The feline was no friend to man at this place. Or rather man was no friend to the feline. Would you be known a friend to another if you received hostility with none directed back? The aroma of chunks and bones, and other roasted remains of prey that wafted into the pink nostrils of the cat were tempting. A mangy beast was not so concerned with the terms of co-existence with such stimulation about the air. And what was the word an omniscient one would use to describe its manner of walking? Such matters shall be left un-addressed for the present. There is seduction in the air! Not such that drives my kind to those noisy painful sessions, but the atmosphere’s gestures were suggestive of a sensuous experience. There is seduction in the air! A meaningful affair was at hand, not a dirty chase where the bliss is too short to matter to me. There is seduction in the air! It inspires no irksome impulse but the very following of this trail is fulfilling. Here the cat sat, eyeing one particular family, beyond other. There they sat well aware and so indifferent to the eyes that stared at them with longing.
“The chutney is probably old, don’t you eat it.”
The woman on the table glared at her youngest daughter, who responded with a timid expression on her face. The over-hanging bulb on the electric wire, extended like a streamer, made her eyes sparkle. A piece of nan drenched in a brown fluid was held in her hand as she stared back at her mother. She dared not move while in the line of fire; not even to lower her hand.
“Let her eat it if she wants,” said the man who had a good portion of the same the substance in his plate.
The woman’s eyes widened to sparkle on a different premise. “Would you have her vomiting at midnight?”
The man rolled up his sleeves before putting three of the dozen kebabs into his plate. “She wants to eat it, let her eat it. We came here to enjoy.”
“On her head then. You enjoy waking up to bend her over the commode,” the woman said as she looked away, quite irritated and stiff.
The man ignored her and pulled a nan into his plate, holding it from the rim to ensure that he didn’t burn his hand. He used his hand to beat down the heat in the same way as one would stamp out a fire. His daughter solemnly looked at him, awaiting one hint of approval, determined not to look at her mother or be locked in Medusa’s trance once more.
The father sensed the yearning that was being projected towards his downward gazing head. He looked at the youngest of his offspring and beckoned her to eat. The meekness remained on her face as she sampled her victory, as though a stubborn scar from the scathing earlier. She scrunched her nose and jerked her face as the sourness ran from her tongue down to her throat.
Next to them sat another pair from the same pack. The boy was awaiting the platter to be passed to him with his arms folded.
“And your reason for having a problem with this person is what exactly?” said his elder sister as she passed him the platter.
“I simply won’t play nice with this person,” he said with an attempt at a mock-sugary voice that simply was unfeasible with the depth of his real one. Satisfied with the way he perceived the voice in his own mind, he proceeded to eat his portion.
“Really? How come? What twisted qualm have you thought of with him?”
“He isn’t a player himself; he doesn’t have any ‘connections’. He’s just a free-loader hoping to shake hands with some foreign professor some day. Just a voluntary schmuck for real alumni who are sent on these conferences. He finds venues for them and organizes their events when they bless our country with a visit to teach us how to write essays as though we were retards,” said the boy with rapid hand gestures and varying levels of enthusiasm.
“Still! They’re alumni’s after all,” the girl’s voice relayed frustration with hints of encouragement. She always mixed up her façade and her composure.
“They’re in the same boat as me. They have no real influence. They’re aides who work like dogs to make sure they can stay in the University which they themselves can’t afford. They’re the unlucky sods who are sent to the third-world countries because the real professors can’t waste their time doing so nor risk their hides here.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. There has got to be a limit to this cynical phase you’re going through. But you’re going that far in your assumptions…just another exscuse for you to procrastinate indefinitely,” she subtly expressed anger in her voice.
He rolled his eyes as he pocketed kebab in his piece of nan. “You really think I’m stupid enough to let an actual opportunity fly by?”
“Yes! Just talk to the fellow!”
“I’ve talked to him plenty,” he said, quite resigned to prioritizing food over the current topic.
“Asad, stop stuffing your bloody face and talk for two seconds!”
“Online! He’s a complete khwar who spends his time glorifying himself on an online forum. He mentally marks his territory and should some hack come and dare to say something ‘idealistic’ there, he’ll start his jihad of scrutiny against them. A twenty-two year old who picks on teens to feel better about himself. He approaches it by idolizing the second best of every field or someone even more obscure just to label the best as some-sell out or poster-boy. Stupid kid’s who come online to rant among idiots like themselves find this well-informed decrepit sitting there waiting. It’s just pathetic. And he creates this brooding; ‘we are not amused’ intellectual persona about him, God knows to impress whom since he’s too good for everyone.”
