Part 1 of a longer story (potentially)
Timmy was the kind of hamster who kept his food in his exercise wheel. His long brown fur was generously mixed with wisps of gray, and he was a bit larger than your average teddy bear hamster. Nobody really knew how long he lived in the small cage on the top shelf of the back wall of the small town pet store and tack shop, but he was around long enough to see more than a few young hamsters come and go.
And he was around long enough to get used to life without an exercise wheel. Nobody ever satisfactorily explained just why the new owners of the pet store removed the exercise equipment from the handful of hamster and rodent cages, but Timmy suspected it had something to do with liability.
“Those big humans are always worried about something, that’s for sure,” he said to himself. He unpouched another piece of food and laid it carefully in the growing stockpile just under the bedding in the corner of his small glass cage. “And they’re always messing up my beautiful piles of food too. I wish I still had a wheel to put my food in.”
The mice and other hamsters didn’t mind the lack of a wheel in their cages, perhaps because they didn’t know any better, or perhaps because the small store in the small town did a brisk business, so very few, besides Timmy, lasted long before being adopted. Maybe because he was too fat, or too shaggy, or too lethargic, or too something else, but Timmy was always passed over by both the kids and the grownups. Occasionally a kid would ask to see him and seemed to think he was cute, but then they would catch a glimpse of the little dwarf hamsters, or the younger blondes, or the guinea pigs with the swirly hairstyles, and he would be unceremoniously dumped back in his cage without a second thought.
On one such occasion, Alli, the shop owner’s 12 year old daughter who often helped on the weekends, accidentally dropped him on his head, although he landed in the fluffy bedding. “Oh I’m sorry little guy,” she said. “I think you’re the cutest fluffiest nicest hamster ever, but Daddy won’t let me take home another pet. ‘Our zoo is big enough already’ he always says. But then he always falls in love with each and every critter that comes home. Maybe if no one else adopts you he’ll change his mind, or maybe you can be mine but stay here at the shop. Would you like that?” After shaking off his brief head injury, Timmy pawed a little at the glass to acknowledge her. “Suits me,” he said in return, which to her was a barely-audible squeak. “Could I get a wheel to put my food in?” he asked, but she was off tending to the demands of a young family looking at the guinea pigs.
“Did you say something about a wheel?” a tiny voice squeaked from the cage next door.
“Yes, little Blue, I did. To put my food in.”
Blueberry, a tiny Siberian Dwarf hamster, replied, “When I was adopted for a couple days last week they gave me a wheel and it was the best thing ever! I could run and run and run and run and it was so. much. fun. I wonder why they brought be back here though. I would love to have a wheel again too.”
Blueberry was a soft mousey gray, with a darker gray stripe down her back and little white paws. Just the kind of cuteness that all the kids loved.
“I heard Alli say something about a cat at that house, so better here without a wheel then there and a light snack or plaything for one of those evil beasts. They must have realized the cat was going to find you sooner or later. It was probably the mom. They’re usually the smarter ones.”
“Oh yes, I caught a glimpse of a terrifying creature with pointy ears and terrible eyes. I saw it once when I arrived and another time when they were bringing me back here. The poor kids were crying, the mom was yelling, the dad was angry, and I was so confused and here I am again. No wheel.”
“But no cats either.”
“And we get to be friends again,” Blueberry chirped. She had only arrived at the store last week, quickly got adopted, but then was back a few days later.
“What I don’t understand,” Timmy said, “is the big deal about all the running on those wheels. They’re pretty good for piling food in a safe place, but all that running? You run and run and get absolutely nowhere. Drives me crazy, which I admit is a short trip, but still…” He let out a huge hamster yawn. “Still…yes. Still. I could use some stillness right now. Peace and quiet. I think I’ll take a nap.”
Meanwhile Blueberry was running back and forth along the edge of her cage and her squeaking and chattering got more excited too. Once she got going, she spoke in a non-stop rapid-fire stream, which was matched only by the pace of her speedy white paws, which merged into a blur once she approached her top speed.
“I don’t know what you got against wheels. I love going fast,” she said. “Pacing back and forth isn’t much fun, but you know I got to keep moving or I’ll go crazy. These cages aren’t that big and I want to just go, go, go. That’s why wheels are the best. And if you get going fast enough, and time it just right, you can ride it in circles, which is a ton of fun. You have to be careful though because sometimes you can go flying out.”
“Not a problem for me, little Blue. Even in my running days I’d never be half as fast as you. Just watching you makes me tired. I think I’ll rest for a bit.”
“Oh please don’t yet. I’m feeling restless and could use a nice chitter and chatter with you,” she said as she continued to pace.
“Sorry, Blue, but I could use some peace right now.”
“Piece? Like a piece of food? Did you get food already today? I didn’t get any yet. How did you get food and I didn’t? Is it because you’re 10 times my size? You know I could always use one more piece of food, just in case. You never know, you know…”
Timmy barely registered most of what she was saying. “No, not a piece of food, but peace, like peace and quiet. Stillness. Rest. That kind of peace.”
“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about. Still? Quiet? Are you sure you’re a proper hamster, because that sounds like talk that might come out of the reptile room. Where did these ideas come from? Are you OK? What’s this peace business anyway?”
“I wish I knew, my little friend. I’m trying to find it, and I’ll let you know if I ever do.”
They both noticed some commotion coming toward them, so they stopped and perked their ears up.
“Oh look!” Blueberry said. “Here comes some kids. Maybe today’s our lucky day!”
“Oh, I doubt it,” Tim sighed. He crawled into the small cave he carved out in the bedding, curled up, and promptly fell asleep.