Brighter Lights Back Home
By Freyan S. Wadia
Usually, when one is released from the deepest, darkest crags of the underworld into the living realm, one revels. And then there’s me. I, Hannibal Lecture, used to be the head of Torture back there with pretty decent job perks- free boarding, free lodging, plenty of sadism (which is pretty much all you want when you’re a cat).
You could throw something at Newton, saying “F = ma, buddy, no hard feelings- all in the name of science”. You would soon find out Attila the Hun was surprisingly good at origami, especially when he viewed his neighbours as origami paper. Blaise Pascal, his best friend, would follow him around recording the average pressure required to break someone’s neck. Ampere used to run around the place trying to electrocute everyone he met, and Shakespeare would describe the quality of mercy to anyone who listened.
Honestly, it wasn’t even too much work- we used to thrust everyone at each other and they used to do the rest. In a way, it’s a lot like the living realm, I guess.
Anyways, I was Satan’s right-hand man, or rather, cat. But one day, Chantelle (one of the names Satan goes by) decided to make me an Observer. Have you ever noticed the uneasy feeling while telling a lie or felt eyes on your back when you’re doing something you shouldn’t really be doing? Of course, there’s nobody behind you. No one but a cat with bright blue eyes, if you looked close enough. Observers record every offence, everything from petty theft to lying to your mother about where you’re at. Watch out, for one too many lies to mum and it’ll be the journey to the centre of the earth for you.
Yes, getting back. Apparently, Chantelle was not too pleased with the deficiency of blood-shed involved in my torture ideals. It appeared that Vlad the Impaler had been a little too idle a little too long under my watch and he’d snitched on me. I just don’t like his face- it gives me the willies- but it turned out that that was not a suitable excuse.
“Hannibal, you’re going to Earth,” sniffed Chantelle. “Effective immediately. Not up for debate. I’ll have your stuff sent up. Now, scram!”
So, here I am, the Observer of humans on this colony road. I’ve been here a couple of weeks and I’ve already seen someone dislodge a Bridgestone tyre from their car at five in the morning, lose their grip on it, chase it down the road and then throw it into an open window on the ground floor. Apparently, the kid was doing his best to prevent his fate of driving on the sixty-degree Altamount road slope (where his dad had been itching to take him) and I don’t blame him. Frankly, I wouldn’t trust Kerman to walk down the road and buy a loaf of bread without causing a nuclear disaster. And there are no wayside nuclear reactors here.
His father is another character. One fine Sunday morning, Ardeshir pointed at me and decided Chai was an appropriate name for the “big, fat cat over there”. My beautiful sleek, gleaming reddish-gold coat, the tint of the flames back home, looks like bloody chai in his eyes. Trust these Iranis to make such a correlation. That’s going down in my register for sure.
So now, Hannibal the cat, named after Hannibal the Cannibal, is now Chai the “floofy kitten”. That’s what Yasmin calls me, and I would’ve clawed her but for the fact that she’s a dependable source of food. If I sit on the ledge outside of her home and meow until she sees me (quite a while, because I have to compete with the torrent of new-age pop blasting on her headphones), I’m almost guaranteed to get a scrap or two. But the price of the meal is paid by witnessing her antics. A few days ago, I turned up outside her window and received the shock of my life-
“Hey, Chai! Don’t judge me,” laughed Yasmin, as I beheld a human pretzel. “I signed up for an online yoga class.”
I stared- I know, it’s rude, but acceptable when you’re a cat- as she got up to open the window.
After my initial shock, listening to complaints of tight hamstrings and aching arms began to get me bored. I mean, is it just me or does the word “ham” resonate in your cerebral space every time the word “hamstring” is uttered? Like “ham- Ham- HAAAMMMM”. This obsession with ham got so bothersome that I got up and nipped her calf, in the hope it would change to ham.
It didn’t. The window was thrown up and I found myself being dropped on the ledge, after receiving a whack on the head. I thought yoga was supposed to be relaxing. Hypocrite!
Then a sudden wave of nostalgia hit me as the scent of burning rubber hit my nostrils. It appeared to be coming from the professor’s kitchen. In a trice, I was at the window, watching him look at the smoking oven with an amused expression.
