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The Travelling Cat Chronicles Kindle Edition
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From the Publisher
“Anyone who has ever unashamedly loved an animal will read this book with gratitude, for its understanding of an emotion that ennobles us as human beings, whether we value it or not.”—Lynne Truss, The Guardian
“It’s the wisdom and stoicism of the feline narrator that makes this book such an engaging read. Like Alison Jean Lester’s recent Yuki Means Happiness, it provides a fascinating insight into Japanese culture and traditions, but ultimately it doesn’t matter that it’s about a man and a cat. Like Of Mice and Men or The Kite Runner, Arikawa’s central concern is friendship and the things we’ll do for the people, or animals, that we love”—The Irish Times
“Continues the Japanese tradition of folkloric tales that celebrate simple values such as self-sacrifice and friendship. It has the warmth, painterly touch, and tenderness of a Studio Ghibli film—and is a delight to read.”—Financial Times
“A beautiful travelogue.”—The Sunday Morning Herald
"Like the very best cats, Hiro Arikawa's inventive tale sneaks up on you and works its way into your heart on its own terms. Once it does, it doesn't let go."—Steven Rowley, author of Lily and the Octopus
"At times comic, at times poignant, their trip is one this reader will remember with fondness for a long, long time.”—Philip Gabriel, translator of the English edition of The Travelling Cat Chronicles
“As simple as both the premise and prose of The Travelling Cat Chronicles, it’s a novel that will leave your heart both comfortably full and utterly raw.”—Bustle
“I doubt many readers—as cynical and hardened as they may—will get through it dry-eyed.”—NPR
“[Arikawa’s] book stands out within the world of cat literature...and it’s a world worth exploring.”—Time
“This touching novel of a brave cat and his gentle, wise human will resonate with lovers of animal tales, quiet stories of friendship, and travelogues alike.”—Publishers Weekly
“Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Hiro Arikawa is a masterful storyteller.”—Medium
“Gentle, soft-spoken, and full of wisdom.”—Kirkus Reviews
“With wisdom, humor and compassion, in The Traveling Cat Chronicles, Hiro Arikawa tells the story of a powerful bond between a man and his cat.”—Shelf Awareness
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2018 Hiro Arikawa
I am a cat. As yet, I have no name. There’s a famous cat in our country who once made this very statement.
I have no clue how great that cat was, but at least when it comes to having a name I got there first. Whether I like my name is another matter, since it glaringly doesn’t fit my gender, me being male and all. I was given it about five years ago – around the time I came of age.
Back then, I used to sleep on the bonnet of a silver van in the parking lot of an apartment building. Why there? Because no one would ever shoo me away. Human beings are basically huge monkeys that walk upright, but they can be pretty full of themselves. They leave their cars exposed to the elements, but a few paw prints on the paintwork and they go ballistic.
At any rate, the bonnet of that silver van was my favourite place to sleep. Even in winter, the sun made it all warm and toasty, the perfect spot for a daytime nap.
I stayed there until spring arrived, which meant I’d survived one whole cycle of seasons. One day, I was lying curled up, having a snooze, when I suddenly sensed a warm, intense gaze upon me. I unglued my eyelids a touch and saw a tall, lanky young man, eyes narrowed, staring down at me as I lay prone.
‘Do you always sleep there?’ he asked.
I suppose so. Do you have a problem with that?
‘You’re really cute, do you know that?’
So they tell me.
‘Is it okay if I stroke you?’
No, thanks. I batted one front paw at him in what I hoped to be a gently threatening way.
‘Aren’t you a stingy one?’ the man said, pulling a face.
Well, how would you like it if you were sleeping and somebody came by and rubbed you all over?
‘I guess you want something in exchange for being stroked?’
Quick on the draw, this one. Quite right. Got to get something in return for having my sleep disturbed. I heard a rustling and popped my head up. The man’s hand had disappeared into a plastic bag.
‘I don't seem to have bought anything cat-suitable.’
No sweat, mate. Feline beggars can't be choosers. That scallop jerky looks tasty.
