Tizwot’s request – a story about the prayers we pray
by Lyndall Bywater (January 2019)
Teatime that afternoon was a glum affair. None of the three friends mentioned their encounters with the capybara, since creatures do not, as a rule, like to talk about the things which have made them feel disappointed or ashamed. Each of them assumed that they were the only one to have their request denied. They stole furtive glances at one another over the rims of their mugs, sure that the other two had had convivial, exhilarating conversations with the Great Spirit, while they alone had felt the sting of failure.
The silence had become almost unbearable when there was a knock on the window. It was Wesley the Bear, and he signalled that he’d like to come in. Tizwot waved towards the front door and smiled broadly. She had what Scratchit considered to be a lax attitude towards security, so her door was always on the latch, and even boring Council bears were welcome.
‘I won’t keep you long,’ he said, as he bustled into the tiny living-room. ‘I’m doing the rounds of the street, just to let you all know that the Rat Caf will be having its grand opening tomorrow afternoon. Do come along, won’t you …’ He tailed off when he saw the murderous look in Scratchit’s eye.
‘What did you just say?’ Said the cat, her voice low and her tone ominous.
‘Yes … well … the building’s all finished now, so Wrong’un has set tomorrow for the big opening. Rather exciting, isn’t it?’ He tried to sound convinced, but failed miserably, which may have been to do with the arch in Scratchit’s back and the sudden appearance of her claws.
‘That’s odd,’ said Fixit. ‘I’m sure it was going to be next week.’
‘It was, but I think the Great Spirit may have had something to do with him bringing it forward. They had a long chat this afternoon, and the Great Spirit seemed rather jaunty when he got back to my house. I was going to ask more, but he headed straight up for a bath.’
‘Thank you for letting us know, Wesley,’ said Tizwot. ‘I’d offer you a tea but I’m sure you’ve got plenty more calls to make.’
With that, she ushered him out of the house, presumably fearing for his health if he stayed in the same room as the cat for a moment longer.
‘Bath! He’s having another wretched bath!’ The words exploded out of Scratchit the moment Tizwot came back into the room. ‘He’s just brought the destruction of an entire community forward by a week … we’ve got no time at all now to get this thing stopped … and he’s having a bath!’
‘In fairness, Scratch, you don’t like baths much, do you. For those of us who enjoy a dip, they can be very therapeutic …’
‘That is not the point, you stupid dog! The point is that this whole business is a disaster waiting to happen … only now we don’t even get to wait.’
‘I suppose he might still do something,’ said Tizwot. ‘We don’t really know what he’s going to do, do we.’
‘He’s not going to put a stop to the Rat Caf, I know that much.’
‘How do you know that, Scratch? Did he say so?’ Asked Fixit.
‘Yes … well, no, not quite, but he left me with the distinct impression that anyone like me, anyone who doesn’t want this thing to go ahead, is just a bitter old stick-in-the-mud.’
‘Did he really say that?’ Fixit looked shocked.
‘No, of course he didn’t say that, but it’s what he meant.’ The cat ducked down and started licking her paw. It was what she always did when she didn’t want to look them in the eye.
‘Was he unkind to you, Scratch? You can tell us if he was,’ said Fixit. ‘Maybe we could have a word with him for you …’
‘No. He wasn’t unkind. He was …’ a tear rolled down Scratchit’s cheek and landed between her outstretched pads.
‘Let’s leave it, Fix. I don’t know about you but I didn’t have the easiest time talking to the Great Spirit, and perhaps Scratch didn’t either. He was kind and warm and gentle with me, but it was not as simple as I’d hoped.’ Fixit was silent, thinking she could say much the same thing. ‘But friends,’ Tizwot went on, ‘we must go tomorrow. If I understand anything about him now, it’s that he would want us to be involved in this great moment for our street, whatever our opinions may be, and that means we must be there.’
