beating chest before disappearing into the shadows. Mouse sat up, gobsmacked. It was as if he was trading. It was as if he’d been watching. It was as if… he knew.
“A cat and mouse working together. Who’d have thought,” Mouse whispered.
Mouse slung the fish over his shoulders and hurried home, buckling under its weight. Before he could creep inside, his father flung open the door. His face dropped when he saw what his youngest had brought home.
“Where did you get that,” he asked in awe.
Mouse kept silent, grinning triumphantly as he saw his brothers peering over their father’s shoulder.
“Son, you may not yet be a man, but you certainly are no mouse. You are a lion, a majestic panther even!” he said.
Mouse beamed with pride.
If only they knew, he thought to himself.