To have and to hold

“Always go after your dreams”, a wise man had once told me.

I always had difficulty living up to his advice. I never had many dreams of my own. So I preferred living through someone else’s. Often from the movies. When I was in school, I tried pretending like I was one of the Brady bunch boys, but that fizzled out after I realized I would never have that kind of ‘bunch’ no matter how hard I pretended. When I was fourteen, I spent a whole six months pretending I was Darth Vader from Star Wars. Speaking like I had the asthma all the time, had my father worried enough to have the doctor take a look at me.

But otherwise, my father let me be whoever I wanted to be. My mum wasn’t around so much…she left me and my dad when I was about four years old. I didn’t quite understand why, and I’m not too sure my dad did, either.

I suppose people must have thought I was weird back then. But then, most of us are allowed some degree of weirdness while we are young. Its only when we grow up that we learn to hide it from everyone else.

My dad was a good person. After my mother left, he didn’t become bitter. He didn’t turn to the bottle. He didn’t turn to other women. He went about his life, as before. Made sure I had everything I needed. Somewhere down the line, I just got used to him being sort of mopey all the time.

In any case, I’ve given up trying to adapt to movie characters now. I just pick up some trends from other folks around. I have quite a knack for picking up accents, mannerisms and general characteristics from people I observe, if I find them mildly interesting. It’s just something I do to occupy myself, seeing as I have no real occupation.

As a good father, my dad had set aside some money for college or in case I decided to backpack around the world. But as I did neither, he gave the money to me, to use as I saw fit. That’s how I have my own place now. But the rest of it is still lying around.

I pickup jobs here and there, when I feel like it, while away my time, otherwise. To his credit, Dad never pushes me. He comes around to see how I am doing every other week. We have dinner and chat about sports and news. We lay off all personal matters as we have all our lives.

That was before she came into our lives…

That’s when it all started. I heard this cat mewling the other night. It was pouring outside, and I tried to avoid looking for it, blocking out the noise the as much as possible. But soon it became more and more pitiable and eventually I roused myself to check outside.

It was crouched down below my porch and looked very miserable indeed. It didn’t scratch or bite as I approached him cautiously. I drew him outside and that’s when I realized it was bleeding from his forepaw. It allowed me to carry him home, where I cleaned him and tended to his foot, the best I could. I gave him water which he drank thirstily and finally went off to sleep, tired out.

I knew he belonged to someone, as he had a collar on him. I put up fliers, asked around if anyone had lost a cat. But no one knew anything. So I went and stocked up on some cat food, since it looked like he was going to be around for some time.

But he refused to touch the food, no matter how much I tried. That’s how my dad found me, when he dropped by for his routine visit.

He was understandably surprised. “When did you get a cat?” He asked.

“Didn’t get it…found it yesterday”, I replied. “Come on Hook, just a tiny bite”, I was still trying to coax him to eat.

“Hook?” Dad asked.

“Yeah…from Peter Pan…you know…” I said.

“Ah…I see, because of the splint.” He watched me for a few minutes, then rummaged around my fridge and emerged with a plate of my leftover sausages from the afternoon.

“How about some real food eh?” he waved the plate closer to Hook’s face.

I saw Hook’s nose twitched before he started mewing excitedly.

“Bingo”, my dad said softly. He cut up the sausages into small pieces and both of us watched in silence as he gobbled it up. I saw a soft smile play around my Dad’s face.

He broke his regular pattern by turning up the next day morning too.

“We should take him to the vet, have him take a look at his foot”, he announced.

So the pair of us landed at the vet’s clinic with Hook. We watched in silence as the vet inspected his foot.

“Is everything OK?” Dad asked anxiously, “will he be all right?”

“The foot was broken pretty badly”, the vet replied, “I think he will always walk with a limp.”

He saw my stricken face, “There was nothing anyone could have done.”

“How do you suppose it broke?” Dad asked him.

“Hard to say…looks like something ran over its paw”, he replied, “Your son did the right thing putting it in a splint. He’s not in pain, and that’s what is important.”

“Also there is something else you should know”, he added.

We waited anxiously.

He smiled, “He is a she.”

“So Hook’s…Hooker?” I said before I could stop myself.

The vet laughed, “Yeah - that’s a good name as any!”

