Hard Days9 mins 308 9 mins 308
On an unbearably hot day, I met Tom at our usual rendezvous point, besides the big green dust bin where most of us gathered for a surprise feast. He was rummaging through piles of plastic bags, sometimes ripping them open and sometimes sniffing at them, and sometimes pausing in curiosity at some unknown element. He found a few pieces of bone and started chewing on one of them greedily. I climbed on top of the bin with a childlike smile on my face. “Hey Tom, care to share?”
Tom looked with a twisted face and said reticently, “Forget it Nibbles. Founders eaters!” He pulled the rest of his loot towards himself.
“Oh, Come on Tom! I’ve been such a good friend to you. Remember when we used to raid old Nanny’s kitchen, Ah! Those were the days. Never did we go to bed on an empty stomach, but now….” I paced back and forth and pleaded with my old buddy. “Forget about having a decent meal; it’s hard enough to find bones these days. Please Tom please, let me have just one bit for old time’s sake, huh?”
Tom’s twisted face was suddenly marred with belligerence. He snarled at me and said, “I was the one who showed you Old Nanny’s place. And besides, criminals don’t have any code of honor. We’re stray cats. We either beg or we steal. These are tough days Nibbles and every cat to himself. Now shoo before I print my paws all over your face!”
Tom was scrawny and I could have easily taken him out, but it was too much effort even for a few pieces of bone. However, the situation would have been different if it had been a piece of meat or fish. Then I would have battled him till my dying breath.
Leaving Tom to his new found love I walked towards the end of the Alley where John lived. He was a kind man and sometimes fed stray cats and dogs. But he was poor and could not always afford to do so. When the dogs came, the cats had to take refuge above treetops and rooftops. But John always found a way to feed them. He had a big heart, that John guy.
I decided to try my luck today. Upon reaching I found luck was on my side – bad luck that is. There was no sign of John or any food and his house looked deserted. To make matters worse, Marco and his groupies had already occupied most of the place. “What do you want white boy?” said Marco grumpily. Marco was a big fat cat, who picked up fights every now and then. His body was filled with battle scars and that had earned him many female fans; Macho Marco they called him. To me, he was just a bully, and like all bullies, no one wanted to start a fight with him.
“Umm…nothing Marco! I…was…just…leaving.”
“You better scram or else I’ll hang you by that tail of yours,” threatened Marco.
Without looking back I ran as fast as I could from John’s place. With a sullen face and a complaining belly, I went and sat on the tree across old Nanny’s house. From my vantage point, I could see the insides of the kitchen when the window was open. It was my safe scouting spot. I stretched on the branch and stared at the window with tiring eyes. I heaved a huge sigh. It had been weeks since I last stole any food from her. Security had been tight these days with her children and grand-children patrolling the perimeter of the house. It was an impossible task to sneak in without the children noticing. They were a nightmare. Once caught the prisoners were subjected to stroking, petting and cuddling like those pet cats in some of the homes. Although they were entitled to certain privileges like a cozy home, a warm blanket and tasty food like milk and fish and meat, it also meant being trapped. They had a collar around their neck which was terrible and had to be worn at all time. They were also injected with something in hospitals which was quite scary. The worst of all was the occasional baths! I mean how could they? Everything was acceptable but baths! These humans had ruined our lifestyle.
But I guess privileged slavery was far better than burdened freedom. At times, I wish I had been born in a house like that. It wouldn’t be too bad to have a family.
My stomach agreed. Nowadays even the mice had become smart. They had a new leader – Sneaky the dodger, and he was the smartest mouse any cat had ever seen. He outfoxed each and every one of us and now it was rumored that he had united all the mice in the neighborhood to stand up in rebellion against the cat community. Tom was right, these are tough days indeed. As my mind drowned in sorrow and my heart in pity, I dozed off with my tail hanging flimsily from the tree branch.
A few minutes later, the sound of a car engine woke me up. From the corner of my eye, I saw a car leave old Nanny’s house. Without care, I went back to complete my nap, only to be woken again, not by any sound but by smell. A distinct and familiar aroma came floating through the air and attacked my olfactory nerves. My sharp memory instantly transported back to me the days when I was ready to do anything for that smell.