I sniffed at the package sticking out of the plastic bag and the man, smiling wryly, tapped me on the head with his fingers.
Hey there, let’s not jump the gun.
‘That’s not good for you, cat,’ he said. ‘Plus it’s too spicy.’
Too spicy, says you? Do you think a hungry stray like me gives a ratsmonkey about his health? Getting something into my stomach right this minute – that’s my top priority.
At last, the man liberated a slice of fried chicken from a sandwich, stripping off the batter, laying the flesh on his palm and holding it out to me.
You want me to eat right out of your hand? You think you’ll get all friendly with me by doing that? I’m not that easy. Then again, it’s not often I get to indulge in fresh meat – and it looks kind of succulent – so perhaps a little compromise is in order.
As I chomped down on the chicken, I felt a couple of human fingers slide from under my chin to behind my ears. He scratched me softly. I mean, I’ll permit a human who feeds me to touch me for a second, but this guy was pretty clever about it. If he were to give me a couple more tidbits, scratching under my chin would be up for grabs, too. I rubbed my cheek against his hand.
The man smiled, pulled the meat from the second half of the sandwich, stripped off the batter, and held it out. I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t be impartial to the batter, either. It would fill me up even more.
I let him stroke me properly to repay him for the food, but now it was time to close up shop.
Just as I began to raise a front paw and send him on his way, the man said, ‘Okay, see you later.’
He retrieved his hand and walked off, heading up the stairs of the apartment building.
That’s how we first met. It wasn’t until a little later that he finally gave me my name.
From that moment on, I found crunchy cat food underneath the silver van every night. One human fistful – a full meal for a cat – just behind the rear tyre.
If I was around when the man turned up to leave food, he’d wrest some touch-time from me, but when I wasn’t there he’d humbly leave an offering and disappear.
Sometimes, another cat would beat me to it, or the man would be away and I’d wait in vain till morning for my crunchies. But, by and large, I could count on him for one square meal a day. Humans are quite flighty, so I don't rely on them a hundred per cent. A stray cat’s skill lies in building up a complex web of connections in order to survive on the streets.
Acquaintances who understood each other, that’s what the man and I had become. But when he and I had settled into a comfortable relationship, fate intervened to change everything.
And fate hurt like hell.
I was crossing the road one night when I became suddenly dazzled by a car’s headlights. I was about to dart away when a piercing horn sounded. And that’s when it all went wrong. Startled, I was a split second late in leaping aside, and bang! the car rammed into me and sent me flying.
I wound up in the bushes by the side of the road. The pain that shot through my body was like nothing I’d experienced before. But I was alive.
I cursed as I tried to stand up, and even let out a scream. Oww! Oww! My right hind leg hurt like you wouldn't believe.
I sank to the ground and twisted my upper half to lick the wound, only to find – good Lord! A bone was sticking out!
Bite wounds and cuts I can mostly look after with my tongue, but this was beyond me. Through the wrenching pain, this bone protruding from my leg was making its presence known in no uncertain terms.
What should I do? What can I do?
Somebody, help me! But that was idiotic. Nobody was going to help a stray.
Then I remembered the man who came every night to leave me crunchies.
Maybe he could help. Why this thought came to me, I don’t know – we’d always kept our distance, with occasional stroking time in thanks for his offerings. But it was worth a try.
I set off along the pavement, dragging my right hind leg with the bone jabbing out. Several times my body gave out, as if to say, I can't take it, it’s just too painful. Not one. More. Step.
By the time I reached the silver van, dawn was breaking.
I really couldn’t take another step. This is it, I thought.
I cried out at the top of my lungs.
Oww . . . owwwww!
Again and again I screamed, until my voice finally gave out. It killed me even to call out, to be honest with you.
Just then, I heard someone come down the stairs of the apartment building. When I looked up. I saw it was the man.
‘I thought it was you.’
When he saw me close up, he turned pale.
‘What happened? Were you hit by a car?’
Hate to admit it, but I messed up.
