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Author's note: I wish people who read this short novel get a chance to think about what it means to be happy.
The alley glowed blue on cold, moonlit nights. At the end of it, there was a small exit through which the splendid city lights entered. This was the “sky” as we cats called it: this lovely alley illuminated by shimmering blue and yellow lights and so entirely ours, for only we could slip through the tiny entrance. Our houses were raised up high and spacious. There was always plenty to eat. The cardboard boxes lined up on the sides of the alley and the foul-smelling trashcans were our playground and home. My house was at the very end, bathing in the pale spotlight, on the top of the boxes stacked up high and stocked with food. All this was just for me. This pampered lifestyle was the privilege of being the leader of the cats.
Yes. I was the leader of the sky, a place dotted on by hopefuls. Moreover I had a special name by which others addressed me, a title of sorts. I was the “sky chief.” I was the leader who enjoyed all the perks and exercised the greatest power in the city. However, all this had its costs, as I was required to be responsible for every plan of action, to take care of every cat, and to live in endless rivalry and envy.
I did not know where I was born. I was brought to this life with no background. I had neither a name nor a family. I opened my eyes to find myself in this alley, abandoned in front of the foul-smelling trashcan. And yet, ever since this inglorious beginning, I was already a leader. Before I could understand and feel the warmth of friendship, I was thrown into a pit of responsibilities.
One by one, cats entered the alley. The day was Friday, a fresh start to another week. We had a different grasp of time from that of humans.
“Hey chief, what’s the occasion?” asked Kay, a gray mixed-breed. When was he ever going to come to his senses? It was not as if this Friday was any more unusual than the ones that had come before. It was the same routine. He should have known what the occasion was without having to ask me. Well, this called for a thoroughly irritated remark by… ah, here she was.
“Are you stupid? Can’t you ever figure out anything without bothering the chief? Today’s Friday, stupid! The day the chief tells us new plans for raid, you know, or I mean, you don’t know, but you should,” said Lingo the scribe, quite mockingly.
“What? Stupid? Says the coward who can’t even kill a mouse! You are a mere scribe, Lingo, why don’t you go sit in a corner and shut your mouth? How dare you call me stupid!”
“I’m sorry Kay, but it’s not all about being brawny, it’s about the brainwork. But I see that unfortunately, you must not understand such things. You also don’t understand that because of morons like you, I do all the work and it is very, very tiring. You should be thanking me, you know! And yet you’re doing the exact opposite!”
There was a cough. Alarmed, the cats stopped their bickering. It was Kusha the viceroy, also known as the sea cat. He silently, slowly and somberly placed himself before the cats, preparing to talk. Suddenly, this solemnity was disturbed by Nero, who was just entering the alley. He was a clueless one, always scolded for his disruptive acts.
“Hi hi hi, so yeah, I did it again…”
The sky cats turned around in unison and shouted at poor Nero scathingly.
“Nero, stop disturbing everyone who’s on time! How dare you cackle like a simpleton and interrupt the viceroy! Will you not behave?”
“Yeah. If you’re new, start acting like you are.”
After putting Nero back in his place, the sky cats turned to the viceroy in silence. Kusha began to talk in his usual manner, with a slight air of self-importance.
“Ehem. As you all know, today is Friday, the day that marks the commencement of another week. Our leader, the sky chief, will announce the brand new plan for plunder for this week. Go ahead, chief.”
At that instant, all eyes were on me. I knew it’s all customary and I’d done this as many times as I could remember, but I couldn’t help feeling drastically uncomfortable in my own skin every time they looked at me like that. I was so sick of this, but there was no other way. Ehem.
“I, as a member of the sky alley and as your leader, announce the new plan. This Monday, we rob the fish market across the street. Finish all preparations beforehand, and for further information see the scribes Lingo and Lango,” and that’s how it was done, again. My nauseating speech was followed by an eager shout by all the cats, or more precisely, an overly enthusiastic meow that would have made any human cringe.
I was out on the streets. Just because I was the leader of the sky did not mean I had to spend all of my time in it.
I could see various kinds of people on the streets. Sometimes they wondered about in groups, letting themselves loose in their drunken state. Otherwise I spotted people who were by themselves, lingering, and they all had opaque, fish-like eyes that seemed to stare into the distance, although I wasn’t sure exactly where to. I wondered why they all had eyes like that; it surely wouldn’t bring much luck.
During my city outings, I often ran into other cats. Being such a famous chap I was in the city, I was regularly followed and admired by charlatans who wanted to join the sky. I met two today, and they were just like the rest, making such sycophantic fools out of themselves before me. Nonetheless, I restrained myself from treating them too harshly, because the reason they were acting as they were was that they had dreams of joining the sky, and they were willing to even humiliate themselves. I never let down those with dreams. That was my life motto.