Chicken roast! I exclaimed and almost slipped off the branch due to the excitement. Instinctively, I looked towards the window and to my joy found it slightly open. It didn’t look wide enough from this distance but I decided to take my chances. Someone must have forgotten to close the window properly. My stomach began playing a drumbeat to match the excitement in my heart. Carefully, I climbed down from the tree and made my way towards the window. It was evening but there was hardly any activity going around in the neighborhood. Therefore, it was a cake-walk for me to reach the window without arousing anyone’s suspicion.
Upon reaching, I found my initial doubt to be correct. The gap was quite small but wide enough for me to squeeze in. The last few weeks of an unwanted diet had made me shockingly thin. I waited for a few seconds and strained my ear for any noise. Nothing. I positioned myself and bent back. Like a spring, I jumped on my hind legs and grabbed the window ledge with both my front paws. My nails dug deep into the wood as I heaved myself up onto the ledge. I took a quick glance inside. I stretched my body into an arc and shoved a pile of bones onto the kitchen floor. Success!
The sight in front of me was a familiar one. Except for the irresistible aroma nothing had changed this past couple of weeks. My nose guided me to what I was looking for. I looked towards the oven and there it was, my prize, sitting prettily on a tray beside the oven! My stomach would have sprinted if it had legs; it used mine instead. But from the moment I had entered the kitchen, there was another smell which was quite known to me. Something which I loved very much, something which made all my six senses dance to its intoxicating smell. And then like a flash of lightning it hit me as I realized what it was. Oh my God! It was the smell of raw fish.
Like a drug addict on cold turkey looking for cocaine, I almost floated through the air, the sweet aroma carrying me in its arms and then finally throwing me into its lap. It almost brought tears to my eyes when I looked at it. A nice, juicy, big fat Tuna lay in front of me on a piece of China. It almost felt surreal at first but then the growling in my stomach made me realize I realized I wasn’t dreaming.
But in all my fervor I forgot to notice the slippery surface of the dish due to the oil that had been wrapped over the fish for baking. The moment I put my paws on the edge I slipped and all three of us – the Tuna, the dish and me – came crashing down. The sound of broken china roared through the silence of the house like a cannon. For a few seconds, it felt like someone had died in there as an eerie silence descended over the house.
I gathered my thoughts. But I had barely moved a muscle when I heard a sound that kept getting louder like my heartbeat. And before I could make a move, a dark shadow appeared over my head. Horrified, I turned towards it and found myself face to face with a fearsome warrior in the form of old nanny’s grand-daughter. Her Ember eyes rained fireballs on me. In one hand she yielded a weapon and with the other, she shook a fist. Her voice boomed through the kitchen. “How dare you touch our dinner YOU FILTHY CAT!”
I shuddered in fear and in the very next second, like a bolt of lightning, the mop came down crashing over my head. I moved just in time to avoid the catastrophe and lurching forward I managed to slip between my executioner’s legs and escape into the hallway. I scurried without a sense of direction, like a trapped mouse looking for an exit. And in the few seconds that I wasted debating which way I should run, those ember eyes found me, promising to scorch my soul to a crisp. I was backed into a corner, and momentarily, I felt the grim reapers scythe on my neck. But suddenly, at that very instance, the image of that open window flashed before my eyes and I felt a rush of blood into my head.
I took my chances and ran towards my enemy. As soon as she struck a blow, I jumped sideways onto an empty chair and leapt forward to distance myself from my attacker. The minute my foot landed on the floor, I shot towards the kitchen like a bullet. Behind me, I heard a spiteful voice, “Oh! no, you don’t”.
Without looking back, I ran past the kitchen floor with every ounce of strength in my legs. And as I ran, my eyes drifted towards the broken dishware where my hope lay silently – cold and dead. I somehow squeezed myself out of the window to my freedom. I was very tired and as I walked back towards the tree, I could not help but feel sorry for myself, at my pitiable sight which my fate had given me.
From my vantage point, I heard sounds of laughter and cheer as people poured into old Nanny’s house. The house was now packed with people and I could see lots of activities in the kitchen. Lots of food were dished out for the guests including the Tuna and the roast chicken. The smell still lingered on my nose but strangely my belly had gone awfully quiet.