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Of love and stray cat
  • Love is not a bitch. Love is a spoiled stray cat. Untamed yet not unwanted. Every broken piece of glass is worth every soft purring. Every touch is worth every scratch. Every sneeze is worth every stupid smile. It is alright until your house is being torn down into a huge mess, your skin becomes infected, and you are suffocated to death by this little ball of fur. The cat does not care nonetheless. It comes and it goes. But you are here because you are a fool who forgets one simple fact: one never owns a cat; it is the cat that owns him. 


    My roommate reminded me instantly of a cat. A grumpy, dark, furry 6-feet-and-3-inch cat with no home of his own, yet refused to share his shelter with other beings. Every inch of the room bore his trace — scraps of sketching papers, pieces after pieces of used jackets and shirts (all black) and jeans, half a bar of chocolate crushed on the couch, bowls and plates left in the sink, and his favorite rock music blaring from the speaker all day, even his perfume still refusing to let go of the air. My first impression was simple, nothing went beyond the common expectation: he was a typical punk-ass bitch and this place was a typical college kid room, after all. But, sadly, it took me some time to learn that it was not.


    I always loved enigmas, puzzles, riddles, chess games, all of them. But nothing was harder to crack open than human beings. It was not a cliché to say so. Even in games, it was a human who plays against you, or who created such mysteries to mind-fuck you out of pleasure. But the worst, really, was a human who embodies all secrets of the universe, an unsolvable being who walked past you every morning and left you wonder and clueless. It was not fun at all to unravel that walking puzzle who made you want to crack his brain open, well, in a very literal sense.

    Why are you so difficult? Is it necessary? I wanted to ask. But never. One should not let his disadvantages be acknowledged by the opponent. So we sat still, silently; he on the stool with a painting brush in his hand and me on the dining chair looming over tons of textbooks. First week went by in this manner. It seemed okay, like two different planets whose orbits never came across but pushed each other out of the way with anti-gravitational force just to stay safe and not explode. We mutually drew an invisible line and none of us had desire to step over them. So, we carefully moved around this small cell and avoided meeting each other's eyes to prevent unnecessary conversations and not to burden ourselves with a greater degree of uneasiness than we already felt.

    Until one day, I heard him tear his painting in progress down and broke the wooden easel into pieces. Crude, loud, and violent. He did it like I was not there at all, like he had done it thousand times before. 

    I stared at him. He stared back. This might have been the first time we officially looked at one another. His eyes were light brown, bordering between shades of hazel and amber. And he had a lot of freckles and moles on pale skin. What a striking discovery, poor me.

    "Don't worry. I can fix that, of course." He looks at a piece of wood in his hand. Well, that was the longest sentence he had ever said to me. Back to the beginning, we did not even introduce ourselves and I did learn his name from the dormitory letter instead. Now, considering the current situation, I began to imagine myself end up in a body bag, being a potential victim of an aggressive, sociopath roommate. 

    But I just nodded at him that night. In the next morning, the easel was restored into one whole piece again. His painting was left scraped on the floor. I took it with the rest of the garbage (it was, inevitably, an unspoken agreement that I had to take the trash out). Looking at his work, I unexpectedly found myself feeling sorry for him. Because it was not bad. Not bad at all. 


    He delighted in a morning cereal like kids did. He never bought cartons of milk, but did not refuse to pay if being asked. He always left a toothpaste tube and shampoo bottles open. He often wore the shirt on the wrong side and never tied his shoelaces properly. One day he would go for some punk-rock underground bands, but another day it could also be Rachmaninoff's piano concertos. His fingers were forever stained with colors — water, oil, acrylics — so were all furniture in the room as well as his hair when the hand combed through the black mane unconsciously. I never saw him outside the room, not to say in the college. At the end of the day when I came back from a day spent at the library, he would sit there, near the window, looking intensely at his work. I barely saw him go back to his own room as well. So to speak, this giant black cat marked the common area as his own. Gradually and inevitably, it was like he was the last sight I saw before my bedroom door closed and the first thing to behold when my day started — an idiot cuddled a ragged grey blanket, sleeping soundly like there was no tomorrow. Oh, how I hated to see his long legs stretching out from the couch that was too small for him. He did not even bother to take his boots off, damnit. 

    As human beings would finally learn to adapt to a new environment, I thought I was used to all of it. But again, I was wrong. 

    And then the cat came. 


