THE KITTEN

By: Jesmal Jalal

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Cassey was pregnant. Nothing could make me more happy. She ambled proudly in front of me, showing her big white belly. She was always a noble cat.

It was fun knocking around with Cassey. I would go behind her and imitate her walking—slow and swaying from side to side. I petted her softly as she bunted against my legs. Her silent purrs reverberated in my ears. I could never forget the first moment I touched her belly (I left with many red lines on my palm). So mesmerising! I brushed her, sniffed her and ran my fingers over her majestic bushy tail. I made a small cardboard box house for her so that she would deliver her kittens inside. Perks of a seven-year-old boy!

I was super excited. I had never touched a kitten before. Now I would meet cute kittens before long.

#

“George, stop it,” My wife Martha said suddenly. She was standing behind my sofa.

I stopped the television. “Happy?”

“It’s our daughter’s birthday today. My family is coming over. Don’t you remember?”

“Of course, I remember. I invited them,” I remarked. “Why can’t I just watch television? I got nothing to do here.”

She rolled her eyes.

Nothing? Here take this.” She handed me a box of multicolour decorating lights, cartoon cut-outs and mylar balloons of various sizes. “Put it all over this room. I want Haley to feel like a princess.”

Of course, she is a princess. She is turning two now. Her cheeks are so chubby that I can’t stop cuddling her. I feel blessed to see her smile from that playhouse I built for her. My little doll.

Martha immersed herself in the kitchen while I leapt from one corner to the other corner with the decorating lights. Soon the lights shone all over the hall like small rainbows. The lighted balloons made patterns on the four walls like a kaleidoscope. The collage of Haley’s photos took its place at the centre of the wall facing her bedroom. I was super excited.

The shrill cry of the doorbell shook my spine. I saw my mother at the doorstep. It’s been a long time.

“How are you doing, George?” She asked. She leaned on the cushion across me. She sounded louder than usual.

“Fine, Mom.”

“How are your albums doing?”

Oh, hell. Of all the other things, why do people keep asking about our earnings first?

“Not great,” I hesitated. “I need to find some good lyricist for my songs.” She nodded and glanced across the room. Her eyes reflected some anxiety, but suddenly it changed to enthusiasm as she rested her eyes on me.

“George, do you remember the first time you saw her?”

#

The kitten had arrived. I had calculated the probable day of delivery, but the baby arrived earlier—a week earlier. Cassey and her kitten were found in the backyard just inside the heap of leaves gathered at a corner. Cassey found it as a perfect spot? Strange! I put the box house near them. Both of them rested inside their new home.

The little blob was suckling the milk while Casey laid down calmly. I could hear its little cries and suckling noises. To my surprise, the kitten hadn’t opened its eyes all the time. Yet, it could nourish itself without seeing anything or anyone. It could perceive what was going around it. A marvellous little being!

My mom said that it would take about two weeks for the kitten to open its eyes. She cautioned me not to sniff the kitten. She knows me too well. I liked to sniff on anything I found interesting.

“No, I won’t sniff it. But I would definitely touch it.” I told her and ran back to the backyard.

I brought my hands close to touch that cute little doll. But Casey resisted, so I had to pull my hand away. She blinked at me coldly. I could guess what she hinted at. ‘I was not ready to meet her baby’. But I couldn’t resist the urge—I had to feel that kitten. I drew my nose closer to the kitten. Casey didn’t mind at all. I sniffed it. Exhilarating!

My nose caught enough air around to feel its aroma completely. That damp odour of its fresh fur— I could never forget it!

#

I remembered the first time I saw my baby girl. I was more panicked than my wife. When I first saw her silently resting beside Martha, I was at the top of the world. She was twitching her body while her eyes were still closed. Adorable!

I could still remember her odour, mixed with that peculiar scent of the hospital room. The very aroma invigorates me.

The doorbell rang, waking me up from that daydream. My in-laws were at the door. We hugged them and welcomed them to the party. Martha’s parents sat beside my mom. They all looked much younger. My father-in-law Albert Cooper shot questions about my albums like in firing squad. The target began explaining about an imaginary fortune in producing album songs. Mrs. Cooper joined with her daughter in the kitchen.

