10th OF JULY, 1957
The fated hour had come for the unfortunate tabby tomcat. He was, now, about to suffer what his latest forgotten self — dying Sandy — had chosen in a minute of supreme yearning, a few months before. And this is how he met his destiny
Some dogs — or perhaps some nasty children, who are even worse, — had started chasing him along Roosevelt Avenue, half way between Takke Avenue and the next great crossing. And he was running like a mad cat, without knowing where he was going; running, with one overwhelming purpose: to escape the monsters; not to hear them any longer in close pursuit. In fact, he had escaped them, and could have gone his way quite peacefully. But he had not escaped the consciousness of their presence; the fear of them. It was that fear that maddened him.
As he reached the great crossing, he could have turned to the right and run along the footpath. But no: there were half-a-dozen shouting street urchins at the corner. They stamped their feet, made violent gestures with their arms, and called out louder than ever as soon as they caught sight of him, so that, completely panic-stricken, the poor cat flung himself across the busy avenue right before a car. The car ran over him, dislocating his hind legs, crushing his belly and forcing out of it an inch or two of soiled entrails. He gave a high-pitched shriek and rolled over, shuddering convulsively. The wretched urchins kicked him onto the footpath, where he continued to shudder, while they looked on, laughing and giggling at his plight.
“I am ready to suffer — to suffer anything — provided I may lie in ‘her’ arms for five minutes,” had said dying Sandy, in the silent language of supreme desire, at the crucial moment that decides of rebirth. Now, was it not enough — those six months of misery, and this horrid agony upon the baking-hot asphalt, amidst the jeers of these young sub-men and the total indifference of that crowd of passersby, every one of whom went his way without even giving the poor beast a glance? Had not the one that had been Sandy — and before that, Long-whiskers — yet deserved the ultimate reward of so long and ardent a
yearning? The happiness that such a ransom of suffering was to buy?
He kept on moving his head and front paws convulsively, while his intestines dragged in the dust, and blood and filth clotted his royal fur. His eyes, wide open, had a glassy stare, as though they were already dead, or nearly so.
Then, at last, the wonder took place: “she” was there; she had come; she was at his side, although he could not see her.
* * *
She was wearing a cream-coloured dress with a large, ornamented border round the bottom, round the sleeves, and on each side of the opening on the breast — Greek style, — which she had bought in Athens, on this very journey of hers. She had bought it because she liked hand-woven material, hand embroidery and local cut, but also and perhaps more so because of the “odal” runes which she had at once noticed among the “ornaments” on the pink, olive-green, light and dark-brown border. She had wondered whether the Greek embroideresses had known what they were doing when they had made those odal runes part and parcel of their intricate design. Probably not. But she knew their meaning. And apart from that, they reminded her of J. von Leers’ famous book Odal, or the History of German Peasantry — one of the best books she had ever read. To her, they expressed the survival of Aryan Tradition in Greece today, and were a visible link between real Greece and eternal Germany, nay, the whole hallowed North. And she wore that dress with pride, as a vestment suited to her Aryan faith. On that day, she was also wearing her gold ear-rings in the shape of swastikas. In Teheran, thought she — in spite of the existence of a “Roosevelt Avenue” (and of a “Churchill Avenue” and of a “Stalin Avenue” also) in commemoration of the sinister meeting of 1943 — nobody would care. And it was such a joy to her to wear them: a gleaming profession of faith. Why not? Other women wore gold crosses, or Jewish stars. Why should she not wear her Sign? She wore it with the usual elation of defiance.
Thus attired, she was crossing the Avenue when that convulsive lump of fur and that circle of noisy urchins, on the opposite footpath, attracted her attention. Scenting some new horror — she had seen so many! — she ran, and was on the spot within a minute. At first, she imagined the boys had half-killed the cat, and her flaming eyes
looked daggers at them. Then she saw the dragging knot of entrails, the motionless, dislocated hind legs . . . “More likely he has been run over,” she thought, picking up the poor creature as softly as she could; supporting his bleeding intestines with her hand. The children watched her and laughed. She cursed them: “You filthy, heartless brats,” cried she (and she was so beyond herself with indignation that it did not come to her mind that the urchins could not understand her speech); “you young cowards! I wish you all perish in the same manner, under the wheels of the first invader’s tanks — and I could not care less who the invader be, as long as you suffer, you devils!”
A few people gathered round her and forced the bewildered boys to disperse. A man asked Heliodora in English what she was expecting to do with that dying cat.
“Give him some chloroform, of course, or some ether; anything that will grant him a painless death. What else is there to be done, in the state he is in?”
“They will not give you any” replied the man. You can try and ask, if you like. There is a chemist’s shop just here, and another round the corner. But I doubt it.”
“But why? Why?” cried Heliodora. “I shall pay for it; pay any price they ask . . .”
“They won’t give you any for a cat,” replied the man. “And if you say it is for a human patient, they’ll want a doctor’s prescription. I know these people. But you can always try.”
