Several flashes appear out of nowhere. But something caused their appearance, which is not so mysterious as the reverberating sounds that follow thereafter. These sounds seem to strike any creature that hears it numb. It is so numbing that all other feelings are excluded as one yields to its demands as a form of purge. Yes; a deep purge that seems to cleanse one’s soul and mind, leaving one refreshed. It goes without being said that beyond the inky shadows, there’s a glimmer of hope and it comes from a light from a street lamp, dulled with grime and dirt. What a beauty!

Emboldened by the dying summer breeze, I push forward towards what seemed like a flash of light. Only that as I approach, I observe it receding, and I realize that the light was actually static; a car’s headlight with a cracked glass front. It appears as though it made every effort to remain alight, after perhaps facing the challenges of having to cut through the darkness of the deep alleys, so riddled with the menace of man’s whims and caprices. But I remain unperplexed as I smell something akin to forlornness from the dark recesses of the cold street.

I think of the wooden box, some antique with ornate brass at the corners crafted in form of smiling cherubs. I call it my “good luck” box, especially because of them. I mean the cherubs, with their benevolent smiles that seem to fill me with hope and strength. I would be 17 next month, but most people thought I looked much older. Perhaps it is my eyes that seem to be filled with wisdom, wisdom from learning a thing or two from my two older brothers. We’re all members of the “Crusaders,” a group set on healing the society of some meaningless acts carried out all too frequently.

Tucking my hands casually in my denims, with a few rips—mostly from being a little worn from frequent laundering than any fashion statement—I move like one being pushed. Maybe the change in direction of the wind seems to propel me forward and I willingly let it. I glance at a pack of yellow plastic crates by a corner, arranged like some sort of mini-castle. Someone’s idea of a joke, perhaps. I was still thinking about the architectural design as two figures seem to magically appear from behind it. The area is suddenly too lonely as I think of the light that I had passed some minutes earlier, the light from the cracked glass of a car’s headlamp.

I was yanked off the ground, like I weighed no more than a feather. My two companions look every bit like dopey-eyed teenagers who are a little bit impatient with how the system works. They’re nearly my height and strong, too, considering that one briefly kept my feet, encased in scuffed, old Nikes, off the ground, as I wondered what they were after. Perhaps some money. Next, I was abruptly released and I struggle to maintain my balance. Perhaps they realized that I was a girl, and I nearly kick myself for that thought. What is so special if I was a girl?

Then the two begin to laugh. What a raucous sound they make. I consciously rub my palms together. “You wouldn’t happen to have some weed there, bro?” one of them ask. Oh, they thought I was male. Again, I nearly kick myself for the slight elation I felt. It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. I think of my brothers. They should be at the meeting now. I realize suddenly that I hadn’t given a reply to their question. “No, I don’t,” I say simply. I wished they would just disappear behind those crates from where they emerged from in the first place.

A sound seems to reach us suddenly. The two exchange a brief look and make a quick exit into the deepening shadows. I don’t think I want to stay back and say hello to whoever that was coming, so I move away, at a slow run, only pausing briefly to look at the pile of yellow crates that had been structured to look like a mini-castle. The pizzeria should be just around the corner, I think, as I walk briskly towards it. A few people seem to mill about, glad to be out in the early summer evening. They are probably glad about the cool weather, which is a welcome change from the usual warmness.


Grabbing the pizza box as I make my way homewards, I think of the catman. He is my own vision of Santa. Everything about him was all merry and good cheer, except that I do not hear any sleigh bells. I had wandered to the old woodhouse right across the street where I lived. It wasn’t actually a woodhouse, but a mail box, built like a woodhouse. I was eleven at the time and a menace to my brothers as I always wanted to tag along with them, much to their exasperation. But I had looked up to them as role models, especially after Dad pulled a disappearing act on us.

The faint smell of the pizza I was carrying seems to unravel so many hidden thoughts as I walk back home, my thoughts still on the catman. And I had to step aside as a dog idled close to me. The pizza may have drawn it towards me in the first place. It was on a leash, however, and the owner jerked it none too gently and I almost gave him a kick for doing that. I was thinking of another dog that had suffered a cruel fate a few years back, and I wonder at the cruelty in most people. It was a lucky evening for me, the day I met the catman.