    I could not remember exactly what we were arguing over; maybe it was how he used my research report as sketching papers when a strong flow of imagination flooded over him. I recently found out that his lack of consideration at the level of toddler annoyed me so much I could not remain calm anymore. And he was looking at me now like I was an idiot, not the other way around. 

    "Relax," he said. "I sketch something good here." 

    I almost shouted at him, going outwardly berserk. But within a second, the culprit looked startled, his eyes widened, and then, to my fucking surprise, he jumped out off the window behind me. This fucking numbskull sociopath. 

    Well, there was a little balcony that connected to the ladder leading to the rooftop. So he did not foolishly commit suicide and became a burden to janitors who had to scrub his idiot face out of the concrete floor. However, my heart beat as fast as the sound of his boots trampled over the rusty steel. And Thump! There he was. My roommate stood proudly on the balcony, a cat in his hands. 

    "Look! I find a cat!" He stated the obvious.

    I did not have a clue how to respond — to his recently crazy action, to how he smoothly dodged the current problem by running into the new one, to his bright smile that made me notice a little gap between his front teeth for the first time, and to that poor-looking cat. 

    Instantly, there came a burst of laughter. It was also the first time I heard him laugh. The day went crazier and more surreal every passing minute. My roommate was just holding the cat to the level of my face, glancing to left and right at me and it, and laughing hysterically. 

    "H—He looks like you! He's so fucking ginger!" He said, almost out of breath. If it were someone else, I might take this remark as an insult, like I always did to everyone's comment on my hair since kindergarten. But it was him, the maniac in my house — so I just stared and watched him laugh until his stomach hurt. 

    Well, the cat was so fucking ginger and my roommate was a fucking madman, after all. 

    "He is apparently a stray cat." 

    "How do you know?"

    "He has no collar. And he looks so worn out. Come on."

    I never imagined myself having a conversation with him, especially in this topic. Watching a grown man with a spirit of mother cat pampering her own baby was somehow ridiculously funny. But it was also exasperatedly absurd to see him being a lot nicer to the cat than to human beings, i.e. me. 

    "Stray cats are often alarmed, running away when people are near; this one is not. Plus, they will do everything to get away from you. This kid looks tamed enough, I think."

     "How do you know?" He snapped. 

    So I showed him a WikiHow page on "how to handle a stray cat" (it actually existed. Very knowledgeable indeed).

    "Well, maybe he's nice to me because I'm a nice man."

    I could not believe he dared saying this out matter-of-factly, shamelessly even. This man was impossible. Before I could manage to respond properly (again), he already indulged himself in modifying a scrappy paper box into a cozy cat house with all his artistic skills. The man that could hardly handle himself was going to handle the cat that he just had caught by himself out of nowhere. Jesus Christ, and that cat was purring contently on his lap at the very moment. 

    I only watched them silence as if a cat got my tongue. So this way I let it be. So this way, without knowing, I actually got two cats in my home.


    "Hey, Ginger." 

    Automatically, I turned around, before feeling immediately regret in the next moment. Brown eyes met mine, an annoying smile followed. 

    "I call the cat, not you."

    "I know." Damn my reflex resulting from childhood nightmares. I turned back to finish my essay, trying to ignore the fool crawling on the floor who tried to get the cat's attention. 

    "Hey, Ginger."


    "Hey, Ginger! Can you hear me?" 

    I shot my fiery glance at the bastard who was simply grinning and whose eyes were twinkling shamelessly. So boyish, fucking immature. It was like I never knew him at all. Who the hell are you? Can't you be normal and consistent? And in that moment, seeing him like this, he started to scare me — for a new, different reason. 

    "You son of a bitch" was all I said. 

    He laughed. 

    "Have you ever had a cat?" I asked. 

    "Nope. You?" 

    "No, never. I actually like them, though. I'm always drawn to them when I find one, you know, trying to lure it with food and stuff. And yet, despite how much I like them, I decide I cannot and will not own one." 


    "I don't like having things I cannot understand and control. A pet, especially cat, is definitely one of them." 

    "So you surely don't like people too." 

    "Yes, and to be honest, you are a lot worse than any person I know. Sometimes you remind me of a cat. Gosh, I want to say that to your face all along. I feel so relieved now."

    He pondered my answer for a while, looking serious enough to astound me. What now? I wondered. The cat climbed over his shoulder. The dark and bright orange strikingly mixed. 

    "Thinking reversely, what if you are not the one who decides whether to have a cat or not? What if, in this story, you are actually a cat?" 

