It was cold. Not Melbourne cold. Tokyo cold.
The cold that makes you beg to see the blossoms on the trees appear because you just can’t stand it anymore. Not one more day of grey.
I was riding down the backstreet when I saw it. Stopping the bike, I stared across the narrow road to a block of land with mud and rubbish in the front, newly built building at the back. I thought I had seen something run behind the house, something small. I swung my leg over my bike and flicked up the stand in one fluid movement with my foot. These skills I had acquired over the last year, now that a bike was my main mode of transport. I rode everywhere at all hours, sober, tired, drunk, angry, and everything else.
The backstreet was empty. At one end was a main road, the other, the canal. I had been taking this shortcut home from the school I was teaching at for weeks but this was the first time I had ever noticed these new houses, when had they even been built?
Pondering this I walked across the road and stepped onto the muddy block. By my second step I had the distinct feeling someone was watching me. I’m not the kind of person who looks around when they think someone is watching them though, I just go about my business so as to be sure they don’t know that I know they’re watching me. Give nothing away. Right?
I veered right, moving closer to the house. Something had run behind the building, so I picked my way around the clods of mud and building refuse to get to the side of the house.
Once there I felt such a keen sense of dread I almost turned back. I could have been home already and sitting under my kotatsu with a warm drink cradled in my palms but by now but the months of loneliness in a foreign country had painted this image with such heavy feelings of melancholy that it punched that dread square in the face. So I turned to look behind the house.
It was dark but I saw them straight away, three tiny kittens all piled on top of one another and a mother cat that was barely an adult herself. She was dirty and so were they, the feelings of dread had subsided somewhat. They were just kittens right?
I squeezed in behind the house. It was a tight squeeze and I had to bend down sideways to get in there. I picked up one of the kittens. It was probably about 3 weeks old, it was white but covered in dirt. It also seemed to have some gunk in it’s eyes which I guessed was some kind of cat conjunctivitis. It mewed softly and barely protested. When I looked up the mother cat had gone. That’s when I started to feel the dread again, like I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t interfere with them. I put the kitten down and backed out of the space.
I was back on my bike and riding down the street when I started thinking about whether there was anywhere I could take them, did they even have a place you could take lost cats? Who would I ask?
I decided to stop by the conbinni and pick up some cat food. I would return after dinner to try and feed the mother.
It was almost completely dark when I went back and even colder than before. This time as I picked my way across the block it wasn’t dread I was feeling, it was something else. It took me a little time to recognise it but once I peered around the back of the house I knew exactly what it was. Loneliness. A loneliness so intense it makes it hard to move, like the fatigue that sets in when you're treading water for too long.
The Mother and kittens were gone, she had moved them, probably because I had found them, messed with them and invaded her space.
Like some sort of unseeing robot I opened the tin and left it there. Got on my bike. I don’t remember the ride home.
Getting changed into my pyjamas and laying out the futon I felt like I had a gaping hole in my chest. I had friends I had family I had a job but I couldn’t shake the heaviness of this feeling. I sunk into the futon and eventually fell asleep.
3am. Clink. Tinkle.
My eyes snap open, I don’t move but I can see the tiny paws.
She’s there, her back to me. She’s dressed like Shirley Temple in a skirt that kicks out at the hips and is all ruffles and cuteness. I can see her fuzzy bum and its adorable. Her furry head and pointy ears are trembling a little as she licks the milk off my floor. She’s on all fours but she’s more human than cat. The milk carton sputters out it’s last little drops onto the floor as she turns her head to look at me. There is a single drop of milk suspended in the fur of her right ear. Then it’s all legs and scrambling as she runs so fast and in such panic it’s almost funny.
The cat girl is gone into the darkness. The apartment door slams shut.
I’m alone again.
Alone, but not lonely.