Sunday, June 16, 2013

The testing

A CAT stuck in a tree is a classic dilemma.

There is no test quite like it. A dilemma is a zone of discomfort, where one is stuck between two options of varying unattractiveness.

On campus, when I heard the first mew and traced it to a striped kitty perched in a hollow between two branches about 10 feet from the ground, I considered two possibilities and their undesirable consequences: rescue the kitten and end up like Humpty Dumpty, or ignore the kitten and live forever with a conscience as rotten as the corpse ripening in the tree facing the shed where I write my papers.

I chose the latter, of course.

Unlike one-half of the human population, I like cats. I envy their extreme self-confidence, including the tiny contradiction that enables a cat to scoot up great heights without twitching a whisker and then disables it from going down.

Kind-hearted readers will be horrified that I left a kitten to starve in a tree. Let me correct your poor opinion of me: I left the kitten to starve but not to die. I reasoned that if hunger made it miserable enough, the kitten will try to climb down. It has to use those claws, no?

Dew was still in the air when the mewing began. I built a scaffold of arguments for a paper to be passed. I ate lunch. I edited my paper. It drizzled. The mewing became as miserable as the day. When it stopped, I assumed the tired youngster napped.

When it began anew, I swear I could see that small throat throb with the fury and despair of its abandonment in the dark stillness of the rain-drenched canopy.

Before I left for my evening class, I went to the tree and told the youngster to put one paw before the other, just one paw before the other. It did not mew back. What did I expect? Humans also don’t take advice. A cat, which has more sense than a human, would be even more disdainful, even at 10 feet above the ground.

The following day, I had unwrapped my breakfast when the mewling began. The passing of more than 24 hours in that tree had made the kitten hoarse and querulous but not hungry enough to take its chances.

When I bit into the double pimiento layers, I tasted broken glass. The yellow-and-black cat that stakes these sheds as hers jumped on the table and eyed my sandwich. I tossed it a piece and asked her to talk some sense to the youngster. Two orange tabbies joined her. The three had eyes only for my sandwich. They didn’t even look up as the mewling burst with renewed frenzy.

An hour later, a young man circled the tree, investigating the overgrown grass. I looked up from my novel and told him the cat was up, not down. He looked dubiously at the canopy and predicted it would find a way to get down. I said it’s been there since yesterday. He looked at me as if I had confessed that I was a cat-killer. He walked away to smoke.

Just before lunch, another young man slowly sidled up the tree. He tried to be casual, as if young men circled trees every day. It seemed as if his cat-rescuing instincts confused him. It apparently confused the kitten, too, because the mewing resumed only after he had long left the trees.

Finally, rescue. Young lovers and best friend moved in the next shed. When the mewing finally penetrated their giggling, Romeo declared he was rescuing the cat. I checked him out and had my doubts. His head was wreathed in cigarette smoke, and his pants threatened to break away for freedom.

Love conquers all, though. After gallantly jettisoning his cigarette, Romeo was up in the tree, having his hand clawed to ribbons. Juliet received the ungrateful kitty, who raked her and best friend before running away.

As the three giggled about the Cat Liberation Act, I watched the kitten run here and there, pursued by the yellow-and-black cat. The mystery of how the kitten got up the tree was solved.

Before I left for class, the yellow-and-black cat sauntered back, alone. In the twilight, I thought I heard the same plaintive cry come from the darkening grove of trees. Cats have to face up to their demons, like the rest of us.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 16, 2013 issue of the editorial page Sunday column, “Matamata”

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