    I stared at him blankly. This time we did not wage eye-glaring war with each other. He got up from the floor, heading to his room, and it was the cat who sat observing me instead. 

    Damn, he was right. I never thought of that before. 

    I continually looked for any notice for a lost cat around the neighborhood and finally found none. I went to the pet shop two weeks later and bought a brown collar, dried food, a litter box, and even stupid toys. I took him to the vet to get vaccinated and later learned that he was actually a she. Apart from stains of colors, the furniture started to bear the cat's claws. So were all shirts with ginger hair all over. Little by little, another cat took over the whole space, co-living with the old one. She started to invade my desk, my dinner plate, my bed, occupying anywhere she wanted, and I humbly surrendered. I started calling her with the name known only to me. Different names did not matter since she would come to you at her own will anyway, unlike my roommate who enjoyed saying it out loud just to annoy me. 

    Once again, all went well. I was coming to get used to having two cats around. Incomprehensible, inexplicable, inconceivable why I let myself involve in this, but it seemed naturally fine as it had to be. Except for one thing, unnerving and unsettling feelings deep in my chest started to get itchy. It was both frustrating and inviting like the cat's playful bites, when my heart began to clench at the sight of two cats lying together on the sofa in the lazy, hot afternoon or being in deep sleep late at night. 

    Unfortunately, before I could figure out what was the meaning of those bites, without any warning signs, one cat was gone. 


    The cat had been away for a week and my roommate acted like a time bomb. My eyes followed his moves to the window every morning, hearing him sign over a bowl of milk that still looked the same as a couple of nights before except for the smell. I even heard him meow softly when stooping down to inspect some dark corners and go through piles of stuffs he carelessly kept. I had never seen him this active since we had shared the room for two months. This incorrigible bastard, one day he would make me laugh and cry for him. 

    Then one day, walking home on the pavement, I saw a ginger cat get hit by a car. Funny enough, I found myself able to recall this in slow motion pictures: a ball of orange fur in the middle of the street — running but too slow for the car, and Bam!, the crash. The last image that refused to fade from my eyes was the cat jumping up so high while its legs were weirdly twisted.

    I heard people squeal and the sound of tires screeching loudly when the car abruptly stopped, followed by a series of rear-hitting crashes. Chaos was caused by one cat and human's generosity. Someone crossed the street to rescue it.

    I kept walking fast, never looking back. I walked until reaching the room within minutes, slamming the door shut. He, with those damn brown eyes, turned to look questioningly at me. Too embarrassed to admit, it took all my strength not to let my tears flow and confess to him what had just happened. Ha, how a sensitive kid I'd become because of one stupid cat. 


    The first time I saw him out in public, I was sure he was looking for the cat. That scatterbrain never ceased to surprise me. He drew her picture, which was quite impressive, and secretly attached them on notice boards and street poles. There was something ridiculously beautiful about finding things that never belonged to us in the first place. If the cat had the previous owner that never looked for her, it would be heartbreaking irony of some sort to see this man deliberately devote himself in the quest of the creature he never came to know or understand, but still love and care about.

    "Maybe she isn't lost. She just runs away. That's different." I did not know why I said that. He glared at me so hard that I almost thought he was going to punch me in the face. But he just handed me notices and silently signaled me to follow his action. And I did.

    Walking home, bare hands, shaking from cold evening weather, he bought me a cup of coffee. Black, no sugar, which he somehow knew all along but never mentioned. I made sure he neither lost his mind nor bribed the vendor to poison me. Again, never lack of an attempt to amaze me.

    "You are right," he said without preamble. "It's hard to find things that are not lost but just get away from us — on their own, of course." 

    "Everything is not ours, after all." I tried to be philosophically cynical as much as I could. But when he smiled and even chuckled bitterly, it was so sad that I began to lose faith in my own words. I did not believe in what I said anymore. 

    Secretly, I prayed. 


    The cat never came back. So I became the only Ginger he would call. And he then became the only cat in the room once again. Those expensive cat stuffs were blanketed with dust among new picture frames and second-hand books that started to occupy most of the space. Well, at least, he did not try to randomly kidnap any cat he saw anymore. Thanks God for that. 


    I never had a cat before. I had owned one for three weeks; she was gone. As for another cat, I did not know how long I would have him. One never owns a cat, I said from the beginning. But, honestly, everyone hopes they can — now including me.


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