MEHRU JAFFER | 8 MARCH, 2018
Just A Minute, Cat
This article is part of The Citizen’s International Women’s Day special features.
I wrote this for Twinkle Khanna but I was five minutes too late.
Her tired eyes watched the cat make itself comfortable on her belly. The sunlight from the open window made her squint. Her head ached. She dismissed the thought that she had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.
She sat up, and the cat meowed in irritation. With half closed eyes, she staggered over to the window to shut it, and to pull the curtains.
Now it was dark. She was still unable to open her eyes. The head throbbed too much.
She reached out to the glass bottle on the bedside table, and quenched her thirst. She felt cleansed in the mouth and moist in the throat. Sleep came easy to her.
After hours of deep sleep when she finally woke up she found that the cat was back on her belly. She was glad. She tried to smile. The presence of the cat in her bed made her feel wanted. Still half asleep, she stroked the cat whose warm purring she followed.
Soon she was lost to slumber all over again.
After more than god knows how long a sleep, it was now easy for her to stretch leisurely out of bed. She felt rested. Her head was clear. But she was not sure if she had dreamt of Shah Rukh Khan, or not.
She did not care what time it was. The cat had disappeared. She sat on the edge of the bed enjoying a delicious feeling of wellness.
She picked up the water bottle, in glass. It was empty. She turned it upside down but not a drop of water emerged. The thought of a cup of tea made her happy. Then images of skipping over numerous kites, manjhas and firkis spread all over the floor from the hallway down the living room and into the kitchen, made her frown.
She prepared herself to suffer loud music that played in the apartment throughout her waking hours. She was in no hurry to get out of her room although yet another thought of tea did make her salivate.
She stood near the bed, hesitating. The room felt exceptionally dark. Mercifully there was silence. She tried to delight in sweet soundlessness. She walked to the bay window to part the curtains. It was mildly cool. Winter was surely on its way out. After days of fog and mist, the heavens were clear. A cloudless sky smiled down upon her. The blue canopy above the green earth was studded with a luminous sun, radiating a blanket of tender yellow over everything as far as the eye could see. She smelt basant in the air and she imagined the last mustard crops in fields just round the corner swaying to the tune of the early morning breeze.
There was the far away sound of a flute even. She opened a window to hear more. But it became mute. Instead she enjoyed the chirping of birds for long, and for the first time listened consciously to the giggle of children probably on their way to school.
She continued to be in two minds over opening the door of the bedroom into the rest of the apartment, or not. She went into the bathroom instead.
She rained down warm water from the shower upon herself and tried to sing. That is when she realized that she had lost a tooth. There was no pain in the gum any more. After having washed her hair she brushed the teeth that remained, also under the shower.
She stood before the mirror. Yes, she was actually missing a tooth.
She must remember to call her dentist today.
She wiped herself dry and deliberately took ages to massage her body with a mixture of olive oil and rose essence. This was a luxury she had not gifted herself in a long time.
Why did today seem different? Strange.
She wondered why there was no banging on her bedroom door?
Come morning and she barely had time to brush her teeth. Then it was several rounds of coffee at breakfast followed by cleaning the kitchen and preparing the afternoon meal. Then eating in silence, cleaning up and preparing for the evening meal.
It was good music that he had played, but so loud! He had made it blare which made the music not sound good anymore. Perhaps, even to his ear. But it is his habit to not enjoy anything in life if the other was not annoyed. That was his way of saying that it is his life, his house and he could do whatever he wanted to with everything that he thought belonged to him. He had the power to make anyone happy, or unhappy, he felt.
No wonder kites, miniature cars, bicycle parts and welding tools were left scattered on the floor. Jaguar and Porsche photographs covered the walls. Pictures of naked women and short pornography videos popped up on the Personal Computer. That phone ringing, sometimes repeatedly and silence on the part of callers. Sometimes female voices of strange women calling, talking nonsense.
She, running every day from the kitchen, to the clothes washing machine, to the vacuum cleaner to the dish washer…never able to scrub herself like she polished the pots and pans several times a day.