The next day dawned sunny and warm. After an early lunch of sardines, Scratchit packed her bag. She’d chosen a sleek black designer number, partly to compliment her sleek black coat, and partly because there was room in it for her notebook and camera. If she was going to have to go to this farce of an event, she was going to make the most of every opportunity. She had no doubt that there would be complaints to note down and health and safety transgressions to record. Perhaps then they could get this thing stopped once and for all.
She shouldered the now rather heavy bag and walked to Tizwot’s front gate. Tizwot’s house was nearest the Rat Caf, and they had agreed to go along together. Scratchit was a little surprised to see Fixit with no bag. The well-prepared dog always had at least one bag.
‘You’re travelling light,’ she said, as the dog padded towards her.
‘I’ve decided I’m not taking anything along with me because I won’t need anything. It’s not my thing. I’m not involved in any way, am I? I don’t want anyone thinking I’m a control freak, do I?’
It was an odd response, but Scratchit decided to let it pass. Tizwot had joined them, and it was time to face the horror of the afternoon head-on.
As it happened, the horror seemed to be front and centre. Wrong’un the Rat had dressed in Victorian garb and was greeting every single guest in person as they turned into the Rat Caf car park.
‘Greetings, ladies,’ he said, offering Tizwot a paw. ‘Come on in and enjoy the party!’
Scratchit expected some snide remark as she touched his paw with her own, but nothing. He just smiled … not in his normal mocking way, but with what looked like genuine friendliness.
‘Well done with all this,’ said Tizwot, looking around her at the colourful array of tables, chairs and guests. ‘You’ve done a good job, Wrong’un.’
The rat actually beamed, but then he ruined it very slightly by adding: ‘You wait till you taste a burger, Tizwot. I mean, I know you’re veggie, but those rabbit kiddies of Felicity’s really do mince down well!’
Tizwot cuffed him on the shoulder and followed her two friends into the festivities.
They were soon swallowed up by their chatting, laughing, eating, dancing neighbours, and an hour or so had passed before Scratchit even thought about her notebook or her camera. In truth though, her quest for negative press was looking futile. Everyone, from staff to guests, was delighted with the Rat Caf.
Exhausted from all the talking, Tizwot found her friends and suggested they sit down with some cake and a pot of tea. No sooner had they found an empty table than Wesley the Bear came over to join them.
‘Isn’t this smashing?’ He said, smiling hopefully around at them.
‘Schmoozing us with a party is not going to make this thing OK,’ said Scratchit, defensively. She didn’t need to let on yet that she couldn’t find anyone who had a bad word to say about it all. ‘And the so-called Great Spirit hasn’t even bothered to turn up. This whole visit’s been a shambles.’
‘Of course he’s here,’ cried Wesley, waving a huge paw in the direction of the corner of the car park. ‘He’s in the pool over there.’
The three friends turned to look, and sure enough, there was a paddling pool in the corner of the car park, and it looked like several of the smaller water-loving animals of the neighbourhood were leaping in and out.
‘What the hell is he doing in a paddling pool?’ Asked Scratchit. ‘Is this the bath thing? Couldn’t he even be bothered to give up his bath for one afternoon?’
‘Oh, I think he fully intended to forego his bath this afternoon, but it was little Scampers the Otter, you see. Apparently, his request to the Great Spirit simply said: “What do you like best in the world?”. The Great Spirit seemed quite moved actually. He said the grown-ups all tend to ask for him to mend things or change things, but this little lad had wanted to know more about him and what he likes. They had a good old natter yesterday, and Scampers learnt that Capybara need to keep their skin as wet as possible – which is why the Great Spirit spends so much time in the bath, of course – so he got out his paddling pool and brought it along this afternoon. He said it would be a much more fun afternoon for the Great Spirit if he had a paddling pool to sit in.’
The three friends looked over at the pool. Sure enough, there was a familiar ‘over-grown Guinea pig’ face poking out above the surface, and several of the water-loving little creatures of the neighbourhood were jumping in and out, splashing and laughing.
‘I would never have thought of asking him anything about himself,’ said Scratchit, ashamed at the various bath jibes she had made. ‘I was so focused on getting this place shut down.’
