Human is very absent-minded today. I’ve been begging for food for the last five minutes, but she just keeps staring out dreamily through the window, reclining on her rocking chair. I don’t see what can be more interesting or important than my hunger. Normally, she’d either carry out my wishes or tell me to shut up. But right now, she is ignoring my existence completely! I decide to bite her foot, which works because she finally snaps out of whatever useless daydream she’s been having, and feeds me some of the leftover fish from lunch. I momentarily turn my focus on the snack, but as I chew on the fishbone, I remember Human’s odd behaviour a little while back. Weird.
Human comes home while everyone, including me, is taking a catnap (pun intended). No matter how deep my sleep is, I always wake with a start at the sound of her footsteps at the front gate. As usual, I run to the door and perk up my ears at the familiar clap-clap of her sandals on the stairs. Today, before she even reaches the garage, I smell something floral. She enters with a small bouquet of tiny white flowers, which she holds close to my face. I scrunch up my nose and sniff, discerning that they’re jasmines. I follow Human to her room, where she fills an empty vase with water and places the flowers in it. She places the vase on the windowsill gingerly and looks at the flowers fondly (how dare she?). I meow accusingly, at which she turns to me with a silly grin. I know that that grin wasn’t solely meant for me. Who gave her those flowers?
It’s getting dark, but Human still hasn’t come back. Her mother, whom I refer to as Human Senior, is petting me with a worried look. Suddenly, the phone rings with its unsettling shrill, making me jerk. Human Senior walks over to the living room to answer the call. I don’t know who she spoke with, but she seems a little relieved now. Human returns an hour later with a thick textbook under her arm. After dinner, she says to her parents that she’s turning in early. I might just as well call it a day.
Human is in the bathroom while I groom myself on the bed. When she emerges in her nightgown, her demeanor is completely changed. With wild eyes and slightly shaking hands, she opens the thick book lying on her desk and fishes out a folded sheet of paper. She lies on the bed and reads it, transfixed. I sniff the paper, but I smell the usual scent of papyrus and ink. I curl up into a ball by her side, hoping she would pull me closer. But she keeps reading the stupid thing! I can’t read, write or speak like my Human does, but I know for sure that whatever’s written in that letter is nonsense. Anything that diverts my Human’s attention from me is useless. Period!
I reluctantly wake up this morning to the voice of Human Senior scolding Human for taking too long to get ready. I peel open my eyes to see Human in a red sari, sticking a black teep on her forehead. She looks very pretty for a human. All of humanity doesn’t hold a candle to the beauty of a single cat, but my Human is one of the decent-looking ones of her kind. She usually wears minimal makeup to university, but today she has painted her face even more. Her long black hair, cascading down her back, seems smoother too. She applies a virtually unused perfume instead of the usual talc body spray under her armpits, grabs her handbag, and all but runs out of the door. I feel a little (okay, a lot) disheartened because she didn’t kiss me goodbye. I wonder, though. Why has Human dolled up today? What’s the occasion?
Human has a strange gleam in her eyes these days. She smiles more often, mostly to herself for no reason. The vase on the windowsill is hardly ever empty. There’s a growing pile of letters inside the drawer of her desk. I can tell from her body language even when she receives a new one. Some nights, she stays up later than usual, writing replies to those letters with her most prized fountain pen. This process is difficult for her, but I look forward to these nights. After scribbling on a loose sheet for some time, Human frowns and clucks her tongue in disappointment. Then, she balls up the paper and tosses it at me. I play with my new toy while she starts anew. This can go on for hours. By the time I fall asleep, Human is still hunched over her desk, face contorted in concentration, several paper balls littering the floor.
Today, Human comes home with not only a letter, but with a different scent and a cassette as well. Her face is so flushed with excitement when she comes in, that Human Senior asks her if she’s alright. Human brushes her off, blaming the heat outside. It certainly is hot today. Thankfully, I run to her room just in time to see her hastily shoving the objects in question in the drawer, her open handbag having been flung on her bed by then.
In the evening, I wake up from my nap with a growling stomach. The balcony, where I’ve been sleeping, is awash with moonlight. I paddle to Human’s room to find the door closed and the sound of music coming from inside. Too hungry to find out what’s going on, I go to the kitchen to bother Human Senior.
