The Lamentations and Trivialities of a Cat (Chapter 1)

Written by: Euan Loh

I AM AN idealist, a pragmatist, a minimalist, a hedonist, a conservative hardliner, a liberal dove. I am pliable, flexible, eager to please, indifferent to opinion, energetic, apathetic. Sometimes I give in to my pride by thinking that I am something more and that all the descriptions mentioned above are accurate. Yet I always succeed in reminding myself that obscuring the truth so brazenly would be of little benefit to anyone. I state this baldly because it’s good for me to be aware of it. I am neither a paranormal shapeshifter nor a bare-faced opportunist. I can shift from one feeling to the next with such deftness that people are left unable to discern my true intentions. My face is a blank canvas on which any identifiable emotion can be painted.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I am a cat. Yes, I know! Few creatures are as talented as cats; we are masters of impersonation, able to hide our genuine emotions on a whim. Very few animals – and I state this with the most imperceptible hint of pleasure – can make humans feel sorrier for them than the domestic cat. Something about our chubby, innocent faces, coated with fur and whiskers, elicits the most tender feelings from the human heart. But don’t be mistaken and think that this ability of ours makes us sluggish or unsuspecting. Cats still view the outside world as hazardous; the day you see people as more kind than dangerous is the day you let your guard down and when dangers first appear.

A great many people have given me many names. Whether I like any of them is another matter. I’m not a domesticated animal but a creature of the great outdoors, accepting of life’s infinite possibilities. I live off the streets, occasionally accepting treats from humans gullible enough to feel sorry for me. I mean, really. They have an innate sense of duty that compels them to assist those in need, and apparently, stray cats fall under that category. I certainly don’t need help from anyone – I’m perfectly capable of getting my own food – but if humans want to waste their own time and energy laying out sustenance for me, who am I to refuse?

Our story begins in a public housing estate. The estate was located in a little town called Lengkok Bahru. A strange name, I will contend, and if I were the human in charge of coming up with the names for all the towns in the world, I would have given this one a title worthy of its rich history. As for what the name means, I have no idea. Perhaps it was a name belonging to a great wartime hero, an adventurer, or a successful venture capitalist. Unlike most cats born in Lengkok Bahru, my background was one of privilege. My parents were one of the wealthier cats in the neighbourhood – while most cats had to sleep under silver vans or motorcycles, my family had long been the proud occupants of a singular staircase right beside a well-regarded Cantonese restaurant. The staircase was hardly clean, but we never complained. It sheltered us from the elements, relative comfort and privacy, and cleanliness is hardly a prerequisite for most self-respecting cats.

My family, like so many others in the town, paid obeisance to the ruling elite of Lengkok Bahru. These were cats with a military background. Years of fighting with strays from the other towns – Redhill and Bukit Merah – had given them countless scars. They were experienced, battle-hardened and formidable, and we gave them the deference to which they were entitled. At the apex of this hierarchy was the Commander, a thin, domineering cat of excellent posture and formidable intellect. He was the only stray to live indoors; he lived in a flat that had been vacant for as long as anybody could remember. The word on the street was that the previous owners had come into a significant inheritance and moved out, but never bothered selling or renting out their former residence. It was only fitting that the Commander resided in this valuable piece of real estate; it was a place where he could rule over our little community in peace. My father was chief adjutant to the Commander and his most reliable aide. He accompanied the Commander wherever he went, filling him in on all the comings-and-goings of the town, parsing through dispatches. They would breakfast together, inspect ongoing projects, and whenever the Commander had an order he wished to dispatch, my father would call over the relevant personnel and pass it on. Whenever there was a dispute that needed to be settled, my father would inform the Commander of the relevant facts and he would decide accordingly. And sometimes, when the Commander was tired – which became increasingly common as he got older – he would give my father the authority to make decisions on his behalf.

The Commander had five or six children and three occupied senior positions in the government. The eldest, Mina, had the power to seize any trinkets, leftover food or knick-knacks that the government deemed necessary to collect. The second-eldest, Annam, was ambassador to Redhill, our long-standing rival. As far as I knew, the position had no real influence over state affairs, but it entitled Annam to an opulent, luxurious life in the embassy – where he ate, drank and frolicked himself away. The younger cats were not of age, and spent their time being tutored by a governess who came by the flat every Sunday.

This is a monthly installation series. A new chapter will be published every 15th day of the month.