My cat died just a few days before I arrived home in Samui Island for my friend’s wedding. Well, not my cat, really, but a cat in our house.
We named her “Sticky Rice” because she showed up one afternoon in our lawn while we were having lunch and tried to steal sticky rice. My dad was the one who shooed her out of the house but when she kept returning, it was him who eventually gave her the leftovers.
In the way she arrived, out of nowhere and just took whatever life (a cat life) has to offer, Sticky Rice was a slut. She was a Siamese cat with spotless fur and the eyes of a tiger. A few days after we reluctantly adopted her, she disappeared for ten days. We thought she had found a new owner or, rather, a new place that provided her with better food than sticky rice but it turned out that she ran away from our home to pursue her prince charming and came back with a litter of kittens in her belly.
“She’s just being a cat,” my dad would say to our neighbors while searching for the male cat who might be responsible for the potential family. Someone needed to take custody of Sticky Rice’s kittens. His prime candidate was Chaba, the quadriplegic woman who lived in the house across the street. She was unable to move a muscle and had a loyal army of cats to protect her.
Entering her living room, it’s easy to mistake one of her cats as a cushion. Her cats, almost like the owner, are mental quadriplegics. Spending time at her house, I learned that the dysfunctional limbs might have caused her to lie still and breathe the recycle-air in her part bedroom but it didn’t keep her mouth shut.
Her husbands both took off and she then lived with her divorced-daughter. I used to be a volunteer reading books for her when I was twelve. I would come to her house with the hope that, by the end of the day, she would have asked her daughter to give me some snack money but that hardly happened.
Moreover, it seemed, I had to do her favors more than just reading.
The inquiries were, “Go fetch the new urine bag and replace the old one,” or, “Take me out to the sun and feed me mango juice.”
It was, strangely, a relief that I finally escaped the smell of her urine-filled house by rolling her on a wheelchair and sat by her swimming pool. Even in the hot, humid weather which wasn’t normally a pleasant way to spend an afternoon for an Asian kid, I found that I enjoyed reading books aloud. It stopped me from caring too much about the heat. Sometimes I would catch her staring blankly at the edge of the pool. Then I had an idea.
I always thought I was the smartest student in my class because my grades would always come top and as a kid, I trusted the school system and blindly thought the world works exactly how it is in school.
There was an episode on a kids’ television show, a science after-school program that told a story about human limitations that I recalled while I was feeding her with mango juice. There was a story about a quadriplegic old man who was left alone on a wheelchair by the beach. During high tides, the wave would hit his wheelchair and he would fall into the sea. The program said humans have the hidden powers stored in their body’s system. Something we can’t fathom in normal situations. But in an emergency, humans who never drive a car in their life, can drive, or climb to the top of a coconut tree to escape the upcoming tsunami. It is this power that miraculously made the old man crawling back ashore.
I was thinking about this episode when one of her cats, a tabby, walked from her living room to resume a nap position by the pool. Then I thought that, maybe, I should drown her. I looked at the cat, searching for permission in its eyes, then I put my hands on the handrails and pushed her toward the pool.
The wheelchair stopped less than two feet from the pool when Chaba cried out for help. The voice of a cranky woman so loud it could blow up the sun but still failed to wake the cat who was taking a nap.
“Help!” she yelled, “This little prick is trying to kill me. Somebody get him out of here!”
Samui is a small island and the news about me trying to drown Chaba in the pool had spread wildly and had been greatly exaggerated. At school, I was called a murderer for the rest of the semester. At home, I continued to receive that suspicious look from all of my family members even though I tried to explain that all had been done for her own good. The television show was then banned by our father. As he put it, simply, “No more science for you mister.”
His search for the male cat that got our cat pregnant had gradually become his obsession. I often came home from school and found him talking to the neighbors over the hedge, or on the phone, trying to convince someone to adopt the soon-to-come kittens.
Without our mother, we lived alone. I was expecting garbage for dinner as usual when a woman arrived to take the kittens. “She’s a friend from work,” my dad told us, me and my two younger brothers, and I couldn’t help but count how many friends from work that came to our home and never visited us again. But this woman brought us flowers and seafood from the market. I sensed that things would turn out differently this time. I tried not the keep my hopes up when she stayed for dinner. When we finished eating, I accidentally flicked the television to the science program.
At the sight of the colorful background and the over-acting hosts. They dressed in a Japanese school uniform, my dad spat out his most thoughtful comment of the evening. “That is a horrible show. This garbage almost turned my son into a killer.”
“An innocent killer.” I corrected him.
“Ha! There’s no such thing.”
