Conversation between an alley cat and a tenant
| The wind was howling through the trees in the neighbor’s yard and across the roof of my house. Very unusual for mid-December in southeastern Brazil. I could hear the symphony of sounds coming from many places through the open window of my study. Usually, the weather at this time of year is hot and muggy. But the wind had cooled the atmosphere so much, it was enjoyable having the window open without using the fan. As I typed and thought about what I was doing, I heard another sound that didn’t fit the chorus of the wind. It sounded like something squealing. It reminded me of one of the wheels on my wagon when I was about eight years old. At first I ignored the sound but it became insistent. So I got up and looked out my window at the narrow corridor running alongside from the front of the house to the back yard and saw nothing. But I sensed that something—an animal, a bird—was in trouble. At last I got up from my chair, again, and went to the front door that faced the corridor. When I opened it, the wind almost ripped the door from my hand. Looking along the corridor, I spied the nasty goings on of a cat with a bird in its mouth.
Immediately, the cat turned its head and looked at me. I stepped out and closed the door. At one end of the corridor was a barricade. With a bird in its mouth, the cat may not be able to climb the barricade and escape. I was blocking the only easy way out. Knowing the cat would not understand my language, in my anger I yelled anyway.
“Drop that bird, you mangy-looking scalawag.”
The cat’s eyes got big and round. It looked at me with either panic or rage. I couldn’t tell which. The animal didn’t move. In fact, what I saw was the cat began to arch its back and continued to stare at me. There was a broom leaning against the wall near the door, I picked up the broom and intended to do the cat some damage. Then the cat dropped the bird, which I could see was still alive, though probably scared half to death and placed a front paw on the bird’s body. It was then I yelled out over the sound of the wind,
“Now get the hell out of here or I’ll knock your brains out, if you have any.”
The back was still arched and the big round eyes still stared at me. I wanted to advance on the cat with my weapon but thought that if I did, the cat would grab the bird in its mouth again and this time might kill it. The wind continued to howl.
“What are you waiting for? Get your fuzzy butt over the wall and get out of here.”
It was then I heard the defiant and self-assured, “No.” My very first thought was, “Harlan, you did not hear that. It’s your imagination.” The thought came so fast that I ignored what I knew my sense of hearing said to me. With the immediate thought and what I knew I heard, I was instantly confused. I stared at the cat and the cat stared at me. Only this time, I wasn’t so sure of what was going on. The arched back began to straighten as the cat maintained its position with a front paw on the bird. I took one step to advance on the cat with the broom held out in front of me and then I heard, “Don’t. I’ll kill it” Suddenly I felt that I was sitting in front of the television watching “The Outer Limit.” I stopped dead in my track and lowered the broom. A shiver went up my spine; I didn’t know if it was from the wind or thinking that I heard the cat talk to me in English.
“What do you want with this bird, anyhow? It’s nothing to you. I’m hungry.”
The world was spinning around in my head as I knew for a fact the cat was talking to me. It was exciting and scary. I thought what my friends were going to say when I tell them about this conversation I’m having with a stray cat. It was so strange; so completely odd that I’m standing in the corridor just outside my house and a mangy cat is talking to me in English. What the heck!
“If you let the bird go, I’ll give you some food.”
“What kind of food?”
“I can make you some chicken livers.”
“What is some chicken livers?”
“It’s a delicacy that cats love.”
“What is delicacy?”
“Let the bird go and I’ll give you some food that you will gladly eat.”
“I don’t trust you. I have food right here and you are telling me about something I cannot see.”
I thought more deliberately for a moment.
“I see your point. If I go back in the house and get you some food I know you’ll like, will you stay here and let the bird go?”
“I don’t trust you. You’re a human.”
“Yes, and I cannot change that. But you see, I don’t trust you, either.”
“Here I have food and you’re offering me food that I cannot see. I may be a mangy cat but I’m no fool. This bird might not satiate my appetite but it will take the edge off my hunger.”
“But the bird is an innocent creature and needs the chance to live… just like you. I’m willing to prepare any one of a number of foods for you in exchange for the bird’s life. And if you don’t finish the food I have for you, the dish will be protected any time you wish to return and finish the meal. Fact is, I will give you food anytime you come to my door. Is that agreeable with you?”
