Tizwot’s request – a story about the prayers we pray
Wesley the Bear was all a-quiver. For the most part, he hadn’t enjoyed his time on the Council. The exhilaration of being elected had worn off quickly, and now he found it arduous., The meetings were dull and the sandwiches were largely lettuce-based. But today was different. Today he got to stand up in front of his neighbours and make a very important announcement. He had even given his whiskers a stylish curl in honour of the occasion.
‘Following a considerable consultation period,’ he said, adopting his most booming bear voice, ‘and the submission of several proposals, all crafted with due care and attention by myself and a worthy consortium of luminaries, each of whom was selected in accordance with …’
‘Oh, get on with it, you fusty old rug,’ shouted a voice from the back of the crowd. ‘Is he coming or not?’
There was much tutting, since the voice could only be that of Wrong’un the Rat, but secretly everyone agreed. He might not like the sandwiches, but Wes had developed the Council tendency to use five hundred words where five would do.
‘Well, yes, he is …’ The cheer nearly drowned the bear out completely, and he raised his voice as he realised the residents of the pretty little street were all about to rush off in different directions, ‘And there’s one more thing: you are each invited to submit a request to him before his arrival. This can be done in writing, and all requests must be put through my letterbox before five o’clock tomorrow afternoon.’
‘When’s he coming?’ Asked Scratchit the Cat, raising her voice above the excited chatter.
‘He will be here on Tuesday.’
And now there was no stopping them. The organised rushed off to make plans, the hospitable rushed off to bake cakes, and the guilty rushed off to hide evidence. After a while, only Wesley, Scratchit, Fixit and Tizwot were left. Admittedly, Fixit was panting slightly in her eagerness to get on with the organising, but she was the well-prepared type who knew that the best preparations take … well, preparation … so she had stayed around to ask Wesley a few more practical questions.
‘We need to talk,’ said Scratchit, the end of her tail flicking back and forth. ‘Let’s go to Tizwot’s house for tea.’
‘But I need to ask Wes …’
‘Later,’ hissed the cat, tugging at Fixit’s shaggy shoulder.
Tizwot had no idea why they needed to talk, but she was always up for tea.
‘Right,’ said Scratchit, once they were all seated with a tea in paw. ‘What are we each going to ask him?’ The other two looked blank. ‘Oh, come on, you two! We’ve got to coordinate our strategies here. The Great Spirit is coming to visit us and we get to make requests of him. Surely there’s only one thing we’re all going to ask for, isn’t there?’
The blankness and silence got so uncomfortable that Fixit stuttered, ‘What’s that then, Scratch?’
‘The rat, of course!’ Scratchit’s claws curled out in that way they always did when she was riled. ‘This is our best opportunity to get that nasty piece of work evicted … hell, eviscerated. The Great Spirit has charge over all living creatures, so presumably he can wipe one of them out if he sees fit. All we need to do is present the evidence and make the request.’ Tizwot shifted uncomfortably in her seat, and Scratchit sighed. ‘Oh, Tiz, I know he’s your bestest buddy and all, but you’ve got to admit, he’s a menace, and he’s only getting worse.’
Tizwot and Fixit glanced at each other. This conversation had become a regular staple of their teatimes over the past year. Scratchit wasn’t terrified of Wrong’un anymore, and she clearly didn’t think he was going to torch her house (as he’d once threatened), because she’d stopped keeping buckets of water in each room, but she had never made peace with his existence. They could be civil to one another, but that didn’t stop her treating him with a kind of hypervigilant suspicion. It was as though she believed he would turn on them all at any moment. And it had got a whole lot worse since he announced the building of ‘Rat Caf’.
Wrong’un’s was the house at the end of the street, and the plot adjoining it had been empty for years. If any of the residents of that pretty little street on the edge of the pretty little village had ever wondered why a distinctly urban rat would choose to move their, their questions were answered the moment he took possession of the empty land, and announced his intention to open ‘Rat Caf’ – a particularly greasy burger joint – right there on the corner of the pretty little street. All credit to him for being a forward-thinking rat. The sprawl of the new housing estate would soon bring its leading edge to within a hundred yards of that little plot of land, and all those hungry newcomers would need unhealthy fast-food options. Even the most conservative estimates put foot-fall at about fifty customers a day, and that would probably rise to several hundred once the houses were all occupied.
The proposal had of course met with very bad feeling among the local residents, and Wrong’un hadn’t helped his cause by making some distasteful comments about how some of them might come in handy for burger meat. Wesley the Bear had done all he could to oppose the project at the planning stage, but to no avail, and now the brick box of a building was finished and ready to open. Most of the residents had given up the fight … but not Scratchit.
‘Look, you two don’t like the idea of this monstrosity any more than I do,’ she said. ‘It’s going to destroy this place. The Great Spirit is just and righteous, so he’ll see that too, and he’ll do what needs to be done. All we need to do is ask.’
And with that, she pulled paper and pen out of her pristine designer handbag and wrote:
‘O Great Spirit, I beg of thee to come in thy power and intervene in this evil scheme which is a-foot in our community. May the Rat Caf never see the light of day, and may the rat himself be removed to a place where he can do no further harm.’
‘There you go,’ she said, passing the sheet to Fixit. ‘Don’t use the same words, but write the same kind of thing.’
‘Gosh,’ said Fixit, ‘do our requests have to be in that posh language? I don’t think I can do that.’
‘I can help you …’ Scratchit lifted her pen to a new piece of paper.
‘No, Fix, they don’t,’ said Tizwot, ‘and it’s probably best if you write your own, because I think the Great Spirit would know if you were only making a request because someone else had told you to.’