Martha’s brother Michael helped me in setting up the tables for dinner. He mentioned about joining an I.T company in New York. His son Erik was running around the room with his aeroplane, occasionally crashing it onto the walls. I looked at him anxiously—pesky little kid. Sophia was fed up with keeping her son from bumping onto things.

We were all contagious with happiness. Jokes and smiles lurked in the air. I saw a burst of radiant sunshine inside the house. Up above all. It filtered through the ceiling making yellow pillars around me.

Suddenly my nose caught something—different. A strange odour of cat fur.

#

Cassey hasn’t come around for her food. It was unusual. She never misses her food.

I went to the backyard and found the cats in their house. Cassey was holding her kitten delicately. Her kitten hadn’t opened its eyes. It’s been almost two weeks.

I stretched my hand to touch the kitten. Cassey was calm and quiet. Now is the moment. Slowly I ran fingers over that small creature. So smooth, so fluffy.

Cassey purred weirdly. It reflected—I don’t know—a different blend of emotions. And the kitten smelt slightly different than before. Something is not right.

Suddenly, something bit me. Ants! To my horror, ants were coming out of the kitten. The kitten was dead. The kitten was dead without ever seeing this world!

I couldn’t remember anything further. Couldn’t hear, couldn’t sense but could feel only one thing—a big void. Tears formed a maze around my face. My heart fluttered inside my ribs, my whole body shaking in sync. That damp odour mixed with the pungent smell of rotten flesh asphyxiated me, made me breathless.  Before my trembling legs could collapse me down, I hugged my mother and made her drench in my tears. Never have I ever been so grief-stricken!

I wept and wept until I got exhausted, not of grief but of tears.

#

“Where is the birthday girl?” Michael asked. “It’s time for cake-cutting.”

“She is sleeping,” said I, turning towards my room. “I will go and get her.”

Haley was sleeping on my bed. I fetched her and felt her warmth rushing through my body. The people gathered around me to see Haley.

“Wake up, baby,” I said, patting her soft cheeks. She didn’t respond. She was not breathing. I was horrified!

Amidst my tears, in that blurry vision, I saw tiny fur sprouting up from her face. In a matter of seconds, they spread all over her body.

It was a kitten. A dead kitten.

#

“George, stop it,” My wife blurted out in anguish. I found myself seated across my in-laws. They sat like statues—lively but immobile.

I stared at Martha, coming towards me with a full belly. I stared at my empty hands. Where is Haley?

“Stop what?” I asked.

“All these!” Martha was desperate. “We are all dead, George. You are the only one alive!”

Her two blue eyes burnt through my soul. She didn’t blink.

“Martha, I can see all of you! You are lying!” I shouted out.

Martha glanced at my face. Her eyes had become calm now.

“You have never seen anyone in your life,” she whispered. “You were born blind.”

Something rushed through my spine. The whole world started spinning around me. I had to stand still. I need to hold on. I need to keep myself upright. I hugged her.

“We were all dead…in that crash—”

“Please don’t !” I pleaded. “Don’t tell me.”

“You need to understand, George. You need to accept the truth.” The words razored through me, exposing my dead soul beneath. She held me tight to her skin.

“I wish we hadn’t got into that plane. I wish Michael hadn’t got any job offer in the States. I wish we didn’t decide to go with him.” She whimpered. “I am sorry that you never see your baby once in your life. I am sorry that I left you alone to suffer. But please forgive yourself!”

   I had never seen anyone. I had only touched them, sniffed them, hear them—I could only feel them. I saw the cat, the kitten, its closed eyes through my skin, my ears, my nose and my mom’s eyes. I could feel them more than anybody else in this world!

The same goes for my own family. But I saw them every day. Even after…

But why do I still feel that kitten every day when with this family?

“So Haley is that dead kitten,” My eyes went down, holding tears. “The baby who never got to see this world.”

Everything around me had begun to blur and discolour.

“No, that blind kitten is you.” Her words echoed in my ears as she faded away.

 I had felt them always, until now. Tears blinded me (Did they?). Everything was sinking down into a black pool underneath me, simultaneously exposing the dark sky above me. All pitch black. No light. No voices. Alone. Just that damp odour.  

By: Jesmal Jalal

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