I had approached the woodhouse/mail box one evening and seen a crudely constructed wooden bench with a folded paper on it. The breeze had silently flipped it open to a particular page, like it was telling me to read it. As if gently guided, I had moved closer to stare at the page, and was surprised and confused at the image I saw. A cat! It seemed to be smiling at me, like I was an old friend come to check up on him. There was a smart-looking red collar on his neck too, from which a gold medal hung. I tried to smile back, but thought it was silly of me. But I did so, nonetheless.

The smell of wood and leather had reached me then as I continued to look at the photo of the cat, with image size of about five square inches. I had turned around abruptly, not sure of whom or what to expect. But there wasn’t any need to be afraid, for it was Santa standing right close to me. At least that was what I thought, given the genial smile and a friendly wink that seemed to hold promises of gifts. And it appeared that I was right, especially with what happened later. At eleven, I thought that this was a dream come true. He handed a Snickers bar to me and I took it without any pause. Mother would have considered this as being ill-mannered, but I hadn’t minded. After all, this was no stranger, but Santa.

We had sat down on the bench quietly and he still continued to smile. He had the folded paper in his hand and he was pointing at the picture that I was studying earlier: the smiling tabby. At least that was what it looked like to me, rather than a calico. “That’s a lovely cat,” I said. He had given a small nod of agreement. “My cat,” he had replied simply. And the way he said it made me wonder at what could have brought on that note of sadness. I didn’t have long to wait, however, as he recounted briefly what took place exactly a week before our dear Isidore, a good-natured Labrador, was rudely snatched from us in an unfortunate accident. A reason why my dear brothers started the Crusaders.

Our house is just a few meters away and the pizza box is beginning to feel heavy as my mind fills with so many thoughts that are better left alone. But like a float that continues to bob on a water surface, these thoughts keep turning up. I may as well try to submerge a float without denting it. The events of that evening of nearly six years ago had actually made a great impression on me and I don’t mind in the least. I have my good luck box to prove it, after all. I still kept it, and my mother and two brothers are aware of the story behind the box, and identify with it.

So, I had waited for the catman to clarify what he meant by his desolate reply: “my cat.” Giving a slight cough, he had said, “Basil was hit by a drunk driver.” I nearly gasped out aloud. And I must have had such an admirable control over my emotions, being eleven. Basil must be the cat’s name, I had thought. I could imagine how he felt at that moment. I didn’t know what suitable reply to give to this, except to say that I was sorry. He seemed to understand, however, as he rubbed his hands together, as if to perhaps ward off the chill that such a tragic incident brought each time it was mentioned.

We had allowed some minutes to pass by, quietly, without saying a word. It was as if we had a mutual agreement to use that silent moment, in solemn remembrance of Basil. I did understand the deep bond one could forge with a dog or a cat. After all, I had experienced nearly the same thing. I made a gesture for him to give me the paper, and he did so. Perhaps that was the time I started linking him with the cat in the paper, especially as my mind had automatically conjured up images of him with his cat and the similarity in their genial smiles. I had studied the picture of the cat more intently this time. I realized suddenly that more minutes had passed by more quickly than I had thought and Mother would soon start wondering where I must have gone to.

I had quickly murmured excuses to the man and run back home. I hadn’t wanted to get into trouble with Mum, who was acting really weird at the time, especially after Dad left and was never heard of again. It seemed I was in luck, for she was just laying out the dishes on the table for dinner and I could hear loud noises coming from my brothers’ room. They shared the same room and were probably playing a game of backgammon. “Oh, there you are,” Mum had said with a slight frown. “And I thought you were in your room.” I had said something about being with the catman in reply. She had paused briefly as she arranged the dishes, looking at me strangely, and that was when I realized that perhaps I had said too much. “Just went for a walk, Mother,” I had said finally, moving straight to my room.

I hear a few shrill whistles as I got close to our private walkway, lined with rough-looking hedges, still reflecting on what happened since my first meeting with the catman some years ago. Two separate, shrill-sounding whistle-calls reach me. Heart beating urgently, I look around to determine where they came from, but saw no one. Then I noticed two small figures running away into the deepening shadows. Probably kids up to some mischief. I silently gave a shrug as I walked the remaining paces towards the house.

I eventually reached the front door of the building, an old red stucco house, which was my home. I glance backwards, towards where the woodhouse/mail box used to be, but it had been replaced with one made of metal. It looked ugly in comparison. I wonder about the catman. I had not seen him since I turned 13. I think of the ornately decorated wooden box he had given me. I was confused at first when he gave it to me. I had felt awkward, accepting a gift from a grieving Santa. They are usually cheery and jolly.


For all installments of “Remembering the Catman,” click here.