The day Doy left with his motorbike, our little white cat Fishy began mewling on the front yard. She had lost half of her weight and her eyes were always watery and flaky. She would not eat or drink and her breathing was getting heavier day after day. I didn’t know what happened to her. Had she eaten something? Did our tomcat Porky rape her? I didn’t know. All I knew was she was dying.
Doy found her five months ago together with Pating the day he showed up with his motorbike. They were in a box just out of the gate and he carried them up to my apartment. Doy had said before that he had a surprise for me. I thought it was the kittens, but it turned out to be the bike. He told me how he tricked his old man into buying him that shiny black bike. He promised me that he would take me anywhere with his bike, helmets off, from the beaches of Mati to the mountains of Cotabato. But I liked the cats better.
They were probably only two weeks old. They were small and frisky and were very afraid of us. They would hiss every time Doy would reach his hand to them, rubbing their tiny chins. Stray cats, like stray boys, were not new to me, so I let Doy keep them.
I met Doy on the summer after his high school graduation. I had just moved in to the neighborhood and he had former classmates around the area that he liked to hang out with. I sometimes saw them play basketball by the open court on hot afternoons or cram up in a little store, drinking and singing on warm nights.
It was one of those nights when I was walking home from my summer class that I found him bent before a sewer canal. With one hand on the wall, he looked as if he was barfing. But when he lurched down towards the sewer, I let out a “Hoy!” He looked up and smiled. With his other hand, he showed me a muck-covered kitten.
“That’s my cat,” I said.
“Well,” he said, looking at the kitten, then back at me. “He is a dirty cat.”
I led him into my apartment where he washed the cat.
“You are lucky,” he said.
“You see this cat,” he said drying up my kitten on the table. “He has three colors: red, black, and white. You are lucky. This boy is lucky.”
“The cat is a girl,” I said.
“Really?” he said. He brought the cat to the light and squinted at the kitty’s behind. “Oh,” he said.
He then placed the cat on the table and it crouched there tight with its freshly dried fluff. “Look, she crouches like a pig. She’s fat and has no tail. Does she have a name?”
I said I don’t know.
“Let me call her Baboy. I’ll come here everyday and feed her.”
I never thought he was serious in inviting himself over. He was drunk.
In less than two years since we met, more cats appeared in the backdoor in the morning and meowed at us for food. There were Edward, Gandalf, Edison, Judy Ann, Baboy, Baboy’s litters Porky, Porkchop, Chicken, and many more cats. Doy decided on their names.
Before, I only called each cat that would wander into my kitchen Mingkay. Before, I would only give them leftovers. But over time Doy would buy cheap canned sardines and deep-fried isaw for them. He would clean their ears, wash their feet, and tend their wounds. He even helped Gandalf the grey cat when his tooth got stuck in a beef bone. Doy had especially saved that bone for him after we had Doy’s birthday lunch. Gandalf was crying the whole afternoon and Doy had to endure Gandalf’s scratches to slip out the bone. Later that night, Gandalf the Grey sent three kingly gifts of dead mice for the evening party.
So the new kittens, Fishy and Pating easily got comfortable with us. Though they would still run away with spiked-hair tails, they no longer hissed at us. Once we touched their little heads, they would settle down and close their eyes. They probably knew the smell of our hands: something to do with the type keyboard-warmth of my palms or Doy’s ink-stained fingernails. The two of them would play on top of the washing machine, scratching each other’s backs and nibbling each other’s legs. The other cats would lie everywhere in and out of the apartment: some near the windows, on warm appliances, or up on the neighbors’ shaded roofs.
On afternoons, Doy would come to my apartment from his school. He would only remove his shoes and run to the kittens. He would bring them down to the floor and would take pictures of them that I always post on the fridge.
Doy had ways with cats. Or rather, cats had ways with Doy. Sometimes I thought I was also a cat having ways with Doy. He always treated them like family.
“I’d be the daddy,” he would say, always something like that, tickling the cat while it sleeps. “And you’d be the mommy.”
“That is disgusting,” I would answer him. Doy would then pout his lips, roll his head away from me and quickly give his attention back to the cat.
He would be silent as he continued tickling the cat. I would then leave my paper works on the table and come over to him. I would lie beside him on the wooden floor and rub his hair. He would always ignore me after then. He would tickle the cat and I would rub his hair until I fall asleep. When I wake up, he would also be asleep, facing me with his hand over my shoulder.
“How’s your class?” I asked one afternoon. He was now in his fourth semester in college.
“Good thing I now have more time in the afternoon,” he said.
“So you could come here and bum?”
“I like it here,” he said. “The windows are large, it is airy and it never gets too hot. How about your thesis?”
