Hearing and listening
Nalcor had been spending more and more time on the computer. He felt a bit lonely tapping away on the keyboard isolated in Mizkat’s big house while she was away all day, every day.
If he was at home now with his family, living in the cozy bog alongside the big river in Labrador, he would have had some company. He would be able to communicate, exchange and laugh. He missed them all, all the other muskrats he had left behind when Mizkat the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s Rich and Poor province, had brought him here to her house in St. John’s to live.
He missed them and he felt lonely it’s true, but on the other hand he was learning a lot. He could understand quite a lot of English now and even a bit of the other language some the humans spoke here, though not so many as spoke it where he came from in Labrador.
As he learned more of the language the humans spoke, a curious thing happened. By understanding more of what they were saying, Nalcor had expected to learn why humans did the things they did. Surprisingly though, it wasn’t like that. So often, what they said was the opposite of what they did. And it seemed as if they didn’t even notice it themselves. It was as if they had really short memories. No sooner were the words out of their mouths than they were forgotten.
It was particularly noticeable among people whose job it was to lead the rest. People whose job was like the Head Muskrat in the pond. Mizkat, the name Nalcor had given to Ms. Kathy Dunderdale, was an example. She was the Head Muskrat in her pond. But instead of doing what The Head Muskrat always did in the pond where Nalcor came from: talk to all the other muskrats, get their point of view, find a solution that would please everyone and carry it out, Mizkat did something different.
At the beginning the things she said often sounded good, but then something different happened. She said she would consult everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s Rich and Poor Province. But instead of gathering all the ideas of the rich and poor people together and trying to find the one that made the most sense, she forgot.
The project back in Labrador that would change forever the place Nalcor came from was an example. Mizkat, and her predecessor, the Angry Man who Talked Too Fast, got their energy company Nalcor, after which the little muskrat was named, to hold hearings about how best to build the province’s energy future.
“Hearings,” now there was a funny name, thought Nalcor. Wasn’t “hearing” the word humans used to describe taking in sounds through your ears? Taking in the ideas those sounds represented was “listening,” at least as far as Nalcor could understand with his limited vocabulary.
As far as Nalcor could figure, the meetings that were held by Nalcor, the company, were not properly named. They should be called not “Hearings,” but “Listenings,” to indicate that Nalcor, the company, was paying some attention to what was said in these meetings.
But the trouble with the process of preparing for Muskrat Falls went further than that. What Nalcor, the muskrat, could tell, Nalcor, the company, was not using their ears at all, but their eyes.
The boss of Nalcor, Ed With The White Head, watched carefully as each member of the public gave his or her opinion of how best to insure a safe and prosperous energy future for the province. When Ed With The White Head saw their lips stop moving, he forgot about them instantly and returned in his mind to the plan for Muskrat Falls he had dreamed up in advance, with the help of Mizkat and The Angry Man Who Talks Too Fast.
Speaking of not listening, Nalcor realized he hadn’t been. He heard the key turning in the lock at the front door. Mizkat was home. He quickly shut off the computer and jumped into his little basket, curled up and pretended to be asleep.
To be continued …
Peter Pickersgill is a writer and artist living in Salvage, Bonavista Bay. He can be reached at the following email: firstname.lastname@example.org.