“That’s your problem with him? He’s a cynic like you?”
“Don’t patronize me, you know I hate it. This person has no talent yet the personality to become-” he took a small bite and made a gesture for her to wait as pundits do as though the person listening is ready to leave. “I am who I am and I am not geared up to become one of those liberal economics teachers who are thought cool because they swear in class. Nor one of those stupid columnists who’ll pick another agenda every week regardless of how asinine it is. That’s what he is, subversive without substance. Subversive without substance! Sounds cool no?”
“You may not think it, but you have a lot of growing up to do.”
He suddenly grabbed his bottle of coke. He had bitten into a piece of green-chilli in the kebab.
He suddenly grabbed his bottle of coke. He had bitten into a piece of green-chilli in the kebab.
“Use a straw, you pig,” the girl’s own mouth was busy chewing as she gave him a look of contempt.
The mother picked up the bowl of chutney and started sniffing it suspiciously in a manner familiar to her spectator.
“Honestly! Stop it! This is a public place,” said the father in the same subtle voice that his eldest child had inherited from him.
“Then they shouldn’t be serving this. It smells vulgar,” she said with disgust. “Unless we create a scene they’ll get away with it.”
“It’s just fine. Besides it came for free,” her husband said now exasperated.
“That’s no exscuse for serving something rotten to a customer,” she responded in that tone wives assume when they experience a sudden calling to a higher cause.
The little one turned and sat backwards on her chair, now bored with her food and the hissing competition perpetuated by it. With her knees on the cushion, only her eyes reached high enough to sneak a peak above the wall that the back-rest created. She scanned the industrious scene, to be captivated apparently by another woman sitting far away, to a table that to be reached would require a journey of many instances where she would trip, fall and bruise. This other woman wore a hijab that allowed her face to be visible. She readjusted the posture in which she was sitting in order to reach for the bowl of raita in front of her rather than ask the man sitting in front of her to pass it. Her eyes were bored yet her face radiant. She ignored the food that lay in her plate, to ponder perhaps why she was here. She was pretty! Like one of those dolls they sell in Qatar! Such likeness! As father would say: why so blue princess? But why?
The man facing the Qatari Princess was talking to her, to get her attention he waved in front of her eyes. She looked embarrassed and grinned a shy grin. The Qatari Princess majestically made hand gestures. What odd hand gestures. Magical ones. They entranced the man in front of her who carefully paid attention to them. No she was no Princess. She was a fairy! But then the man made rapid and crude shapes with his own hand! While he was doing so, he spoke slowly with a gaping mouth. How rude! A sadder look was now on the Qatari Fairy Princess’s face! Not the sad face with a frown! The very very sad-face…without a frown.
The woman looked at the more obvious observer. Stared her straight with those big beautiful eyes. She smiled.
The little girl turned with all her might to sit straight. She was over-whelmed within that second. Such magic was too strong for her. The Princess Fairy probably had a beautiful voice! Why had she not once said something to the mean man? Not once.
Such patience is not within the nature of my fellows, but you learn it when you look upon these men and their indulgence. To watch them devour the most succulent of flesh did not create cramps in my own stomach. The cat walked towards the family. Brisk steps were needed only to avoid the hustle and bustle of the waiters clad in black trousers. Their load of treasures would be held in more regard than a trampled tail. The cat’s experience had taught it to beware at any given time, of atleast two pairs of young ones, chasing behind one another in the labyrinth of tables. The cat moved with skill and vigour! The roof-top restaurant had a pleasant breeze always; such that directed the smell and smoke out of the flaming grill everywhere. The smell isn’t tantalizing, to the senses. It’s inspirational! To be surrounded by it soothed hunger, though not satisfying it. The cat knew the food on the left and right to be distractions and illusions. The desired outcome would come only with the selected target. Whoever emblazoned the cat as the original sleuth, the stealthy thief, was limited in his perception and suffered a geographical bias. The cat had a grace about it, that wasn’t diminished with the timely steps it took. Yes but ever so often was it required to duck under one of the white-clothed tables. The spider-web of electric cables above was dotted with miniscule blazing suns. The cat was quite visible, not exposed but simply visible as it walked by. Technique dictated that the cat should reveal itself from underneath their own table. One pair of partially- naked hairy legs while four were clothed. The smallest of them! There they were dangling from the chair. The cat emerged from under the cloth, brushing past them slightly. It was slow and gentle, it was an art. It did not weep like a destitute beggar but looked up straight into those tiny eyes, simply asking for what was due. A reward for its presence. The little girl was obviously frightened. She raised her legs onto the chair. That was expected. But the cat didn’t dare to back down. She picked up a great big piece, and let it fall. The cat, not scared of the shouts of surprise that arose from the table, took its time to bow down and then pick up the payment. It silently retreated with the same polished steps to its corner.
