“When exactly, did you develop a passion for animals?”
Instead, my mind set off to a journey far into the past, on which path I cannot find the start; but I do remember my mother, at one point in a more recent past, saying “You have always loved cats, for the longest time I can ever remember, other animals as well, there’s no stopping you” She was in her sixties then; half proud, because loving animals is good thing, half dismayed because she prefers dogs over cats, though in her lifetime, she had cared for many sorts of animals herself.
Further and deeper into the many crevasses of my brain, there is always that picture; now yellowed and tinged green, speckles of white fungus, dried by age and almost rolled with drought, if not for its cardboard frame.
It is of a girl with archaic hairstyle; straight bang and straight cut all the way to her hip, tied in low ponytail. She wore a small glasses with gold colored frame. She was plain, and she is pale.
But she is smiling.
I didn’t realize it then, and I put the photo without further care on my bookshelf, as a remembrance of good old days. It was one of my rare travels and it so happened that the office I worked for had an outing in a newly opened Safari park, one of the few conservation centers in the country.
As time pass and the picture decayed, it was stacked between my belongings, and forgotten when at long last I went to Bandung and never turned back since, until my mother pack it up and send it to me.
Then I realize it, as I contemplate whether to throw it away, or keep it.
It was the only picture in which I smile unprompted.
I took my other pictures, from past to present, and in most of them, my smile was the usual “cheese” before the snap; but whenever I was pictured with animals, I looked sincerely happy.
I am happiest when I am with animals, not in the company of fellows at work. Not with friends when we go to the malls, not with those who genuinely call me their confidant. Not even when I am surrounded with my other obsession: books.
I am the free-est when I am working with the animals; wild or domesticated, whether they come to me with their tail waving, or shun me out and give me their cold shoulder.
I am the most satisfied when my successes are related with their welfare.
I can sleep well when I can calm one more cry.
My nanny was a German Shepherd, and my first sibling was a chicken hatch-ling. My first best friend is a teddy bear. All of my girly dolls and babies plushies were damaged and ignored, but my animal soft toys are well preserved and pristine aside from daily wear.
If one ask me the place where I will be the most happy, I will say: Noah’s Ark.
As I traveled further into memory, a particular page in a little book of quotes my pen-pal sent in an exchange, came to mind. It said: “I come into the jungle a scientist, I come out of it an activist ~ Jane Goodall
It was at 2008 for me. I come to Bandung hired as a man power reformist, I came out of it an activist.
No, I don’t march on the street with bells, flyers and megaphone, preaching. People do not listen. I don’t write ferociously in the media, people do not read news, or article. People read bombastic reports, gossips, and hoax. They went for click baits and chain postings, not truth. I don’t show off in every meeting and join every event for attention, we have enough of celebrities already and they kill to steal the show for themselves. I have been there.
Instead I bought a house, at the end of town, away from all the spotlight. It’s a place where thugs linger and punks wander. It’s where people of all sort who fell into the crack come through and drawn by the bus terminal down the road, tried to make good with life, or given up and enjoy the game.
Every morning I will go out, with bags full of cat food, every evening I will go home, with same bag emptied and my steps weary.
My mouth dry answering all the question, “What do you do, Josie?”, “How can you ever afford to pay so much for all those animals you picked up?”, “Isn’t it a shame that you throw away such brilliant life with your talent, for street cats that will produce you nothing?”, “Why would someone give so freely to her hobby, while it has no economical return?, Everyone here is scraping for living better lives, cars, house, clothing, standing, and she wasted money on the road saving cats?”
There are many more, and the more people know what I do, the more it comes in many variations.
“She must be an idiot, but caring for so many animals must require lots of money so quote her twice as much”, “We work very hard and get so much. She just pick up cats from the street, no prospective job and she has so much. If all those money come to us we will put it into better use”. “She doesn’t deserve it, whatever she has, we do, so let’s take it”
A waiter in a pet shop pretended not to see me and cashier ignore me even after I haul all the big bags of cat food myself to his counter. He would rather serve a man with impeccable white shirt and tie with expensive looking watch and shiny shoes, even when he bought only a small bag of cheap food.
That’s OK. I can come to the manager.
“Miss Josie! just come from work?, why, no one help you with your purchase? Let me come to the counter”
The cashier looked at my plain face, he looked at my worn out T shirt and jeans, look at my shoes. He can’t believe I paid few million Indonesian Rupiah compared to the gentleman’s few ten thousand Rupiah. I paid in cash.
A foreigner came out of my house after a visit and everyone is whispering, “Look, Josie has a friend! and her friend is foreigner!” (it is believed that foreigners have more money than Indonesian Friends with foreigners, or better yet, marry one may boost one’s social status to the highest level). My neighbors suddenly so friendly and ask “Is she your sister? your friend?”
I smiled and walk away.
All of those silent curses. All of the envy, all of the barbed words. All of the shaming, all of the disgust, all of the hypocrisy.
And yet, when another raggedy kitten peeked pitifully for mercy from behind that parked car tire, I will find myself kneeling, hands extending, head hung low. I will lie flat to the street even, and when I got them, it’s Christmas brand new.
When I opened the door and saw those eyes, hear those meows, feel those rubs, watch the high tails curved…
I came back to the young underprivileged man in the same uniform as mine “When did I develop my passion to animals, right?”
“Since the beginning of life, to the end of it”
I smile and we both walk back to our jobs.
The same smile of that plain and pale girl in archaic hairstyle and golden framed glasses.
The same smile the day she abandoned the outing group and registered to volunteer with the conservation center one whole weekend while others seek the worldly good.
Going after a dream has a price. It may mean abandoning our habits, it may make us go through hardships, or it may lead us to disappointment. But however costly, it is never as high as the price paid by people who live in his/her comfort zone (Zahir – Paulo Coelho)