‘Does it hurt? It looks like it.’
Enough of the irritating questions. Have a little pity for a wounded cat, okay?
‘It sounded like you were desperate, the way you were screaming, and it woke me up. You were calling for me, weren’t you, cat?’
Yes, yes, I certainly was! But you took your time getting here.
‘You thought I might be able to help you, didn’t you?’
I guess so, Sherlock. Then the man started sniffing and snuffling. Why was he crying?
‘I’m proud of you, remembering me like that.’
Cats don't cry like humans do. But – somehow – I sort of understood why he was weeping.
So you’ll do something to help, won’t you? I can’t stand the pain much longer.
‘There, there. You’ll be okay, cat.’
The man laid me gently in a cardboard box lined with a fluffy towel and placed me in the front seat of the silver van.
We headed for the vet’s clinic. That’s like the worst place ever for me, so I’d rather not talk about it.
I ended up staying with the man until my wounds healed. He lived alone in his apartment and everything was neat and tidy. He set out a litter tray for me in the changing room beside the bath, and bowls of food and water in the kitchen.
Despite appearances, I’m a pretty intelligent, well-mannered cat, and I worked out how to use the toilet right away and never once soiled the floor. Tell me not to sharpen my claws on certain places, and I refrain. The walls and doorframes were forbidden so I used the furniture and rug for claw-sharpening. I mean, he never specifically mentioned that the furniture and the rug were off limits. (Admittedly, he did look a little put out at first, but I’m the kind of cat who can pick up on things, sniff out what’s absolutely forbidden, and what isn’t. The furniture and the rug weren’t absolutely off limits, is what I’m saying.)
I think it took about two months to get the stitches out and for the bone to heal. During that time, I found out the man’s name. Satoru Miyawaki.
Satoru kept calling me things like ‘You’, or ‘Cat’ or ‘Mr Cat’ ‒ whatever he felt like at the time. Which is understandable, since I didn't have a name at this point.
And even if I had had a name, Satoru didn’t understand my language, so I wouldn't have been able to tell him. It’s kind of inconvenient that humans only understand each other. Did you know that animals are much more multilingual?
Whenever I wanted to go outside, Satoru would frown and try to convince me that I shouldn’t.
‘If you go out, you might never come back. Just be patient, little cat. Wait until you’re completely better. You don't want to have stitches in your leg for the rest of your life, do you?’
By this time, I was able to walk a little, though it still hurt, but seeing how put out Satoru looked, I endured house confinement for those two months, and I figured there were other benefits. It wouldn’t do to be dragging my leg if a rival cat and I got into a scrap.
So I stayed put until my wound was at long last totally healed.
Satoru always used to stop me at the front door with a worried look, but now I stood there, meowing to be let out. Thank you for all you’ve done. I will be forever grateful. I wish you lifelong happiness, even if you never leave me another tidbit beneath that silver van.
Satoru didn't look worried so much as forlorn. The same way he seemed about the furniture and the rug. It’s not totally off limits, but still … That sort of expression.
‘Do you still prefer to live outside?’
Hang on now – enough with the teary face. You look like that, you’ll start making me feel sad that I’m leaving.
And then, out of the blue, ‘Listen, cat, I was wondering if you would become my cat.’
I had never considered this as an option. Being a dyed-in-the-wool stray, the thought of being someone’s pet had never crossed my mind.
My idea was to let him look after me until I recovered, but I’d always planned to leave once my wound was healed. Let me rephrase that. I thought I had to leave.
As long as I was leaving, it would be a lot more dignified to slip out on my own rather than have someone shoo me away. Cats are proud creatures, after all.
If you wanted me to be your pet cat, then, well, you should have said so earlier.
I slipped out of the door that Satoru had reluctantly opened. Then I turned around and gave him a meow.
For a human, Satoru had a good intuitive sense of cat language and seemed to understand what I was saying. He looked puzzled for a moment, then followed me outside.
It was a bright, moonlit night, and the town lay still and quiet.
