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A Cat to Remember

2006-07-13 21:02

  “Meow, meow.” The weak cry came from a drain at the side of the street just as Yusuf was passing by. He stopped and listened. The cry came again: “Meow, meow.”

  Yusuf looked into the drain. A kitten, thin, gray with dirt, and very wet, looked up beseechingly at him. Yusuf reached down into the deep drain, picked the kitten up, and set it on the boards that covered half the drain. It just stood there, looking very forlorn. “Poor little Puss,” said Yusuf, “come, I'll take you home with me.”

  Yusuf's mother was not happy about the kitten. “You know, Yusuf, we've applied for a flat. You know that the regulations there forbid pets and that we can't take the cats with us. Already we have three of them to worry about when we move. How can we find four people to give them homes? It won't be easy, let me tell you.”

  But Yusuf begged so hard to keep the kitten that his mother finally gave in, with the warning: “But it won't be for always. Do you understand that?”

  Yusuf promised that he himself would find a home for the stray when the time came. He fed it and then cleaned it. They were all surprised when they found that the kitten-Puss they called it-was snow white. Her eyes were a beautiful blue.

  As the months passed, Yusuf grew fonder and fonder of Puss and pushed out of his mind the thought of moving to a flat. Perhaps they'd never get a flat, and he would be able to keep his pet.

  Puss grew into a handsome creature with long silky hair and a fine straight bushy tail. She was not at all like their other three cats, which were short-haired and had kinks in their tails. Yusuf loved hr more than he had ever loved any of the others.

  There was great excitement when the family found that Puss was going to be a mother. They fussed over her and talked often of Puss and the kittens she was going to have.

  It was quite a shock to Yusuf one day when he returned from school to find that they would soon be given a flat. What would become of Puss? What about her kittens?

  His parents had to speak firmly. Puss definitely had to go. They'd take her to the SPCA, where they'd look after her and find homes for her and the kittens when they were born.

  Yusuf listened but couldn't say a word. He felt like crying. He wanted to scream out that they couldn't take Puss away from him.

  That night he tossed and turned in bed. When he finally fell asleep, he dreamed that Puss was in a cage meowing to be let out. She cried so sadly that he put his hand out to pet her and felt something soft. . . . He awoke. Puss was in bed with him, meowing quietly. Yusuf thought she knew about having to go and was trying to say that she wanted to stay with him.

  Puss had never got into his bed before. She had always stayed in her straw bed in the toolshed when she was not prowling around. His mother would be annoyed if she knew, for she did not like the cats sleeping on the beds.

  Snores were coming from the other rooms. Quietly Yusuf got out of bed, picked Puss up, and tiptoed to the front door. He opened it slowly, not making any noise, and put Puss out, whispering: “You be good now, Puss, and go to your shed.”

  Puss looked at him, hesitated, and then walked toward the toolshed.

  On the way back to his room Yusuf glanced at the clock. It was a little past five. His mother would be up soon to cook breakfast. It was almost time for him to be up too, as he had to leave early for school. The school bus picked up him and his sister at seven.

  He lay in bed thinking of his pet and wondering what he could do. Perhaps someone in his class at school would take Puss. All the children who had seen Push had wanted her. But would they still feel the same when they knew she was going to have kittens? Well, he'd ask them, and if they said no, he'd have to think of something else. Puss must not be taken away to some place where he'd never see her again.

  His eyelids began to droop. Just as he was dropping off to sleep the idea came to him. Of course, his grandmother's old house! It had been vacant for more than two years. If nobody wanted Puss, that was where he would hide her. No one would ever think of going there.

  Yusuf slept through the alarm that woke the finally. His sister, Tina, shook him till he got up. He was still drowsy, and she said: “Hurry, it's nearly half past six. You'll make us late for the bus.” Tina kept on complaining that they would be late, but Yusuf was finally ready to minutes before the bus arrived.

  It was a long and noisy trip to school. Yusuf sat quietly in the back of the bus, unaware of the noises around him. He was thinking that he'd have to work fast. It was the last week of school, and he had to find out before the holidays began if anyone would take his pet.

