The grey kitten at my door that rainy day, crouched, lifting its tail up; the ash-colored concentric rings rose till the tip. The tip was cotton-white. The tail pointed towards the wrought-iron lamp that hung from the wall one foot from the ceiling, the lights yet to be turned on. The kitten was more hair than bones.
I’d moved into the apartment only in April, hardly two months had passed since. But it seemed like years. The sound of dry leaves rubbing against each other on the patio and raising dust, and the scent of rain, reminded me of the time we spent in the Penchim tiger reserve, tracking those stinky Indian bears. That was last February, five months ago.
The cartons Mala packed my things in and had delivered through the Agarwal Packers and Movers remained unopened. The card-board boxes had the name of the packer printed on all the six sides, and my name was scribbled in violet ink along with the shipment details. There were eleven boxes in all, decked one above the other in the dining space. On one of the cartons on top, the khaki, gloss DOPP adhesive tape showed signs of someone having considered opening it and starting a life again but abandoning the thought halfway. I was not sure if it was me.
Thunder exploded without warning; it was still dusk and if there was a flash from lightening, it was lost in glaze of the lingering sun. Feeble light clambered over the mangrove wooded water-front, lined with residential apartments from under the waters of Arabian Sea.
I swallowed, anxious. The kitten hid under the TV-stand. If I had not found him there, the cave under the TV stand would have been nicest place to stay. The fog-horn of a ship broke the silence a couple of times. Sometimes, ships passed so close to our shore, I could see the sad sailors leaving for the voyage and thinking about the wives.
I felt lonely; weekends are when you feel terribly lonely. There were three choices to select from, each more bleak than the other.
I could book myself a movie ticket and then walk out in a huff if there were any episodes to remind me of Mala. All movies had scenes which echoed the incident that was in the back of my mind.
The other option was to take a train from Kharghar to Vashi and keep moving up and down listening the clanks of the rails; watching the clueless Mumbaikars, their quest for speeding everything up. Watching them like that, to me defeats the purpose of life.
Then there was the third alternative, the one which I was fighting fiercely to forget. The bar in sector XVII, Vaashi is noisy on Saturday nights. The Punjabi dhabba-owner dislikes my presence during week-end; I occupy the table meant for four. The waiters are happy with my tips.
By and large the world displays contempt for men who come alone anywhere. Or is it suspicion?
I have taken a vow never to drink alone, it leads to alcoholism, Mala had said. Mala should have known.
The kitten said, ‘Meow’, meaning to frighten and shoo me off. The yellow-colored iris around its pupils was annoyed; but a kitten is kitten, it was the embodiment of sweetness. I have never seen cats in our floor. I wondered how the kitten found its way up.
Its company kind of made me feel less miserable.
So I began the week-end party at home, prostrating face-down and sipping Jack Daniels; kept watching the kitten under the TV stand until my neck muscles ached holding my head up. Or else my nose would have rubbed against the floor. The floor smelt of dust and salt. This made me realize the kitten could be starved. Empathy is not a virtue. The kitten never moved, out of fright I guess.
My son, Manu had chosen to stay with Mala. What really made him decide in her favor, I wanted to know. He complained that I provided him with too much of everything except freedom.
The moisture around the whisky glass gave up, made a rivulet and rolled down. I tried to dab it with the paper napkin before it touched the floor. The kitten withdrew with a growl using its hind legs, giving the impression of being cornered.
I checked the fridge. It was empty except for some ice cubes in the freezer. The vegetable chest contained the stale cheese in its half-open wrapper, the picture of Cheddar cheese with holes. The artist had conceptualized the cheese, streaming straight out of a cow’s udder. Fronds of lettuce, left-over from previous week-endsand about to rot, leered from the compartment. It was no use trying to teach a kitten how to eat leaves.
I don’t use milk; my coffees and my teas are plain black. I went to the grocer to fetch some for the kitten. The obese Gujju was closing early. He said he was taking his wife for a movie; the Odiya boys working for the shop-keeper were munching potato wafers from a large polythene bag, squatting on two legs. They were passing lewd comments about a lady with massive tits who had come to buy condoms in the pharmacy next door. One of them expressed readiness to undertake home delivery. Free of charge, he said.
The kitten didn’t know how to drink from the bowl. It was too young, though its whiskers were still long and touched the rim when I attempted to force its mouth into the milk. I looked helplessly, it would be a pity to let a young cat die of starvation. By then the first drops of the monsoon had found its way. Mumbai dressed in the smog breathed. The old port of Mumbai glittered across the Thane creek.
It was then that I noticed the kitten was fed.
The mother growled from behind; my limbs froze. The window was ajar and I knew. A male cat appeared all of a sudden, and hovered between me and the babe like a conscientious father.
My hands stretched for the whisky-glass for what was left of the American liquor. The tomcat hissed like a serpent, showing the teeth. I was not sure if I ought to be frightened.
I moved the milk-bowl persuasively towards the female cat – in a friendly manner; I thought the lactating mother could do with some nourishment.
And then I fed the tomcat with a slice of the stale cheese. Without a thought, it attacked the piece.
The clowder party.
I have never seen the male cat before. Who is he? The question never thaws.
Saranyan BV is a short-story writer who came into the realm of literature by mistake. He loves modern American short stories – Raymond Carver particularly. He has published many short stories.