Cinderella

At tuna day yesterday, I saw a little tuxedo cat sitting alone at the curb, behind an expired bread stall (here people sell bread one or two days past expired date and some still buy them because those are all they can afford); but my attention was drawn to another tuxedo a few steps away, sniffing under some a fish stall for some remains.

I've been looking for that kitten for a long time since I failed to catch him about one or two weeks ago. It has rubber band on its neck and the cruel prank (or pure idiocy of Bandung commoners) start to eat into her flesh.

Like last time, the kitten came over to the smell of seven kilos of tuna in my shopping bag. This time, I play it smart. I lure it into an open space and give it a lot of steamed fish at once to keep it busy long enough for me to catch it and cut the rubber band. I have only one chance because it will hurt and who knows what would happen to the poor cat if I failed this time.

I couldn't get close enough to slip scissors to that rubber band no matter how slowly I tried to move, and the cat is getting anxious. So I dropped my humane plan and reach out. Not fast enough to grab the cat, but enough to hold the rubber band while the cat broke away.

She ran into an alley, but she is now free. There are wounds around her neck, but from how clean the rubber band left in my hand, she will likely survive.

I packed up and leave, back to the little kitten on the curb. It's still there, sitting forlornly looking somewhere far. She is dirty and skinny, her fur dull and coarse. She is weak, almost powerless. One nudge can tumble her off her seat.

No word can describe the loneliness and sadness in her tiny, dim eyes; though I can see the boulder of life burdens crushing her brittle shoulder.

There was a spurt of enthusiasm when she saw a long piece of steamed tuna I lay on the ground. She was too weak to bite it off, so I shred the fish for her, enough that she can eat one piece at a time with ease.

A woman with hijab came towering behind me and with a voice I have never heard from a muslim woman blaring, "You pick up stray cat?"

I was still squatting by the kitten. I just look up at her bossy greeting.

"There are four cats in my house, cute. Come and take them"

Her tone. No stranger, even of the lower caste society ever command me like her slave the way she did.

"We're full" I answered, although lazily.

"Where's your house? Even if you don't want to take them, I'll put them on your street and you feed them"

I stood up "Are you muslimah?"

She looked at herself from top to bottom and eyeball on me in the most condescending way. If those gestures were words, it could be "As you can see it, cockroach"

I didn't shrink.

"Why don't you go to your imam and ask him to read you a story from Al-Bukhari, and both of you can discuss about how a human being should treat other lives kindly"

Her next eyeballs said "whaaat!" but she turned away and left, mumbling about how cats should be on the street and people feed them.

I went back squatting, petting the little tuxedo, trying to put all my love and wholehearted prayers into each stroke. My house is full and I cannot take her home. I don't have money and I probably will have to close down at the end of the week.

I prayed that God sent others to help, but God is too poor to grant wishes lately.

I asked God what they did wrong that they have to live that way. I asked God why did He loves human so much He would spoil them rotten and have other creation destroyed in the most gruesome and degrading manners. I asked God if He didn't create all of these animals with the same love that He used to create us.

But God is too busy to answer lately.

I packed up and leave. Maybe what is left in the bag will be the last good food that I can provide my charge with.

At home from work, sixteen hours later, I passed the same street, and I saw the tuxedo still there. She curled up sleeping in front of a shop and gigantic people's feet walking past or over her. Dust and sand powdered her already dull coat. She is there, but she does not exist.

I squatted by her and I touch her. How delicate, how sweet. When I rub under her chin, she stretched out, still sleeping.

I woke her up. I woke her up and whispered an apology and I took her home.

She followed me everywhere, as much as her power allowed; and she would sit there looking sad and lonely every time I disappear behind a door. She didn't want to eat, she drink only a little, and she kept following me.

I cleaned her up, I gave her everything I have. The last egg, the last cup of broth, the last bit of luxury that left, though it won't pay back what suffering she had to endure even if her life is still young. I can probably only give her that much, for one or two days, until the weekend, when my account is all zeroes, but Cinderella was dust and ashes for her whole life and have one good party; then she lives happily ever after.

I found her sitting in front of my room on the mat, looking sad and forlorn at night, when others are sleeping. I had left her there hoping she would mingle with the others.

She looked at me and walked in, weakly. I let her slip in and I let her climb the linen and curls up on the bed.

I read book and files for the next court hearing on our village head vs. our community garden, to which I am one of the key witness, and she climbed on my lap and sleep.

For the first time since we first met, I saw her at peace.

I fell asleep a little bit past midnight and when I wake up at the next 3 am she was gone.

She was dust and ashes for her whole life, and she has one good party.

And then she went home at midnight.

Now she lives happily ever after.

~ Josie