By K. Eric Pohost
Countryside Mouse lived contently. He didn’t have much, but he didn’t aspire to possess more than he already had. He inhabited his cozy home deep beneath the vacuous steppe. It was a bit of a lonely existence with his friends scattered few and far between, however, on holidays, the excitement of merrymaking was that much greater. Neither did he pang of hunger since whatever sustenance he lacked from his frequent incursions to devour the local flora, he pilfered from the nearby ger whose nomadic lifestyle he mimicked.
City Mouse resided behind a small hole beneath a stove in an apartment where the temperature was always temperate. He required very little outside his immediate vicinity. He needed neither grass to insulate himself nor outdoor plants to keep himself well fed. He feasted to his heart’s content and grew quite voluminous as a result. City Mouse was also surrounded by countless residents of his diminutive kind so he was never alone. And yet City Mouse found that he was never satiated. The lethargic rodent always yearned for ever more spacious accommodation and craved new exotic foods to fill his robust belly. Whatever his neighbors owned, he lusted for the same, only newer and better. It was exhausting this endless urban rat race.
Then, unexpectedly, City Mouse received word from his cousin, Countryside Mouse. “It would give me great pleasure if my successful cousin from the city would come pay a visit to his humble relative from rural parts,” wrote Countryside Mouse. At first City Mouse scoffed at the idea, he imagined being attacked by flies as the sun’s potent rays beat down upon his weary brow and sleeping among spiders and mosquitoes as he shivered under the frigid star-filled skies. But upon further contemplation, the urban rodent overcame his initial uneasiness and sent word of his impending arrival.
When City Mouse presented himself at his relative’s lodgings, he displayed contempt for the rustic conditions. Imagine residing in a home shielded from the elements by mere twigs, weeds, and grass. And the meals, simple and bland, and yet he was amazed at how ravenously he devoured every morsel. On the inside, he was beaming with delight at how superior his civilized urban lifestyle was. Meanwhile, Countryside Mouse was gratified just to be in the company of his cultured cousin whom he hadn’t seen in what seemed like ages.
As it’s prone to do, the sun gave way to the moon in the evening hours. City Mouse lay in his bed wishing the infinite evening sounds would lower their volume so that he could catch some shuteye. He expected to remain awake until daybreak, but somehow promptly drifted off to a long, deep slumber. When City Mouse arose, he was shocked to discover that daybreak had long since come and gone. He quickly bid his kin farewell and welled up with pride as he reciprocated with an invitation to return with him to visit the city, which Countryside Mouse gratefully agreed to—for the rural rodent had heard so much about the opulence of urban life.
As Countryside Mouse arrived in the city, he could hardly contain his joy at all the sights and sounds, but something wasn’t right. In his throat he felt a tickle and in his nose he felt a sniffle and soon he was sneezing and wheezing uncontrollably. He couldn’t understand it, for he hadn’t been stricken by any ailment since childhood. What could be the cause of this ill-timed minor misfortune befalling him? But when they reached their destination this was soon forgotten as Countryside Mouse could hardly contain himself when he observed the seemingly endless assortment of food. City Mouse noticed his kin’s astonishment and joyfully uttered, “I hope you’ll have enough to fill yourself.” They both set to work feasting until they were stuffed. However, unlike the usual satisfying satiation Countryside Mouse experienced after a meal at home, his insides felt a bit uneasy. Nevertheless, he thanked his host and bid him goodnight.
Throughout the night, the rural rodent listened to automobiles honking and screeching as they raced through the streets and muffled voices quarrelling about husbands imbibing too much and teenagers painting the town. The following morning, a triumphant grin overcame the bloated face of City Mouse as he wished his country kin safe travels—for he assumed that Countryside Mouse had been bowled over by urban living—but Countryside Mouse was too eager to return home to take notice.
Upon Countryside Mouse’s arrival home, he eyed his meager belongings, listened to the cacophony of sounds emanating from neighing horses and cuckooing birds, and breathed in the refreshing countryside air and considered how fortunate he was to reside where he did. Meanwhile his tense urban counterpart, sat alone in his immense, well-appointed quarters, brimming with the finest delicacies from around the globe contemplating when his cousin would welcome him back again.
*Based on a tale credited to the Ancient Greek storyteller Aesop.