Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: The Return of Mrs. Brisbane
Today was the worst day of my life. Ms. Mac left Room 26 of Longfellow School. For good. And
Worse yet, Mrs. Brisbane came back. Until today, I didn't even know there was a Mrs. Brisbane. Lucky me. Now I want to know: What was Ms. Mac thinking?
She must have known that soon she'd be leaving with out me. And that Mrs. Brisbane would come back to Room 26 and I'd be stuck with her.
I still like-okay, love-Ms. Mac more than any human or hamster on earth, but what was she thinking?
“You can learn a lot about yourself by taking care of another species,” she told me on the way home the day she got me. “You'll teach those kids a thing or two.”
That’s what she was thinking. I don't think she was thinking very clearly.
I'm never going to squeak to her again. Of course, I'll probably never see her again because she's GONE GONE-GONE-but if she comes back, I'm not even going to look at her.
(I know that last sentence doesn't make sense. It's hard to make sense when your heart is broken.)
On the other hand, until Ms. Mac arrived, I was going nowhere down at Pet-O-Rama. My days were spent sitting around, looking at a bunch of furry things in cages just like mine. We were treated all right: regular meals, clean cages, music piped in all day.
Over the music, Carl, the store clerk, would answer the phone: “Open nine to nine, seven days a week. Corner of Fifth and Alder, next to the Dairy Maid."
Back then, I feared I'd never see Fifth and Alder, much less the Dairy Maid. Sometimes I'd see human eyes and noses (not always as clean as they should be) poking up against the glass. Nothing ever came of it. The children were excited to see me, but the parents usually had other ideas.
“Oh, come see the fishes, Cornelia. So colorful and so much easier to take care of than a hamster," Mama might say.
Or "No, no, Norbert. They have the cutest little pup pies over here. After all, a dog is a boy's best friend."
So there we were: hamsters, gerbils, mice and guinea pigs-not nearly as popular as the fish, cats or dogs. I suspected that I'd be spinning my wheel at Pet-O-Rama forever.
But once Ms. Mac carried me out the door a short six weeks ago, my life changed FAST-FAST-FAST. I saw Fifth! I saw Alder! I saw the Dairy Maid with the statue of a cow in an apron outside!
I was dozing when she first came to Pet-0-Rama, as I do during the day because hamsters are more active at night.
“Hello." A warm voice awakened me. When I opened my eyes, I saw a mass of bouncy black curls. A big, happy smile. Huge dark eyes. She smelled of apples. It was love at first sight.
“Aren't you the bright-eyed one?" she asked.
“And might I return the compliment?" I replied. Of course, it came out “Squeak-squeak-squeak," as usual.
Ms. Mac opened up her purse with the big pink and blue flowers on it.
“I’ll take him," she told Carl. “He's obviously the most intelligent and handsome hamster you have."
Carl grunted. Then Ms. Mac picked out a respectable cage-okay, not the three-story pagoda I'd had my eye on-but a nice cage.
And soon, amid squeals of encouragement from my friends in the Small Pet Department, from the teeniest white mouse to the lumbering chinchilla, I left Pet-0-Rama with high hopes.
We sped down the street in Ms. Mac's bright yellow car! (She called it a Bug, but I could see it was really a car.) She carried my cage up the stairs to her apartment! We ate apples! We watched TV! She let me run around outside my cage! She gave me my very own name: Humphrey. And she told me all about Room 26, where we'd be going the next morning.
“And since you are an intelligent hamster who is going to school, I have a present for you, Humphrey," she said.
Then she gave me a tiny little notebook and a tiny little pencil. iii got these for you at the doll shop," she explained. She tucked them behind my mirror where no one could see them except me.
“Of course, it might be a while before you learn to read and write," she continued. “But you're smart and I know you'll catch on fast."
Little did she know I could already make out some words from my long, boring days at Pet-O-Rama.
Words like Chew Toys. Kibble. Pooper-Scoopers.
Remember, a hamster is grown up at about five weeks old. So if I could learn all the skills I need for life in five weeks, how long could it possibly take to learn to read?
I’ll tell you: a week. Yep, in a week I could read and even write a little with the tiny pencil.
In addition to schoolwork, I learned quite a bit about the other students in Room 26. Like Lower-Your-VoiceA.J. and Speak-Up-Sayeh and Wait-for-the-Bell-Garth and Golden-Miranda. (Even after I found out her name is really Miranda Golden, I thought of her as GoldenMiranda because of her long blonde hair. After all, I am a Golden Hamster.)
Yes, life in Room 26 suited me well during the day. My cage had all the comforts a hamster could ask for. I had bars on the window to protect me from my enemies. I had a little sleeping house in one corner where no one could see me or bother me. There was my wheel to spin on, of course, and a lovely pile of nesting material. My mirror came in handy to check my grooming (and to hide my notebook). In one corner, I kept my food. The opposite corner was my bathroom area because hamsters like to keep their poo away from their food. (Who doesn't?) All my needs were taken care of in one convenient cage.
