My cellphone rings again; the third time or so maybe, but I was in the middle of feeding the cats, so I ignore it. Besides, I know who is calling, and why.
A good six hours ago or so it would have been a happy call of reunion between acquaintances. An insurance agent I know is celebrating Eid Al Fitr and invite me to her house for a meal, a tradition among muslims marking the end of Ramadhan.
I am a bit lazy, actually. Some of the mobsters are having diarrhea and I have been relentlessly cleaning the whole cattery and the house so it won’t spread. The Eid eve fireworks and fire crackers were lit endlessly and the cats has been jumpy, grumpy, stressed, and like years in the past, I didn’t sleep but sit at the back pretending nothing happened, busy playing or reading to calm the cats down. Besides, who can sleep if every other minute, someone is throwing fire crackers or blasting firework to your roof?
After their morning prayers, however, the whole Bandung will turn into dead town, for two or three days, so I have been planning weeks ago to catch my sleep.
But this insurance agent is older than me, and all her kids are out of town, so she is alone, and she has been telling me how much she thinks of me as her daughter, though I earnestly doubt it. It is impudent to refuse an invitation of the elderly, so when she called yesterday I said yes, out of courtesy.
There was no one in town, seriously, including public transport; but her place is not in the other side of town or something, so I thought I’d walk. It will be a long distance, but I can still handle it.
Alas, I made a wrong turn. It was a long time since I last visited her after all, so I called her to ask for direction.
Nobody picked up the phone.
I called again several times every five minutes, but no one picked up the phone. I figured she might be visited by neighbors and friends so she might be busy entertaining them, but here I am, in the middle of tree-less empty road at noon, trying to figure out where to go.
And then I saw an old chap walking gingerly along the seams of the sewer line by the roadside, trying to avoid the sun. I can see it that he is hungry, and tired, but his hunt from trash to trash has not been fruitful.
Instantly I forgot about the scorching sun. I forgot about being lost, I forgot about being hungry myself. I dumped my cell phone into my bag and reached into another compartment to pull out a paper plate and Whiskas pouch.
“Hey buddy” I whispered as I caught up with him. He stopped and lift his face. So tired.
“I’ve got tuna” I ripped apart the whiskas pouch so he can smell my good intention and not imagining about kicks on his empty tummy.
I don’t think he imagine anything though, because he just jump forward and dive into the filled paper plate while chattering. He must have told me about how hungry he is and protesting why didn’t I passed sooner.
I opened him another pouch, and moved on.
Another half an hour with no clue where the heck was I going, I spotted a single, empty, local transport passing toward downtown.
Driver waved at me, asking if I would come.
Yes of course.
I climbed aboard, texted my hostess that I got lost and no one picked my phone, so, maybe next time.
The roads that were packed like sardine days earlier now empty like grave.
I remembered that the supermarket where I used to buy vegs and chicken for the cats are opened at noon, and the transport passed there, so I just ride along in the hope to find some food for myself; and when I jumped down and walk across, meet an old, forlorn lady on the pedestrian. Her fur was ruffled, she looks very tired and hopeless.
And she is pregnant.
In normal days she would have no trouble finding food because around where she sit is full with roadside stalls, but for days, I bet, she has been trying to go around and find nothing.
I have to pull out all my strength to embolden myself. I can’t cry. She is not sad. She is not pathetic, she is not hopeless. Her life has been hard but I am there. I am there now, and she has what she need the most: tuna and mackerel. And I can always come back when my money allows me to as soon as this holiday is over and give her a better life without that demanding heat cycle. She has hope. I am pretty late and I can be cursed for that, but I am there now and late is better than never.
I gave her my gentlest stroke and prayers. I can feel her vibrating purr, smile, and move on.
I got to the supermarket, buy some salad, eat, drink, and walked out to go home. There won’t be a lot of transport, if any, and I don’t want to spend too much time on the road waiting for vehicle because 80 cats are waiting for me at home, and I have some cleaning to do with all those diarrhea.
Passing through a huge garbage house behind the mall nearby, I saw another woman. Maybe a few years younger than I am, in human years, but she didn’t respond to my waving Whiskas pouch and she is super filthy and smelly so I took her away from the foul smelling place and noticed that she couldn’t see because both her eyes were crusty and her nose were blocked by dried out mucus. She is thin and dry.
I cleaned her up with wet tissue and wipe all the crusts off her face. She is pretty, and she has fluffy tail. Maybe, when she grown up, Donna will be like her, like a lady.
I cursed myself for leaving my medicine kit at home. I know I was just going to visit an old woman and not stay for long, just to wish her happy Eid Mubarak, but I still can’t believe myself for being so unprepared and clumsy.
A man on his forties throw away an empty box recklessly and it landed on my back.
I stood up and turned around. He laughed, and by his face I knew he meant to prank me by throwing the box to the street and jump me out, but he missed and the box got me instead.
“What are you China girl doing here huh? this is our holiday, you’re out of food because our race (who usually work as maid) got home?” He tried to act tough.
I moved forward a couple of steps with a smirk on my lips and saw his grin diminished. He didn’t expect me to fight back, he expected that I will not even be brave enough to stand up to him.
Replicating his tone, “What are you doing yourself huh? this is your holiday and you suppose to indulge in your gluttony parties. Are you out of space in your gut? I have scissors, I can make some space for you”
His face shrunk. “I was just throwing away an empty box”
I pointed at the garbage house “The trash is there. You need me to cut open your eyes as well?”
“Sorry” he mumbles and vanished.
Had I not eaten, I might be fiercer, but I am glad I wasn’t.
When I turned around and came back, I got different view: two teenagers in guerrilla mode trying to get near the lady and take over her food.
The lady moved away but I didn’t. I moved closer and opened another two pouches.
Gone are my Whiskas pouches; and with with it my anger. Gone are my fierce blood thirst, and with it my gladness and relief returns.
My heart is filled with gratitude. I might not get free meal today, but I gave a lot of these forgotten “people” the meals they need. l might not get to fancy house and gather with fancy people today, but gathering with these not-so-fancy kitties behind a not-fancy garbage house, or empty road, or in front of closed shop, squatting on a pedestrian, thrown a box at, gave me fulfillment.
I might not get the sleep I plan for today, and my planned journey gone astray, but I know God do so to put me where I belong.
This crooked place, nasty people, merciless street.
My heart is at the right place.