Strangers In The Night

 for our friend Susie Bunn: here goes your lucky number!



Today is a full moon; and unlike any other day, the sky is clear, so I can see the round moon clearly as it peeks from behind the wisp of the wild bamboo bushes across the street. At times, wind are playing with the young tips, lifting it up and down that the moon looks like it is a bright lantern hanging is an ancient oriental gardens.

I wouldn't have been able to see such scenic rarity from my boarding house, or rented space in the city. It will be full with passing vehicle and their noises, the punks who gone out in hordes to try and get money from passer by with their generic line "rather than we rob you, it is better that we beg money from you in exchange to our singing...(then they continue to yell unharmonious melodies and gibberish lyrics)"

But then maybe I was wrong. Maybe the beauty of a full moon on a clear sky is not good enough, because the other houses were all closed. It's 9 pm so probably people are getting ready to sleep, or is enjoying cable TV that recently taken the trend in "home entertainment"

In contrary, I have just got home from my work.

As the result of my panic for dwindling finances, I took a coming job offer in panic; and though I am grateful that the process lead me to a memorable rescue, the job itself is not that much fun.

In normal situation, my new workplace is only 45 minutes ride. However, it is an industrial area in a remote part of Bandung, a newly developed area where there's no decent road, far away from everything, and has only one road leading and out of there, unless you want to go round the town using highway.

Needless to say it's always jammed, especially in Monday morning, and in any given moment where huge trucks try to make a turn; even when there are only few more trucks than usual. The traffic is so bad that once you trapped in it, it will take at least two hours to get to my workplace instead of fourty five minutes. And I have been using public transport too... There's only one kind of public transport from my area to my workplace, and keeping in mind that Indonesia is a third world country, I guess I have no choice.

So, worse than my previous job, I have to leave the house at 6 am in the morning so I can reach the factory at 8 am, when it start, and although I leave at 5 pm - as soon as the working hour ends - since everyone else is doing the same, I'd reach my house no earlier than 8 pm. When I have to make a stop to buy cat food or medicine, it will be like today, 9 pm, sometimes 9:30. No going round for the stray, no leaving food and boxes and blankets for the ferals, no street cat business until the weekend.

But that's not what bugging me, at least tonight.

It's that cat's mew I have been hearing coming and going from across the street.

I peeked out of my window once again. Nothing. In fact, I have been going back and forth checking the road and its surrounding gutters looking for abandoned kitten, but I can't find anything. The desperate mews stopped as soon as I step onto the road side.

An old man that has been standing there, watching the moon from the street side since I went home, is getting curious. He started asking me what I am looking for, but I didn't answer him except with a courtesy smile.

I am almost certain where the questions lead to: nowhere. People in Bandung, especially in a semi rural areas like here doesn't care about animals. They care about money, and booze, and sex. Especially sex. A street gang named "Exalt To Coitus" is very famous here. Most of the time when I go out at night to tend the cats people, especially young males, will ask me question where I was heading, what I am doing or the like, and when they learn that I actually take care of street cat instead of just ignore me they took the time to harass me, and some times gone as far as trying to touch me, which is the reason I got into so many street fights in my short span of rescue life. I come to learn that this city is Sodom or Gomorrah, or maybe both in one. I lose my trust in fellow countrymen, especially male, and I come to learn - in a very hard way - to be as hard as a clamp.

So the old man ask me again, what I am trying to do, going back and forth from the house to the street and back again, and I smile again, when that desperate mew re-started, straight from my back.

I turn back all at once, running to its direction. It's from the gutter below, but when I run there with my flash light on I can't find anything. I heard the mew moving to across the street, from the direction of the Bamboo bushes, so I too cross the street. That voice enough convinced me that the owner of the mew is panicking.

A few meters above (the road that lead to my house climbed up) I heard a motorcycle screeching its brake and its rider got busy hush-hushing.

That must be it. I run back up, trying to defeat 45 degrees road with a pair of rubber sandals. Part of my heart was grateful for the urban legend. Some story that said that if you ran over a cat on the road, and do not treat them as you would treat human, you will die as miserably as the cat, on the road.

But urban legend fade, and I have come to see so many many cats, especially kittens, ran over by vehicle on the road and left there, flattened on the road.