She tried, and found out that the man was right. With the cat in her arms, she went to three chemist’s shops along the avenue, only to get the same answer every time; “We don’t sell ether or chloroform for cats and dogs.”
She felt disgusted and hated mankind. “Lord of Life and Death, Whoever Thou art,” prayed she within her heart, for the millionth time, “treat them, individually and collectively, always and everywhere, as they treat dumb creatures. And remember me, when it shall please Thee to strike them. Make me an instrument of Thy divine vengeance!”
In a flash, she pictured herself at the head of a concentration camp in the new world of her dreams — a concentration camp full of such two-legged mammals as these, who believe that “man” is everything, and other creatures nothing. (Such ones would surely be Anti-Nazis: all supporters of the “rights” of man, the “dignity” of man, the “endless possibilities” of man, etc. . . , generally are). How she would gladly “take it out of them!” — prove to them how thoroughly she believed man is nothing
and how little she loved him, with the exception, of course, of a minority of real aristocrats of blood and character; supermen in the making . . .
She slowly walked back in the direction of Roosevelt Avenue and turned to her left as she came to the crossing. Blood and filth stained her hands and her dress. But she thought only of the cat. How long would his agony last?
* * *
She held him against her breast with infinite care and infinite love. And she stroked his glossy head, and kissed it, as only she could kiss a cat.
At first, when she had picked him up and taken him in her arms, the poor beast had experienced a feeling of immense relief. He had lived in hell, all his life, and known, from the beginning, all round him, nothing but cruelty — or criminal indifference, nearly as bad. Along with torturing hunger, hardly ever completely stilled, fear had been his main experience — fear of kicks; fear of sharp stones flung at him; fear of boiling water (or be it even cold water); fear of other creatures such as dogs; above all, fear of the two-legged creature, the devil among devils; — fear, hunger and pain; pain, hunger and fear. He had seldom ever purred since he had last sucked his mother and slowly gone to sleep in the warmth of her coat, the night before she had met her death. And then, all of a sudden, he had known a more maddening fear than ever, and fallen into a more appalling hell: — a hell of excruciating pain; of pain that shattered his nerves and made his head whirl. And just as one confusedly continues to hear, beyond the more exacting sounds of one’s immediate surroundings, the persistent noise of the street, so did he retain, beyond the torment of agony, the dim awareness of universal cruelty.
But what was that unconceivable power that came down to him and lifted him, as softly and as lovingly as his mother used to, long, long before? — and that turned away the devils that were making fun of his pain? What was that unknown, soothing radiance that penetrated him, and forced the pain in his back, the pain in his squashed belly, the pain in his whirling head to recede, at least for a second? What was that touch? — That arm that supported him? That lap, in which he now lay, as he once had against his mother’s fur, in the only happy days he could have remembered, had he been able to remember anything, in his agony? (for Heliodora had stooped down, in order to let him rest more at ease). What was
that hand that caressed him — him, who had never been caressed? Was it the Great Feline Mother, Queen of love, shoreless and fathomless Night, mother of all Life, into which all life is absorbed and all suffering ends — immense projection of his own mother, long dead — who had come to take him away from this world of fear and pain?
But the cool, sweet Presence had a human face — not like that of most two-legged devils, of course, but yet, a face of the same shape as theirs, only loving, earnest, fervent, instead of gleefully cruel or coarsely indifferent: the contrary of theirs. As through a haze, he could now see her two large dark eyes, from which a tear dropped into his fur. And her mouth touched his poor head, still so beautiful — uncrushed.
“My poor stripy puss,” she murmured; “it is for you, for you alone that I came over those hundreds of miles of desert land! I know it now.”
He was resting in her lap. The convulsions of his body gradually ceased. Then, from the depth of an unfailing, mysterious cat memory, that more intellectual creatures can neither grasp nor imagine, an unearthly flash of knowledge came to the dying beast: “She — it is she; the Two-legged goddess!” And through his silky coat stained with blood, Heliodora felt the vibration of a supreme purr. And that purr meant: “I have been waiting for you twelve years. And I have suffered all this so that I might die in your arms, as I so longed to!”
But Heliodora was praying to the Lord of Creatures, Pasupati, Master of Life and Death, Whom she had learnt in India to revere: “I have done what I could, Great One. Do not allow this cat to suffer for long. Give him a peaceful end, and a better reincarnation!”
And again she kissed the beautiful, glossy head. The large greenish-yellow eyes gazed at her with an expression of unutterable love, and, in a last convulsion, the cat, whose paws were already cold, gave up the ghost.
Heliodora went and buried the body in a ditch, not far from the corner of Takke Avenue.
Thousands of miles away, in distant France, on that same day, and exactly at the same time, another cat that had purred in her arms, — Black Velvet — had just died killed on the spot, without the shedding of a single drop of blood, by a motor-lorry into which he had run, on his way home from a riotous night of love in the neighbouring barns. The kind woman who had taken charge of him buried him in her garden. But a long time was to pass before Heliodora was to learn anything about this tragic and amazing coincidence.