At night, I went home from school with Ms. Mac and we watched TV or listened to music. Sometimes Ms. Mac played her bongo drums. She made a tunnel on the floor so I could race and wiggle to my hamster heart's content.
Oh, the memories of those six weeks with Morgan McNamara. That's her real name, but she told her students to call her Ms. Mac. That's how nice she is. Or was. On the weekends, Ms. Mac and I had all kinds of ad ventures. She put me in her shirt pocket (right over her heart!) and took me with her to the laundry room. She had friends over and they laughed and made a fuss over me. She even took me for a bike ride once. I can still feel the wind in my fur!
I didn’t have an inkling—until this morning—of the unsqueakable thing she was about to do to me. On the way to work she said, "Humphrey, I hate to tell you, but this is my last day in Room 26 and I'm going to miss you more than you’ll ever know.”
What was she saying? I hung on to my wheel for dear life!
“You see it’s really Mrs. Brisbane’s class. But just before school started, her husband was in an accident, so I took over the class. Today, she’s coming back for good.”
Good? I could see nothing good in what Ms. Mac was saying.
“Besides, I want to see the world, Humphrey,” she told me.
Fine with me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the world I’ve seen so far and would go to the ends of the earth with Ms. Mac. But she wasn’t finished yet.
“But I can’t take you with me.”
All hopes dashed. Completely.
“Besides the kids need you to teach them responsibility. Mrs. Brisbane needs you too.”
Unfortunately, she didn’t tell Mrs. Brisbane that.
Mrs. Brisbane was already in Room 26 when we arrived. She smiled at Ms. Mac and shook her hand.
Then she frowned at me and said, “Is that some kind of…rodent?”
Ms. Mac gave her the speech about how much kids can learn from taking care of another species.
Mrs. Brisbane looked horrified and said, “I can’t stand rodents! Take it back!”
The it she was talking about was me.
Ms. Mac didn’t bat an eyelash. She put my cage in its usual place next to the window and said the kids were already very attached to me. She attached Dr. Harvey H. Hammer’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Hamsters to the cage, along with a chart to make sure I was fed and my cage was cleaned on time.
"The children know what to do. You won’t have to do a thing,” Ms. Mac said as Mrs. Brisbane glared at me.
Just then, my fellow students came streaming into the room and within half an hour Ms. Mac had said good-bye to everyone, including me.
"I’ll never forget you, Humphrey,” she whispered. "Don't you forget me, either."
"Not likely. But I don't know if I can ever forgive you,” I squeaked.
And then she was gone. Without me.
Mrs. Brisbane didn't even come close to my cage until recess. Then she walked over and said, "Mister, you've got to go."
But she doesn't know my secret: The latch on my cage door doesn’t work. It never has. It's the lock-thatdoesn’t-lock.
So I’ve got news for Mrs. Brisbane: If I've got to go, it will be when and where I decide to go. Not her.
Meanwhile, I’m not turning my back on this woman. Not for a second. If I ever disappear and someone finds this notebook, just check out Mrs. Brisbane. Please!
TIP ONE: Choose your new hamster's home very carefully and make sure it is secure. Hamsters are skillful "escape artists" and once out of their cages they are very difficult to find.
-Guide to the Care and Feeding of Hamsters, Dr. Harvey H. Hammer
Chapter 2: Night Life
For the rest of the day, I felt SAD-SAD-SAD.
"You look sad, Humphrey," Golden-Miranda said when she was cleaning my cage right before lunch. According to the chart Ms. Mac had left, it was her turn to take care of me, thank goodness. Miranda was the best cage-cleaner and never said "Yuck!"
She put on throwaway gloves, then cleaned my potty corner, changed my bedding, gave me fresh water and finally-oh, joy!-gave me fresh grain, some lettuce and meal worms. "This will make you happy," she said as she slipped me the special treat she'd brought from home: cauliflower. Naturally, Miranda had good taste. I promptly saved it in my cheek pouch until I could store it in my sleeping house. Hamsters like to stash food for the future. After my cage was taken care of, I felt well enough to observe Mrs. Brisbane more carefully. Now, Ms. Mac was tall, wore bright blouses, short skirts and high shoes. She wore bracelets that jingled-jangled. She spoke in a loud voice and waved her arms and walked all around the room when she taught.
Mrs. Brisbane, on the other hand, was short with short gray hair. She wore dark clothes and flat shoes and she didn't jingle-jangle at all. She spoke in a voice just loud enough to hear and sat at her desk or stood at the chalkboard when she taught.
No wonder I was feeling drowsy after lunch. All that nice food and all that soft talking. "
Is that all this hamster does-sleep?" she asked at one point when she glanced over at my cage. "Well, he's 'turnal," replied Raise-Your-Hand-Heidi Hopper.
"Raise-Your-Hand-Heidi," said Mrs. Brisbane. "What's 'turnal?"
"You know. 'Turnal. He sleeps during the day," said Heidi.
I was wide-awake now. "Nocturnal," I squeaked. ''Hamsters are nocturnal."
"Oh, you mean nocturnal," said Mrs. Brisbane, almost as if she had understood me. She turned and wrote the word on the board. "Can anyone else name an animal that's nocturnal?"
