These two short-short stories appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of ArabLit Quarterly, the CATS issue:
By Ameer Hamad
Translated by M Lynx Qualey
Bella felt she had several cats at once, and that the spirit of her cat was being continually rejuvenated, such that she could never guess what her cat would do next. The cat was a burning torch of activity, racing through the small yard, chasing birds and lizards, climbing the wall to leap into the neighbors’ yards when the house could not contain her.
Then the cat fell ill; she looked like a corpse. Her temperature rose, she vomited blood, and her fur—into which Bella’s hand had once disappeared—fell out.
Bella took her to the best vet. He taught at a university that was two hours from her home. When he saw her cat, he said that it was a hopeless case, that she should throw the cat out and not waste her time on it. Bella, who could not bear the doctor’s cruelty, was determined to be her cat’s physician. She wrote to several vets, combed through websites that specialized in animal diseases, and heeded all the advice she got, such as feeding her cat with a syringe and constantly measuring her cat’s temperature, putting a hot water bottle beside her when it dropped.
This went on for weeks—and then the cat recovered, born again. And Bella realized that she wanted to study veterinary medicine abroad.
When Bella was preparing to travel, the cat went out on one of her regular outings and didn’t come back. Bella searched for the cat for a long time, but she wasn’t able to coax her back as before. And when Bella looked out through the airplane window to say goodbye to her country, from that height the earth resembled a rocky claw, scrabbling at her heart.
Her new city’s streets teemed with cats. But she was not allowed to keep a cat in the dorms. Instead, she would buy cat food and scatter it in the street, feeling that her cat’s spirit was directing her to the best places to leave it. One day, she even showed Bella a kitten stuck beneath a university stair.
The first quarter’s exams were an important step for her to get closer to her dream. Bella studied diligently, energized by the spirit of the cat, but she did not do well. After she left her final exam, she sat out on the empty campus, watching the sun as it set. She felt that she’d let her cat down, and also all the animals she’d seen dead on the side of the highway when she’d driven her sick cat to the doctor.
Suddenly, the silence was interrupted by dozens of cats mewling behind her, who had come to console her, to return her kindness. And Bella stroked them, feeling the spirit of her cat coming into a new body each time, and she was rejoined with all the hands she would have used to stroke her cat, if she hadn’t lost it.
My mother would not allow us to keep any pet, not even a bird. This rule not only prevented us from keeping an animal inside the house, but it also applied to the stretch of land around it. When my sister went to study abroad, a little lost kitten happened into our home, and we were surprised when our mother saw her and said we could keep her outdoors. Then the cat managed to sneak into my mother’s heart, just as she had snuck into our home. My mother took great care with her meals, stroked her when she sat on her lap, left her to sleep undisturbed when she was going about her housework, and, in the winter, she even gave her my sister’s empty room so she would not have to sleep outside.
When my sister came back, the cat disappeared. We looked, but did not find her, and it seemed to me then that, whenever I talked to my mother about the cat, she was the only one who knew where the cat was.
Ameer Hamad was born in Jerusalem in 1992, and he graduated from Birzeit University with a degree in Computer Science. His poems and short stories have been published in al-Arabi al-Jadeed, and he is currently working on his first short-story collection.
Many thanks, Marcia, for this beautiful story, .. and for the fluid translation!
You’re too kind. It’s all down to Ameer, who is so generous to share his work.
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