of the Bereaved Kittens
an ugly cat you are, the child thought, and picking up a stone hurled
it at the feline.
Two pairs of dark eyes
glowered back at her.
argument had been ongoing since breakfast. That was two hours ago.
Enough was enough. Sorry boys, but no means no. She wasnt
going to give them any advance from next weeks pocket money.
And certainly not for spending on a copy of Jay-Zs Big
Pimpin on vinyl. Or come to that, in any other format either.
She swiftly silenced any further argument with a sharp look.
Fine. Im not doing my homework tonight then. one of
Suit yourself. I wont be the one wholl be given detention.
she said and turned to leave the room.
Come Sol, he nudged his brother, were gahhin
Pardon? Youre gahhin owt?
All right, were going out! Happy now?
The door slammed with deafening resentment leaving a bruised resonance
that shook through the house. Lest she dare forget that this respite from
the tedious battle-of-the-day with her children was just a temporary one.
Silence but no peace. Feeling like a deflated balloon, she flopped onto
the bed. The cat jumped up beside her, purring in anticipation of some
physical attention. She let out a sigh and absentmindedly caressed the
warm silky bundle. Some days she even forgot which battle she was supposed
to be fighting, there seemed to be so many on the boys agenda. She
reached over for a cigarette. Sorry puss. she said, exhaling.
As she lay there, she remembered the billposter shed seen the other
morning. Against the greasy, blackened brick walls, egg-streaked with
dried up bird droppings and above which rumbled the North London Line.
Three words bellowing out in a blast of pink - MIRACLES HEALING
FAITH. Maybe that was what was needed, a miracle to heal her faith
with. Even if hers had only ever been patchily formed in the first place.
Two summers ago she had finally agreed to formally adopt her mothers
religion. Partly to give her aged mum one less thing to worry about, and
partly because she felt the time was right, or at least as right as it
ever would be.
The philosophies behind the Tao were abstract and complex but when religion
had purloined them, FAITH had usurped much of the abstraction. Plus adding
a peppering of superstitious ritual and alchemy. She didnt have
a lot of time for that side of things but what she had held onto was the
basic doctrine that good and evil deeds are duly repaid. For her that
had to be so, otherwise life was a fraction too random, without purpose,
lacking an accepted way forward. However, doubts still lurked in her mind
about all your debts being carried over in reincarnations. Sounds more
like Recrimination, she thought wryly.
As she watched the cigarette smoke dissipate into the air, the story of
the kittens drifted into her mind. Was it a tale her mother had ferreted
out from the temple priestess especially for her, or just coincidence?
She wasnt sure she wanted to know the answer. It was the day
after shed gone to the temple with her mother to take the Tao. They
were sitting in the kitchen preparing vegetables and chatting idly.
Ah-Leen, theres a story I want to tell you. her mother
said. We heard it at the temple last Sunday. I think you should
hear it too.
She would always come to remember this as The Parable of the Bereaved
It all happened a long time ago, in a village in China. A young woman,
recently widowed, had sunk to the depths of despair. Her husbands
death had been a sudden one, abandoning her to poverty and isolation,
without any living family to offer her support. She had two sons who treated
her cruelly as if they were not of kin. Standing at the monastery gates,
the woman started wailing and beating her chest. Why? Why? Why has
my life fallen into this pitiful state?
A priest hearing the disturbance, hurried over and eventually managed
to becalm her. He knew of her situation and said that if it would help
to mitigate her suffering, he could answer her question.
In your previous life, you were the only child of a rich widower
from Guangdong province. Your mother had died in childbirth so you were
especially precious to your father. A child of bewitching beauty but possessing
a heart marred by petulance and a cruel arrogance. One day, after a row
with your amah, you were feeling cross and bored. Looking down from your
balcony, you espied a stray cat with her two kittens. The poor creature
looked starved, its ribs protruded through the patchy and matted fur.
What an ugly cat you are, the child thought, and picking up a stone hurled
it at the feline. Just then, hearing your father arrive home, you jumped
up and ran to greet him, in the hope that he had brought you something
back which would sweeten your sour mood. You forgot all about the cats.
