Boy and His Cat by Nicholas Tan Wei'en

The little clump of damp, matted fur arched it back, bristles standing on end. Her tail puffed up, projecting her to be bigger that she really was. Irises two narrow slits, a flash of white fangs and a high-pitched hiss as I reached out to her. She was unkempt – her fur all muddy and ungroomed; her little crevice with space only for one.

I know what it means to be alone. I mean, I always have been all my life. Of course, that does not mean I have never liked anyone – it is only natural right? You know how the story goes: boy meets girl; girl meets boy’s crippling social anxiety; boy gets obsessed over girl; boy thinks of girl day and night; girl does not even know boy exists – young love.

After class. School library. Shelf “XAC to ZZZ”.

“Hi.” I whisper.

“Right back at you.” She replies. “I’ve seen you at this this shelf before. Anything good to recommend?”

Strategic pause. Chin stroke. Enthral her with your knowledge of LOTR. “Well, you know, the Lord of the Rings movie just came out. I, of course, loved the book before it was cool to be a Tolkien fan. You know? Yeah. The movie? Absolute garbage. The book, now that’s a masterpiece. Where to begin, where to begin. Ah yes. Olórin, or “Gandalf” to those who never read the books, was of course the Isitari to Manwë and Varda - Manwë as you should know was the greatest Valar, but weaker than …

No. No. It should go like this instead:


“Right back at you. Anything good to recommend?”

“Harry Potter.” Everyone loves Harry Potter. Can’t go wrong with this suggestion. Yes. I love the Harry Potter series. If she reads the books too, then we can have something in common to talk about. God, she’s beautiful. And smart. So perfect. She’ll probably be a Ravenclaw. She’s just like Cho Chang. We would spend hours and hours talking about Harry Potter. And then she would fall in love with me. And I would bring her on a date to the best restaurant. And I would end the date with a kiss on her cheek. And I…

But then again...

What would the statistical probability of her being here and talking to me be? I’m here practically every day, so that’s practically 100% chance of encountering her if she does come. However, I am usually at the single seater tables and only spend about 10 mins at the shelves looking for books - if she were to encounter me at the shelves... let’s see... I’m typically here for 4 hours... so 10/(4x60) .... 1/24 so that would be... 4.16 recurring percent. There are about 45 rows of books so the probability she would need a book from the shelf that I am at would be 1/45, so that lowers it to.... what’s 45 x 24... 1 in 1000ish? And then I need to factor in the probability that she even comes to the libr...

She actually came to the library. She was actually here.

“Hi.” She initiated. Shit. This was not how it is supposed to happen. I froze. This must have been how the medusa myth started. Men – there is nothing scarier to men than an amazingly beautiful woman. She freezes men, turning them into stone, petrified. Looking into her eyes, that’s what does it, her beautiful hazel brown eyes. I realized that I had just been standing there, slack-jawed, for the last ten seconds. I turned my head away in shame, catching her reflection off the tinted glass windows of the library. Like Perseus, this was the only way I could look at her – through a reflection. Sophie, catching sight of her friends (or people who I presume are her friends) in the library, waved at them and started walking off toward them. Like Perseus, I had to slay her – slay her in my heart. But for now, I wished I had Hades’ helmet of darkness to grant me invisibility.

I hated it. I hated myself for this cowardice. I hated Cupid and his cursed arrow, Atë and her curse of folly. Why must I be so cursed to fall for Sophie and yet be so useless as to be unable to pick up the courage to open my mouth to say “Hi” back? I mean, didn’t I love her? Or did I really? I realized I did not really know why I felt she was “the one”. I realized I did not know why or what about her that I loved. Perhaps it was her beauty… but did I love her because she was beautiful... or was she beautiful because I loved her? Her adorable dimples when she smiled – are they intrinsically beautiful? Or only beautiful because I was so obsessed with her? The little mannerisms when she talks that makes my heart all aflutter – or was I attracted to the mannerisms because my heart was already in love with her?'