‘What did you ask him for?’ Asked Fixit.
‘Well, eventually I asked him to make this place a force for good in this neighbourhood.’
The other two looked surprised, but said nothing. They sat in silence, watching the party bubbling around them. Reggie the Horse was singing drunkenly; Wrong’un had already bought a quarter of his crops from him, and rumour had it that the price had been very good.
‘I rather think he has granted your request, Scratchit the Cat,’ said Wesley, standing to go. ‘Wrong’un has asked to speak with me about how he can re-invest profits from the business into the local community. I would not have expected that!’
‘What about you, Fix,’ said Scratchit, once the bear had gone. ‘What did you ask for?’
‘Erm … well … he didn’t much like my first request … but in the end I said I’d like him to make sure this became a place where people could find help. I had lots of more specific ideas, but he wasn’t interested in those, so in the end I had to leave it rather vague.’
‘Do you think he’s answered that request?’ Asked Tizwot.
‘Well, funny you should say that. I think maybe he has. Wrong’un came up to me earlier and asked if I’d start a “repair café” here every Friday morning. It’s where people bring their broken things to get fixed … and he thinks I’d be the best person to run it.’
‘It gets more custom in, I guess,’ said Scratchit, her tone suspicious.
‘Well, no, it doesn’t seem to be about that. He wants to do it when the main kitchen is closed, and he wants to provide free drinks and snacks. He says he doesn’t want people to feel like they have to buy something to come in.’
‘That’s perfect for you, Fix,’ said Tizwot. ‘And if that was the work of the Great Spirit, which I expect it was, then it’s clever of him to know that you’d want to be part of the answer to your own request, isn’t it?’
‘You know me, Tiz … never ask for something you’re not prepared to help make happen. But what about you? What did you ask?’
‘At first, I didn’t ask anything. I won’t go into it, but I just didn’t think asking was right. He talked to me for a long time though, and I understood that I do need to make requests of him, otherwise I’m not taking my part as a friend and neighbour. So I thought for a long time, and in the end I just asked him to help us all get along together … not fighting or taking sides … just enjoying each other’s company and making the most of what we have.’
As the three friends looked out over the noisy, happy party, they knew that Tizwot’s request had certainly been answered.
Scratchit was just passing the paddling pool on her way out of the car park when a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks.
‘Please wait a moment, Scratchit Cat,’ said the Great Spirit, clambering over the side of the pool. ‘I need to speak to you about something.’
She made her way towards him, feeling suddenly awkward. With all this fun and good humour around, was he going to say, ‘I told you so’?
‘Thank you for your request, dear Scratchit Cat. Thanks to you and your friends, I have been able to bring new things to life in this street today: in Wrong’un, a new openness to making this place a true blessing to the neighbourhood … and in the residents of this pretty little street, a new willingness to work together instead of fighting each other. But Scratchit, your instinct about danger is not always misplaced. On this occasion, you saw danger where you needed to see possibility. But there is something going on which truly is dangerous, and which this dear, joyful lot are as yet unaware of.’
Scratchit’s hackles rose immediately. ‘I knew it! What is it? Is it Wrong’un …’
‘Stop, dear one. You heard what I said. Your fear about this venture was misplaced. I speak of something different. But I do not tell you so that you can encamp again behind your fears and prejudices. Remember, you are to scale new heights of confidence … walk new tightropes of courage. I tell you because you have the eyes of a cat … eyes that see what others do not. Keep those eyes wide open, not in fear but in vigilance. When you have seen it, we will talk again.’
When all the party paraphernalia had been cleared away, the capybara had disappeared. No-one remembered seeing him go, but they were all grateful he had come. And he had left them something to remember him by. The corner of the car park where the paddling pool had been was never the same again. It became the most beautiful little garden, ever blossoming with all kinds of flowers. The irony was not lost on Tizwot and her friends, that the Great Spirit’s presence was most evident in the place they had all been so worried and fearful about.