My precious Ana lost her pet dwarf hamster this past week. Sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday day, the little guy climbed up the tunnel to his potty place, a detachable box lined with paper towels, and passed away.
Twice on Wednesday afternoon, post-school, she came to me, concerned that she had not heard Nike up all day. The first time I didn't think too much about it, but the second time she added that he was lying on his side and not moving.
I hastily went to investigate. The very moment I laid eyes on his tiny stiff body I knew he was dead.
So began the tears from both my girls...and from me. My Analisa, such a quiet, easy child, cries in a way most women could never compete with when she is very upset; with mouth wide, eyes shut, face raised up and stretched thin, the wails build to ever greater pitch. When her favorite uncle, Steve, left after a visit this past spring, she wept and wailed to such a degree on the drive home from the airport that both my sons clamped hands over ears and slid down in their seats, and my husband kept turning up the radio every two seconds, giving up when even its deafening sound could not drown her out. So he told her bluntly and most unsympathetically that she could be sad but not hysterical - in other words: cry silently, for heavens sake.
Her wails over her little friend were not that bad, but close. My husband kept his patience as he hugged both the girls, and I cried silently with them as I murmured, "I know. I know," and thought of all my pet friends who had left me.
Ana had taken very good care of Nike, her gift from us on her 8th birthday - changing his food each night, checking his water, and cleaning his cage, usually with my help but the last time all by herself. She held him often over the summer and put him in his ball for exercise. When the busy days of school started, it was harder but she tried every day to spend time with him. Both of us loved when he sat on hind legs on our laps and cleaned his face with his minute paws, and Ana used to hold him up to my face and her own so he could give "kissies", sniffing our faces and tickling our cheeks with his rodent whiskers. Nike was her first animal friend.
I regret that I had not held him lately, something I often did at first and especially because Berto and Matthew would never hold "that rat". I'm disappointed that our new Yorkie friend kept trying to eat him whenever the cage came down, making it harder for us to spend time with the first pet in our family, an elderly friend. He had lived with two families before us, and hamsters don't live that long. Ana had said to me many times in recent days, "I'm worried about Nike." He had not consented to be held very often or easily in the past couple weeks, instead burrowing under his bedding. Thankfully, the day before he left us, she was able to pick him up, pet him and put him in his ball for some exercise.
I should have held him that last day - busy doing dishes - but I'm grateful Analisa did.
"You got to hold him yesterday, right?" I said gently. "And he had a last good run in his ball."
"At least his grave will be his last good burrow," she said with a sad little smile.
Ana found her Girl Scouts bandana, earned by selling cookies, and we all went into the backyard. Her papa picked up Nike's little body and wrapped him in Ana's special bandana. Only his half-shut eyes and small grey head showed as Matthew held him out for Ana and each of us to say good-bye (I had to nudge Berto who had been complaining about the smell and was still trying to plug his nose). I sobbingly read the end of Watership Down as the dirt was placed, a tradition my dad started at the passing of all my childhood rabbit friends. Then we all got big rocks to lay across the tiny tomb so Taz, our Yorkie, wouldn't dig him up. Ana wrote his name on one, Neiki to her, and God Bless You on another. We did not put an Adidas symbol on our little friend's grave, as a certain sarcastic someone had once suggested.
It was only a little while later that my girls showed me a hummingbird perched on some dead branches of our African sumac tree, under which Nike is now buried. The tiny creature didn't fly even as the sliding glass door slid shut and we approached close beneath.
"Do you think he came to comfort us?" asked Analisa.
He stayed there for some time, a beautiful presence in the early evening light, and with my arms wrapped around my girls, I replied, "Maybe he did."