  Soon it was the last day of school. No one would take Puss, not even for a short while. Yusuf could not blame his classmates. Their problem was much the same as his. Many of them were moving into flats too and looking for homes for their own pets. The others had been warned not to bring home strays, as they might have to move shortly. The talk at school was mainly about pets and what to do with them when the move to a housing estate began.

  So it had to be his grandmother's old house, and Yusuf put his plan into action. He went several times to the vacant house. It was a small wooden building fallen into disrepair. Boards were missing from it here and there. Attached to the house was a low lean-to with a dirt floor. His grandmother had stored firewood here. It had a single door, opening onto the garden, and one small window to let in light.

  Yusuf thought the lean-to would be a good place for Puss. He cleaned it out and then rummaged around in the old house for anything he could find to mark Puss comfortable. He got a box to hold the food he planned to store there, and in one corner he made a bed of straw and rags.

  When he first started his preparations, Yusuf felt a little guilty, especially as the family had begun to notice his absences.

  “Where do you go, Yusuf?” his sister asked one day. And his mother, who was nearby, spoke up too: “Yes where do you go? You're always out of the house when I want you to do something.”

  After that, Yusuf was a little more careful. It was beginning to be fun preparing a home for his cat, and he made sure there was nothing for him to do around the house before he slipped away.

  By now, taking a few spoonfuls at a time, he had collected more than half a can of powdered milk. He had not thought of it as stealing. He also made up his mind to use his own pocket money. If he could do without the sweets he was so fond of, he would save enough to buy two small cans of sardines a week. And he began thinking of ways of getting more powdered milk. He counted the money in his coin box. There was just enough to buy one large can. How long would that last? He wondered.

  The time for moving to the flat was drawing near. In every room there were boxes and boxes tied firmly with rope. Mother had been working hard, and father had been busy too, seeing to alterations in the flat.

  Yusuf tried to get Puss used to her new home. He took her there several times, but she would not stay. One day he tried locking the door and leaving as quickly as he could, but when he arrived home by a roundabout route, Puss was already there waiting for him. He would have to shut the window as well when it was time for her to live in the storeroom. That was the only way Puss could have got out.

  One Saturday, Mother announced they would be moving the following week. She had everything ready. Homes had been found for the three older cats, the flat had been scrubbed clean, the curtains sewn, and the lampshades fixed. “Father will be on a long vacation from work and will see to things. He'll be taking Puss on Tuesday afternoon, Yusuf, so see that she's ready, will you?”

  Yusuf didn't answer. He was wondering if he ought to take Puss to her new home on Monday night or Tuesday morning. Everyone would be too occupied, he hoped, to miss her.

  Monday was a busy day. Yusuf spent the whole morning seeing to his personal belongings. After lunch his mother wanted him to help her in the new flat. He became restless when, from the flat's eighth-floor windows. He saw the sun setting and dusk falling.

  It was dark when they reached home. Puss was there roaming from room to room, meowing sadly. Yusuf gave her a saucer of milk. When she had lapped it up and licked herself clean, she went up to him and licked his hands. He didn't like the roughness of her tongue, but he did not draw his hands away. For the rest of the evening he stayed close to his pet, waiting for a chance to take hr away, but it didn't come to him.

  Tuesday morning was unusually cool, a fine day for getting work done. Yusuf's parents went early to the flat, and this gave him the chance he needed. He slipped out of the house carrying Puss, avoiding the road in case his parents should come back unexpectedly. Once inside the lean-to, he shut the window and the door before he let Puss go.

  “There you are, Puss,” he said, pointing to the corner, “a nice bed for you. Come on, this is your new home now. I'll have to leave you spoon.”

  “Meow, meow.” Puss robbed herself against Yusuf's legs. He bent down and stroked her.

  “Lie down, don't worry, you'll be all right. I'll come to see you whenever I can.”

  Puss curled up on her bed, watching him. When Yusuf moved to the door, she didn't stir. She seemed to know she had to stay.

  Yusuf arrived back home in good time and was busy working when his parents returned with box lunches. No one said anything about Puss, and Yusuf wondered when they would notice she was missing.

