The rows of pagodas by the hillside finally ended; though the road toward the peak is still long, turning left or right like a snake. Far atop of that hill is a rusty chimney that almost always spew white smoke. Sometimes it's thin, sometimes it's thick. At certain times, it's dark, rolling to the sky and tainted it black. It's the only crematorium in town.
Walking uphill, one step after another, is Constantine in my arms. His eyes were closed, his body limp inside the blanket in which he laid: breathless. I don't mind carrying him walking though it takes an hour. It's our green mile; our final journey before he returns from ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
There's another road crossing the one we are walking through; the road I choose when I walked home in a silent loneliness. The day is almost over. Soon the sun will set, and the other cats must have been waiting for me because it's about time they get dinner.
It's barely sunset when I reach home, though. I guess I was spirited away as I walk, thinking of Constantine and other cats who dashed before me toward Canaan. I did not remember how fast I walk.
I saw a car parked on the road side across the house, when I open the gate; and I notice that there's a cat sitting under it. From the other side, a female and her children walked and get inside the car. A usual occurrence. No one here will take time to check what's under their car.
I walked over the car and knock on the window; then when the woman turned around from behind the darkened glass I showed her a traditional greetings and my best smile. Seeing my polite gesture she opened the door and ask "Yes?"
"There's a cat under your car" I replied, "Can you hold for a bit while I retrieve him? We sure don't want to be cursed do we?"
There's a prevalent belief in the whole island that if we hit a cat, especially if we kill it, we will be cursed.
"Oh, sure", the woman replied. She turned to her husband and explain. He pulled out the key from the dashboard.
I ducked and grab the sitting cat under the car.
That was easy. The cat didn't objected. He didn't squirm, he didn't even move. I grab his thin body and pull him out in less than a minute.
I wave my thanks to the lady in the car, and as her husband turned on the car, she pulled the window down and say "Thank you" I saw her husband smiled from the corner of my eyes as I walked over to the fence and enter the house; commenting in my heart how God didn't wait to fill in the vacant place Constantine just left.
However, I don't have any more moment to think about it. I put the cat down in a basket in a living room, and turned on the light.
There's something wrong with him. His body is too thin, his head is too big, and he wobbles like jell-o when he tried to reach cat food nearby.
It was all liquid when I touch his head, and a small crust on the top of his head gave me an ill foreboding about what's inside.
I let him eat, while I change my clothes. Then I picked him up with a pack of paper towels, and pray that as nasty as it must be, it will end soon.
Peeling the crust, a dirty, pink colored liquid oozed out from the hole. I tilted his head, trying to absorb it with paper towel.
And I got a lot of those.
That's one hole. I haven't mentioned that he got a lot of those holes on his head right? Well, he got plenty. His head is like moon, with craters.
That wet part near the ear has five, so the total hole on the head is 8
One big hole at the side of the mouth...
When I finally get all those stinky, nasty pus out, and the wound disinfected, I can see his skull from one of those holes. The infections had eaten all of the flesh and muscle on his head, down to his neck, and all the liquid put strain on his other functions since it's on the head. His eyes squint and he walked like a drunkard. He had to sit every couple of steps and he has to wait until his head stop bobbing before he can eat.
I dare not imagine how hurt that head must have been.
If this is already Halloween, I am sure he'd win the scariest looking creature award.
I don't know how long have he been living that way, but it sure heck need a lot of courage to keep on living. I don't know what happened that he ended up with so very many infected bite marks, but his guardian angel must have worked overtime to keep him going.
Dog fighting is in trend here in Bandung, since Michael Vick story finally went through our country to the grassroots, and you can bet all those street cats are easy target for baits. The vet and I suspected he was one, and by the grace of God, he got away though with that curse on his head.
What I really call lucky is, however, that he bounced back real quick. He got physical shock to have one and a third cups of pus drawn out of his head overnight that he requires half a bottle of subcutaneous fluid, but even after yet another ordeal he didn't lose his appetite. He eats very slowly, but he eats normal portion of a cat his age (more or less 5-6 months). He responds well to a very strong vitamins and immune booster that our friend Karen sent us a a couple of days earlier (coincidentally), and although he still walk like Frankenstein, he never stop trying.
He never stop living.
Every day when I come home from errands or from my Walk For Feral celebrating #FeralCatDay, he'd be wobbling his way to greet me at the front door. When I prepare the food he'd wobble his way to my leg, and even when the other cats swarms like a herd of mad bison toward their bowl, he does not cower and wobble his way to his bowl. To keep on living is probably the only thing he learned from the street of my homeland, but he learned it well.
He scare me from time to time when he falls to his side head first and struggle to get back up, as if consumed by extreme pain, but with current veterinary technology in Bandung, I can't do much more; and if any can be done. I am not exactly the richest person in town to gain access to such luxury.
Lori named him Harding, and just for the heck of it, we complete it with a first name so he is now Liam Harding; and he is still trying.
Like Pandora, I can only rely on one hope that is left in the empty box; and keep on living.
Maybe someday it'll be Saturday night.