She was walking down the small alley, day after day, holding her bike, steering it by her side toward the main road.
Just like every morning, it’s quiet; but it only amplifies the riot and noises that are only in her brain.
From the other side, he came silently. One step after another, dragging his leg, pushing himself to move just one more step with the last power that he forced to exist.
She saw him – at last – and when her eyes meet his, he fell on his knees, with a short, exasperated sigh. His eyes cannot speak, but it utters the longest litany of every hope that he had been keeping to say. The hope that keep him walking on that empty alley; the hope that give him just enough will power to try, just in case the next person he meets will understand.
The girl stopped. She rested her bike on the side and come toward him, looking closer. And there’s a moment of silence.
He was battered with many wounds, beaten by thirst and hunger, left with nothingness. Not even a voice, though he did try to speak.
And there’s a moment of silence, before she picked him up, carry him back to her quarter, just several houses away, and run back to pick up her bike.
She rested him on the fluff of warm, dry towel, give him some drink, and offer him some food. He drank slowly, barely able to lift his head and hold it firm enough to drink properly, but leave the food alone. He was too tired.
And then there’s a moment of silence, even when he finally fall asleep on her lap.
It seems like a movie; but it was me. It was me three years ago, when I walk my bike to the main road every morning, passing the silent, small alley. It was just about three feet wide.
That man was Constantine, or so I called him later on, when I decided to take him to see the doctor after work. He is a cat.
He can’t stand, and if he makes himself stand, he wobbles. The bones on his legs started to bend, and the vets said it will bend as he continue to age. His back hunches, and the vet said it will continue to hunch as he continue to age. He is balding, and the vet said it will continue to bald as he continue to age. He is old, and he had too many street brawl to survive this long, and the longest he can have is probably one year. The vets said that the best to be done is give him the best life possible, and if he turns to go, I should let him go, because he belongs to the street and he probably want to die on the street.
He did turn to go a week later, strong enough after the good food and treatments that I willingly shower him in abundance. My life is not on its prime then, it was even one of my days hitting bottom, but I figured that if he went so far as to drag himself and throw the last of his life to me, I should be honored to have his trust.
But at the end of the day, he always come back. He can’t jump that high to get over the fence, but he waited in front of the door, no matter how late I came home. He would walk on his wobbly legs and throw himself on the floor with tiredness as he waits for me to prepare his meal. And then he would sleep, though his cage is only a few steps away.
He loathed the cage. I tried locking him up one day, but even at the expense of his hurting hunchback he’d slip out of the cage by pushing the door hard enough to snap open. He is a street cat.
The only time he stayed is when he is sick. Sneezy when it’s too cold, had runny eyes when it’s too windy, coughed when a lot of dust flying around. The typical of an old man has it, his sickness is always more severe than it should be.
But every time, he bounced back. It takes such a hard work at that, but he bounced back. Like his name sake, he dodged hell, and bounced back.
For me, taking care of him is my protest to the cold shoulder that life had shown me. The cynical oppression I received at the office from getting my job done while the other mind their own personal business on office hour, the sickening harassment I have to endure on the street because I save life instead of destroying it with competing gruesomeness. The money that keep flowing out but never comes in. At those days, my paycheck was gone in the first few days of the month, the donation drips scarcely like rain in the desert, and so for the rest of it I lived at the mercy of friends and family.
If anything, my life expectancy probably was less than a year that time, so why not just do it anyway, and see how it goes?
But then at the end of the day, the door was always opened. When I was at my last breath there’s always help, and I would just throw myself with a sigh of relief for getting over just one more day, like Constantine.
When the rent is over that year and we can’t renew the contract, I thought, our days was finally come to an end. I have been cycling town from end to end, asking, bidding, negotiating; no one wants to lease to a crazy woman with 30 cats.
On the first day of our final two weeks extension on that rent, I told Constantine that this time it might not be as romantic as the way we met, when I realized he’s been staying with us for a year. I was preparing myself to say good bye to all 30 cats, because I might need to go back to a boarding room, and I cannot take 30 cats, so my best option is repatriating everyone back to the street where I first met them.
Every time I said that to him, he just turns over and sleep.
Then one day I saw a battered, beaten sign hung by a filthy, dusty small house on the hillside, and decided to call its withered number. I’ve got nothing to lose, right? All hope gone out , and that house seems so small it won’t fit 30 cats so why not? At least I’ll get a really good laugh when the price would blow my mind.