  “Well, Yusuf, as soon as the washing up is done, we'll take Puss to the SPCA. You'd better bring the cloth she sleeps on. She'll be less likely to give trouble about settling down in her new home if she has it.”

  Yusuf was drying the last plate when he heard his father calling “Puss, Puss,” and Tina's voice joining in. Yusuf was glad no one asked him to join in the hunt for Puss.

  At a quarter past two, Father called off the search. “It's no use. We'd never be on time even if we found her now. I'll phone and explain.”

  Tina was upset. “What'll we do if we don't find her before we move? She doesn't know our new home.”

  “Don't worry. She's bound to come back here. I'll come every day to see if she's returned. All this noise and moving around may have upset her.”

  By that evening the family was in the new flat. Mother had insisted that they leave their old home spotlessly clean. There was so much to do that for the time being Yusuf didn't think about Puss.

  The flat was well planned. There were three bedrooms, and Yusuf was delighted with his. It was small but cozy. By dinner time all the furniture was in place. There was not time for cooking, so the family went down to one of the eating stalls in the neighborhood.

  Father taught them how to use the lift. He warned them about littering. The life served a number of flats and had to be kept clean and in good order. He told them what to do if the lift should get stuck, as sometimes happened.

  While they were eating, Yusuf remembered Puss. There was some fish left over from their meal, and he thought of taking it for his pet, but then he decided against it: his father might become suspicious and start asking questions.

  Back at the flat, Father switched on the television set. Yusuf sat with the others to watch a Western. Though he liked such programs, he kept falling asleep till Father sent him to bed.

  After breakfast the next morning, Yusuf said he was going for a walk to explore the neighborhood and hurried off to play Puss a visit. There were many blocks of flats, and he hoped he wouldn't lose his way. It wasn't so far to his grandmother's old house.

  When he arrived, Puss was meowing and scratching at the door. As soon as he entered, Puss sprang on him and began to lick him to show how pleased she was. He let her out, and they went for a short walk together, boy and cat. Then, be cause Puss was starting toward their old home, Yusuf picked her up and carried her back to the storeroom, where he gave her a saucer of milk and some sardines. Puss ate greedily and then, as always, cleaned herself carefully. Yusuf turned the straw and tidied her bed. When all was done, he looked in the box that held the provisions. He counted the cans to make sure there would be enough to last till he was back in school, when his father would give him extra pocket money and he could buy more provisions.

  ??                                 ??                                ??

  So it went on during school vacation. Yusuf visited Puss often and fed her well. The one thing that made him unhappy was his father's daily trip to their old home to see if Puss had returned there.

  At breakfast the morning before school reopened, Father said that Puss would be having her babies soon. He hoped that she had found a good place and perhaps someone to care for her, since she would be needing extra milk.

  Yusuf hadn't thought about the extra milk. Perhaps now was the time to tell Father where the cat was. He almost did, but was afraid his parents would be angry with him.

  One day, soon after the new school term began, Mother had to take Tina to the dentist after school. Yusuf hurried to see Puss. When he opened the door of the storeroom, he had a great surprise.

  Puss was lying in her corner licking her kittens one at a time. There were three of them-while, thin, and not at all beautiful. They were unsteady and kept falling about as Yusuf watched them. He was disappointed in their appearance, but Puss purred happily. She lapped up every drop of the extra milk he gave her. The milk powder was almost finished, and Yusuf wondered what he would do if he couldn't save enough money for another can.

  In school the next day Yusuf got into trouble several times with his teacher. He couldn't pay attention. How glad he was when the dismissal bell rang! He was ready to rush out of class when he heard the teacher calling him. “Yusuf, will you stay behind, please?”

  When all the other children had gone, she said: “Come here, Yusuf. Now, tell me what is wrong. You didn't seem to be paying attention at all today. Do you miss your old home? Don't you like living in a flat?”

  “It's all right.”

  “Well, then, are you worried about something? You seem very unhappy. Tell me.”

  Yusuf had expected the teacher to be cross with him, but when she wasn't, he hung his head and tears rolled down his cheeks.

  “It's my cat.”