You need to have your wits about you, when you’re on the outside. For the spotted-cat whose predatory capacity was quite diminished by the urban evils of industrialization, this was a necessity. It’s a cruel, ugly world for an ugly spotted-cat. Walking along the edge of the buildings roof, the spotted-cat could see the many windows that showed all the homes that could never be his. It was required of him to be crafty and detached in the pursuit of survival. But being blessed with extraordinary vision, who could resist the urge to be a peeping tom to those happier? Were they happier?
The cat’s eyes had an affinity for one particular window, from whence came the most welcoming light. It was not an opening, no it wasn’t. The glass doesn’t allow vermin like myself refuge. The light beckons for me only to watch. It doesn’t provide comfort for my freezing tail on cold nights. The glass traps the warmth for the humans within. The light beckons for me only to watch. Nobody looks out from the inside. The glass amplifies the ugly back-alley, infested with shit and the algae from leaking sewage pipes. The light beckons only for me to watch. The cat moved to the ledge opposite to the favoured apartment. What clever attempt at phrasing would do justice to its movement? That is of no concern at the moment.
It irked the cat that the grill on the window blocked a complete and perfect insight of the commotion within. The same feeling humans get when they try to read a photocopied paper when the text at the edges has been obscured.
“Must you switch on the tv right now?”
“What’s wrong with watching tv right now?” the boy slouched on the sofa asked his mother in the most bored of voices.”
“We just came back from an outing. I would assume that is enough excitement for you,” answered his mother.
“We came back from dinner, we have it every night.”
“Haye, you kids are so ungrateful. When our father took us out somewhere we would shut up for two weeks.”
“Fine I’ll shutup, just let me watch tv.” It wasn’t that he was “old enough” to get away with such cheek; it was simply in his nature to have an answer for most things. He apparently had been the sort of child who was allowed a few indiscretions because his parents had no answer for his questions of norms. They had probably hoped he would grow out of it. They had probably hoped.
“Don’t talk back to your mother Asad,” said the third figure who had entered. The father had spoken softly. It was apparently undesirable to question him when did so. It proved a lot of effort for the boy who dropped the remote on a cushion and slowly got up, exiting the lounge that was also a drawing-room.
“I’ve slaved perpetually since morning to arrange his cupboard. He tortures me on purpose,” she said melodramatically as she picked up a dusting cloth from the ground, this effort having reminded her of her labour throughout the day. “He wakes up so late, before which I arrange the clothes in neat and clean piles. He wakes up and flings open the cupboard door and carelessly pulls out a shirt from the very bottom paying no attention to the piles he has just destroyed. Then after his shower, he’ll forget he took the shirt with him inside the bathroom and pull out another shirt, wasting my effort again.” All the while, the wife re-enacted this as though she was talking about Godzilla.
“He says that you put all the useless clothes in his cupboards that he doesn’t wear anymore and he has to dig out the ones he has to wear.”
“Useless? Ungrateful brat! What’s wrong with all those clothes?”
“He’s too old to wear orange t-shirts.”
“Whatever you say,” she conceded and walked to the table to place the dusting-cloth on it.
Then erupted the sound of Beethoven’s symphony all around the apartment. The wife looked towards the clock, her thoughts evident. She was not visible as she answered the door and the husband hearing the voice of the visitor, removed himself from the lounge. So entered the wife with another younger woman.
“Please sit down,” she said as she quickly re-arranged the cushions on the sofa whose arrangement had just been besmirched by both her son and her husband.
“Could I have a drink of water?” said this new intruder.
“Yes of course, one second please.”
There was not enough time to observe her solitude as the wife hurriedly returned holding the glass.
“Is this mineral-water?” The woman said with scrutinizing eyes, which shifted from the proffered glass to the woman, not accepting it yet.
“No its tap-water,” said the wife now looking aghast at the very idea of tap-water.
“It’s just that I might get sick. Forget it for now. Please sit.”
“What is it that you want to talk?” Said the wife, sitting to face the woman, her head stretched out instinctively to hear every word.
“I have been thinking and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not going to marry him.”
“Yes, it true.” Her tone may have been forcefully final, but everything other than her mouth said that she was waiting to hear a counter-argument.
“Why? What on earth changed your mind? You were happy two weeks ago.”
“Yes but we had a fight since then. I cannot tolerate him or his inadequacies anymore.”
