It was one of the rarest Thursdays, when I came out on top of everything for a brief moment, so I thought I’d travel to the north of Bandung to hoard as much eggs as possible for the cats.
Eggs are somehow rising in cost, for one reason after another. It started at 14 thousand (IDR) a kilo (two pounds), then sixteen, then eighteen for a very long time, then nineteen, twenty, and by the time I went last week it was twenty four thousand Indonesian Rupiah a kilo. The supermarket at the north was for elites. Expats (as in middle class American or European who found out their money is worth ten thousand times where they come from, and suddenly become demigods and love it here, and stay and turn their nose up at the natives), and the one percent of one percent. No commoner dared to enter that place fearing they would faint due to prices, but I walked in there with my used T shirt, jeans, jacket and flip flops for Manuka Honey.
Not everything there has the price of the diamond; because eggs there are somehow 19,800 vs market price 24,600. That’s how I worked my limbs off and finish everything as much as I can in the cattery so I can get to sneak out and hog all those eggs.
Roads there are long, and the traffic jam beyond famous. Everyone sighs when they have to pass there, but there is no other way. Just pray one don’t get into that five kilometers road (about 3 miles), got stuck, and stayed still in the middle of everything for hours on end.
I was going out for my ride with the whole trolley filled with eggs when it started to rain. So I went back in. Dusk had come and all the uptown girls and boys wondered why are these peasant with eggs were standing at the edge of the lobby with face as if she is looking at an angel.
One thing about the elite, they had forgotten how beautiful is the red sunset claws the purple dusk sky under the rain. They can only see the shining gold of their credit card.
And one message, like many other hundreds I receive day in and day out; asking for me to pick up kittens.
The lady who cared for one or two strays there found their mother bloodied and died, and no one cared to help her buried the corpse. She told me the story of how the sweet stray mother, quite convinced that she was a dumped pet, came to her, sick and dying. She helped the mother as best as she could, brought her back to health, watched how the renewed stray gave birth to two kittens, and then come to realize how the mother stopped showing up, went to look, and found her pulped and bloodied, and her two kittens trying to suckle to her dead breasts.
She was overwhelmed, she can’t do it anymore, she called for help.
I was at the north of the north of Bandung, My house is at the east of the east of Bandung, she was at the west of the west of Bandung at the borderline of the township. It was seven, it will be half an hour to go to the colony, and with the traffic jam? Impossible.
I asked that she kept the babies away from their mothers for one night and I will take my chance during Islam’s mandatory Friday prayers where the road was almost deserted and cutting through the whole town is not quite a torture.
I got lost. It was a large swath of residential complex that continue to expand despite the perpetual traffic jam at every exit, so I arrived two hours later, having asked many security officers in every intersection. I spent half an hour helping a guy who dropped a sack of rice from his motorcycle to the middle of the road and no one cared to stop and instead just run over the rice. Can’t they even avoid the rice spill? It’s two cars wide and it’s one way road duh!
When the lady had done with her questioning, another stray mother and two cubs and gone over their shock and fear and sniffing my jeans. They are not the ones. One I saw in the photo she sent were white kittens.
She went outside to the house next door, said to be empty, and brought the two fluffy puffs and put them in my arm.
The two looked deep into my eyes for a while, I didn’t know what sort of meow means “hi” in kitty language, so I just stand still and let my eyes do the talking.
The white one rubs his cheek to my chest and snuggle. The tabby one more reluctant and cry, so the lady took a box of (inadvertently?) “Hello kitty” bottled water and put them in.
I called a taxi and the driver told me to just put it at the back of the SUV. I raised one of my eyebrows, but I just put the box as he said.
We said goodbyes after a short story of how the lady is now shunned by neighbors for going door to door asking for adopters over and over. The short story of how she needs to have surgery for her internal organs, and then another surgery for her hip.
A short story of how she bunched all her courage and wrote in Indonesian, hoping that someone will answer. She had thought that since everything Whiskers’ Syndicate is in English, some foreigners run it and none will be speaking Indonesian.
She said, she almost can’t believe her stroke of luck when the other side answered with polite, high class Indonesian, compared to the brash, impudent Sundanese which others usually used.
My parents spent millions sending me to school; it will be a waste if I go out with a B.Sc and three other degrees and am still speaking like street punks.
Her son seemed to be ignorant, at first. He just wandered around as I spoke to his mother, but when it comes to the moment where his mother put the babies in my arms, he just had to pull his cellphone and never stop snapping pictures.
That’s a good way to avert emotions.
I was in constant contact with Christine Alice throughout three hours journey, all the way back to The Whiskers’ Syndicate. The road was bumpy and if it is not, it’s jammed. The little passengers were technically drunk when they got home, if only the driver aren’t as gentle. He said he had cats, but “village cats” I told him these are village cats too, and so are those in my house, because like others, he suspected I am a successful breeder.
He complained about how rats now grow bigger than kittens and sometimes they kill families of cats.
I know. The “rats” people love and make a pet in America, or England, or wherever, is mouse for us. They are tiny. They are not even half the size of the rats that live in our sewers. My mother’s purebred dachshund had trouble carrying one when gifting his game to my mom.
The kittens went to my studio, the only place in the house unoccupied by cats. They have kitty milk, they have soft food. They got revolution.
Kaka thrust himself in to have a look. He has a soft spot for kittens. They live in my closet for now, until I can clean up the whole house off the remnants of the renovation that took forever to be rid off with only my two hands.
Every time they finish their meals, they would come to me. They will look up and look at me in my eyes.
Then they meowed. The same tune, the same length, the same intonation.
I thought they were still hungry; they were not. I thought they were cold; they were not. Something at the back of my head knew, and it told me, but I still try. Whether they are sick, whether they have fleas, whether they have worms, whether they have wounds, whether their tongue hurt or have sores, whether…
Until I ran out of runway and look back into their eyes and apologize, I don’t have their mother.
I can’t bring their mother.
Every day, I would come with toys, and meals and every single time, “I am sorry, I don’t have your mother”.
They will fall silent. and turn back to play with each other.
And I will go out of my studio, thinking of how their mother, in her last breath, came back to her kittens one last time, and left them, perhaps with a prayer that they will find a life better than hers.
And the only one who answered the lingering wish, is a struggling shelter at the other end of the mountain.