I leapt on to the bonnet of the silver van, thrilled to have regained the ability to jump, and then back on to the ground, where I rolled and scratched for a bit.
A car drove by and my tail shot up, the fear of being hit again ingrained in me now. Before I knew it, I was hiding behind Satoru’s trousered legs, and he was gazing down at me, smiling.
I made one round of the neighbourhood with Satoru before returning to the apartment building. Outside the door of the stairway to the apartment on the second floor, I meowed. Open up.
I looked up at Satoru and saw he was smiling, but again in that tearful way.
‘So you do want to come back, eh, Mr Cat?’
Right. Yeah. So open up.
‘So you’ll be my cat?’
Okay. But sometimes let’s go out for a walk.
And so I became Satoru’s cat.
‘When I was a child, I had a cat that looked just like you.’
Satoru brought a photo album out of the cupboard.
The album was full of photos of a cat. I know what they call people like this. Cat fanatics.
The cat in the photos did indeed resemble me. Both of us had an almost all-white body, the only spots of colour being on our face and tail. Two on our face; our tail black and bent. The only difference was in the angle of our bent tails. The tabby spots on our faces, though, were exactly alike.
‘The two spots on its forehead were angled downwards, like the Chinese character hachi – eight – so I named him Hachi.’
If that’s how he comes up with names, what on earth is he going to choose for me?
After hachi comes kyu – nine. What if he picked that?
‘How about Nana?’
What? He’s subtracting? I didn't see that coming.
‘It hooks in the opposite direction from Hachi, and from the top it looks like nana – the number seven.’
He seemed to be talking about my tail now.
Now wait just a second. Isn't Nana a girl’s name? I’m a full-fledged, hot-blooded male. In what universe does that make sense?
‘You’re okay with that, aren’t you, Nana? It’s a lucky name ‒ Lucky Seven and all that.’
I meowed, and Satoru squinted and tickled me under my chin.
‘Do you like the name?’
Nope! But, well. Asking that while stroking my chin is playing foul. I purred in spite of myself.
‘So you like it. Great.’
I told you already – I do not.
In the end, I missed my chance to undo the mistake (I mean, what’s a cat going to do? The guy was cuddling me the whole time), and that’s how I ended up being Nana.
‘We’ll have to move, won’t we?’
His landlord didn't allow pets in the apartment, but he’d made an exception for me, just until I got back on my feet.
So Satoru moved with me to a new place in the same town. Going to all that trouble to move just for the sake of one cat – well, maybe I shouldn’t say this, being a cat myself, but that was one fired-up cat lover.
And so began our new life together. Satoru was the perfect roommate for a cat, and I was the perfect roommate for a human.
We’ve got along really well, these past five years.
As a cat, I was now in the prime of life, and as Satoru was a little over thirty, I guess he was, too.
One day, Satoru patted my head apologetically.
‘Nana, I’m sorry.’
It’s okay, it’s okay. No worries.
‘I’m really sorry it’s come to this.’
No need to explain. I’m quick on the uptake.
‘I never intended to let you go.’
Life, be it human or feline, doesn't always work out the way you think it will.
If I had to give up living with Satoru, I’d just go back to the way I was five years ago. Back when the bone was sticking out of my leg. If we’d said goodbye and I’d gone back to life on the streets, it would not have been a big deal. I could go back to being a stray tomorrow, no problem.
I didn’t lose anything. Just gained the name Nana, and the five years I’d spent with Satoru.
So don’t look so glum, chum.
Cats just quietly take whatever comes their way.
The only exception so far was the night I broke my leg and thought of Satoru.
‘Well, shall we go?’
It seemed Satoru wanted me to go with him somewhere. He opened the door of my cage and I got in without making a fuss. For the five years I’d lived with him, I’d always been a sensible cat. For instance, even when he took me to my bête noire, the vet, I didn't stir up a racket.
Okay then – let’s go. As Satoru’s roommate, I had been a perfect cat, so I should be the perfect companion on this journey he seemed so intent on making.
My cage in hand, Satoru got into the silver van.