It isn’t until bedtime that I get to solve the mystery. Human has been playing the cassette on repeat all evening, only stopping when dinner was announced. As I nuzzle up to her, she reads and rereads the new letter, memorising every scrawl of ink. The strange smell on Human’s body is all but gone; it reminds me of Human’s father’s study and the weird pipe he smokes. It’s the only room in the house I’m not allowed in, since he doesn’t like our kind. The feeling is mutual.
There’s also another whiff completely alien to me. It’s definitely not Human’s, nor her mother’s. It smells different from any human I’ve ever known. Could it be the scent of another human? This is the last question that crosses my mind before I drift off.
It has finally dawned on me—Human is in love with another human! All the flowers and letters must be gifts from someone else. I’ve brought dead rats a few times to Human, but she is disgusted by them. So I figure Human doesn’t like my gifts, although she loves and cares for me, as she definitely should. But this other human seems to gift her the things she actually likes. Sometimes, she rereads the old letters along with the new ones. She beams and sighs happily while pouring over them. She also listens to the cassette at least once every day. It has an eclectic mix of songs; some are a bit loud and intense, while others are soft and melodious. But all the singers convey their deepest emotions in passionate voices.
Back when I was a street cat, I used to like a pretty ginger, and she reciprocated my feelings. We brought food for each other whenever we met. We used to show affection by nuzzling and grooming each other. Then, three years ago, the ginger disappeared from my neighbourhood. I assumed that she’d migrated. That was around the time I found Human.
What do Humans do when they’re with their loved ones? Do they also nuzzle and groom each other? It explains the foreign scent I sometimes find on Human’s body. I used to resent Human’s odd behavior and distracted state of mind in the beginning, but now that I know the reason, I’ve learned to accept it. Human is happy. Human still feeds me properly, so all is well.
I wake up to an empty bed in the middle of the night with a full bladder. Human isn’t in the bathroom, because the door is wide open. I relieve myself in the litter box under the sink and go out in search of Human. The whole house is dark, but my vision adjusts to it very quickly. I spot Human sitting on one of the armchairs in the living room, with the telephone receiver pressed to her ear. She’s listening to the voice on the other end with rapt attention. Then, she notices my presence, and I see the blood drain from her face. When she realises that it’s only me, she sighs in relief and whispers something to the other person. She beckons me to come closer. I run to her outstretched hand. She brings the receiver close to my mouth.
“Billu, say hi.”
I meow in reply. The receiver, or the voice from the receiver, gives a breathy chuckle. The sound is distorted by static, but it’s still pleasant.
“Hello, Mr Billu!” the other voice says. So, this is the other human.
I’ve seen Second Human’s face today. That’s what I call Human’s lover now. Human leaves her wallet on the dressing table while she’s taking a shower. I can’t say no to bank notes, so I climb on the table to inhale its intoxicating scent. I nudge the wallet open with my nose to get a better whiff; that’s when I see the photo inside the transparent fold. It is a young man of about Human’s age. His hair is black and wavy, about to flop beneath his ears. His eyes are dark; almond-shaped with long lashes. His most winning trait is his smile, wide and pure. He gives off an air of tenderness. No wonder Human likes him. If he looks so kind, I bet he loves our kind too.
Human’s parents quarreled today while she was out. It’s a weekend, so even the father is home. Human leaves soon after noon with some friends for lunch, dressed in a blue sari. She’s definitely going to meet him.
Human’s father is not happy with the increasing telephone bills for the last couple of months. He blames Human Senior for wasting too much time chatting with others over the phone. She counterattacks by accusing him of oversimplifying her use of spare time, which she doesn’t have in abundance because “There’s no one else to help me around the house all day except the chuta bua, is there?”
I know why the bills are so high. Human talks to Second Human on the phone almost every night, when everyone’s asleep. She should be careful.
It’s been raining all day. I missed my regular sunbathing on the rooftop. Even the balcony is wet, so I have no options but to stay indoors. Yet, in this awful weather, almost the whole house is empty. There’s only the bua and me. A shivering Human comes back a while after midday, her clothes and hair sopping wet. She understandably gets into the bathroom as soon as possible.