Hooker changed our lives. Both me and my dad – we were like kids with a new toy. Dad started coming by every day. He spent hours playing with her, even when I was away. As for me, I couldn’t wait to get home from work.

She started limping back to normal slowly. Under our careful observation, we let her try taking a few halting steps around the house, but it took weeks before she got used to managing with three legs instead of four.

By then, it was impossible for us to imagine a life without her. It somehow brought Dad and me closer too, as we fussed over her. We were like proud papas, beaming as we watched her walk and even run with just the slightest hint of limp. We celebrated with strawberry shortcake, which Hooker loved to pieces.

And then, just as suddenly, she went away one night. We looked for her everywhere, put up fliers again, asked around. But there was no sign of her.

“She’s gone, son”, my father said, finally. “Doesn’t look like she’s coming back.”

I didn’t know how easy it was for him to accept that fact. Just as easily, he went back to our old life, ceasing his visits to twice a month.

Then it dawned on me that this was his mechanism of dealing with the situation, with life, and I couldn’t bear it. I had to do something about it.

So I went and searched all the animal shelters in the city till I found another cat that looked just like Hooker. My plan was to make it out as though she had returned back to us, all on her own.

The only problem was that this one walked without a limp.

But I was determined not to let that stand in my way. I armed myself with a hammer and a nail and approached that cat. When I raised my hammer, the cat did not shrink back. She stared at me dolefully, as though she knew what I was going to do to her, and yet, strangely willing to accept it, accept her fate.

Two hours later I was still standing in front of her, hammer raised. And that was how my dad found me this time.

“Hooker’s back?” he asked me happily. I dropped the hammer; let it fall to the floor. At the sound, the cat bolted under the table.

“It’s not her…” His voice trailed off, as the absurdity of the situation suddenly dawned on him.
He gave me a look in his quiet, considering way. “What were you doing with the hammer, son?” he asked me.

“What does it look like, Dad?” I asked, wearily, “I was trying to get Hooker back for you…”

He looked at me reproachfully. Then crouched down and tried to coax the cat, out from under the table. She refused, even when he fetched a can of sausages out for her. It was not until he emptied Hooker’s untouched old bag of cat food into a bowl that she ventured out tentatively.

“I guess it would never have worked anyway”, I sighed, watching her greedily finish up the bowl.

“Would you have really made her lame?” he asked me, quietly.

“I was trying to, for the past couple of hours. I might have, eventually, I don’t know…”

He was silent.

I swallowed hard, suddenly feeling like I had to defend myself. “I didn’t want you to feel like we couldn’t make her stay, Dad. I didn’t want you to go through that again…”

He looked away, didn’t say anything for long time. When he finally looked at me again, his face was mixed with sorrow, understanding and apology.

“Hooker belonged to someone else”, he said finally, “…just like your mother belonged someplace else.”

I didn’t want to believe that. “Maybe if we’d tried harder…”

He cut in, harshly, “She belonged someplace else. She had her dreams…which she couldn’t bear giving up. She was an actress, you know. There was a whole different world waiting for her. I didn’t want to stop her from reaching for her dreams.”

“Mine included having a family, on being a husband and a father. I got half of mine, don’t think I can complain.” He smiled at me.

He added gently, “There was nothing you or I could have done to make them stay. All we can do is let them go, and hope they are happy. That they think about us sometime. Maybe want to come back, someday…”

I was angry with him, for being so complacent with life and I told him so. I told him I was ashamed of him. I told him it was precisely because of this attitude my mother did not ever want to come back. I told him many things, pouring out years of pent up frustration I never knew I had, before I asked him to leave. He left without saying a word in his defense, which made me angrier. Enough to banish the cat out of my house and shut the door on her as well.

Only, the next day, it turned out she never left. She let herself back in, when I opened the door, rubbing herself against my legs in forgiveness. I kept pushing her out daily, hoping she’d get the message. But somehow she never did.

She was still there, when my dad came back in a couple of weeks. He brought a new collar, extending it as an olive branch.

We called her Kip (Keeper, to those in the know, because that’s what she was!)

Eventually I gave up my job again. But this time to enroll myself in the local theater school, recognizing my childhood weirdness for what it was.

Sometimes it takes heavenly omens to point us to the right direction. Sometimes it takes years of penance, before we find forgiveness in our hearts.

Sometimes all it takes is a wayward cat.

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