I was about to return to the alley after having enjoyed the taste of the city when I met a girl (spotted a girl, to be exact). She was a strange girl. She seemed to be about nine-years-old in human age, which was remarkably young. Yet oddly enough, I could not see the naïve joy or an innocent smile that were usually present in kids of her age. Even if her lips were forming a smile, her eyes were not. They were dark with worry that adults carried. What could have made her so? And in midst of my pondering, I noticed that her sad eyes were looking at me. She walked up to me, crouched and patted my head. Frankly, I could never understand what charm humans found in patting cats. Humans did not know that despite their harmless intentions, cats suffered from grave hair losses due to frequent patting. For example, Kusha the viceroy had practically no hair left on his head because his lovely snow-white fur attracted hands that were so fond. I gently meowed and looked up into her sad eyes. I felt a strange sense of melancholia coming over me and wanted to escape, but did not because I did not want to make the girl disappear. After patting my head for a while, she rose, as if she remembered something to do that she had forgotten, and with a “bye-bye, kitty,” bid farewell and ran into the distance.
And that’s how we met.
I had rich, dark fur. Of all the chaps in the sky alley, I was the most popular, with my thick, black coat that didn’t allow even the slightest hint of lightness. That was most likely the reason that I had never tormented myself with unrequited love before, because I was always desired. But today, the little girl had shaken me up. I could not stop thinking about her. She was so blue. She had the eyes of an adult but she should not have had them.
It was not just her appearance of distress that irritated me. To tell the truth, there was likely no one else who should have understood the meaning of her eyes better than I did. It was so similar to how mine had looked in the past, when I was little, hopeless and dreamless. I did not want to admit our similarities, and yet, I could not help but care. Did she not have anyone either, like me? No friends and no family? Was she lonely?
Many days passed. It was Monday, the day for plunder. Even though it was still bright outside (we cats slept when it was bright), all the cats were busy and loud as they prepared for the day’s action. All the commotion made me lose my beauty sleep. I swore I would give them a good scold later.
A few hours later, it was dark outside. It was time to act. I remembered how I had been so nervous when I was new; there was nothing new to it now. I had done this over fifty times.
Finally, all the preparations were finished. The sky cats had lined themselves up in a phalanx formation. As their leader I stood at the front, announcing the beginning of our attack with a powerful howl.
Cats were fun-loving creatures. We didn’t attack secretively at night. What was the fun in that? Seeing humans run around not knowing what to do about us was one of the most amusing things to watch.
We arrived at the fish market and started our raid. Each cat, with a tuna or a cod in its mouth, did its part successfully in making the place an absolute mess. I was about to head back to the alley, after laughing heartily at the hopeless owner of the shop, when I spotted a familiar face from inside the store. It was the little girl who had patted my head a few days ago, the one with sad eyes. So she was his daughter.
There was no other cat in sight. I could not believe the cats seriously abandoned me here. I was too distracted by the little girl to notice the owner’s thick hands about to grab me, and now I was caught, caught like a fish. How foolish of me.
“So little kitty, you better tell me where your little hangout place is. Do you know how much you’ve robbed me over the years? Annoying little pests!”
I could not believe the owner was trying to have a conversation with a cat. He didn’t even speak our language, and yet had been interrogating me for some time now. I naturally had not given in, but was in a difficult situation because I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure if I could return to the alley like this, as a disgrace, after having made a mistake. The little girl then approached me. She crouched down and talked to me shyly with her thin, melancholy smile.
“Hello kitty, do you have a place to go? Do you… want to live with us? You know, the alley is probably good but it’s really dirty and… you know?”
How could I say no to that? It was a reasonable, sweet and tempting offer. I was not just concerned about the matter of returning to the alley or not, but longed to figure out the story behind the little girl’s distress, as well.
I could not be happier. For the first time, I was receiving a thing called love. Instead of being the leader always responsible for others, I was the one that was being taken care of. So this was what a family was; so this was what happiness was.
The father, quite reasonably, disapproved of me at first; but even he could not say no to his daughter, whose tenacious pleas to keep me in the house eventually made him allow my stay. He did have to add, however, rather curtly at the end –
“And you’ll clean up after him.”