After a short while, she comes out of the shower with the towel wrapped around her head. She starts drying her hair, looking at herself in the mirror, but abruptly breaks down in tears. Covering her face with the towel, she quickly shuts the door and sits on the bed, sobbing into the fluffy cloth. Acting on instinct, I jump into her lap and try to lick her face. She drops the towel from her hands, looks at me through pained eyes, then hugs me to her chest. We stay like that for a long time.
I’ve never fantasised, let alone wished, to be a human. But I do now. I want to tell Human all the comforting things humans tell each other when they’re sad, but I can’t speak like them. Oh, I so wish I did!
Just like night and day, Human’s sadness is contrasted by the excitement buzzing around the house. Human’s parents are eagerly looking forward to something. They spend hours every evening in the study talking about who knows what, but it surely must be very important. Whatever it is, it doesn’t touch Human. I’ve never seen her so dejected before. She comes home from university now earlier than she did before. At home, she tries to go about her chores, but doesn’t say much. At night, she wets her pillow with tears until she falls asleep. The vase by the windowsill sits empty. She doesn’t write letters anymore. Doesn’t even look at the cassette. That’s why I stay closer to her these days. What happened between her and Second Human?
The telephone bill arrived today. Human’s father takes a glance at the paper, giving a smug and bitter smirk.
“I guess I was right.” He says to Human Senior, showing her the bill. She nods slowly.
Human doesn’t know anything about this conversation as she’s still asleep.
Human is not at home. A strange woman is sitting in the living room with Human Senior, about her age. I know from the first glance that her presence is unwelcome. She tried to pet me earlier, but I meowed angrily, disapproving of whatever news she brings. Human Senior shoos me away from the room, so I perch on one of the dining table chairs, a good vantage point from which to observe the stranger. At one point, she shows a photo to Human Senior. I can’t see what’s in the photo, but Human Senior likes it very much.
I have a feeling that whatever happens this afternoon is going to make Human unhappier than she already is. More than she deserves to be.
Someone rings the doorbell in the middle of the day. Who can this be? I paddle behind Human’s feet as she answers the door. There’s a man with a small package. Human signs a paper that he hands over. After the man is gone, Human looks puzzlingly at the package. It is enclosed in an envelope bordered with short, slanted red and blue stripes. I’ve only seen a few of these in my life, so it must come from someplace far away.
Human lives in a much smaller house now; with a man she tries loving but still hasn’t managed to. I miss my old territory, which was so much more open. But most of all, I miss the old Human. The gleam in her eyes that never really came back. She and the other human are nice and polite to each other, but they are from two completely different worlds. The other human doesn’t like me much, but he tries to adjust to my presence anyway. It’s another example of him being nice to Human, but still not heartfelt enough.
Human’s face crumples as she reads the address on the envelope. She runs to the bedroom and tears the paper open. There’s a CD case and a couple of folded pages stapled together. There’s no picture on the case, but something is scribbled on the CD. Human’s face is streaked with tears. I know she’s glad that the other human is not home.
After some deliberation, she chooses to listen to the CD first. She inserts it into the player on top of the chest of drawers. I expect Second Human’s voice to float from the speakers, but it’s another man’s voice; much softer, but as poignant as his would’ve been. The voice is heartbreaking and characterised by an ethereal warble. He softly croons in the beginning, backed up by simple instruments. Gradually, his heavenly voice rises to reveal a greater, deeper sorrow—it is the voice of someone who had to let a loved one go, along with his own heart. It is a voice that resonates with everyone else who has done the same.
She is the tear that hangs inside my soul forever.
Just like the song, Human’s silent weeping turns into sobs that shake her whole frame. I nuzzle and lick her face, but her tears just keep flowing. It’s a while before she calms down a little and picks up the letter. She reads and rereads it like the old days, until all her tears subside and she’s too tired to keep her eyes open.
She lays down on the bed to sink into an oblivion lasting for a few hours. But Human has been trying too hard to live in a state of forgetfulness for all these years. Funny how a simple package ruins all that effort.
I wonder about the strange mechanisms that operate human emotions, until I too fall asleep.