Kosuke, the husband without a wife
Long time no see.
So began the email.
It was from Satoru Miyawaki, a childhood friend of Kosuke’s who had moved away when he was in elementary school. He had moved around quite a bit after that, but they never completely lost touch, and even now, when they were both past thirty, they were still friends.
Sorry this is out of the blue, but would you be able to take my cat for me?
It was his precious cat, which ‘unavoidable circumstances’ were preventing him from keeping any longer, and he was now looking for someone to take care of it.
What these unavoidable circumstances were, he didn't say.
He attached two photos. A cat with two spots on his forehead forming the character hachi – eight.
‘Whoa!’ Kosuke couldn't help saying. ‘This cat looks exactly like Hachi.’
The cat in the photo looked just like the one Satoru and Kosuke had found that day so many years ago.
He scrolled to a second photo, a close-up of the cat’s tail. A hooked tail like the number seven.
Aren’t cats with hooked tails supposed to bring good fortune? thought Kosuke.
He tried to recall who had told him that. Then he sighed, realizing it had been his wife, who’d gone to live with her parents for a while. Kosuke had no clue when she’d be back.
He was beginning to get the faint sense that maybe she never would.
The ridiculous thought crossed his mind that perhaps if they’d had a cat like this, things might have been different.
With a cat hanging around the house, a cat with a hooked tail to gather in pieces of happiness, maybe they’d be able to live a simpler, more innocent life. Even without any children.
Might be good to have the cat, he was thinking. The cat in the photo was good-looking, a lot like Hachi, with the hooked tail and everything. And he hadn’t seen Satoru for a long time.
A friend asked me to take his cat for him, so what do you think? Kosuke emailed his wife, and she answered: Do whatever you like. A tad cold, he thought, but since she hadn’t replied to a single email since she’d left, it felt good to hear from her, at least.
He began to wonder if his wife, a true cat lover, might actually come home if he took in the cat. Perhaps if he told her he had adopted the cat but didn’t know how to look after it and begged her to help, perhaps she would come back solely out of sympathy for the cat.
No. Dad hates cats, so that won’t work. He caught his own kneejerk reaction; he was worrying, as usual, about what his father might think.
This was exactly why his wife had got fed up with him. Kosuke was the one running the business now, and there was no need to worry about how his dad would feel about things. Yet stillhe did.
So, partly as a reaction against his dad, he threw his name ‒ Kosuke Sawada – into the bowl as a candidate willing to take in his childhood friend’s cat.
Satoru Miyawaki wasted no time coming over to Kosuke’s place, arriving on his day off the following week in his silver van, along with his beloved cat.
When he heard a car engine outside his shop, Kosuke wandered out to find Satoru pulling into the shop’s parking lot.
‘Kosuke! It’s been ages!’
Satoru took his hands off the wheel and waved out of the open driver’s-side window.
‘Just hurry up and park,’ Kosuke urged. He was excited to see Satoru. The guy hadn’t changed at all since he was a kid.
‘You should have parked at the end. It’s easier.’
There were three parking spaces for customers right in front of the shop and Satoru had pulled into the spot furthest from the entrance, where a small shed and piles of boxes made it a tight fit.
‘Ah, is that right?’ Satoru said, scratching his head as he got out of the car. ‘I didn’t want to take up a space in case a customer needed it. Well, it’s done now.’ He took the cat cage from the back seat.
‘Is that Nana?’
‘Yep. I sent you a photo so you could see how his tail is shaped like a seven. Great choice for a name, don’t you think?’
‘I don't know if I’d call it great, exactly … You always choose kind of quirky names … Like Hachi.’
Kosuke ushered them into his living room and tried to get a good look at Nana’s face, but all Nana did was give a moody growl and turn himself around. When Kosuke peered inside, all he could make out was the black hooked tail and white rear end.
‘What’s the matter, Nana? Nana-chan …?’
Satoru tried to coax Nana out, but eventually gave up.