As I passed him that old man said "Are you looking for a cat"

I just turn my head to him for a second and nod. There's his answer. So now be quiet and let me do my job.

I saw it. A silhouette of a thin, black kitten with roused up hair trying to cross the street in panic. It went back, and forth, and criss cross in the middle of the street, trying to avoid coming motorcycles while losing its way somewhere in between, resulting him running around in a messy circle in the middle of a rather crowded road. It's around 5 to 10 meters from my house, and if only the road leading there wasn't so steep I'd be able to grab it sooner.

Then the same panic strike me. Sooner than later someone is going to run over that cat because it's difficult to spot a fidgety black kitten on a dark asphalt in a dark night, no matter how big the full moon above. So I ran straight, in the middle of the road, adjusting my direction as the kitten jumps here and there trying to keep both of us in a straight line as much as possible. If the riders can't see the kitten they can always see that there's a crazy woman running like crazy in the middle of the road so they can at least turn to the side. Heck with the swearing as they pass me.

When my stretched hand just about to get to the poor thing, a motorbike is honking like crazy instead of avoiding me, ten inches from my nose.

"Cat! Cat! move to the side!" I yelled, pointing at the now freezing kitten.

The riders, two males, run straight over it, with a loud, bitter, sneering laugh.

And I saw the kitten rolled behind the front wheel after being ran over, and after that, got run over by the rear wheel a few seconds later.

Then it flew away with a hustling sound when it hits the bamboo bushes.

All the while, their laugh continues.

I don't try to stop the motorcycle, I don't even try to get their license. What would I do with a liscense? go to the police? I'll make a good laugh for those corrupt officers. So I turn over to the bamboo bushes and start looking.

"You crazy bastards! You'll die on the street!I hope miserably!" I think that's the voice of the old man, but I don't care.

"Go further up, young woman", I heard him again from across, behind me. "Go further up"

My mind was so messy I can only half digest what he was trying to say while the rest of my limbs works like a zombie.

It's getting easier for my brain to freeze lately. I know it comes from the exhaustion with my day job, but I can't turn back now. I tried to hit the brake, slow down a little, but I still have to move on, so I choose to put my stress aside and keep moving. I know the drill.

I can hear the meow; hurt and lost. One, two, weakly, but the kitten is alive. I start to call out, as gently as I can, though I doubt my voice is friendly enough in all its trembles and vibrates "Baby kitty, baby kitty..."

The kitten answers, but I cannot find him. The bamboo bushes is just too thick for my flash light to go through, much less the moon. I have to climb a small cliff knee high to get to the bushes, but the rain the day before made the soil slippery. Both my had already muddy, sweeping the ground, while the old man's voice still trying to encourage me to go inside the bushes.

I was out of breath, half an hour later, and my mind refused to listen. Then I mumble, in autopilot "Lord, what shall I do? My brain is freezing. Lead me the way. What shall I do?"

And then some hand touched my shoulder and ask carefully "What are you looking for?"
I snapped around, and my wild eyes find a young man looking at me curiously. He uses dark shirt, with some hard metal rock band gory Gothic drawing on it. Oh yes, out of all people in time like this.

The voice inside me yells "Harassment alert! Don't talk to strangers!"

I gape in front of him for a moment, and then turn around and go back looking.

"What are you looking for? something valuable?", he ask again.

The word "something valuable" hit my alarm the second time.

I was about to say "nothing" but the old man beats me to it "A cat. A kitten. Up there, to her right. I saw it just now"

The young man look back at me. I just freeze there, gaping like an idiot.

And then a little yelp coming from the bushes.

The young man take my hand. "Here, hold this", he was pushing a plastic bag into my muddy hand. He search into his pocket, get his cell phone, and turn it on as a flash light.

Using a big rock just at my right, he jumped into the bushes, drowned to his ankle into the muddy soil.

Then the old man started again "More to the right, to the right..."

I stare at the plastic bag in my hand; and recognize what's in there: food.

And then the corner of my eye, glimpsed a sparkle I am so familiar with, as the man's flash light brush around. That sparkle, is a cat's eye.

Automatically, my hand reached out to the sparkle, and swipe the bushes open.