“He’s got a brilliant job. You’ll live in Canada with him. What more do you want?”
The second woman let out the sort of frustrated sigh that was not appropriate for her age or the drawing-room. “I met my cousin last Thursday; my chacha’s daughter. They live in Islamabad and have one cotton mill aside from the larger family business. She just landed a brilliant catch. He’s apparently the eldest grandson from the oldest family from Chiniot. I’ve heard their name being spoken with awe for many years. They’re fine people. Not stuck up at all. People of respect. They have six mills for textile alone. Just think. They’re the epitome of Chinioti industry! They could buy out my entire extended family’s share in the furniture market three times over.”
“All that sounds very economic, but it would interest men more. What’s it got to do with you?”
The woman without paying much attention to what she was doing picked up the glass she had refused earlier and drank from it. All that talking.
“At first I found the idea of living a comfortable life in Canada quite exciting. And yes, he filled my head with all these ideas of health insurance, job security and what not. Yes I’d live a cosy and comfortable life. But I’d have to sit and watch him advance and take care of the very small house we’ll have in Toronto. Plus the blasted cold and being so far away from family is something I never came to terms with. Seeing my cousin, I realised the excitement there is in having a traditional Chinioti marriage. I mean there’s nothing feudal about it anymore. Everyone has gotten modern-her future in-laws have expanded the textile business into a fashion line- while retaining the benefits of old money. And the invites my cousin is getting! The banquets, so many, in her honour. I have fond memories seeing it all as I grew up. The memories from our plantation, all those hunting trips the men used to take with the new groom and complain about cell-phone reception when they returned in their jeeps. The festivity, a large house with many servants. The idea appealed to me as a girl. That’s how I pictured myself getting married.” She took another gulp of water.
“You intend to steal your cousin’s groom?”
“No! I’m not shallow! That’s how it works. Once my cousin gets married there will be talk of my marriage. For sure I will land a cousin or younger brother.”
“Living abroad doesn’t appeal to you?”
“Like a desperate refugee? Heavens no. I’d rather accompany a husband on his trips to ‘Dubai for import purposes’. I always loved the sound of that.”
“I don’t know.”
“Forget it for now. We’ll discuss it later when I take you to the country club. My brother wanted me to tell you that the rent from your apartment is due.”
“Tell him that we’re working on it. Please, you could arrange that.”
The second woman rolled her eyes and said “Of course.”
The drawing-room was left empty after they got up.
The spotted-cat’s hide was now damp and warm for being so near the geyser for so long. Here on this ledge the spotted-cat chased after the pigeons when they were off-guard. The idea wasn’t to make a meal out of them; the cat was by no means sagacious enough to accomplish that. The intimidation of the pigeons compensated for the pride the cat lost by not being able to hunt down rats. They were after all almost as big as and far more vicious than the cat. The spotted-cat was no hunter. Dropping from ledge to ledge, the cat finally landed on the ground, on all fours of course. The spotted-cat noticed the larger cat sitting near garbage-bin. The larger cat eyed it vindictively but remained on its throne. The garbage-bin belonged to the fittest of the cats. The only other option was to learn how to hunt. The spotted-cat lowered its head, and started to move towards the bin, the treasure trove. The spotted-cat moved in deference. Its paws touched the slime from the stagnant water. This was the spotted-cat’s sport. It had to make sure its tail was raised and not swishing about, the steps had to be soft and perfectly straight regardless if they touched puddles of filth or the larger cat would suspect ill-will. The spotted-cat dared not look up when it reached the bin, but hearing no dissatisfied purr, it knew it would not be harmed if it pulled out the carton of curdled milk it could smell. The smell of imminent victory was nothing compared to the larger one the spotted cat would win someday.
This was one of those days when there’s nothing to do that which deserves doing. There was restlessness in the ginger-cat that needed to be appeased. But with what? There is nothing to do that would feel new. But with what? There is nothing to do that I would continue to do until it was done. But with what? There is nothing to do that would excite me at all. The ginger-cat sat before the door, its tail swishing languidly. From beyond the door to the study-room, the collective sound of dismissal came to the ginger-cat’s acute ears from the books being slammed shut, bags being zipped up and the variety of goodbyes. The knob to the door twisted to let out a parade of student’s, out of uniform, as they passed through the hall to exit the house of their tutor. The door to the study-room left ajar, the ginger-cat proceeded towards it knowing its master was within. The cat placed itself at the door, expecting some attention to directed towards it.
There remained but one boy in the household proxy of a class-room. The man beckoned for him to sit again on one of the chairs upon which he had spent the duration of the lesson. He, himself, however pulled a simpler chair, which was quite convenient since he turned it backwards and sat on it with his placed on top of the headrest. The conversation at hand would be casual, but no bullshit would be tolerated.