"Owl," said Heidi.
"Raise-Your-Hand-Heidi," said Mrs. Brisbane. "But that is correct. An owl is nocturnal. Anyone else?"
A voice shouted out, "My dad!"
Mrs. Brisbane looked around. "Who said that?"
"He did. A.J." Garth Tugwell pointed at A.J.
Both boys sat at the table nearest to my cage.
"What about your dad?" Mrs. Brisbane asked.
A.J. squirmed in his seat. "Well, my mom always says my dad is nocturnal 'cause he stays up so late watching TV."
Stop-Giggling-Gail and a few other students snickered. Mrs. Brisbane didn't crack a smile.
"Her use of the word is correct," she said. "Though, technically, humans are not nocturnal. Any others?"
Eventually, the class came up with more names of nocturnal animals, like bats and coyotes and opossums, and Mrs. Brisbane said that the class would be learning more about animal habits later in the year.
If she'd just look at me, she could learn a lot. But I noticed for the rest of the day that Mrs. Brisbane stayed far away from my cage, as if I had a disease or something.
She read a mighty fine story to us in the afternoon, though. In fact, I couldn't get back to my nap afterward. It was about a scary house and these scratching noises and ... a ghost! THUMP-THUMP-THUMP, the ghost came down the hall! Oh, I had shivers and quivers.
I have to say, Mrs. Brisbane knows how to read a story. Her voice changed and her eyes got wide and I forgot about her gray hair and her dark suit. To squeak the truth, my fur was on end! The story had a funny ending because it turned out the ghost wasn't a ghost at all. It was an owl!
At the end of the story, everybody laughed. Even Mrs. Brisbane.
I was beginning to think that life with this new teacher wouldn't be so bad. But I changed my mind when the bell rang at the end of the day and all my classmates raced out of the room, leaving me alone with her.
She erased the chalkboard and gathered up her papers. I could tell that we'd be going home soon. Suddenly, I began to worry. What if Mrs. Brisbane lived in a scary house with spooky noises and a thumping ghost?
Or, even worse, what is Mrs. Brisbane had a scary pet, like a dog?"
My mind was racing as fast as I was spinning my wheel when she finally approached and looked down at me, frowning.
"Well, you're on your own now," she said.
With that, she closed the blinds and walked away. But I heard her mutter "rodent" under her breath.
She left the classroom and closed the door.
She left me alone. All alone in Room 26.
I had never ever been alone before.
As the room slowly grew darker and quieter, I thought back to the happy times at Ms. Mac's apartment. There were always cheery lights on and music and telephonetalking and ... oh, dear, during the day I never noticed how the clock on the wall ticked off the seconds one by one very loudly.
TICK-TICK-TICK. I was feeling SICK-SICK-SICK. I wondered if there were any owls around Room 26. Or ghosts.
I tried to pass the time by writing in my notebook about Pet-O-Rama and my days at Ms. Mac's apartment. Writing took my mind off my jittery nerves. But eventually, my writing paw began to ache and I had to stop my scratchings. If only I could roam free, as I had at Ms. Mac's apartment!
Then I remembered the lock-that-doesn't-lock.
It only took a few seconds to jiggle the door open. I skittered across the table. Then, grasping the top of the table leg tightly, I closed my eyes and slid to the ground.
Ah, freedom! I dashed along the shiny floor. I darted between the tables and chairs. I stopped to nibble a peanut underneath Stop-Giggling-Gail's chair. It tasted delicious and made the coolest crunching sound. I chewed and chomped and gnawed and nibbled. And when I stopped ... I heard the sound.
THUMP-THUMP-THU MP. Just like the story Mrs. Brisbane had read us. THUMP-THUMP-THUMP. Closer and closer down the hall, coming toward Room 26.
Then RATTLE-SCRATCH. RATTLE-SCRATCH. THUMP-THUMP-THUMP. Suddenly, I longed for the protective comfort of my cage. I dropped what was left of the peanut and scampered back. But when I got to the table, I thought a terrible thought. I had slid down the smooth, shiny leg, straight down. But how was I going to climb up again?
I flung myself against the table leg, grabbed on and pushed UP-UP-UP. But I had only made a little progress when I began to slide DOWN-DOWN-DOWN. I was right back where I'd started.
The rattling got louder. The sounds weren't coming toward Room 26 anymore. They were coming in Room 26.
Just then, I noticed a long cord running down from the blinds. Without hesitation, I leaped up and grabbed the cord and began swinging back and forth. My stomach churned and I wished I'd never touched that peanut. But with each swing, I got a little higher off the ground. As soon as I saw the edge of the table, I closed my eyes and dived toward it.
Whoosh! I slid across the table and scampered into the cage. As I pulled the door behind me, I was suddenly blinded by light.
The something had turned on the lights and was clomping across the floor. It was huge and heavy and coming right toward me.
Just then, my eyes adjusted to the light and I saw the thing. It was a man!
"Well, well, who have we here? A new student!" a voice boomed.
The man was smiling down at me. My, that was a lovely piece of fur across his upper lip. A nice black mustache. He bent down to peer in at me.
