The Coward

The island is sprawling with cats. Cats without tails. I don’t know why and neither does anyone else. My friends from Bandung say it’s because the locals cut them so they can’t breed. I need an explanation, if only to stop picturing cats breeding with their tails. I keep asking everybody, but Farah doesn’t like cats, she’s probably just glad cats without tails take up less space.

This is our last day, we’ve been trying to find a boat but the boats don’t run, it’s been thunderstorms all week. We sit around and listen to the rain, Farah tries to read and I’m trying to write. She broke my heart and I’ve been forgiving her.

Today we tried the beach, but it started pouring again, so we’re on our way back. A small van in front of my motor is driving suspiciously slow. The van is packed with kids, they ridicule my poncho through the rear window. Good thing I have my poncho. Farah doesn’t have a poncho but that’s okay.

There’s something on the road, I manage to miss it. It’s a little pile of grey.

‘An animal!’

Farah shrieks.

I park the motorbike to take a look.

‘it’s a kitten’.

Her hindlegs are flat, it must have been a car. Flies have colonized her body, some have laid eggs between her ears. She must have been there for days. Her eyes are foggy, but as my hand comes near she starts moaning. Farah and I exchange a glance. I need to fix this. I’d need a putty knife scrape her legs off the road.

‘She can’t be on the road like this’

Farah says.

‘We need to fix this’.

My eyes are fixed on the cat.

‘I can’t watch this’.

She turns around and marches on, around the corner. There’s a tree there, she finds shelter from the rain. I know she feels trapped on the island.

I had to beat up a kid once, to save my honour. It was back in high school. I started off with a lousy punch, yet he immediately fell and curled up against a little tree that happened to witness the encounter. The kid started crying immediately. Both of us had watched enough movies to know how it was going to go down. Twice I kicked him in the tummy. Then I understood what I was doing and said:

‘You need to get up now, before I start crying myself’.

Alongside the road, I find a pile of rocks, sharp and big as a kid’s fist. They must’ve been dug up from a ditch nearby. I go through the pile, fail to find worthy ones. I should hurry. Now it has stopped raining, it’s all quiet. I can still hear the kitten:

‘meow’

While I wonder about this life demanding all these things I never asked for, I pick three unworthy rocks. When I strike the kitten’s neck with the sharp edge of the rock, her legs curl up from the road and her head locks into a freeze. Her tiny jaw starts quivering. Barely audible, she meows.

I look around, but I’m all alone. I run around the corner and look at Farah below the tree, she’s staring at the sea. Back in high school, we were in love. If we’re friends now, why am I doing this all by myself? I need to fix this. I hurry back to the kitten and, using the second rock, I strike again, again and again. Such a stubborn life. Sometimes it’s brittle and beautiful, not today.

Skittishly I caracole the critter. But my strikes are weak and the kitten refuses to die. Then there’s a sound in the distance, it’s the wind returning or it might be people. I’d better hurry.

I strike once more, using the third rock, the smallest and the sharpest. This time it feels different, a wet thump. I get up and sling the rock into the sea. It’s done now.

We can be friends. If I were Farah, I’d run from this as well. She can’t take lives, she’s a buddhist. And maybe I’m just not after all.

A muffled sound behind me:

‘meow’.

I can’t look back, slink off to my bike, back to Farah.