AT THE EYE OF THE STORM

We are entering the strictest phase of Social and Physical Distancing started by our government last March, there is hope that start to brighten.

There are worries because people are still falling ill faster than a flick of a finger. The sheer ignorance shown by the residents of this archipelago are mind boggling, and now it costs everyone two weeks of their lives in self isolation or get locked in their own houses while police throw the keys. No, literally.

There are fears that two weeks of forced stay home will not be enough, there are fears that by the time this whole virus mess is over, no one will be left with anything to live on, much less pay the bills.

The hope is that, as more and more people have become aware about the pandemic and how it worked, more and more people will join the forces to adhere and enforce restrictions put in place. More and more people come together and help each other, more people choose humanity instead of the savage defiance they were showing at the beginning of the disaster.

There is hope that the end is near, and that we will be back to our lost world of normalcy really soon.

For Leon, however, there will be a new sense of normalcy. A new world he has just started to learn.

Just a brief moment, not so long ago, he thought he found himself an oasis. A different kind of person who cut a hole on his back wall, put a platform above the sewage alley, a little greenery, and a lot of food.

He would have to share; make a bee line for the large food bowl, in a queue for a bucket of fresh water; but in his corner of the world, where people all have more but care less, a little means a lot.

Until he contracted Upper Respiratory Infection.

A part of his true self wanted help, but his feral part prevented him. Fair weather provide relief, as he can eat and replenish his energy, but storm and wind would keep him away from his only source of life, sometimes for days; and there were more wind and storm than fair weather at the end of the spring.

Although his immune system has somewhat strengthened, now that he get good food, it’s still not strong enough, nor fast enough to fight the monsters inside him. Although his body can block the disease from destroying him completely, Leon paid for it with bleeding, rotting eyes that robbed him of his chance to survive.

After a long battle, his feral self gave up. Leon walked as best as he could, blood dripping from his eyes, tripping and crashing to the only safe place he knows: his food station.

He sat there and pray his luck has not yet run out.

Worker of his caretaker caught him, called their employer, employer called us, and we rushed him to the clinic.

Three vets, two vet techs, four hours surgery. Leon won the war for his life, but lost the battle for his eyes.

There were worries, fears, sympathy, pouring down as his story started to be heard. There were concerns and expression of pity. Leon is at the prime of his life, and he shouldn’t be defeated. Leon shouldn’t end like a loser sitting in the corner.

The hope is that, as I told many, Leon’s life is no longer threatened. He doesn’t have infection, he is not in pain.

The hope is, while his disease stole his life, it brings him home.

Home he would never know existed. Home with food, home with fresh water, home with warm blanket, home without storms and wind, home away from road danger, predators, careless people, ignorant crowd.

The hope is, he has his life, he has his chance, he is ready to move forward. The hope is, he has family, kittens who love to play around him, elderly ladies who take turn to sit beside him, shelf on the window where he can no longer see the world, but can listen to until he falls asleep, bamboo chair where he learn to walk, climb, jump in the dark, but experience in the light.

The hope is, Leon has us (and we are The Whiskers’ Syndicate)

~ Josie

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A DAY IN PARADISE?

The moment I saw her, a song turned on my head.
“She calls out to the man in the street
“Sir, can you help me?
It’s gettin’ cold and there’s nowhere to sleep
Is there somewhere you can tell me?”

We have spent the whole day under scorching sun with bags of steamed tuna and pouches of cat food doling one more hope for cats (and sometimes dogs) stranded without a clue in the closed down town. We were just at the last minute to rush into that minimarket; the last one still open in the whole town. Nothing important, just a few bottles of cold drinks to quench our crispy throats and dehydrated limbs. Well, maybe a little bit of AC to soothe our sun-burned skin.

We have spent all our artilleries, so a can of cat foood, sardines if cat food is not available, for the little lady that turned on the song in my head,

Lining up in distance from everyone I hummed along in my head,
“She calls out to the man in the street
He can see she’s been crying
She’s got blisters on the soles of her feet
She can’t walk, but she’s trying”

I looked at her through the glass wall, watching her hopeful eyes go dim, and her head hung low, every time that one more person she was looking at walked past. Not even a glimpse,  as if she does not even exist. How many times has she mustered the strength and courage to ask one more – eh – human?