“I’ll break your goddamn legs if you try that sardonic bullshit in my class again.”
“I’m sorry, I really am, to have offended you. I just haven’t been in your class long enough to know what’s appropriate and what’s-”
“Shutup you bastard! I don’t care about class-room conduct; I don’t have any rules aside from ‘don’t interrupt me’. You’ve been here a month and were easing in comfortably hence you were productive. I let my batches get away with murder because experience has taught me that they work better that way. What the hell is your problem? I gave you a chance into my class because you were blunt with me. Asad I expect that from you now.”
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’ve grown to respect you; not because of your intellectual legacy, but for reasons I can’t entirely explain to you. But to be blunt, you’re just a typical tutor. You’re loved by your students because of the eccentricity you feel you’ve earned with the years of experience. You’ll have the time of your life, enjoying the ‘rock and roll’ lifestyle being so heavily involved in student-life, while minting money with half the stress that would come from working in a corporate outfit. Yeah, you’re no sell-out. This very room, with the diverse collection of books you lend out to eager students, the abacus models, the projector, the informative posters, yeah its all the paraphernalia of man who loves to teach.”
His face contorted into the look of frustration he wore when his students made a “silly” mistake as he said “You stupid shit, you just reminded me of all my blessings and I’m supposed be dismayed because you managed to stereotype me?”
“No,” the boy stammered in return. “I’m trying to make a point. That I get it; you have the best of intentions, but there’s an influx of tutors like you. They’re all just as inspirational. In the end there’s too much competition-”
“Ah bloody hell, now I see the root of this. I’ve been in this business for a long time. Every year before college there’s a disillusioned brat like you. Asad, I know you’ve already heard that you have potential, you’re confident, creative and maybe even perceptive. But now you wonder the point of it all? It hasn’t done you any good.”
Asad knees felt weak hearing these words and with a lot of effort he managed to say “Everything is so institutionalized.”
“I know it’s hard. Because a GPA doesn’t measure your pros. A transcript doesn’t record your capacity for innovation. But that is no reason for you to develop an attitude problem in this crucial year.”
“Being willing to do something but procrastinating because you find it hopeless is a loser’s exscuse. Being self-aware is pointless without the initiative to change it in a timely manner.”
“I know but what’s the point?”
“You want to go to college don’t you? I know you aspire for that much.”
“Yes but its degrading as hell to have to validate yourself.”
“If you’re thinking of yourself as an undeserving beggar from the start, then it would feel so.”
“You wouldn’t get it, you’re from a different generation where the competition was less and every third moderately intelligent guy in a UK college was not Pakistani. The novelty of has worn off.”
“I was just a kid like you. I was self-aware too; knew I was a big fish in a small pond, and I knew I had to go to a more cut-throat environment. But I had a different attitude. I started off by believing in myself. I was well aware of those more fortunate than me who made it big apparently more easily than me. But I didn’t let it consume me by being crest-fallen and envious. I acted as though the politics were a myth and they became so! I gave everyone the benefit of a doubt, comforting myself with the success of others, knowing that I too will make it. You set your own goals and work hard to achieve them; every other smart-alecky short-cut is a distraction. Think positive, work hard and the perception, the intelligence you’re blessed with will pay off. Don’t convolute the path in front of you with unwarranted cynicism. You’re full of amazing ideas, it will be a struggle, but work with skill and patience and you’ll find that big-shot Professor who will be intrigued and you wont need to beg for your ticket, you will have earned it.”
“It sounds too simple. The system isn’t that straightforward.”
“If you’re convinced that the system doesn't work for you, you’re a bigger idiot for not working for yourself. Come on Asad, grow up. The most punk-rock thing you can do in this country is get an education.”
The ginger-cat found this talk quite bizarre and inconsequential to its own yearning for a thrill. The master was nice but he should appreciate the ginger-cat. The market was full of those half-breed Persians in forms of grey and black. Those perversions who thought they deserved to be spoiled as well. Their fate is to consume boiled livers with second-rate masters. Everyone would think twice before cross-breeding a rare ginger-coloured cat. It had but a whim for expensive meow-mix. The ginger-cat moved not more than five tedious steps to its bowl. The mediocre satisfaction from nibbling on the contents-
Asad hadn’t meant to slam the front-door. He was filled with a unique enthusiasm and freedom. He had never felt glad before for knowing that he had been “affected”. But as luxurious as his teacher’s bungalow was, the place stank of cat-piss.