I’m on the way to school this frigid Kuwaiti morning. That is, I think I’m on my way. I try starting my Audi.  It won’t budge; could be frozen.  It’s hellish cold for Kuwait. The desert wind blows so fierce, sometimes the sky turns orange. You can’t see your feet before you step on them. When I give my engine, another go I hear something odd. “You’re imagining things again,” Rami always says. Rami’s my husband of eleven sweet years. Life without him would be zero degrees, whereas now it’s torrid. I turn the key again. A pitiful cry like a heart caught in a trap. All right; all right. No use trying to start the damn thing. I’ll be late for class, but that’s better than not being there, my pig principal yelling into my cell, “Get here, Miss, or forget tenure.” Tenure? That’s a laugh. When do they ever give Aussies tenure in Kuwait? Two more years of teaching and Rami and I are outta here.  On to Oman, the white kingdom by the sea or smoggy Beijing, where the pay compensates for emphysema.

I get out of my vehicle and lift the bonnet slowly, carefully, fearing some creature might jump at me, strangle me or gnaw me into fleshy pieces. “There’s a lot to gnaw on,” Rami always says as we spoon to sleep.

But there, imprisoned by the fan, is the biggest cat I’ve ever seen, like some feline escaped from the Taronga Park Zoo. The fan blades cut the soft black fur of its stomach.  Its entrails spill from the wound, bloodying the metal blades. My stomach turns, hands sweat inside my sheepskin mitts. I try to run but can only stagger as the cries tear at my heart. Finally, I gather the strength to call security. “Salim-Salim,” I scream into my cell phone, “Come.”

He hesitates, his voice thick with breakfast. “I come soon.”

“Not soon, now,” I holler.  “Emergency.”

Salim arrives in a gust of sand like a disheveled spirit from Arabian Nights, turban askew, beard mottled with bits of rice. “What is it, miss?” he says, poking beneath the bonnet. He vomits his breakfast as the creature lashes out. “Sorry, miss, I can’t—can’t—“ Wiping his mouth with his turban, he totters back toward his shed. I hear the hose running as he tries to clean himself.

Desperate, I dial my husband. He answers, his voice sluggish. “Rami, you must come. I need you. It’s—it’s—“

“I’ll come, Habibti, my love, I’ll come.  Give me some time. I just—just—“

“No, you must come now, Rami.”

My husband usually comes immediately. That’s the kind of relationship we have. But this time, he hesitates, as if somehow, he intuits that this might be beyond him. At last, he arrives, his eyes full of sleep, his breath smelling of cigarettes and coffee. “Hayati, my light,” his arms are around me. “What is it?”

I tremble leaning into his chest. “Look—look under the bonnet.”

His face pales as he ducks under the hood. He sways almost as if he were drunk. He pulls his cell phone from the pocket of his blue jeans. “I’ll call the mechanic,” he gasps.  “I—I can’t handle this.”

“You have to, Rami. We have to. It’s too early for the mechanic.”

“I’m calling him anyway. I’ll leave a message. It’s urgent.”

The creature howls as we near it again. “It’s okay, baby,” I plead. “It’s okay…” But the cat only snarls.

“It must have—have snuggled in to stay—stay warm,” Rami stutters, peering into its glistening yellow eyes.

“It’s crying, Rami.”

“How could it not?”

“I’m—I’m afraid to touch it. Those—those claws—“

“We have to, Habibti. We can’t just leave it suffering like this. The mechanic might not arrive.”

“I’m not going near it again, I’m not. Take the damned car and shove it. I don’t want it. I never want to drive again.” I start to run, tears blinding me, perspiration changing the winter morning into the swelling heat of summer.  Exhausted, I sink into an alley beside our apartment block, where I hope no one can find me, where this nightmare can pass. A bleak wind blows sand into my eyes, my ears, covers me with debris, old newspapers, and discarded candy wrappers, all the refuse of Kuwait that forever litters the streets and byways. I want to sleep here forever like some homeless vagrant with no today and no tomorrow. But something is lifting me from my coffin of rubbish. Rami is holding me tight, stroking my hair to calm me.

“The mechanic has come,” he whispers. “You can start the car. The creature is free.”

I watch the cat drag itself along the sand. A trail of blood follows. Its black fur bristles as it passes me. Its yellow eyes glare in the morning light, as if it were accusing me of cowardice, accusing Rami, accusing Salim. All of us afraid of pain in the computer world we inhabit.

“It will disappear for a time. Heal its wounds in the sand,” the mechanic says, wiping his blood soaked hands on his uniform.


“Who knows; desert cats are strange. You might see it again next year looking for a warm place to hide. Always check beneath the bonnet.”