I started banging my head on the shelf to clear my head, with my hand placed on the shelf to muffle the sound, allowing the physical pain from hitting my knuckles with my head overwhelm the pain I felt in my chest.

No. Wait. What did I mean “I love her”? What is love but a potent mix of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin – just a chemical high that means nothing. What did I mean “I love her”? I didn’t even know anything about her. What did she like? What did she not like? What were her hobbies? What made her laugh? What made her cry? I knew not her birthday, not her family, not her hobbies – how couldn’t I claim to love her? How could I pretend to be there for her hopes and dreams when I knew nothing of them? What I fool! What a self-absorbed fool I was.

I silently fled the library, not hearing the librarian as she called out to me, remarking that I was leaving earlier than usual. I could not hear the snickering of the passers-by at my red, tear-filled eyes. I just wanted to be out of school, away from any possibility of having something reminding me of her, away from the pain in my chest. Like a coward. I could not hear the peals of thunder of the July monsoon. Only the familiar taunting from my noonday demon, the familiar resound of my self-loathing. I once more walked down the well-trodden path of self-loathing – familiar, well-worn, habitual, as familiar as the homeward path I was taking. It was easy to see my own follies, my own lack of courage, my own faults and failures, and easily adding on that more empirical proof of my own lack of Chutzpah. If this was the kind of man that I was, I figured that she was better off the way she was – not knowing me; not subject to the wretched existence of being tied down to a worthless creature like me. Besides, the way I was, I would think much less of her. She would no longer be the perfect goddess that I so desired; only an overly flawed being would be low enough to love someone like me. I chuckled to myself – Groucho Marx made sense to me now: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”.

It seemed like the goddess Atë was not done with me yet, and with one more act of mischief, opened up the heavens upon me. Cursing my luck, I ran through the rain, taking shelter under a nearby tree, I made up my mind. I knew what I had to do. Just as Quasimodo had his Esmeralda; just as Snape had his Lily, so too will I have my Sophie. I knew all I could do at that moment was to be a martyr for her. Even if it meant turning my heart to stone – I had to just stop longing after Sophie.

Even as my mind had made its choice, my heart did not want to be dragged along, it did not like the decision. I lashed out in frustration, kicking the trunk of the tree that had kindly given me shelter. As though Karma had decided to join in the dogpiling, the impact of my right leg against the truck of the innocent tree caused my left foot to slip, unceremoniously dumping me on my butt, leaving me with a sprained ankle. I laughed out loud bitterly, as tears mingled with the rain and mud.  

As I sat there wallowing in my misery, an animal screech cut through my own bitter laughter. It was then I saw her. The little clump of damp, matted fur arched it back, bristles standing on end. Her tail puffed up, projecting her to be bigger that she really was. Irises two narrow slits, a flash of white fangs and a high-pitched hiss as I reached out to her. She was unkempt – her fur all muddy and ungroomed; her little crevice under the roots of the tree, with space only for one. Just like I was: wet, dirty, alone, lashing out at the world. Not a pretty sight.

As I approached her, the kitten lashed out at my hand with her tiny claws leaving a long claw mark. This pain was nothing; nothing compared to the pain of the “could have been”s for not even trying to talk to Sophie. Seeing how I had not given up despite her initial attack, the kitten tried again; this time she dug her fangs into my fingers, drawing blood. This pain was nothing; nothing compared to the pain of self-loathing, of the lack of hope, of the self-conviction of being alone forever. I pulled the struggling kitten close to my chest, providing warmth to her freezing cold body as I gently stroked her back, untangling the clumps of fur, rubbing the mud off her face with my shirt as she slowly began to warm to the grooming. She was alone, abandoned; a tiny baby that needed someone to care for her, to protect her, to give her shelter. But at that moment, I needed her more than she did me. You know how the story goes: boy meets cat…..