"I'm Aldo Amato. And who are you?" "I'm Humphrey ... and you scared me half to death!" I told him. But as always, all that came out was "Squeak-squeak-squeak."
Aldo squinted at the sign on my cage.
"Oh, you're Humphrey! Hope I didn't scare you half to death!" he said with a laugh.
"I've just come to clean the room. I come every night. But where have you been?" he said. He rolled up a big cart with a bucket and mops and brooms and all kinds of bottles and rags on it.
"Oh, that's right," he replied as if we were having a real conversation. 11Mrs. Brisbane came back today. She's a good teacher, you know, Humphrey. Been teaching here a long time. Wish I'd had a good teacher like her. Say ... do you like music, Humphrey?"
"SQUEAK-SQUEAK-SQUEAK." I tried to tell him I love music almost as much as I love Ms. Mac. Suddenly, a song came blasting out of the radio on his cart and he set to work: sweeping, mopping, moving desks, dusting.
But Aldo Amato didn't just dust and mop. He spun and swayed. He hopped and leaped. He twisted and twirled.
"How do you like the floor show?" Aldo asked me as he grasped the mop like a dancer holding his partner. "Get it? It's a floor show! 'Cause I'm cleaning the floor!"
Then Aldo roared the biggest roar of a laugh I'd ever heard. His big mustache shook so much, I thought it might fall off.
"You like that? I'll show you real talent, Humphrey!" Aldo Amato picked up his broom and very carefully stood it up with the very tip balancing on one outstretched fingertip. It wiggled from side to side, but Aldo moved with the broom and managed to keep it balanced straight in the air for an amazingly long time. When he was finished, he bowed deeply and said, "What do you think? I'm going to join the circus!" And he roared again.
Then Aldo wiped his forehead with a big bandanna and sat down at the table where A.J. usually sits. "You know what, Humphrey? You're such good company, I think I'll take my dinner break with you. Do you mind?"
"PLEASE-PLEASE-PLEASE," I squeaked.
Aldo pulled his chair right up to my cage.
"Hey, you're a handsome guy ... like me. Here ... a little bit of green won't hurt you, will it?" He tore off a piece of lettuce from his sandwich and pushed it through the bars. Of course, I hid it in my cheek pouch.
Aldo chuckled. "Good for you, Humphrey! Always save something for a rainy day."
The two of us shared a very pleasant meal as Aldo told me about how he used to a have a regular job where he worked during the day. But then, his company closed down and he couldn't find a job for a long time. He couldn't even pay the rent when he was lucky enough to get hired here at Longfellow School. He was glad to get the job, but it's lonely working at night because his friends work during the day. They can never get together like they used to.
I tried to squeak to him about all the creatures, like me, that are also nocturnal and Aldo listened.
"I know you're trying to tell me something, Humphrey, but I can't tell what it is. Maybe you're just saying I'm not alone after all, huh?"
"Squeak." He understood!
Aldo stood up and threw his trash into the plastic bag on his cart. "Well, I've got a lot of other rooms to clean, my friend. But I'll be back tomorrow night. Maybe I'll take my dinner break with you again."
Aldo pushed his cart toward the door and reached for the light switch.
"NO-NO-NO!" I squeaked, dreading the thought of being plunged into darkness again.
Aldo stopped. "I hate to leave you in the dark. But if I don't turn off the lights, I could lose my job."
He clomped back across the floor to the window. ''Tell you what. I'll leave the blinds open a little. There's a nice light right outside your window."
After he turned off the lights and left, I chomped on the lettuce I'd saved and basked in the warm glow of the streetlight--and my new friendship with Aldo.
TIP TWO: Hamsters are not picky about their food and eat very little. Make sure to feed your pet a wide variety of tasty foods.
-Guide to the Care and Feeding of Hamsters, Dr. Harvey H. Hammer
Chapter 3: The Two Faces of Mrs. Brisbane
That week was BUSY-BUSY-BUSY, but I learned alot. I learned all the capitals of the United States. (I didn't say I remembered them all, but I learned them all.)
I learned about how water changes from solid to liquid to gas.
I learned how to subtract fractions.
I learned something else. Something very weird. There are two Mrs. Brisbanes.
And I thought one Mrs. Brisbane was one too many.
The first Mrs. Brisbane is a good teacher, just like Aldo said. She's better than Ms. Mac was at getting A.J. to lower his voice. She's better at getting Heidi to raise her hand before she blurts something out loud.
Of course, nobody could get Speak-Up-Sayeh to raise her hand or to blurt anything out loud. Sayeh is so quiet and gentle, she never gives an answer. If the teacher calls on her, she stares down at her desk without saying a word.
But when it's Sayeh's turn to clean my cage and feed me, she holds me in her hand so gently, I feel like I'm floating on a cloud. "Hello, Humphrey," she whispers. "Your fur is so beautiful." I always feel calmer when Sayeh holds me.
She's so nice, I wish Mrs. Brisbane would leave her alone. Ms. Mac hardly ever called on Sayeh once she realized how shy she was. But Mrs. Brisbane calls on her all the time. She won't leave her alone.
