The long-winding steps to Mount Olympus were a punishment in themselves. I trudged over the fat-burning-travesty to ‘meet’ Zeus while lugging my bow and quiver of arrows. Praise Be To Zeus, no one met Zeus. When he summoned you, you appeared. Though in my case, I was there so he could chew my hide.
Finally, I stood in front of the ‘God’ himself. Seated on his throne, Zeus ran his stubby fingers through his beard as he locked his beady eyes on me.
“Why, Eros?” A soft-spoken question, loaded with menace, shot out of him.
My bladder threatened to answer the question but by the power of Kegel, I suppressed the urge. Instead, I hung my head, and my silky tresses covered my face. “I didn’t know, Zeus.”
Zeus raised a perfect golden eyebrow, and thunder clouds appeared on his Greek God-like face. “You didn’t know? What are you, an imbecile?” Closing his eyes, he tapped his chin. “No, a mistake—a costly mistake like making two gods fall in love needs the right punishment. I sentence you to go to Earth and suffer with the humans. No more love arrows.”
Sheesh, not so bad. Humans are good playthings, I muttered, but Zeus was not done yet.
“Eros is to be banished to Earth as a… as a…”
No. No, Zeus, no, I beseeched him silently, but he knew about my distaste for cats.
“As a black cat. You will live out all your nine lives there. And you cannot end your miserable life by your hands… or in your case, paws.” Snapping his fingers, Zeus ordered.
I felt the familiar tug of gravity as my body contorted itself into a four-legged feline. Damn you, fiend cats.
“Come here, Macavity. Come here, my ball of fur,” whispered T. S. Eliot as I, tail held high, walked across the wooden desk and plonked on the papers, upending the ink bottle. I’ve spared the paying public this man’s wretched poems. I took special delight in padding over the spreading ink and then stepping over Eliot’s work in progress, another feline-based poem on me, Macavity. Where was creativity when you needed it, huh, Eliot? My paw prints failed to obliterate his words. Drat.
Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!
“Now look what you’ve done, Macavity?” grumbled Eliot, patting the fast-expanding ink.
I gingerly glided off the table, landed on the floor, and settled near the window, staring out at a greying London that prepared—however unwillingly—for her role in the impending war with the Germans. Then the war intensified and most of Britain was busy with building bomb shelters, and Elliot went on to compose many more feline poems, and I was his muse for most of them, despite my best efforts. Hearing the blackout siren as it filled the room, I wondered.
Praise Be To Zeus, could the war mean the end of life number eight?
Well, my wish was granted earlier than I expected. The Blitz, while obliterating several, snuffed out life number #8. As with the previous seven lives, it went out fast. I hoped the next one would also be a blitzkrieg. Har. Har.
While dying, my life flashed in front of my eyes… my previous lives… Numero Uno had started with a bang. I, named Gaurhari, lived like royalty in a Bengali household where an errant piece of hairball did me in. Numero duo was in Australia christened Bandi, where a crocodile did short work of yours truly. Third, fourth, and fifth were meh and not worth remembering. Even my flashing life skipped them and landed straight on the sixth. Now that was a harrowing experience. For the first time, I was an alley cat. Nameless. Almost feral, always hungry, and that was one life I didn’t mind letting go, but the seventh one was interesting, a pet of the monarch. I could safely say, I had been to London to visit the Queen. Well, it was the King but why should we nitpick over details?
And now, a new chance. So, onwards!
Celebrations were rife on the Battleship Bismarck as it sunk a Royal Navy battlecruiser and broke across the water of the Atlantic Ocean. Inflated egos, like loose lips, sink ships, I whispered to the German captain, but buoyed by his victory, he urged his men to move ahead despite the hits the ship had taken. Also, he didn’t speak Cat. Nor I, German. And special as I was to him, he didn’t seek my counsel.
I scratched my white muzzle as I watched the captain take one disastrous decision after the other. Oil leaked from the ship’s damaged fuselage, an unctuous breadcrumb trail, if any. Good for me, this could be the end of my life number nine. And then nubile young women could be feeding me succulent grapes as I lazed around Mount Olympus back into my gorgeous form.
Come on, Herr Captain, press on!
Under attack from the Royal Naval ships, Bismarck took one torpedo too many, and slowly, I felt the gushing water enter the battleship as it acceded to the sea and slowly sunk.