“Oh Lord, is there nothing more anybody can do?
Oh lord, there must be something you can say”

She called out to me on the street
I ran to her and lift her, rest her like a baby on my shoulder. 
“I’ve got a can for you, baby”, I whispered,.” I’ve got a can for you”

As I carry her away to a safer place, I can feel mange all over her. I can feel her skin curdled every now and then. I can feel all the scratch and pinch, I can imagine her enduring the torture of the enemy that eats her alive as she ran as fast as she can across that hot asphalt so her paws won’t burn, so her almost hairless skin won’t bake.

I can feel her breaths, I can feel her tummy heavy.

I can feel her muster her last power to jump off my arm, and onto the can of food that must be her first real meal; she almost forgotten as she lives through days and night holding on to rotting rubbish.

I can feel, my partner can feel, that although she looked pregnant, there was something wrong with that pregnancy. One side of her tummy was hard, the other side of that belly was water. Some of her nipples were like rock.

We looked at each other, and I gave my ATM to my partner. She walked to withdraw the last money we have, while I wait for the cat to finish eating.

This morning a thorough testing that took every last dime away told us she has uterine cancer. Our vets immediately moved their appointments to their two juniors, and cut away the monster that would have put her in slow and painful ride all the way to her last breath.

After six hours of veterinary intervention, she slept her day through on our kitty tower.

There was that part of the song that played in my head, when I took her pictures.
“She calls out to the man on the street
“Sir, can you help me?
It’s cold and I’ve nowhere to sleep
Is there somewhere you can tell me?”

“He walks on, doesn’t look back
He pretends he can’t hear her
Starts to whistle as he crosses the street
Seems embarrassed to be there”

“Oh think twice, cause it’s another day for
You and me in paradise
Oh think twice, it’s just another day for you
You and me in paradise”

I took a deep breath and run my finger through her bumpy back.. I heard her purr. She must be sore after all the tests and the surgery and whatever in between, before and after. She must be exhausted travelling across town back and forth.

“Hang in there, lady”
She opened her eyes and squinted at me, still sleepy.

It’ll be another for you and me in paradise.

~ Josie
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Post Script:
Song used in this story came from “Another Day In Paradise” , a song recorded by English drummer and singer-songwriter Phil Collins. Produced by Collins along with Hugh Padgham, it was released as the first single from his number-one album …But Seriously (1989)

RAPUNZEL

When we only have only three slices of steamed tuna left, always close to one am, we’d go to that noodle stall by Chinatown.

We’ll sit by the corner, near the end of the row, waiting for our noodles and warm soup, and especially for her and her sister and mother to come. Then we will have belated dinner together.

Spending our quiet time for a while, we’d bid our farewell, and go separate ways. We’ll be back to our shelter, and them, to the rubbles of a motel behind the gate where the stall stands.

There has always been a lingering worry. People there are not kind to animals. Half of them are pub-goers who care about nothing but getting drinks or girls. Half the others were homeless, who slept under their cart in the seams of an alleyway.

But she was shy and nervous, and she always jumped away first, at any sign of us moving, so we hoped she’d be OK, at least for a while, even though she was alone by then.

There is also that particular melancholy in her eyes; that tells the silent story of living as the unseen, untaken, nonexistent. Whether she is cold or hungry or thirsty or lonely, whether it hurt her paw to have to cross that rock and dust, or whether anyone cared if she is sick.

There was that instant when she showed up with a slash that started just under her ear to the beginning of her thigh.

There was an incident when her ears were so itchy she scratched them bald and then some more.

And then there was that unprecedented virus coming over, and irresponsible people spread it out that it burned life faster than a wildfire.

The night when we heard about the first casualty that start the avalanche of restrictions she sat so close to us; for the first time, we can touch her.

We doubted, but I knew it that if we did not take her that night, we will never see her again.

Growing up in the ruins brought her to the highest places in our home; from where she rules her new world. Holler right to our ears if food is late, holler right to our ears when she wants some drink. Holler to whoever she passed by on her way down to the boxes, holler all the way back up and we know she is fine.