“Whoops,” he said, calm as a summer lake, “I guess baking time shouldn’t be doubled, even if the ingredients are.”
Wearing a pair of gloves (thankfully), he removed the dish from the oven as black smoke billowed out in clouds. I was reminded more of the cafeteria at home than I cared to.
“Oh dear, that’s a sorry looking cheesecake,” he said to what looked like the remnants of Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius. “Thank god I used processed cheese instead of mascarpone. It’d have been a proper waste otherwise. Am I right, Princess?”
An old white Boxer tottered into the kitchen, wagging slowly. I guess it mattered little to her that everyone on the street (rightfully) thought her owner was a whackjob. How dog-like, how pathetic. Even though he had set off the wailing smoke alarm, he scratched her ears as if they couldn’t hear anything, which they probably couldn’t (most white Boxers and some professors, apparently, are deaf). They’re crazy, the pair of them.
Though I’d give a lot to be back home with Chantelle. She’d give me a head rub as we watched the cafeteria going to pieces and revel in the chaos. I miss her, I guess. And Imelda, the jet-black tabby that had the sweetest meow in all the underworld. And watching Shakespeare cry with sheer mortal agony as he read a well-thumbed copy of ‘Twilight’. I realised, with increasing horror, that I was homesick. I thought I would be unrelenting after all that I’ve been put through. I guess not. Perhaps I would write a letter home…
You’ve been the undisputed leader of hell for too long. You’ve gone senile and your decisions are completely injudicious. I belong at home with an entire leg of a thirteen-foot chicken, not here being a common colony cat called “Chai”.
Take me home, please. If not, tell Imelda she can have my share of salmon. I can’t enjoy it anyways.
I hate you,
PS- at this time, we’d be watching Hell’s Kitchen. Tell me what Gordon Ramsay screams at those poor schmucks.
I bribed a pigeon with a slice of bread to take it for me and then fell asleep, feeling all alone in the world and hoping the bird had a good sense of direction.
The next day, everyone noticed the tall, dark-haired woman who strode into the colony. I was dozing in a scooter sidecar when I heard a voice that sounded distinctly like Chantelle’s saying,
“Excuse me, young man, I’m looking for a missing cat. Have you seen him anywhere?”
I cracked open an eyelid to see the recipient of this speech was Kerman, who was looking over his shoulder, wondering if she was talking to some other “young man”.
“Uh,” he articulated.
“Oh, I’m sorry, do you not speak English?” said Chantelle, in her French accent. “Hold on, my Hindi’s rusty, wait… Meri billi ko dhoondne mein madad kijiye. Was that correct?”
A cackle so loud found its way to the two of them that they turned to look at me. I don’t know whether it was the earnestness with which Chantelle was trying to drive the fact that she had lost her cat home or it was the dopey expression with which Kerman beheld her. I must say, at seven feet tall, with sharp cheekbones and long flowing hair, she presented a striking figure.
Anyways, now that Chantelle had clapped eyes on me, she was by my side in two strides, after shoving Kerman out of her way with a “Move, schmuck!”
“My baby,” she crooned, scooping me up. “My bloodthirsty sweetie-pie Hannibal-” she kissed my head, leaving lipstick stains all over it-“Momma missed you.”
“I just washed my head,” I said, rolling my eyes, but overjoyed that she had come to take me home. “What made you change your mind? Was it my letter?”
“Partly. I couldn’t watch ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ without you. And I get what you mean about Vlad the Impaler- I don’t like his face any more than you do. Gives me the heebie-jeebies. I put him back in the dungeon.”
“Can we go home and watch the French Revolution again? With the guillotining in slo-mo and reverse?”
“Of course, my dear, but let’s discuss that somewhere else. That kid looks like he’s going to faint,” she said, dark eyes flitting to Kerman, whose eyes were bulging from their sockets.
That day, the devil marched out of the human realm wearing Prada and a large grin outshone only by that of the reddish-orange cat in her purse. The welcoming committee at home consisted of Imelda the cat, Attila the Hun and Isaac Newton throwing a lighted shaft at Leibnitz screaming, “Calculus was invented by me! Me! Me! ME!!!”
It was good to be home again.
By Freyan S. Wadia