Goodbye Number Nine! I yelled, pumping my paws into the air and allowing my fluffy, wet, and bedraggled body to sink into the water. As my last breath was about to depart, I felt myself being plucked out of the water.
What! What was happening? Who dare save me?
“Aww, look a pussy cat! He almost died. Were you on the big, bad German ship, kitty?” A soldier caressed my matted fur.
I hissed in response, squiggling my body to escape, but his hold was firm. Leave me be, peasant. I am embracing death. I have plans.
“Guys, look at what I found. An almost-drowned German cat, we must adopt him! He can kill the British rats, those cretins!” the same puny human trilled. He clutched me to his heart and carried me atop his ship.
My new home. My old life number Nine.
Life at HMS Cossack differed from that at Bismarck. The German captain, a sourpuss, ran his ship like clockwork. The soldiers, much like the hands of the clock, moved in a rhythm, but the ones aboard Cossack were always helter-skelter. Captain Berthon, a tall, ruddy giant of a man, always had a pipe-thingy at the corner of his mouth, spoke in an accent that to my untrained ears sounded like a grunting cat. Replacing the “th” sounds with “f”, but he loved cats, so all was forgiven. Hideous choice, though.
While roaming around the much-smaller ship, I saw a sight that stopped me in my prowling tracks. In my earlier eight lives, I had interacted with women—the much kinder, softer, and more relevant version of humans and my favourites, but ever since I donned the fur of the ninth life, I was yet to see one. Battlefield ships were not fertile ground for women, at least on the German ones.
But here stood a vision in white. My slackened jaw, and I stared at her as she catwalk-ed toward me. In an instant, she had me in her soft embrace, murmuring. “Oh, kitty. What do they call you?” She chucked me under my chin. “How fluffy are you? I am going to call you…”
Her hand ran down my back as she caressed me, thinking. “Meme! You are my Meme, and I am your Opal!”
What IS with humans and a lack of talent? Eros, such a fine, fine manly name, is reduced to Meme? How the mighty have fallen! What is that unholy cacophony I hear? It sounds like a cat… purring.
I looked around for another cat to realise the sound was emanating from me!
This feline body had betrayed me with its… mewling, but try as I might, I couldn’t stop it. I snugged closer to Opal, sticking to her bosom, and kept making the humiliating voices.
Opal carried me to her temporary quarters—how do I know? Because she told me. Opal, besides being drop-dead gorgeous, was chatty, and I learnt to tune her out, catching a few stray words here and there. Her bed was much softer and cleaner than that of the captain. And it smelled nice too.
After the last meal of the day, Opal, with me nested in the crook of her arm, walked across the lower deck. As a naval nurse, she had a lot of stories, and several of them hilarious. She was using the Cossack as a passage when her military hospital ship was torpedoed. Wherever we went, we were greeted by a chorus of ‘Good Evening, ma’am’, to which Opal nodded gracefully.
Humming a song under her breath, Opal pirouetted and twirled me around and we crashed into the hard and wide girth of Capt. Berthon.
“Gor Blimey, Miss!” he exclaimed as his arm snaked around the petite waist of Opal to hold her in place. I was trapped between the two, a hot cat between two unevenly shaped buns. Hah! My Eros-y senses tingled as I watched Opal and Berthon stare into each other’s eyes. Green gaze crashed into blue ones. Where is my arrow when I need it? I must resist and remember my punishment… but a creature of habit, I am.
Quick on my paws, I improvised by digging my talons into each of them. Hah, satisfying and so essential.
“Ouch!” cried Opal while her soon-to-be-paramour nipped a quick “Oi!” I gazed at them with all the innocence I could muster and let out a soft meow. The wretched feline body CAN be of some use.
“So, this is where Oscar has disappeared!” Berthon mumbled in his stones-in-his-mouth accent.
Opal cocked her head. “Oscar?”
He pointed a finger at me. “Square flag, diagonally painted red and yellow to indicate man overboard, O, so Oscar.”
At the expanding look of puzzlement on Opal’s face, he expanded. “We found Oscar… or should I say Oskar, after we bombed Bismarck. He was the ‘man overboard’!”
“Aha. I have named the kitty, Meme,” she said, her even pearly whites shining, each tooth an arrow to Berthon’ heart.