A black kitten, almost frozen, with dilated pupil, meowing in auto pilot every two minutes. He was stuck between bamboo trunks and shoots.

The man grab its back, trying to let it out of the shoots, push it inside his vest, and then looked at me. "Stay there, don't move"

I froze. Only my eyes were moving, fixated to the kitten.

He use my shoulder to hold on as he jumped down the slippery bamboo bush. Then he pulls the kitten out, and hand it over to me, the way someone would hand over a stick.

The kitten's soft fur in my arms some how defrost me. "Thanks", I whispers. By that time all my panic buttons ran lose and crashes with my good senses.

I hand over his plastic bag back to him. "Your dinner"

He smiled. "I live in this house" he pointed to the house right next to the bamboo. "I saw what happened. Stray cat is sacred property of Street God. I hope those two man die miserably on the street, soon"

Still in autopilot, I dig into my pocket and get some money. It's what I do when I was exhausted and cornered by some street punk. Get bank notes and throw it in the air before running away.

The man shakes his head "No, I am sincere. I know boys here, the punks, harass you a lot. You are pretty, and you are Chinese. But I am sincere. Go take your kitty home"

I put the money inside the plastic bag, and cross the street.

"Thanks, sir" I nodded as I pass the old man.

He smiled back. "You are famous around here. Residential complex, house number 3, is a street cat lady"

I certainly don't know about the famous part, but I am grateful anyway. At least the cat is safe. At least God didn't turn his sight away from the little kitten.

For a few days, the kitten is all right. He is noisy and rambunctious and cannot stay put. Not a single picture I took of him have a clear image. It is almost like nothing happened to him. I tried to consult a visiting vet, and she said that sometimes things like that happened, even to human. Living being has enormous strength in the face of disaster, often beyond comprehension. Further she said, "Let's hope he is all right. He lost no limb, but two of his nine lives"

So I call him Seven, in the hope that he lost nothing but two lives in the incident, and in honour of a friend in England, who wishes she was lucky enough to go out of her way to help more animals (frankly, she already did).

However, on day five, his right eye start to get watery, and then swollen. Every day, pus start coming out.



After that, his right ear start getting watery as well. My worry grow back as Seven loses his appetite and becoming more quiet.

I called the vet back, and she told me that without thorough X ray and special device, it is impossible to pinpoint the location of the damage. However, X ray are only available in Jakarta, and the only vet who owns the special device is the most expensive vet in the country. Her question is whether Seven can endure a long, stressful trip to Jakarta back and forth in his condition. He was a street cat and we didn't know how great is his endurance.

Looking at his condition closely, anyway, the vet is clear that both his left ears and left eyes will be permanently damaged, though can be healed.

So now I have a kitten with only seven lives, one eye and one ear, but that's OK. When I saved Monday, I made a promise that whatever happened, I will do what I can, so I will do what I can. When I saved Monday I prayed that God would take care of the small kitten, and when Seven was rescued I prayued the same and God listens. So I took the vet's prescription I continue to give eye ointments and clean the ear every day. The vet guide me through all the stages, what will happen to his eyes and ears, and what should become of him if I did it right.

Compared to the other rescued cats, Seven made a much much slower progress. However, every time I got home from work, late at night, He'd made himself stand, and try to meow, and as I stroke him I renew my promise that I will do what I can, that we will go through this together, whether we win or not.

One day, the water from his eye will dry out, and what remains of his bursting right eye will fall off. The same with his right ear, one day it will dry out, as he lost his sense of hearing.





But meanwhile, he got a roof to stay under, enough food to sustain him, medication, and whole new line of friends and family. He was a lucky strike, and guess what, though I passed the house the young man pointed to great many times after the incident, I never saw him again. I never saw the old man again.

I am not sure it's a miracle, and I am still overly cautious to male, and especially punks who seems to hang out in any given street in Bandung; but once in a while, maybe, there's a few good men left even in Sodom and Gomorrah just in case some innocent animals are in distress. I hope so.

Though I would never know which one is which, just like the lottery.




Edited on April 20, 2013 to incorporate more detail and background leading to the story. I have to. I am utterly embarrassed with my previous poor writing, in which I feel like someone else.