"Sayeh, speak up, please. I know you know the answer," she'd say while Sayeh stared at the top of her desk as if she were watching a TV show there. But I was shocked when Mrs. Brisbane got annoyed with Sayeh--sweet, shy Sayeh--and said, "You will stay in during recess."
Sayeh still stared down without moving a muscle. But a minute later, I saw something wet drop from Sayeh's eye to the tabletop.
I hated Mrs. Brisbane.
Of course, I don't go out to recess. In fact, I'm glad, since it's a great time to catch up on my sleep. So I was there when Mrs. Brisbane talked to Sayeh. And I was all ready to squeak up on her behalf, if necessary.
Mrs. Brisbane brought a stack of papers to the table and sat down across from Sayeh.
"Sayeh, you think I'm being mean to you, don't you?"
Sayeh slowly shook her head no. I heartily nodded my head yes, but no one was looking at me. "But I wouldn't call on you if I didn't know that you know the answers," the teacher explained. "Look at your papers and tests. You get 100% on everything: spelling, science, geography and arithmetic. Your vocabulary is excellent. But I have never heard you speak. Can you tell me why?"
I checked my notebook and I was pretty impressed. I only got an 85% on the last vocabulary test. This girl is smart!
Sayeh still did not speak.
"Sayeh, I'm going to have to send a note home to your parents. Maybe they can help me figure out what to do," said Mrs. Brisbane.
Sayeh looked up, very frightened. "No, please," she said.
Mrs. Brisbane looked surprised. She reached over and patted Sayeh's arm. "I won't send a note now ... if you'll promise to try."
Sayeh looked back down at the desk and nodded.
"I'll tell you what. I won't call on you if you promise that sometime within the next week you'll raise your hand on your own and answer a question. Is that a deal?"
Sayeh nodded, very slowly this time.
"You have to say it," Mrs. Brisbane told her.
"Deal," Sayeh whispered.
"Terrific!" said Mrs. Brisbane, smiling. "Now, how would you like to erase the board for me?" Sayeh jumped up and hurried to the board. All the students in Room 26 like to erase the board for some reason.
Mrs. Brisbane was sure hard to figure out. She hadn't been mean to Sayeh at all. She just did what a teacher is supposed to do.
I liked this Mrs. Brisbane. I even liked the pink blouse she had on.
But at the end of the day when the students were gone, the second Mrs. Brisbane came back.
The really scary one.
She straightened up the room and came over to the window to close the blinds. I could only hope that Aldo would open them for me later.
She looked down and saw that the table around me was messy. The bag of shavings used for my bedding had torn and bits of litter were scattered all over the table. Garth had done the cleaning and left the lid off my treats box. The whole table looked untidy.
"Good grief," said Mrs. Brisbane in a very unhappy voice.
I decided to take a spin on my wheel. Usually, that cheers people up. But not Mrs. Brisbane.
She started to clean the table, getting paper towels and cleaning spray and muttering to herself the whole time.
"Not my job," she grumbled. "These children are not responsible. All I need is somebody else to take care of. Some ... rodent!"
Nobody says rodent quite the way Mrs. Brisbane does.
Then she looked down at me with angry eyes and said, "You ... are ... a ... trouble ... maker. And somehow, I'm going to get rid of you!"
Then she grabbed her purse and her papers and stormed out of Room 26.
For once, I didn't mind being left alone. I didn't even mind the TICK-TICK-TICK of the clock.
I was just GLAD-GLAD-GLAD that the second Mrs. Brisbane was gone.
I was worried about what she'd said, but I kept my mind occupied by practicing my vocabulary words until the light was completely gone. (If Sayeh got 100% correct, why couldn't I?)
Then I sat and waited.
Suddenly, bright lights blinded my eyes as the door swung open and a familiar voice roared, "Never fear--Aldo's here!"
Aldo rolled his cart over to my cage and put his face right down next to mine.
"How's it going, Humphrey?" he asked.I tried squeaking out my story, but Aldo didn't quite catch what I was saying.
"Whoa, pal! Something's got your tail in a tizzy! Well, this should cheer you up!" Aldo reached into a brown paper bag, pulled something out and dangled it in front of my cage.
"Something to gnaw on, little buddy," he said, opening the door.
JOY-JOY-JOY! A tiny dog biscuit! One of Ms. Mac's friends gave me one of these once. You can crunch on it forever.
"Ha-ha! Suddenly, there's a smile on your face!" Aldo beamed with pride. "Now I'll clean this room real fast so we can eat our dinner together."
I never saw anybody move as fast as Aldo. He turned the music up full blast. Then he mopped and polished and swept and scrubbed, while I nibbled and gnawed on my biscuit.
When he was finished, Aldo pulled a chair up to my cage and took out his big sandwich.
"You know, Humphrey, some folks might think I'm crazy, talking to a hamster. But you're better company than a lot of people I know. Here ... have a nice salad. It's good for you!"
He tore off a tiny piece of lettuce and pushed it through the wires of my cage.
"Thank you," I squeaked.