“Words. You humans use words like the beaches have sand. Multitudes of words with empty promises full of deceit. How can I trust you?”
“Trust and faith walk hand in hand. You can trust me if and only if you choose to trust me. I have given you my solemn word that I will provide you with food, if and only if, you let the bird go. Kill the bird and I will hunt you down till the day one of us dies. I made you a promise and will keep it.”
“Yes. Most certainly you will, like all the other humans who make promises with the intentions of keeping them. Look at your line of presidents. Do you hear the promises they make, if only you will give them your vote? Then what is the next move if that person is elected to the office of president? Deceit. That’s what it is. Pure and simple deceit. They are human; you are human. I can expect nothing less than deceit from you, as well. If I give you the chance to prove your word and let the bird go, you have no responsibility to me. The bird will be gone and I will remain hungry. That’s the reality I expect from you.”
“Then what is to stop me from attacking you right now with this broom and beating your brains out?”
“If you were so inclined, you would have done so long ago. No, your interest lies in the bird. You want to save the bird’s life and care not a whit about me. At the risk of sounding pedantic and redundant, you’re a human and your word is as useless as the mammary appendages on a bore pig. So now we are at that proverbial impasse. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And if I keep my paw on this bird, it will eventually succumb to fear. Then what will you have accomplished?”
“There is a fact that you are overlooking. I have promised you food in abundance to satiate your appetite. If I leave you and go back into the house, what do you have to lose if only to prove me at my word and bring you the promised food? All I ask is that you give me the opportunity, just this once, to prove me at my word. If I make good on what I have promised, then I expect that you will leave the bird alone and let it fly where it will. Do we have a deal?”
“Oh my goodness. For the sake of a bird’s life you are most argumentative. Give me a moment to consider what you proffer.”
The cat remained standing with one foot on the still gasping bird, it’s eyes back to the narrow slits that are more cat-like and provocative. After a moment the cat spoke.
“It seems that neither one of us has the upper hand in this battle of wits. Ergo, I will allow you to provide the promised food. Upon sight thereof, I will release the bird and satisfy my hunger on the vittles you provide. However, remember this, human, should I detect any deceit in your part of the negotiation, I will mercilessly murder this innocent creature and its blood will be on your hands. Am I clear?”
“You are. Give me a couple moments in the house to open a can and I will return.”
I went into the house and opened a can of tuna fish in oil, dumped it in a dish and quickly brought it to the cat who, surprisingly, was still there. I set the dish down near cat and bird and backed away. The cat sniffed the tuna and looked at me with eyes in narrow slits, displaying its distrust of me.
“Mmm, quite savory.”
Immediately, the cat took its paw off the bird, which lay motionless on the ground and proceeded to devour the tuna and lick up the oil remaining in the dish. Then the cat sat down on its haunches and began to give itself the proverbial cat bath after eating. The bird remained motionless. I asked the cat,
“Is it dead?”
“Yes,” came the casual response as though it was just another typical discussion.
“So all this time the bird has been dead and you’ve been toying with me.”
‘I didn’t toy with you. You believed what you wanted to believe. I simply took advantage of your limited belief. And by the way, this is a mediocre brand of tuna. Is this what you eat regularly?”
“The brand is of no concern. I poisoned the tuna before I brought it out to you. It’s a fairly rapid-acting poison that will twist your guts around in a knot and lead to a very painful death. It’s a poison we keep for the mice. Enjoy your passing. It should begin very soon. You’re a double-crosser.”
The cat stared at me, again with wide open eyes.
“After all we’ve been through you would do that to me?”
“You’ve been deceiving me all this time. I just turned the tables on you. What goes around comes around.”
The cat groaned and screamed for a moment.
“Rotten human. Now I’m dying and no one will help me. Is there no antidote?”
“Only what you believe. I will put your remains in this trash can and set the trash bag out tomorrow.”
Again, the cat moaned and screamed, twisting around and rolling on the ground. The conversation was over. The cat could no longer talk. It was in mortal pain. As the life flickered from the cat’s body, I walked over to it and whispered,
“You believed what you wanted to believe. There was no poison. I simply took advantage of your limited belief. Tata.”
I picked up the dead bird and carried it to the back yard, dug a hole and buried it. I would tend to the cat later.