Published 8 March 2022
Chapter Two – What do you give a Walrus for Breakfast?
The next morning I awoke at dawn and went straight to my food cupboard, scanning its contents for a walrus breakfast. The only possibility was an old can of Portuguese sardines in tomato sauce. I tried to make up a Lewis Carroll-type verse: He wept like anything at the taste of tomato sauce… But it was too early in the morning for creativity and I went back to my usual worrying. What on earth do walrus’s eat, apart from feckless young oysters? Anyway, I was desperate to see how my new friend had survived the night, so I opened the tin, slopped its contents onto an enamel plate, grabbed a loaf of bread and scooted down the stairs. It was bitter outside in the back yard. Six inches of snow had fallen during the night but I knew that was the least of my worries.
I pushed open the door to the shed and there he was – a dark, shiny mound, like a huge sea-sculpted boulder, still sound asleep. I didn’t tap him this time, just whispered a quiet ‘Morning Walrus.’ I slid the plate of sardines towards him, leaving it a few inches from his muzzle. He was so deeply asleep that he didn’t even seem to hear the grating sound of enamel across the concrete. How on earth will he eat, I wondered, without those ridiculous tusks getting in the way? I didn’t have long to wait. With his eyes still closed, I watched his broad, whiskered snout begin to quiver and his nostrils to twitch. He opened an eye, its expression morphing rapidly from lugubrious to terrified and then, more slowly, back to baleful as he recognized again the face that reminded him of his brother.
‘You must be starving,’ I said.
‘Wrrrr,‘ he replied, but quietly this time, as if in assent. He lumbered slowly towards the sardines. Lifting his head delicately above the plate he let out another ‘Wrrrr‘. This time I could have sworn there was a hint of appreciation in its utterance. For those acquainted with cats, you will be aware how many shades of meaning they can express in a single ‘meow’, ranging from apparently deep affection: Oh, I so love you master, to a sharply barked command: feed me, you laggard, have you no sense of urgency?
Perhaps it’s the same with Walruses, I mused. The next thing I knew, Walrus had buried his head in the sardines, his tusks clicking noisily on the plate. So that’s how they do it, I reflected, with their muzzle pointing vertically towards the ground (or seabed) and their tusks pointing backwards toward their chests. It was all so obvious when you watched him. To say that Walrus wolfed the sardines would be an understatement. When he’d finished, I noticed a daub of tomato sauce on his nose and burst out laughing. Ignoring me, he hooked his tusks under the empty plate sending it spinning noisily across the floor as he searched desperately for more sardines.
The look in his eyes as he gazed at me was heart-rending. Shrugging apologetically, I offered him the loaf. He looked at it for a while, gave it a dismissive sniff then stabbed it with his tusks. He must have been desperate though, because he snaffled the whole thing down before turning his eyes on me once more.
‘Oh dear,’ I said, ‘look I’m really sorry, Walrus, that’s all I’ve got in the house. Consider it just a small appetizer. I’ll need to go out and buy you a proper breakfast, you’ll just have to be patient with me.’ This was so typical of me – never thinking things through! I’d figured out from his anatomy that he must be a benthic feeder and wouldn’t normally be able to catch fish; but he obviously loved their taste (or was it just the tomato sauce? My last cat, Mactavish, loved it too). Thankfully Torry was full of fish houses so, with luck, I could bulk-buy cheap fish to satisfy what I imagined would be his enormous appetite. Once again I resorted to charade-like gestures: I’m going to have to lock you in, be back soon, trust me mate.
Hooking a Covid mask around my ears and over my face at the entrance to the first fish house I came to, I pushed through the dangling strips of thick plastic sheeting, and into its cave-like interior. Wasting no time on niceties, I blurted out to the man behind the counter, ‘Can you sell me a box of cheap but wholesome fish, I’ve an army to feed.’
He scrutinized me curiously from beneath his white plastic fish-monger’s hat, his body clad in shiny yellow, his white-booted legs planted squarely on the fish-wet concrete.
‘There’s nae cheap fush these days, pal. Cheapest ah hiv is smaa haddies, nae gutted like. A box’ll set ye back fufty quid.’
‘Jeez,’ I said, ‘nothing cheaper?’
‘Sorry pal. Ye could aye try John Charles up ‘a street, he sometimes his mackareels, aat’s aboot as cheap as ye’ll get.’
So that’s what I did. I bought a big fish-market sized box of mackerel – they were cheaper – and hoisted them with some difficulty into the back of my van.
By the time I’d lugged the box, with its 40 kilograms of fish, through the tenement and across the snow to the outhouses at the back, I was knackered. I leant, breathing heavily, against the shed door. Walrus must have heard me because he let out his now customary greeting from behind the door. It was muted this time, thank god, but I thought it carried a note of desperation.
As I unlocked the door he gave me a look which unequivocally said ‘I could eat a horse.’ or whatever the walrus equivalent was. But what if he doesn’t like mackerel? I was back in worry mode again. I knew there was no way he could catch a mackerel even if they did live up there in the arctic. But I needn’t have worried. I tossed him a fish to test his response. It was instantaneous. His ‘Wrrrr’ was the most enthusiastic yet. It was a wrrrr without qualification, without even a ‘where’s the tomato sauce then?’
I was overcome with relief and joy; I could have hugged him. Forgetting where I was, I let out a whoop of triumph and danced a little jig in the snow. Idiot! I kicked myself, what on earth was I doing? Glancing upwards through the whirling snow, I scanned the window apertures in the grey cliff of the tenement. No sign of prying eyes, I noted with relief, but suddenly I was almost knocked over by Walrus shooting out of the shed to bury his head maniacally into the box of mackerel – in full view of anyone who might be watching.
‘Walrus, no!’ I scolded, waving an index finger at him as I tried to drag the box into the shed, but he hooked his tusks over the opposite side and he was much stronger than me. I had to wait until a pause in his eating frenzy. Only once he’d lifted his head out of the box was I able to jerk it away from him and back into the shed. He followed, galumphing, and I quickly slammed the door, leaving him to his feast. As I made my way back toward the tenement I thought I saw a curtain twitching on the second floor.