But it turned out that house has a long backyard, pinned by taller neighbors on both side. It turned out the back yard has enough space for 30 cats, it turned out, my savings, plus the donation drive championed by two of The Whiskers’ Syndicate’s hero: Ekeim and Christine is enough to pay for the down payment; it turned out that our mortgage is approved on account of my clean bank record and the sheer gigantism of the office where I worked at.
And so Constantine moved from a tiresome street where he has to fight his way to live (heck, he even has to struggle to stand) into a green grass of home, where he can frolic on the greens and the cool of the soil the whole day while basking under the warm sun. He has good food, ample supplement, fresh air of the mountain. He gain weight, his balding skin slowly healed of his scratches and wounds and ulcers, he grown his hair back.
He looks 10 years younger.
He is still ugly with that crooked feet, and hunched back, and he still has to drag himself to go places, but he is honorably discharge from his life as a soldier and now is a happy war veteran.
And he lived two years more, including the days when I have to go through the rain and carry him into the house whenever the backyard was flooded, or he’d drown trying to cross the yard himself. He started his old age sickness again by then, around the same time I start to despair because the fund raising that is our sole salvation might not come, but when we finished the renovation, always, like his name sake, he bounced back.
Look, this old guy has been through a lot, and he put up with it. He doesn’t whine, he doesn’t grumble. He wakes up, with aching back, wobbly leg, and drag himself to the next bowl of food, and he always get it. What make me deserve to get better result, with less effort?
So I stop whining, stop grumbling, wake up, kick my own ass and get back to work.
But even the greatest warrior grow tired. In the past half year, Constantine sleep more and walk less. He eat less, drink less, play less. He still frolic under the sun but he sleeps all the time. His kidney worked less, his liver worked less, and he need the supplement more.
Of course, like before, I willingly support him in abundance. Supplements, vitamins, special food. Every single claw on The Whiskers’ Syndicate envy him:
But he stop eating them, and his legs are more wobbly, his back is more hunched, and he is balding. He lost control of his bowel and often trails poop when he walks. He recedes from being a glorious, decorated war veteran, back into the slop that I first met him.
After a few days, all he does is sprawling all over the backyard trying to catch up to me. He forget his enviable life, he drop his frolics under the sun, he just want to be with me, he wants me and he wants me for him alone.
I talked about him to the vet. I told her how we met, and how bewildered I am until today that he practically throw himself on my feet back then, and the vet said “He found the right person. He probably asked for some retirement, and he get it, extra two years”
I was about to smile at her remark, but then she said “It’s time to let him go home”
It hurts, but that’s what truth does.
So I moved him inside the house, stop his “life support” and give him just the food and water, and live as if everyday is the last.
He drifted away soon. First he stop walking. He used his paw only to wave at me as I walk passed him back and forth cleaning, feeding the kittens, giving medicine and whatever in between. Then he stop seeing. Leaning on the cage’s wall he waits patiently for me to feed him his food and water.
Then one morning I saw him lay on his side, responding only at me scratching his neck and stroking him as I talked to him about my One Dollar One Life Challenge that started to garner attention and enough donation to put new routes on the map.
And then he stop moving at all but twitching his ears when I keep talking to him what kind of feral cats I met during my walk.
Around October 8, a friend of mine, a USAF veteran, told me that she has to let her cat companion go. The cat who has been accompanying her around the world for over 16 years. I sent her my most sincere condolences, and told her that her cat might meet another soldier over the rainbow soon enough.
Then I told Constantine about Mongo (the air force cat), I told him how sorry I am for not being able to take him to see the world, and that I wished I had met him sooner, and that he teaches me a valuable lesson of standing for what I believe and brace the wind to the end. I told him he made me brave.
He just twitched his ear, sighs, and go back to sleep.
At the verge ending of October 10, as I finished my challenge story, I told him I am determined to help the family of feral who had lost their home to the new residential complex. I told him I am worried because my resources are thin, but I will try anyway. He sighed one last time, a lighter sigh, and move over the other side.
I didn’t realize it until the next day, but when I realize what he was waiting for, I know he deserves it.
Constantine: born unknown, passed away 10/10.
He left this world with a perfect score.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
~ 2 Timothy 4:7