“Umm… whatever you like, Miss,” he eked out. “Osca… Meme is not a freeloader, but he works as a rat killer. I’d suggest you let him loose at night.”
With that, the hunky Berthon reluctantly retired to his room, a vision of Opal sketched in his heart. Our Opal didn’t fare all too well either, she gazed after the captain and turned to me. “Now, wasn’t he something, Oscar?”
Finally. A name that makes sense. I kissed my paws, and with a proud meow, I said. “My magic still works.”
Opal petted me as I purred.
In the guise of asking after me, Berthon met with Opal every evening, and while they strolled, Opal and Berthon took turns running their hands down my back. Sometimes, using my back as a place for them to hold their hands. Opal’s tiny hand disappeared in Berthon’s larger ones. Occasionally, his arm would sneak around her waist as they stood on the lower deck, watching the mayhem unfold in front of them.
As their love story blossomed, a German torpedo flew toward HMS Cossack with the nefarious intention of sinking it. It was a dusky evening when Opal and Berthon stood at the forward deck, admiring the sunset, when the sun set on their lives.
Sad as I was to see their burgeoning love to be nipped in the bud, the attack meant the end of Niner and re-entry into my previous life. Goodbye, Opal and Berthon. So, with a sinking heart, I watched the lovers kiss as they drowned and closed my eyes.
Love does conquer life. Or wait, does life conquer love?
Amidst all the noise, keening, and sirens, my last meow was lost. Or so I believed. A lieutenant, with a sight of an eagle, aboard HMS Ark Royal, spotted my black fur against the seas, and as he doused the fire at Cossack, he snuck me under his jacket as I slit my hazel eyes at him, but in vain.
Drat. Plan foiled again. I think Zeus wants the last life to be stretched out. A lesson to learn. Surviving two bombings within months? Divine intervention at its best.
Must accept fate.
Unlike Cossack, HMS Ark Royal was an aircraft carrier, and unlike the last two times, this time, Lieutenant Arthur not the captain, took me under his wings even though I had hoped the bombing would grant me my life back. Arthur was a sweet guy, despite his unwashed socks. They’d stink up the room, but since I was on nighttime duty, my olfactory senses were protected.
HMS Ark Royal had a mice problem. But nothing that Eros couldn’t attend, one swipe of my mighty paws was all it took. Soon, I had the problem under control, but on the flip side, I was forced to spend the nights with Art.
No good deed goes punished.
HMS Ark Royal moved between the Atlantic Ocean and Malta, delivering planes and each trip, fraught with danger, meant refurbishment of the canteen. I was sorry to admit that I had developed a rather small paunch with all the food that was available onboard.
Arthur was a poet and oft times, sat at his desk, with me curled on his lap, as he penned poems after poems after his one true love, who had died in the war. Charles was Arthur’s best friend and secret lover. Homosexuality was a crime everywhere and Arthur was scared, not for himself, but what people would do to his widowed mom, so he kept his proclivities under the cover.
Humans shackle so many restrictions on themselves. They find alternative ways to indulge in what is banned, so I ponder, why bother hiding? Water, like love, will find its way out of its constraints. And despite their ‘evolved’ brains, humans couldn’t grasp the simple fact. They cannot stop love. The heart will do what it wants to do, damn the brain. Damn, the societal rules. The only difference, is not many give into their emotions but bury their feelings—and life—in toeing the line. Tsk, humans are the stupidest race Zeus came up with! Yearnings galore but incapable of reaching out.
I had seen Arthur make goo-goo eyes at Ralph, three cabins down the line. And Ralph noted each glance and sighed audibly each time he’d request Arthur to pass the salt at mealtimes. The amount of salt the boy consumed to touch Art’s hand was phenomenal. But who says love has to be sweet?
I vacillated between helping the two morons reach out to each other or to let things work out on their own. In the end, I couldn’t help it. A swipe across Arthur’s bum and one across Ralph’s arm did the trick. At meal times, Arthur, sitting next to Ralph, could barely manage to feed himself. His spoon kept hitting his teeth as he was grinning so widely, and Ralph’s uniform bore the telltale signs of eggs he had dropped. I licked the residue for him.
Altruistic, I am.