She, standing sponged clean in the bathroom now. Her body self massaged in perfumed oil, and glowing. Overcome by certain thoughts she picks up a bucket and flings it to the floor. Shattered bottles. Tiles covered in broken glass. Green oozing out of a plastic shampoo bottle. White guck wriggling out of a toothpaste tube stamped upon. Blood red nail polish splattered.
She picks up the broom and picks up the swab to clean away anger.
None threatened to get her locked up this time and accuse her of being crazy?
She is back under the shower. Enjoying the watering down of expectations. She is no longer angry but still unsure how she has managed to enjoy such lengthy solitude today.
It is so silent, so peaceful. She is afraid to disturb the peace.
She has her suspicions but is fearful of accepting what she suspects is the truth. What if it is not? What if it is just like the dreams she dreams of Shah Rukh Khan? What then?
The cat will not stop meowing. Perhaps she has been locked up inside the bathroom for far too long.
Just a minute cat.
She dries herself again. She pulls out a bright yellow shalwar and a red kurta from a cupboard also in the bathroom. She puts on her clothes. Kajal in her eyes and bindi in the center of the forehead. A green, red, yellow and orange lehariya dupatta completes her outfit of the day.
Never mind the gap between the teeth. She will get it fixed. Her hair is done and she steps out of the bathroom.
Still hesitating to open the door. The bedroom is flooded in warm sunshine. She is tempted to fetch some flowers from the garden into her room. But to do that she has to open the bedroom door. Does she want to do that?
No. Not now. Maybe later!
She is so used to being shouted out of her room. Why is there none screaming out to her today? No routine banging on her bedroom door? No threats? No slapping around? No abusing?
Dare she step out? Dare she make sure that he is no more in the house? What if he is still here? What if her newly found peace and quiet is only a Shah Rukh Khan?
The cat scratches the door. The cat forces her to open also the bedroom door to the rest of the world. The cat leads her around the apartment. The cat gives her courage to look around and to see for herself that he is no more.
As if the cat is saying, look here is your living room as you left it yesterday. Your kitchen. Your shelf with many books torn apart and others dumped into the garbage bin but see how much is still there. There is your collection of Shah Rukh Khan films.
Look at the floor, no longer littered with kite thread and all the gooey sticky stuff he liked to play with.
Look, your rocking chair. Sit on it and read a book for long, or write a story about me. And there is the cat cushion waiting for me to curl into it. Everything, you like is here. See, I am here.
Never again can he kick you around. The courts have forbidden him to come near you, or this home of yours.
She takes baby steps and tells herself no, this is no Shah Rukh Khan after all. This is for real.
When he received the order from the court that he must leave the apartment within 12 hours, how wild he was!
It makes her giggle now.
He was frothing, and he had fumed for hours for being forced out. As she watched him pack all his toys out of this house, the idea of having a home at last began to take shape in her heart. Although she could have reported him to the police once again when he struck her face so hard that her front tooth flew up to the roof and on its return to reality had landed on the plate of dal chawal that she was trying to eat. But she let it pass.
I have lost a tooth but in return I have won another chance to live life the way I want to, a life at last without emotional and physical violence, she reasoned.
This was small price to pay for good riddance to bad rubbish from her life forever.
The police, the courts have already taught him the lesson of a lifetime. She had no desire for revenge. It was enough that she no longer had anything to do with the lying, cheating, double-crossing, untrustworthy scum of the earth.
She could not believe it!
She could not believe that she was actually never going to see him ever again!
Hip hip hurray! She wanted to celebrate. She wanted to cry. She wanted to laugh without being accused of being a mad woman.
Yes Kitty, I will go shopping for cat food in a minute but let us first enjoy this together, she sang:
chal chaiyaan, chainyaan, chainyaan, chainyaan…
And she did not need to play the music on any machine for her favourite song played in her heart, and in her soul. She imagined softer music whispered to her as if by Shah Rukh Khan himself. And to this music she danced all by herself, of course with Kitty as witness like there is no tomorrow.