A whole week passed. I had gotten to know the girl better. Most of my little questions too had been answered. Her name was Arie. Her dad was always home because their house was also their store. Strangely enough, the father and the daughter seemed to be separated from each other, as if by a wall. I assumed it was because Arie’s mother had passed away. She told me once,
“Kitty, you see Arie has no mommy. She was crossing the street three years ago when a big truck hit her. And Arie has been so lonely since. You can’t possibly imagine how happy Arie is to have you with her, Kitty…”
That was why Arie had seemed so blue.
Arie told me she was happy because I was there. She gave me a name. I did not regret leaving the alley or living in this house, or the mistake I had made of dwelling for too long after the raid, because ultimately I had gained from them. I learned love, joy, the preciousness of family and friends. For the first time, I could smile and laugh from my heart.
Despite my happiness, I had unfinished problems concerning the alley. I wondered how everything was being taken care of. I knew they had forgotten me and chosen a new leader. They probably still went out every now and then, pillaging the helpless stores. The more and more I reflected on the matter, I saw the need of my return. If I stayed as worriless and happy as I was, it would have marked my defeat from the battle with myself. Thus, I had to make the choice – of returning to the sky alley.
Humans, naturally, did not understand us. That was because they always looked down at us (once again, naturally). But kids were different. At least, Arie was different. When she heard my meow, she asked, “Are you going back, kitty?” Then she answered herself, saying, “Yes, I suppose you must… after all the alley is your home. But if you ever grow hungry, if you ever do, feel free to visit here. I’ll leave some food for you in the pail hanging by the front door. Never go without food, okay? If you’re hungry, you come here, okay? Okay… bye.”
And that’s how we parted.
I spend a few days wondering about. Although I had been the sky chief, I didn’t have the confidence to walk straight back into the alley. I knew what they would say to me, and I was frightened.
I went to Arie’s house everyday. Of course, I was fully capable of finding food for my own without having to go there; but had I done that, she would have been worried. She might have thought I was sick or dead. Hence, to show her that I was alive and well, I took the food at her door everyday. That was one of the only ways I could make her happy…
Finally, I had the guts to return to the sky. Alas, it was no longer the sky that I had once known. There was a new leader, followed by faces I had never seen before. Of course, I knew this would have been the case already…
Then, I caught a glimpse of Lingo, who had been my scribe. I was so happy to see her. She saw me; she heard me call her. But Lingo ignored me, turning her back on me with an air of contempt. Every cat in the alley acted as if they did not see me. Some even spat and muttered bad words about me. I could not understand. Had we not been close, living in the same alley for years? Had I been the only one who genuinely cared for them? Was my affection never to be reciprocated? Was I no longer needed at the sky? Then for whom was I supposed to live?
I was about to leave when I saw Kusha, the viceroy. He seemed a little surprised to see me, but smiled at me nonetheless. I was upset but I wasn’t seeing things; he smiled at me, he really did. And he approached me.
“Long time no see.”
“As you can tell, this place changed a lot. You’re no longer the chief.”
“I can see that.”
“Still, looking at you makes me relieved that you’re no longer part of here.”
“You now have the eyes that can see things straight.”
“Eyes that can see things straight?”
“Yes. One cannot have them unless they truly feel what love is. None of the cats here have them, but you do. You have been loved, haven’t you?”
The shards of my broken memories were coming together in a zippy, like bits of iron attracted to a big magnet called memory, and happiness that came with it. I almost had forgotten the most important thing: all this time, what held me together was the love that resonated from the little girl’s thin smile.
We all make mistakes. Sadly, the world isn’t generous enough to forgive those mistakes and that’s how everything dies, one by one, after losing the wings that would have aided each and every flight to the sky. Still, I would never regret the mistake I made, because I learned from it. I had been so small. The world I’d known had been so small.
We all make mistakes, and the world isn’t generous enough to let us get past them. And consequently we all die, one by one, lost without wings. But I will not regret it; the mistake I made may have brought me sadness, but to another it could have brought joy.
Once I heard of a very foolish human being from Kusha the viceroy. Apparently he had been very talented; but he flew too high and crashed. Had he not been so close to the sun, the wings he had made wouldn’t have melted off. Poor thing. He didn’t need to fly so high to see that dreams were right around us. We just choose not to see them, for we are cooped up in blinding greed.
I was returning to Arie’s. I was returning to happiness. I was determined to live as happily as possible to cancel out the countless frowns that had graced my face once. But as fate would have it, I saw two lights coming towards me on the road. It was a truck, and the driver was mouthing something as his monstrous vehicle came over me. What on Earth had he been saying, I would have liked to know.
I heard Arie’s voice, thinning out as I was…
Had I been born a human, perhaps I wouldn’t have died this easily. But I am so thankful that I had been born a cat. Want to know why?
Because I was lower than humans, I could always look up instead of down.