  “You miss your pet, is that it?”

  Yusuf was too upset to say anything. His teacher waited till e had stopped crying and then patted him on the shoulder and said she hoped everything would turn out all right. “You're my best pupil, Yusuf, and you worried me a bit this morning.”

  Tina had been waiting for her brother outside; so they were both late in returning home, and their mother wanted to know why.

  “I had to wait for Yusuf,” said Tina. “He had to stay in after school.”

  “What's that?” Their father had come into the room just in time to hear Tina's remark. “What have you been doing, Yusuf?”

  “Nothing, Dad.”

  “It can't be nothing if your teacher kept you in.”

  “She didn't really keep me in. she just wanted to talk to me.”

  “Oh, what about?”

  “About . . . about . . .”

  “Come on, out with it. What did your teacher want to talk to you about?”

  Yusuf tried to think what to say. He could see from the look on his father's face that he'd batter tell the truth.

  “Teacher wanted to know what I was worried about. I hadn't been able to answer any questions in class.”

  “And why not? What's wrong with you, anyway? Don't you like living in a flat?”

  Frightened as Yusuf was, he could not help being surprised that both his father and his teacher should think it was the flat that was the cause of the trouble. And in a way it was. If not for the flat, there'd be no problem about Puss. And yet he knew that the family was much better off living in the fine new flat than in their old, rundown house.

  “What did you tell your teacher? What excuse did you make?” Father didn't give him a chance to answer. “What did you say was worrying you?”

  “Puss.”

  “What?”

  “Puss.”

  “You can't work in school because you're worried about Puss? But you know I'm doing everything I can to find her. She must be getting food from somewhere; otherwise she did come home.”

  “Dad, Puss is at Grandmother's old house.”

  “How do you know?”

  “I put her there. I've been looking after her there.”

  “You-” Father looked very angry, but Yusuf was no longer afraid. Now that he'd told them his secret, he felt better. And father too clamed down. “We must take arrangements tomorrow,” he said.

  “Puss has kittens-three of them.”

  Before father could say anything, Tina rushed up to him and tugged at his arm. “Please, Dad, let's go and see them, please.”

  Mother went quietly to the kitchen to get some milk. In a short time all four of them were at Grandfather's old house. Puss purred happily when she saw them. Both children and parents made a great fuss over Puss and her kittens.

  Yusuf kept waiting for the scolding, but it did not come. On the way home, Father was quiet. It was only when they were back in the flat that he said: “Now we have four homes to took for.”

  “Dad, can't we keep just one of the kittens?”

  “No, Tina, you know the rules. But we'll go every day to feed them.”

  Father kept his word. The nicest time very day was when the family visited Puss and kittens. Yusuf dreaded the time when homes would be found for them, but he knew it had to be soon. The kittens were growing up fast-already they were as beautiful as their mother-and the storeroom was too small for them.

  The day father told them he had found homes for all the cats, Tina cried. Yusuf felt like crying too.

  “Would you like to come along when I take Puss and the kittens to their new homes?”

  “Tina can go. I don't want to.”

  On the Sunday when Puss and her kittens were taken away, Yusuf stayed out of the flat. He roamed around the housing estate, not wanting to know where Puss was going, not wanting to hear Tina crying. He felt sad to think that he might never again see his pet. Yet he was glad that people living in flats could not keep pets. This meant they could never have another: no animal could ever take Puss's place.

  Toward evening Yusuf thought he'd better go home. His parents would be worried if he stayed out too late. He went up to their floor in the lift and then walked along the passage to their flat. The others were at home. He could hear them talking as he reached the door. They turned toward him when he walked in. nobody spoke, but Yusuf knew they were feeling sorry for him.

  He walked to his room. he stood still in the doorway and stared. Then he gave a shout of joy.

  “Puss! How lovely!”

  There, on the wall, hung a framed life-size colored photograph of Push and her three fluffy kittens that his father had had taken. And, when he looked on the back, there were the four addresses of the cats' new homes. He could go to visit them whenever he wanted, and in the meantime there was always the lovely, lovely picture to remind him of Puss and her kittens. He'd have it for always and always.

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