"You're welcome," said Aldo.
"So, what were we talking about last night? Oh, yeah. Loneliness. You know, I have friends, Humphrey. But during the day, when I'd like to do something-go bowling or to a movie or something-they're at work. And when they want to do something, I'm at work. Of course there's the weekend, but I usually see my family, you know. My brother and his family, my nieces and nephews--I got a big family."
Suddenly Aldo bopped the side of his head with the palm of his hand. "Whoa, Humphrey. I never told you. My nephew ... he's in your class. Richie Rinaldi. He sits over there."
He pointed to the far side of the room. "He always has the neatest desk in the class. He'd better or he'll hear from his uncle. Do you know him?"
"Of course," I squeaked. Repeat-That-Please-Richie. One of the nicest boys in the class. But he mumbled a lot and usually had to repeat something two or three times to be understood.
Aldo crunched his bag and tossed it into his trash can. "Well, I'm out of here. You know, they got a frog in Room 16, but he's not good company like you are. He sings nice, though."
Sing! I'll sing for you, Aldo, I thought. "SQUEAKSOUEAK-SOUEAK!"
"Don't worry. I don't like him nearly as much as you, my friend," Aldo said. He opened the blinds to let the light in.
Just as he was going out the door, Aldo said, "See you next week, Humphrey!"
Next week! A cold chill came over me. Tomorrow was Friday. When Ms. Mac was in Room 26 she took me home for the weekend. But if Mrs. Brisbane didn't take me home, I'd have two very long days and nights with no one--not even Aldo--to feed me or chat with me.
Even worse, what if Mrs. Brisbane did take me to her house? What fate would await me there?
I had plenty to keep me busy the rest of the night: worrying about Mrs. Brisbane and how she planned to do away with me. Ms. Mac ... please come back!
TIP THREE: Hamsters enjoy a change in routine. Among their favorite activities are eating, grooming themselves, climbing, running, spinning, taking a nap and being petted.
-Guide to the Care and Feeding of Hamsters, Dr. Harvey H. Hammer
Chapter 4: The Most Important Man in the World
Luckily, Friday went by smoothly. Sorry to say, Sayeh didn't raise her hand. But Heidi Hopper did--amazing! A.J. actually whispered. Richie cleaned my cage. I tried to imagine him with a big black mustache like his uncle Aldo.
Later, when Mrs. Brisbane asked him to name the capital of Kentucky, Richie said, "Hot dog."
Everyone giggled, of course. Especially Stop-Giggling-Gail. Otherwise known as Gail Morgenstern. "Repeat-That-Please-Richie, said the teacher.
Richie realized he'd made a mistake, so he tried again. "Frankfurter," he said.
More giggles. Explosive giggles.
"Try again, Richie," said Mrs. Brisbane, who was on the verge of smiling herself.
"Uh...Frankfort!" he said proudly.
(That was the correct answer, by the way.)
So, you see, it wasn't exactly a bad day in Room 26.
It's just that I was jittery, wondering what would happen to me when the bell rang. Would I be left alone ... hungry, utterly forsaken for two whole days? Or would I be a captive in the haunted house of Mrs. Brisbane?
At last, the bell rang and the students flew out of the door like a flock of homing pigeons in a movie Ms. Mac showed us.
Just then, the room mothers stopped by. One was Heidi Hopper's mom and the other one was Art Patel's. (That's Pay-Attention-Art.) They came to talk to Mrs. Brisbane about Halloween, which was less than two weeks away.
I didn't know what Halloween was, but it sure sounded scary, especially when they talked about bringing bats and witches and even worse--cats--right into the classroom! SHIVER-QUIVER-SHAKE. What could they be thinking?
I was about ready to fling open the door of my cage and escape when the door opened and in walked the principal, Mr. Morales.
Mr. Morales is the Most Important Person at Longfellow School. He runs the place and everyone respects him. You can tell. For one thing, Mr. Morales always wears a tie. No one else in the whole school wears a tie except Mr. Morales. For another thing, when Mr. Morales comes into the room, everyone stops what they're doing and waits to see what he has to say. And for a third thing, both Ms. Mac and Mrs. Brisbane sometimes threatened to send a misbehaving student to Mr. Morales's office. As soon as the teacher mentioned the principal's name, the student would start acting very, very nice.
"Good afternoon, ladies," said Mr. Morales. He was wearing a light blue shirt and a tie that had tiny books all over it.
Everyone said, "Hello."
"Well, how's your first week back, Sue?" he asked.
"Sue" was apparently Mrs. Brisbane, although I'd never actually thought of her having a first name before.
She said it was great to be back and what a wonderful class it was, which obviously pleased the room mothers.
Then Mr. Morales leaned over my cage and smiled. His tie dangled right over my head.
"l'll bet you're enjoying this furry little pupil," he said with a grin.
I expected Mrs. Brisbane to tell him what a troublemaking rodent I was. But instead, she forced a smile and said, "Well, yes, but he's quite a bit of extra work."
Mr. Morales waved a finger at me. He didn't seem to hear what Mrs. Brisbane said.