‘Good point,’ said Scratchit, hurriedly pushing her writing things back into her bag. ‘But make sure you write about the rat, OK?’
‘Scratch, I think we each need to think about our own requests,’ said Tizwot, ‘but we’ll remember what you’ve said.’
She yawned, which was usually the sign that tea was over. Scratchit looked belligerent, but stood up to go. Fixit followed, looking more confused than ever.
In the quiet of their own homes, the three friends did indeed think about their requests. Scratchit liked her first draft, but as she pictured the Great Spirit, she felt she could improve it. He was surely a mighty being – one who could create and destroy in an instant. He would come wielding power, and it would be ever such a shame if no-one told him who he needed to wield that power against. He was righteousness itself, so surely he would want to wipe out anything evil or corrupt. By the time she’d finished, Scratchit’s request was practically a declaration of war.
Fixit had a very different picture in her head, as she thought about the Great Spirit. For her, he was efficiency itself. He was an intelligent, industrious being who existed to take control of problematic situations and to make the world a better place, wasn’t he? Surely his sole purpose in coming would be to make things right. Although Fixit didn’t have any particular objection to the Rat Caf– fast food could be most useful for the dog with a busy lifestyle – she could certainly see that the plan had flaws. In his packed schedule, how would the Great Spirit have time to acquaint himself fully with the situation? How would he know what to do to improve things? She snatched up her pen. Fixit didn’t claim to be brainy, but she knew how things should be done. She was very clear on that, and she was rarely ever wrong. All she needed to do was to tell the Great Spirit her ideas and ask him to action them.
Tizwot’s paper stayed empty till about five minutes to five the next day. When she thought about the Great Spirit, what she saw was a being of immense beauty and majesty. He would come, and they would be silenced, overwhelmed by the wonder of him. What was the point in asking him for anything? Surely he would do whatever he chose, and that would be the very best of all things. The idea of writing a request to him felt insane, so in the end she just wrote five little words:
‘Please come round for tea.’
Tuesday came, and the residents of the pretty little street were up bright and early. No-one knew quite how the Great Spirit would arrive. Scratchit had visions of a chariot with knives sticking out of the wheels, and Fixit was sure there would be a large van full of useful equipment for fixing things. Tizwot was just expecting a cloud of golden brilliance to descend. Such were their convictions that the three friends hardly noticed the strange, barrel-shaped creature making its ponderous progress up the street towards Wesley’s house. It was only when Wesley opened the door and bowed deeply that they suddenly realised who they had just ignored.
Once word had gone around that the Great Spirit had arrived, the residents of the pretty little street started drifting out of their houses to compare notes.
‘It can’t be him,’ said Scratchit. ‘That thing has webbed feet! How on earth is that ever going to do any damage to the forces of evil?’
‘Yes, I wondered about it too,’ said Fixit. ‘I mean, it has a coat to be proud of – long and brown like mine – but it didn’t even have a bag, let alone the large supply of resources I’d expect from the fixer of all fixers. What did you think, Tiz?’
‘I thought it looked rather cute, but I must say it didn’t look nearly as majestic as I was hoping. Perhaps that was just the Great Spirit’s personal assistant.’
At that moment, Wesley’s door opened, and he and the strange animal came out. Seeing he already had an audience, Wes coughed and drew his shoulders back: ‘Good friends and neighbours all,’ he said, booming bearishly, ‘I have the great honour of introducing to you … the Great Spirit himself.’
He stepped back and waved the Great Spirit to take his place. The ‘Great’ must have been entirely symbolic, since the animal was barely half Wes’s height. Its head looked something like a miniature hippopotamus, and it didn’t seem to have a tail – a fact which many of the residents found surprising, since having a tail was widely considered one of the greatest perks of the animal kingdom.
‘Good morning, all of you! I am overjoyed to be here in your delightful company. I’m very much looking forward to talking with you all over the coming days.’ The voice was gentle, almost breathy, and the words came hesitantly, which did nothing to dispel the impression that this being, whoever he may be, was anything but powerful or capable. He must have sensed his audience’s confusion because he went on: ‘Perhaps you’re wondering at my appearance today, so let me explain. When I visit my beloved ones, I can of course choose any physical form in which to appear. Today I have chosen my very favourite. Today I come to you as the humble, gentle Capybara.’
The well-travelled animals nodded in recognition, and the well-read animals emitted an ‘oooooh’ sort of sound. The animals who’d been nowhere and read nothing looked around in bafflement, determining to consult the internet as soon as they got home.
Seeing that the Great Spirit had finished his intro, Wes stepped forward again and said: ‘The Great Spirit will be visiting you all tomorrow, to talk about your requests. If you’re going to be out, please come and let me know now, so I can put together a suitable timetable.
‘Oh yes, thank you all for your requests,’ said the Great Spirit. ‘I shall now go and read them in the bath.’
The well-travelled and the well-read chuckled knowingly, while everyone else went on looking confused.
As Wesley’s door closed, there was a snigger from the back of the crowd. They turned to see Wrong’un the Rat waddling around, imitating the Great Spirit’s strange walk.
‘Well, ladies and gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I’m quaking in my boots! There you were, all hoping the mighty, awesome, powerful Great Spirit thing was going to scare me out of here, and now we all find out he’s nothing but an overgrown Guinea pig! Completely terrifying! What do you reckon he’s going to do … grind me between his beaver teeth while he munches on your front lawns?’ The rat collapsed in hysterical laughter.
Scratchit hissed, but her friends pulled her away. It was probably a good job. After all, she was beginning to wonder if the rat had a point.