You were never to know that your act of impulsive cruelty had left those
The woman started to cry again but softly now. A crying from within, one
that would cleanse and lighten her heart with understanding.
The priest continued. You departed from that life childless but
you had a debt to repay. Those two kittens whose mothers life you
so viciously snatched away, have returned to you in this life as your
children, to right the wrong. It is also your chance to do the same.
Her mother paused for a moment.
What happened to them all then?
The priest told her to have compassion for her sons and to treat
them with understanding and patience. This she did and as the years passed,
their relationships with each other improved and her sons looked after
her well into her old age.
Her mother glanced over at her and smiled. The story had sent a frisson
through her veins but strangely, it had also been a comforting tale. As
she leant over to stub out her cigarette, she saw the small black and
white photograph lying on the floor. It must have slipped off the mirror
frame. Three seafaring comrades stand relaxed by the deck rail. Arms resting
on one anothers shoulders. Broad smiles glinting in the afternoon
sun. Behind them, like sentries on watch, three white funnels with cavernous
mouths agape. Calling voicelessly into the salty air. And far beyond lies
the horizon. A constant and perfect horizontal extending across the vast
expanse of the Indian Ocean. The photograph was taken in 1940. And the
figure in the middle was her father, just 27 years of age.
After many years at sea, he had decided to settle over here, securing
himself a more sedentary job on dry land with the Blue Funnel Line shipping
company. His first wife had been lost to the ravages of war. He had been
at sea when she died and had failed to overcome the devastation of his
loss in order to return home. Not even to see his number-one
son. He went back only once, years later, to seek a new wife and to collect
the son he had never set eyes upon, a stranger of 13 years. He brought
them both over from Hong Kong, promising them a secure future in the western
world. And a big house with an apple tree in the garden.
After a gruelling months voyage by cargo ship they finally docked
on the River Clyde, with wife and son feeling bewildered and unsure. But
he did fulfil his promise to them, 10 months on. In time for the arrival
of their baby daughter. Undoubtedly welcomed, but born without that sense
of belonging, a native of no land. But here she had remained. And on a
bad day, still feeling like the stranger in a strange land.
She had her own children now, whose place of birth did not match their
diffused racial identities either. But they seemed to be no strangers
to their domicile. They had slotted themselves into their environs and
culture as smoothly as an ice-lolly slipping in between ones lips.
Sometimes she liked to imagine that their self-assurance came from the
ancestors of not just one, but two ancient civilisations. In the less
romantic light of reality, they were just kids. So confident of their
looks, intelligence and barefaced charm. So unlike herself at their age.
Well, she thought, at least some things had turned out better.
The three of them shared a constantly shifting relationship, like unanchored
magnets all vying for domination. Which obviously wasnt right. She,
the parent, was meant to be at the helm, any fool knew that. Mind you,
she thought, werent Taoists supposed to endeavour to
Just surrender to the cycle of things,
Give yourself to the waves of the Great Change,
Neither happy nor yet afraid
Well maybe not in the case of raising kids into the 21st century. Just
going with the flow didnt appear to be the appropriate tenet to
adopt. Doing nothing resulted in a precipitous loss of control, much like
an avalanche gathering horrifying momentum.
Right, no more supine cogitation, she told herself firmly,
otherwise shed be headed straight down the one-way street to the
Slough of Despond. She gave a shudder, swung her legs off the bed and
got up rather abruptly. The poor cat, whod been having a pleasurable
snooze on her chest, received a very ungracious awakening.
Oh shit, she thought, I can see it coming now. In my next life
youll be back as a baby who suffers from chronic insomnia.
she muttered, shaking her head at the cat.
© Amy Chan 2001
Amy is a library assistant at a University in London and amongst other
things, ex-musician, interior decorator... Born in Glasgow, she has a
Masters degree in Philosophy and Psychlogy and she started writing short
pieces about a year ago. She aims to document her life in form of 'faction'.
Fiction in Dreamscapes
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