She is Rapunzel, the dame of the tower

~ Josie
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FREE BY THE FULL MOON

As you call your day to a close, please allow me to take just one minute of your time to call their names, and tell them you love them.

Past six in the evening, Bandung is a dead town. Offices close, markets and supplies stores wrap up, and those who do not find good luck stay just a little bit longer until the end of grace period at 8 pm.

Then, the road turned to heaven for a few who thought they have the heart of steel and power above the law.. All of a sudden, they are all Mika Hakkinen. All of a sudden, everybody is Lewis Hamilton. For that one moment, they are Ayrton Senna.

Except the ones who end up dead are innocent, voiceless animals.

Of these street jerks I have no respect, as they have only ignorance and stupidity, save one. One who stopped me on my ride and told me about a cat who got crushed by one of these a*holes on wheels. He had been taking care of this cat for four days; using his meagre money to buy rice and fish, but couldn’t afford veterinary service.

Everybody knows me on that intersection. Everybody knows I feed street cats and pick up those who have no hope.

I followed him with utmost caution and awareness into a dark, derelict cabin at the back of a tiny gas station, where he often slept and by then shared it with Oggie.

Oggie lost his source of food during lock-down and was trying to push his luck, only to be doused by boiling water. In pain, he ran for his life, got himself hit, and the hit man didn’t even care to look back. He was one of those street racers who must have think he is the coolest in the world.

I took Oggie to the vet the next morning, but four days without urgent treatments that he needs gave him maggots on his wounds and necrosis creeping up his spine.

Our vet did what they can: two experts, dozens of vet techs; X Rays, tissue swabs, stabilizers. Oggie was on his way to recovery and was eating well and cleaning himself. Throughout four days Oggie ate real food, drank fresh water, slept on a bed, a warm blanket over his head. Yesterday morning he had a brief seizure, but when he succumbed to that sepsis lurking for so long, he looked at me one last time, rested his head on my chest as I cradled him, and set himself free.

That night we made ourselves go further, and help even more, as long as we can stand, as long as our eyes stay open. One last park before we head home, a bunch of street punks gathered under that dim street light, surrounding a cat laid by the roadside.

We turned back and I asked them what happened, and they said they saw someone hit and crushed the cat they were surrounding, and it seemed like the motorcyclist broke the cat’s neck. They ripped a banner off a closed down office and try to make a thick bandage to hold the cat’s head straight, just like a man who broke their neck on TV.

Around them, a tuxedo kitten wandered around the perimeter, confused and horrified.

I took the kitten, handed him over to Sheilla, and asked if they would trust me enough to take care of the cat.

One of them gave me the banner so I can hold the cat, because it’s dirty.

I smiled and took the cat off the ground, head and neck intact, and let him rest his head on my chest.

After living in that strip of the street alone for as long as he can remember, Happy found himself in a stranger’s arm who told him he is going to be OK, there will be no more pain soon, and that although I never go near him, because he wouldn’t allow anyone, I know he knows I always left food by the corner under that street light where he often rested in his journey through the night.

When I told him one more time that he is going to be okay, he stopped jerking, and ran free.

So as you call your day to a close, please allow me to take just one minute of your time.
Please hold their shadow in your arms. Please look into their eyes that sparkle in wonder, as it is the first time someone ever eold them like a child. Please feel their head on your chest.

Please call their names, and tell them you love them.

~ Josie
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A PICTURE OF TEN THOUSAND WORDS

There was something about that picture. The color, the vintage feel, the kitten in the picture. I look at it just once, but it told me stories about a place so foreign, and the little cat who lives through it. Day and night, light and dark, rain or sun, or star. She never knows where the world will go round next, or even if the world is going to go round for her tomorrow.

It told me stories about days gone by, not so long ago, but somehow feels like eons of lifetimes that piled up on her tiny back, so heavy her leg would bend. It told me stories about acceptance, patience, perseverance. It told me stories about broken heart, loneliness, tiredness, The thoughts that ask whether it is necessary to jump back up and keep walking, or whether it is enough to just lay down and let the breeze swing her soul to heaven.

But when I look into it, in its silence I also hear stories about giving the world another chance; another chance for better days to come, another chance for love yearned too long, another chance for home, another chance for happily ever after.