My chance to become the most likable kid in our household had gone. It seemed that only Sticky Rice’s indifference to my crime was the only thing I could hold on to in a world where no one understood me. I was still allowed to sit on the front porch and I would look into Chaba’s living room, writing an apology letter, and our neighbors would conceive me as a killer planning his second attempt to kill the woman. It’s the first time that I felt grateful for Sticky Rice existence. She was not a sort of sleepy cat. She was the most active, wild-eyed sex predator who lived her life to the fullest. She went out almost every night, meeting up with strange cats in the dark alley.
There were so many houses in our area. It wasn’t the sense of belonging that Sticky Rice felt for our family that made her pick us but, maybe, it’s something in our sadness for losing our mother which she caught from her animal’s instinct that attracted her. We met each other half-way by some freak of nature and we gave her unlimited access to our home and food. Even though she failed to enlighten us on so many levels and she did not even help us getting rid of the huge rats that chewed our screen door to the kitchen, we still endured her incompetence and counted her as a family pet.
A few weeks after the ‘murder attempt’, I was called back to Chaba’s house. I saw her lying in bed, the same position, surrounded by the useless cats. I opened my mouth forming the word but she cut it.
“Shut the fuck up and read me the goddamn paper can you?”
And I did.
The long distance phone call from my old friend, Annie, announcing her pregnancy, had brought me a mixture feelings: jealous-excitement and disgust from the memory of watching my cat gave birth to her kittens. I was fifteen-year-old when I first witnessed Sticky Rice giving birth in a cardboard box.
There was the smell. It was dark and we had to put the box outside the house, and we watch her using flashlights because our outdoor lights were broken.
Annie is a lovely tanned-skin Thai girl who fell in love with a Russian business man she met in her sophomore year. She’s the kind of girl who never recommended anything based on her taste to anyone but she is very good at keeping connection with people she associates with in her life. She would read and listen to any recommendations of books, music, films from her friends and share her opinions about it the next time they met.
I had recently graduated and was in Kuala Lumpur with plans to go to Singapore when she invited me to come to Samui Island for her wedding. Something made me wanted to lie to her why I can’t come to her wedding. I just had to make up a good excuse why I couldn’t go to her wedding. But that morning I missed the flight to Singapore. I sat in an airport Starbucks thinking how stupid I am and sunk in my timid realization that the student’s life was going to disappear. Hadn’t I waited for this to happen when I was studying? So I should be at the prospect of change, shouldn’t I?
A friend of mine is pregnant and getting married to her Russian. It’s a punch in the face for a single guy like me, with only fifty ringgit in his pocket.
I wish I could have the ability to be at home everywhere. At the airport, I saw a man sleeping on a bench in a very strange position. Lying almost upside down with his head on the floor. That’s one thing I can learn from my cat. Her attitude and no-fuck-given expression whenever she came home. Her lack of constitution and responsibility which allowed her to be free, ignoring her kids and pretending that it was none of her business. And off she went, with another cat and yet another set of kittens in her belly.
I was at the airline kiosk with two choices: continue my trip and make new acquaintance connections or come home and make a real connection with the people I already knew. I chose home.
I was expecting the wedding to be exotic, freakish and Russian-style with drugs and over-weight prostitutes. Instead, the place was serene and quiet. After the speech was delivered, in both Thai and Russian, my dad told me about Sticky Rice’s death.
The news about death surrounded me. That’s part of coming home, I guess. I sat at the same front porch and looked at the empty house across the street that Chaba, the woman I almost killed, used to live. She died after I began my freshman year and now the house is on lease. Her cats are still living there but no longer allowed the luxury of life in the living room. They’re still lazy, as always, no intention to go out and have a life, spending all day lying around the discarded swimming pool. Unlike my cat.
I was home for almost a week and thought Sticky Rice was just out chasing another man as always. I was right, maybe, according to my dad she was hit by a car. She stopped her sexual activity for quite a while when, I thought, she suddenly saw her life in the whole new way. Like having an epiphany, my poor girl neglect her advanced age and think she could get away crossing the four-lane street.
“She’s just being a cat.” My dad said the same thing as when she got home pregnant for the first time. Months ago, news like this would see me lighting a cigarette but I had stopped smoking. And I wish I was sitting on a swing chair instead of a chair. The feeling
For sure Sticky Rice used to be somebody’s cat and had other names. That explained why she often ignored to respond to the uncreative name we gave her. With nothing better to do, I looked at the photos of her on my phone, reaching for words from her eyes. She staring back at me, with her indifference. It’s the kind of stare from an animal that is not, in any sense, looking only at the surface of things, but instead, deep down into my human soul as if she wanted to say, ‘Only if I were you.’