"I always wanted one of these fellows," he said. "But my papa wouldn't let me have one. Sure is cute."
Mrs. Brisbane cleared her throat. "Yes, but I'm afraid he's a little distracting. I was going to see if Mr. Kim in Room 12 wants him." I was shcoked. Luckily, so were the room mothers.
"Oh, no! The children just love Humphrey," said Mrs. Patel.
"Heidi talks about him all the time. And it's a wonderful way to teach the kids responsibility," Mrs. Hopper said.
"Yes, but it's a little too much responsibility for me." Mrs. Brisbane sighed. "At least I have a couple days away from him this weekend."
"You're not taking him home with you?" asked Mrs. Patel.
Mrs. Brisbane backed away from the cage. "Oh, no. It's out of the question."
"But Ms. Mac always took him home," said Mrs. Hopper.
"He'll be fine. He has plenty of food," Mrs. Brisbane answered very, very firmly.
The room mothers were silent a second. Mr. Morales was still wiggling his finger at me.
Then Mrs. Hopper spoke up. "Why don't the kids take turns bringing Humphrey home for the weekend? They can sign up, we'll talk to their parents and give them instructions. It will be a great experience!"
"Some people might not want him," said Mrs. Brisbane.
Squeak for yourself, Mrs. Brisbane!
"That's fine," said Mrs. Hopper. "There'll be plenty who will."
"I think it's great," Mrs. Patel agreed. "I'd take him today, but we're going up to the lake for the weekend."
"Oh, I'd take him, too," said Mrs. Hopper. "But we're painting the house and the place is a mess. Next week for sure."
"Yes, I could do it next week," Mrs. Patel agreed. Mrs. Brisbane smiled a fake smile. "So who's going to take him this weekend?"
The room mothers looked at one another.
"I could make a few quick calls. Maybe the Rinaldis," Mrs. Patel suggested.
"CALL-CALL-CALL," I squeaked.
Suddenly, Mr. Morales stood up straight. "I have a better idea," he announced. "I'll take Humphrey home for the weekend. My kids will love him. Then, starting next week, you can have the students take turns."
The three women were almost as surprised as I was.
"Don't worry. He'll be in good hands," Mr. Morales assured them.
Well, I guess I would be. After all, I was going home with the Most Important Person at Longfellow School!
As he drove me to his house, Mr. Morales told me how he'd always wanted a hamster when he was a kid. But his dad always said they didn't need another mouth to feed. aI argued with him, Humphrey. I said, 'Papa, I will feed him off my own plate.' Then Papa said we'd have to buy the cage and stuff to put in it. I guess he was right, Humphrey. We couldn't afford it."
He smiled his big smile. "But not anymore. Now I'm the principal of my own school."
I told you he was important.
His house was nice, but I didn't get to see much of it because as soon as we came in the door, two little whirlwinds tumbled into the room, shrieking and squealing.
''Quiet down, now. You'll frighten the little fellow," Mr. Morales told them. He got that right.
He introduced us. The little boy, who was about five, was named Willy. He kept poking his fingers through the wires of the cage. I was about to bite him--pure instinct--but then I remembered: This is the son of the Most Important Person at Longfellow School. So I didn't.
The little girl, who was about seven, was named Brenda. She kept sticking her face up against the cage and squealing. I tried squeaking back at her, but I don't think she could hear me.
Mr. Morales tried to quiet them down. He explained that I was a guest for the weekend and they had to treat me with respect.
They didn't listen.
A pretty lady rushed through the room, jingling her car keys. "I'm late. I have a house to show." She glanced in my direction. "We'll talk about that later. Adios."
Mr. Morales wished her luck and she was gone. Then he carried me into the den with Willy and Brenda clinging to his legs and yelping.
My cage was swinging back and forth so much, I was getting airsick. Or cage-sick.
Mr. Morales set my cage on a table in their family room.
"Now get back and listen to me," he told his children. "I'll tell you all about him."
"Can we take him out?" screamed Willy.
"Can we put him in my room?" shouted Brenda. "Can he sleep with me tonight?"
"We can't do anything until you settle down," Mr. Morales said.
Bravo, Mr. Morales, I thought.
But still, the children didn't listen. The Most Important Peron at Longfellow School was not treated with respect in his own house.
Willy lurched forward and swung open the cage door.
"Oooh, there's poo in there!" he screamed.
"Where? Where?" shrieked Brenda. Willy pointed to my potty comer, which I thought was unsqueakably rude of him.
"I want to hold him," said Brenda, grabbing me.
She squeezed me so hard, I let out a squeal.
"Stop!" said Mr. Morales. "Put him back right now!"
She opened her hand and dropped me onto the floor of my cage. Luckily, I landed in a pile of soft bedding.
Luckily, I didn't land in my poo.
I was a little dizzy, but I heard Mr. Morales send Willy and Brenda to their rooms.
"l will not allow you to mistreat an animal. Upstairs. Doors shut. No playing until I say you can," he said.
Suddenly, Mr. Morales didn't look so important. He slumped down in the chair next to my cage and loosened his tie.