“Finishing up,” I said. “A little revision, then passing, then graduating, then off to Manila.”
“You will leave me then?” he said, pouting his sometimes dry lips.
“Of course not,” I said rubbing his hair.
He was silent for a long time. He stroked Pating on the head.
“You know why I like cats? They have this kind of sense of humor that’s not like dogs. They are cunning, merciless, and sarcastic. Dogs are simply loyal, sometimes they just look stupid.”
Doy rolled on the floor and brought the sleeping cat on his chest.
“They are merciless,” he continued. “When they are young, they’re cute and full of fun. They will scratch on your jeans, jump on your lap, sleep on the table and poop on your shoes. Then they will run here and there and will lick your fingers as if they’ve done nothing. But time will come when they will not come to you anymore.”
Doy looked at me for a moment, then back to the cat, touching its whiskers.
“They will make you feel unwanted,” he said. “They will steal your fish, will be gone for many nights, go home injured with blood on one eye. Then they will grow old and weak. And they will return only to let you rub their tummy and lick your finger for the last time. And when it’s their time–they always know it’s their time–they would leave without evidence. You never know what happens to them. Did a truck hit them? Were they kidnapped for food? Did they just fall in the sewer and rot?
“They are merciless,” Doy repeated. “The thing I like about cats is the very same thing I don’t like about them. Especially those princelings, tomcats, vagabond little monarchs. They will leave without evidence. Not even poop in your shoes.”
I reached for him and took the camera strap from around his neck. I focused the lens on him and started shooting.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Taking evidence of my princeling,” I said.
“I’m not leaving,” he said. “You are leaving. And I am not your prince.”
“I am not talking about you, stupid. I’m taking pictures of Pating.”
Pating was stirring in his sleep, shifted his head and placed it on Doy’s chest.
“Prince Pating,” he laughed. “The Black Knight of West Uyanguren.”
I took only few shots of Pating that afternoon. Most of the photos were of Doy’s face. His features, his nose, his eyebrows, his lips silhouetted before the light from the door. The line rose up and down and plunged deep from his chin and down to his neck where the afternoon sun sank into its curve. The faint scent of his cologne wafted every time he took his breath.
A few days later, Pating went out of my apartment door, down the steep wooden stairs, and never returned. That’s what Doy never liked about cats.
A few weeks later, Doy did the same thing.
SEVERAL DAYS AFTER Doy left with his motorbike, Fishy had been mewling again. She was now hiding under the pile of lumber woods beside the neighbor’s quarter downstairs. The neighbor was both annoyed and concerned. Fishy was noisier than the usual.
The neighbor was no cat doctor but she helped me prepare a medicine drop made of water and powdered paracetamol, one drop in the morning, noon and night. I didn’t want to lose Fishy this time like how I lost Pating two months before.
Around noon, Doy returned with his motorbike. He said he only wanted to get his things. I knew there was no need for talk. He simply stuffed his shirts and pants into a bag without folding them. He took his shoes and his books. The photos he left on the fridge. He didn’t even bother to ask for water or what I was having for lunch.
Doy and I came down the apartment. Then he was off with his bag to the bike, while I gave Fishy another drop of medicine.
But Fishy was not under the woods anymore. She had crawled out several feet away and she was not mewling anymore. Red ants were crawling on her mouth.
I called Doy before he could start up his bike.
He immediately looked for a spot around the front yard. The other cats came to see what Doy had been digging. There were Baboy, Gandalf, Porky, and other cats from around the neighborhood. They knew what happened here. They knew what was lost.
Doy placed Fishy in her shallow grave and touched her head many times, calling her name again and again. “Fishy?” he said as he widened the hole. “Fishy?” he said as he carried her to her grave. “Fishy?” he said as he positioned her head properly under the makopa roots.
I thought Fishy moved. But it was only the shadow of the leaves. She was not really moving. She won’t move anymore.
“Rest in peace, Fishy,” Doy said and asked for forgiveness.
When Doy had completely covered Fishy with soil, I gave him a flower I picked from the neighbor’s pot. Doy placed the flower on the small mound.
This was not the first time Doy and I lost a cat. But the others went away–like Edward, Edison, Judy Ann, Pork Chop, and Pating–choosing to die unknown, unloved, and unburied.
But Fishy stayed. She wanted us to have that burden of slow death, of losing a family, of knowing that emptiness. That was her way of making us human.
Doy marched back to his motorbike, started it and revved out of the gate and out my life. I went back to my apartment where I knew I would never hear Fishy mewl or Doy’s bike roar again. I closed the door to the afternoon sun, where cats were back sleeping in their warm places and everything was silent once more.
Jeff Javier’s struggles with his BA English thesis at UP Min are still far from over.