I was also told the story about that girl, sitting on top of a closed down congee booth, who jumped down to walk through her life during a busy unloading day, have goods too heavy fell upon her and crush her leg.

I was told that the pet shop, where she spent her life, has a rather kind owner and employee, but a kitten with a broken leg is too much of a burden for everyone.

This morning I rode across town and brought her home. There were two more pictures that told a story about pain and sorrow and grief; story about a future cut short, story about uprooted hope.

But as the day wears away, the living picture who wanders around our house unrepentant, told us story about strength. She told us a story about resilience; she told us story about hope; and the ultimate story about love long awaited.

And I want to tell her a story about the different kind of people; from all over the world. About those who care more than ignore, those who nurture, those who always give and seldom take.

I want to tell her story about healing, about giving life a brand new start. Story about day under the sun and night under that she can share with smile on her face.

I want to tell her story about days that will be, about life well lived,

Story about happily ever after that will start this very day.

~ Josie

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SOMEDAY HE’LL BE SATURDAY NIGHT

I saw him last year or two, perching on the fence near the graveyard and I stopped to say hi. He seems to be a nice old chap.

saw him walking home to that fence from a nearby slum and I slowed down to say hi

I saw him sleeping on the roadside ten minutes walk to the other block, and I stopped and whisper hi.

I saw him curling on the fence by the graveyard, with fresh blood dripping over one of his ears, and I stopped to say hi, then I asked him if he would let me help. He ran away.

I came every day to that fence to see if he would trust me enough then; sometimes I saw him, sometimes I didn’t, but he never let me stay close.

Then I saw him no more.

A few months back I saw him at a new pet shop just blocks away from that fenced graveyard. I stopped and said hi and he looked away.

I saw him scratching his head and stopped by to say hi, but he walked away.

I saw him rub his balding neck and I stopped by to say hi, but he turned around and nibbled on a bit of cheap cat food nearby.

Well, at least the pet shop fed him.

But I saw him scratching his head to a bloody pulp so I stopped by and ask the pet shop people if the cat was theirs.

They said the cat walked over one time and they gave him leftover dry food, the cheapest of the cheapest, and left him to his own devices.

I saw him thin and decrepit, and I stopped by the pet shop to ask if I can pay them back of the food they spent, and have the cat for myself.

The pet shop said he is a stray cat, and what fate he meets when he was not there for the food, they were ignorant of.

But then, I saw him no more.

I saw him last week outside of the closed pet shop as the town locked down, unlike how I had ever know him before. He lost all his fur and had scabs all over his face. His eyes were full of pus and his ear was damaged.

I took off my jacket, wrapped it around him and brought him home.

He was not nice, he was not friendly, but why is he friendly, if his world is all pain and grief?

But he learned that others let him sleep alongside, and he learned that for kittens who run around him, he is just another grandpa.

He learned what minced chicken is. He learned what beef chunk means. He learned about boxes of sand where everyone do their business, and he learns about a warm soft blanket, where he can lay down and wipe his painful face.

He learned what a different world exists less than ten miles from his graveyard fence,  and from the cheapest of the cheapest pet shop, a few blocks away.

He learned not every waking hour is heaven, and that some time is just plain hell: cold, damp, wet, dark, but he learned that everyday whichever thunder and lightning come, however the rain pour, there is that invisible thing where he can look up and see the sky yet not get wet from the shower.

He learned that not everyday is a beautiful Sunday but Hey, man, he’s alive, he’s takin’ each day and night at a time. Hey man I’m alive I’m takin’ each day and night at a time.
Yeah he’s down, but I know he’ll get by

He’s feelin’ like a Monday, but someday he’ll be Saturday night

~ Josie
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Author’s note:
Hey man I’m alive I’m takin’ each day and night at a time
Yeah I’m down, but I know I’ll get by
I’m feelin’ like a Monday but someday I’ll be Saturday night
is lyric from “Someday I’ll be Saturday Night” sung by Bon Jovi.

Songwriters: Richard Sambora / Desmond Child / Jon Bon Jovi

Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night lyrics © Sony/ATV Music

Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.