"Now you know my secret, Humphrey. At school, everybody listens to me. At home, nobody listens to me," he said.
Mr. Morales looked TIRED-TIRED-TIRED.
Above our heads came the sounds of thumping and bumping. It sounded as if the ceiling was about to fall in.
"They're bounding on their beds, Humphrey. Not supposed to do that, either," he said.
He slowly rose and went to the stairway in the hall. "Willy! Brenda! Stop that now!" he yelled. Surprisingly, the thumping and bumping stopped.
"They listened!" I squeaked when the principal sat down again. But the thumping and bumping began again in a minute.
"I wish I knew what to do," he said. "Some way to teach them a lesson."
I nodded. A lesson is just what those children needed. And I was just the hamster to teach them.
TIP FOUR: Never, ever squeeze, pinch or crush a hamster. If it runs away, squeals or mutters, leave the hamster alone.
-Guide to the Care and Feeding of Hamsters, Dr. Harvey H. Hammer
Chapter 5: Plans Are Hatched
When Mr. Morales went into the kitchen to get a glass of water, I carefulyl opened the lock-that-doesn't-lock and slipped out of my cage. I leaped over to the chair, then scampered down to the floor and hid in the corner, behind the long curtains.
Mr. Morales returned and sat down again. The children were still thumping and bumping and were now screaming and screeching as well.
"Say, Humphrey, maybe you need some water, too," he said and leaned toward my cage.
Mr. Morales gasped when he saw that it was empty. "Humphrey, where did you go? Oh, I should have known you'd escape! I'd run away from those kids if I could, too. But do me a favor, Humphrey. Please come out!"
In a panic, he darted around the room. "The kids in Room 26 will hate me if I lose you!" he said.
I felt sorry for Mr. Morales, so I scratched around a little.
"There you are!" he said, bending down to look at me. "Now, let's get you back in your cage."
Not quite yet, I thought. He reached down to pick me up and I scampered forward, just a few inches past his hand.
"Don't do this to me, Humphrey," he said. "Cooperate."
But I wasn't doing anything to him. I was doing something for him.
"Work with me," he said, but this time to himself. "Maybe ... hey, that's it!" He looked down at me. "With your help, Humphrey."
Mr. Morales really swung into action then.
He raced upstairs. The thumping and bumping stopped. When he raced back downstairs, Willy and Brenda were with him.
"Close all the doors, Willy," he said.
"But, Dad," Willy whined.
"Close them," his father repeated firmly. "Now!"
Willy closed all the doors.
/"You two scared poor Humphrey with your screaming and poking and thumping. We may never see him again!" he told them.
Brenda burst into tears. "Humphrey's dead!" she sobbed.
"No. Humphrey's too smart for that," Mr. Morales told her. "But he will run away if you two aren't nice to him."
RIGHT-RIGHT-RIGHT. You have to be pretty smart to be a principal.
"now, do you want to help me get Humphrey back?"
"YES!" the children shouted.
Mr. Morales explained the Plan. He said the only way they'd get me back in my cage was if they worked together. And they could only work together if they listened to him. Really listened.
They were listening now. And they kept listening, too. Because he told them the most important thing they could do was to be quiet.
So they were quiet.
"l'm pretty sure he's still in the room. Our job is to lure him back into his cage," Mr. Morales whispered.
He put my cage in the middle of the floor. Then he went to the kitchen and got a handful of sunflower seeds. Willy and Brenda helped him make a trail of seeds across the floor leading up to the cage.
"Good," said Mr. Morales. "Now we have to be very, very quiet and wait for Humphrey to pick up the seeds. But if you say anything or even move, you might scare him."
"We'll be quiet, Dad," said Willy. Brenda agreed.
They all sat on the sofa.
"Do you think it will work?" Willy whispered.
"Of course," Brenda answered. "Dad's smart."
Well1 he's not the only one.
I waited for a while. After all, the Morales children needed all the practice staying quiet they could get. When Willy got restless, I started skittering along the floor.
"I hear him!" said Brenda.
"Shhh," said Willy.
I waited a few more seconds, then scrambled out of the corner and grabbed the closest seed. I could hear loud gasps from the children, but I pretended not to notice.
I scurried toward the second seed. This Plan Mr. Morales and I came up with was TASTY-TASTY-TASTY.
I could almost feel three pairs of eyes fixed on me, but I ignored them. I grabbed up the third and fourth seeds, hid them in my cheek pouch, then stopped right outside the open door of my cage.
Inside, Mr. Morales had left a lovely pile of sunflower seeds.
It was nice to be free, but my cage was home after all.
Besides, until the day somebody fixes the lock-thatdoesn't-lock, I can get out whenever I want.
The kids were still quiet, so I made a run for the cage. Mr. Morales quickly closed the door and the children began to cheer.
"We did it!" said Brenda.
"Dad's the smartest man in the world!" said Willy.
"Hey, you kids helped. When we cooperate and work together, we make a pretty good team," Mr. Morales told them.
"¡Lo mejor!" Willy agreed. "The best!"
Mr. Morales squatted down and winked at me. "Of course, Humphrey helped, too.