For many, in life and in reading, this is the real Bandung: A small resort town at the hillside of Jurasic mountains, and its fog, and its showers, and its soft sun, shining shy as it pokes through between the leaves of the greenery that towers above like a giant parasol.
This is the real Bandung: people walk on pavements / sidewalks in their scarves and jackets, with smoke blowing from their lungs as they breathe in the clean breeze of the mountain side.
This is the real Bandung, where the blaring sounds of vehicles is surely loud, but distant, and far in between. People smiling to each other, some beaming with freshness as they take on the new day with a broom on their hands, clearing the way into their businesses small, but fulfilling.
And many have said to me, as I have said to many, if only Bandung stays this way.
If Bandung stays this way, not just seven days after Eid. If Bandung stays this way, instead of the horns and machines that drowned the song of the birds. If Bandung stays this way, instead of the suffocating streams of urbanization that burst the town at its seams, and infuse into its blood stream the prejudice, ignorance, negligence, evil, all the bad crusts that changed its life like coronary arteries that needs many bypass.
Like many traditional restaurants, this one, just a few minutes walk from my work, was closed for a month during fasting time, but like many, it comes back to life a week after, although slowly, as if a baby born with all the festivities, and quietly grows through the days and months until the next year.
It doesn’t need AC now, when all the windows are open and people can gaze through them to the quiet and clean street beyond, to the view of young employees, preparing food in the kitchen.
And a sip of warm, good tea, fresh from the villages that tinge our mountain side green.
For those who never care, it’s a lie, but this is the reality of our little town, 11 am in the morning.
Except for that piercing kitten cries. So loud it tore apart the serenity of our township heaven, and show it front and center, its fear, its panic, its questioning life in jeopardy.
I stood up from my table, and walked around the row of empty seats and tables, then all the way back to the kitchen. A young man was busy arranging marinated chicken ready for the charcoal nearby. He looks at me. On any other day, not around this holiday, surely it will be sour, prejudiced peers. On this day, how Bandung should be, a smile and tolerance, as I bow to walk across behind him, to a box where the riot had begun.
Another waitress, as old as the man’s dad, walked out with his cigarette, to the same box I am peering through.
“Is the kitten sick? It sounds like it’s worried about his life”
Look, what this lovely mountainside pureness had done. It changes every thing and thoughts into truthful pleasantries. I did not normally find myself that gentle, after all the mean darkness with which people treated one another and trapped me in the middle. It was always formal and shortened.
“He fell from the ceiling” says the man, putting off his cigarette. It should be that way, but at any day people will forget the manners and keep their self love.
“He was not wounded, and we were glad he didn’t fall right into the pots or pans, much less stove. One of the younger kids climb up there to look for its mother, or other kittens, before they fell to their death any other time, but we couldn’t find anything”
It was so difficult looking into that box. It’s dark. I can only see manic movement from inside. I figured it must be a black cat.
“We gave it steamed chicken and water but it didn’t want to eat”, says the old man again.
“May I carry him for a while?”
At that time I didn’t expect a fluff of cotton ball would spring and flew out as soon as the man opened the door. Still I caught him mid air.
When I put him in my arms, he fell silent. He adjusted his position to the curves of my chest and my elbow and draped one of his front legs across my arm, and looked around.
Completely different cat.
The younger man with marinated chicken looked back to peek on what was going on. Some other waiters peeked from inside the kitchen, lured by their peaking curiosity.
“We all tried but it wouldn’t calm down. You carry it for one second and it is quiet in a blink!” exclaimed the man.
Oh really? I thought it was a complement, which almost always followed by the usual…
“Do you like cats? Do you want to keep it?”
The usual that.
And the usual sigh, from my side.
I put the baby in my bag, and he sank down to the bottom with ultimate ease. Maybe because he was sitting on a pile of Whiskas pouches.
“Thank you for giving me the chance” It’s part courtesy, it’s part truth.
“I hope it will be happy with you, it seems to like you”
I went home with extra baggage besides chicken, and beef, and canned tuna, and some potatoes, though I wonder how he got lost and fell from the ceiling alone. A kitten his age shouldn’t be far from their mothers. On the street they might get lost, but in the ceiling?
He never gave me his answer; he showed me.
He ran into everything and he jumped on all things. He slipped into every nook and cranny, up and down, here and there, and back again.
When older cats sniff at him, or knit their eyebrow, he growls; and he growls like thunder. He growls like the rolling storm when Thor beats his hammer.
He bites like those sharks in the horror movies. He fought with the yellow kitten who was clearly pissed someone else just spring out of the bag, just like him, and tried to take his place.
And they fought all day and all night and have to be separated, otherwise no one in the house can sleep.
One night after an unusually riotous day in which I have to genuinely tell the two babies off twice as much, it was also quieter than usual.
I turned my cellphone because I can’t find the usual two lumps of fur, each on my other side.
He never again fell asleep in my arm after the day I got him, but that night, he did. Usually, Cali slept there.
Was he smiling? Cali never smiled when he sleep, but he will sleep tummy up with face deep in indulgence.
Was he smiling? But for the first time after weeks and months of walking through the mine field full of fund raising horror, and sick cats, and horrible kitty season, a smile is like oasis that silently leaked to soothe the desert.
And smile is contagious, you know.