That night, under the cloudy sky near the engine room, Ralph and Arthur kissed for the first time. Ralph was nervous, Arthur was confident. They broke off when they heard someone coming down the steps, but the goofy grins on their faces warmed my heart.
Love does conquer despite its shackles. Every minor wound in the heart allows for love to seep in and settle.
When Ralph and Arthur took their relationship further, I was happy to find my peace and quiet on the top deck. I climbed the mast pole and settled in the space there, when I first heard the noise. A flying missile hit the fuel bunker and water gushed everywhere. For the first time, I prayed to Zeus to save Arthur and Ralph’s lives, but Zeus, capricious and whimsical to a fault, was unreliable, at best. And generally, he couldn’t care less.
When the ship sank, I floated on a plank, looking out for Arthur, but amongst the sea of bodies, a white, pasty young fellow was invisible.
The rescue team spotted me with the plank pushed below the surface of water, and my face scrunched up and snarling.
“Oh, that black cat is levitating on water!” one of them said.
That night, when the sailors who could be rescued had been rescued, I lay in a corner of HMS Lightning thinking. Maybe it was the curse of bombing Bismarck that led both the ships that attacked it, HMS Cossack and Ark Royal, to be bombed in return. Or could I be causing these bombings by interfering in the human’s love lives? Or could it be a combination of the two? Whatever it was, I decided I was done playing Cupid.
When the ship disembarked at Gibraltar, I loitered around there listlessly, killing time and rats until fed up of my long face, they sent me to the Belfast and a sailor, who survived the HMS Ark Royal adopted me. Maimed in the bombing, William hobbled around in his little house, but he was loving toward me and fed me well. And the best part, yet?
He was already married, so I had no role to play. No more matchmaker hats for me! I was content living my life. I didn’t hanker to return to my previous life, not to say, I didn’t miss it, but Zeus had his plans and ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die.
His wife, Vera, was a nurse and ofttimes she would work late and, with the scarcity of work and his affinity toward alcohol, the two fought regularly and violently. I sympathized with Vera, she dealt with men the entire day, those hurt grievously, or dead ones. When she came home, she needed pampering, and no accusations and slandering of her character.
My nose was twitching for the entire day, and despite pawing it, the dual orifices kept their act up. An unsettling feeling fed the pit in my stomach generously. Since morning, the fires of frustration fed William, and he had been hitting the bottle hard. The odour irritated my sensitive sense of smell, and with the twitching duo, it was an olfactory cacophony everywhere.
By the time Vera got home, William was far gone. “Finally, the meal ticket is home. How many wounded men did you nurture back to health with your tender loving care?” he rasped.
Vera’s often-drawn face was lined and her eyes, that shone with a curious mix of sorrow and irritation, now gleamed with anger. “At least, I didn’t sit at home drinking ale the entire day.”
William rose to his feet, unsteady as a mast in a storm, and raised his hand in an attempt to slap Vera.
My heckles rose, and I jumped in between them, ferrying between their legs with my tail straight-up and ballooning on its own into a handy bottlebrush. William tripped and banged his shin on the table. He cursed like the sailor he was and moved threateningly with his hands curled into fists.
“Oh, now it has come to hitting the missus now, Will? Is this how low you have fallen?” cried Vera.
William eventually flung a pillow at Vera, and she retaliated by throwing her bag at him. The fastener caught the edge of his lips, causing it to bleed. Looking for something to hit, he paused. I meowed loudly and Vera took me in her arms as she stared at her husband. To what was once her husband.
William stood near their knickknack cabinet, full of stuff they lovingly brought as a couple. It contained a replica of Big Ben, Vera’s wedding crockery, and other lovey-dovey stuff. It also housed a 12-inch metallic Eiffel Tower artifact that William had purchased for Vera for their eighth anniversary, whispering to her that his love will remain as incorruptible as the Eiffel Tower. I remember the words and the smile on her face as Vera often narrated the story.
His hand closed around the heavy metallic artifact, and with the power of misplaced resentment, he aimed it at Vera. In his inebriated state, he miscalculated and the metallic love torpedo, spinning alarmingly, hit me right in between my eyes. An emblem of love coming for me.
My life flashed in front of me, even the boring third, fourth, and fifth ones. And just like that, it was over.
Love killed me. Love gave me my life back.
Macavity’s not there.
First published on Penmancy.com.