“You’re a honey badger”, she mutters out of the blue. To consider it a slight detour from the conversation would have been an understatement. However, as a person who knew The Girl who became a Cat well enough, I decided to indulge her slightly uncanny, slightly intriguing remark
“Why do you say that?”. Perhaps there was a brief period of pause, cats usually don’t have to overthink about their impulses, before she started talking again. “Well, you’re cute and adorable. Cuddly too.”. If this hadn’t been a regular occurrence, the essence of my constitution being described as cute or cuddly, I would’ve been taken aback. “But if you wanted to you could take down elephants. By going for their balls, obviously”. I couldn’t help but chuckle. I felt a wave of affection for the former human, perhaps marked by a degree of sympathy even. Maybe, just maybe, if she hadn’t turned into a cat…
The day started out just like any other. She woke up to the sound of the caws of the Indian House Crow1, not the fairy-tale high-pitched singing of bluebirds and nightingales she hoped for. But she made it work with whatever bird hoped outside her window, which occasionally included the aggressive cries of a lone Coucal2. As she began to get ready for school, the twelve-year-old recalled the hartal3happening that day. The weary expression anyone could easily read, frowns on her forehead anticipating the drudgery of school, suddenly faded away. Tossing her bright pink ribbons, ones that made her school-mandated pigtails possible, she raced down the stairs.
Draping her matte blue saree4 around the waist, the mother was getting ready to go somewhere. At first glance, it was apparent that there was no particular excitement about the event – most probably a redundant society meeting or family event filled with pesky relatives. She was in her late 40s, although her face aged a decade more. A representative of all the working mothers across India, husbands either slave laboring in Dubai or high-paid developers in the States, those premature wrinkles were sufficient symptoms for concluding her condition – the qualms and stress of NRI5 wives, the abandoned brides constituting the other side of Indian Economy’s backbone.
“Lunch is in the fridge. Your brother is gonna be home today. Get his help to heat up the food. And don’t watch too much TV!”, instructed the quintessential middle-class working mother as she reversed the car through the gates. She waved her mother off, looking forward to a holiday without parental supervision. Her older brother, occupied with his Samsung Galaxy6, a novelty at that time, slumped against the couch cushions. It seemed that colleges were subject to the strike too.
Her father sent a DVD of the movie Princess and the Frog last week. Not yet released in India, one of the perks of having an NRI dad was exclusive access to new Disney Princess Movies. For her, that outweighed the cons of not seeing her father. That small element of predictability was the only feeling of safety she had.
Another perk of having an NRI father was, simply put, being rich. Unless he was a member of the any-collar slave force in the Middle East. An unusual occurrence, reserved for the financially rich at the time, the house had two television sets. One in the living room, and one in the master bedroom. The Master Bedroom had been reduced to mother’s fortress of solitude, apart from the occasional nights of deafening thunder and lightning. After the annoyed stares and reluctant murmurs, her mother would eventually cave in, nights when the fortress would cease to be alone.
No food in the Master Bedroom! The unwritten, yet well-understood rule of the house often served as a practical scheme. For the working mother, who barely got to see her kids, any avoidable house chores were to be prevented. However, today was different. Although she could watch the movie in the living room, the presence of her brother was a source of uneasiness. The eyes of judgment, even when not visible, were ever-present. Not to mention the snarky remarks. Depends on how his mood would be that day.
She didn’t want to risk it. Watching the highly-anticipated movie, laying on satin sheets, underneath it the cushy, relaxing bed. All this along with a bag of chips and a small bottle of Frooti7. The perfect holiday for an Indian kid. Gathering the food, along with paper tissues to prevent any unexpected spills, she started playing the movie.
Halfway through the movie, she was taken aback by muffled knocks on the bedroom door. Maybe the lunch had been heated up. She opened the door, expecting to see her brother. The person on the other side looked the same, except for his eyes. Those eyes didn’t belong to the person she knew previously. That’s where the memory ends. Perhaps her brain, with in-built mechanisms passed across years of evolution to stave off predators, was trying to protect her. Years later, even she recognizes it occasionally. However, opening the Pandora’s box still remains terrifying. The box was put there for a reason. And the consequence? Immediately after that, the girl turned into a cat.
Over the years, her progression into a cat became the new normal. The mother, who failed to protect her even upon knowing, and the predator regularly aim arrows of blame at the feline. The act of self-deception, not a stranger to the household. Even the fundamental act of thinking was taken away from her. For the Pandora’s box awaits her. She just isn’t ready, maybe she never will be. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you just makes you weaker.
“You’re not the same person anymore”, another detour from the honey-badger conversation. “The one who wrote the story, you’re not that person anymore”, she spoke softly. Do I hint at a sense of sadness? Maybe I do. “No. I’m not”. Perhaps she already knew – she was holding onto somebody who wasn’t there. And I couldn’t be someone I was not anymore. The cat had found a home, for a brief period of time, her only home. A void now filled the place where it once stood. Maybe, just maybe, if she hadn’t turned into a cat.
- Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 26). House crow. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_crow
- Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 27). Greater Coucal. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_coucal
- (in South Asia) a closure of shops and offices as a protest or a mark of sorrow.
- a garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from South Asia.
- Non-Resident Indian
- the 2009 model
- Frooti is a mango-flavored drink sold in India