‘Sorry about that. He must be nervous about being in a different house. Give it some time and I’m sure he’ll settle down …’
They left the cage door open and sat on the sofa together to reminisce over old times.
‘You’re driving, so alcohol’s no good. What would you like to drink? Coffee? Tea?’
Kosuke brewed two cups of coffee. Satoru took his carefully and asked, innocently enough, ‘Is your wife here today?’
Kosuke had intended to avoid the issue but, after an awkward silence, failed to come up with a plausible excuse.
‘She went back to her parents’ place.’
Satoru’s face was hard to describe. A sorry I didn’t realize that was such a sore point kind of look.
‘Is it okay for you to make a decision about the cat on your own? Won’t you two quarrel about it when she comes home?’
‘She likes cats. In fact, taking the cat might lure her back.’
‘Yeah, but not everybody likes the same type of cat.’
‘I forwarded those photos of Nana to her and asked her what she thought, and she said I should do whatever I like.’
‘That doesn’t sound like she’s on board with the idea.’
‘It’s the only time since she left that’s she’s answered one of my emails.’
Taking the cat might lure her back – Kosuke had said it as a joke, but he was actually hoping it might be true.
‘She’s not the type of woman to chuck out a cat. And if she never comes home, then I’ll look after it myself. Either way, I don’t see any problem.’
‘I see,’ Satoru said, backing down. Now it was Kosuke’s turn to ask the questions.
‘But tell me, why can't you keep the cat any more?’
‘Well, it’s just that …’
Satoru gave a perplexed smile and scratched at the thinning hair on his head.
‘Something came up, and we can’t live together any more.’
Something clicked. Kosuke had known something was awry when Satoru, who had a nine-to-five job, had offered to work around Kosuke’s day off and come over in the middle of the week.
‘Have you been downsized?’
‘Not exactly, well – in any case, we just can't live together any more.’
Kosuke didn't pursue it, since Satoru seemed reluctant to talk about it.
‘Anyhow, I’ve got to find a home for Nana, and I’ve asked a couple of friends.’
‘I see. That can’t be easy.’
It made Kosuke want to take the cat even more. As an act of kindness. And besides, it was for Satoru.
‘What about you? Are you okay? Your ‒ plans for the future, and everything?’
‘Thanks for asking. As long as I can get Nana settled, I’ll be fine.’
Kosuke sensed he shouldn’t dig any further. Resisted the if there’s anything I can do, let me know line.
‘You know, when I saw the photo, I was amazed. Nana’s the spitting image of Hachi.’
‘Even more so when you see him in the flesh.’
Satoru glanced back at the cage still sitting on the floor, but it didn't look like Nana was intending to show his face anytime soon.
‘When I first saw him, I was surprised, too. For a second I thought it was Hachi.’
That was impossible, of course, but the memory saddened him, nonetheless. ‘What happened to Hachi?’ Kosuke asked.
‘He died when I was in high school. His new owner got in touch, told me it was a traffic accident.’
Even now, this must have been a painful memory for Satoru.
‘It's nice that they let you know, though.’
At least the two of them, who had both loved the cat, could mourn together. Satoru must have cried alone many times since.
‘Sorry, I seem to be getting sadder and sadder here,’ Satoru said.
‘Don't apologize, you idiot.’
Kosuke made as if to lightly punch him and Satoru playfully swayed to avoid it.
‘Time goes by before you know it,’ Satoru said. ‘It seems like yesterday when you and I found Hachi. Do you remember?’
‘Remember? How could I forget?’ Kosuke smiled, and Satoru gave a little embarrassed ahem laugh.
A short walk from the Sawada Photo Studio, up a gentle slope, was a housing complex. Thirty years ago, this was considered an up-and-coming area, with rows of model showroom-like houses and fashionable condo units.
Satoru’s family lived in a cosy condo in the neighbourhood. Satoru and his parents: the three of them.
Satoru and Kosuke had started going to the same swimming school in second grade. Since he was little, Kosuke had struggled with skin allergies, and his mother, convinced that swimming would make his skin tougher, had made him go, but Satoru had a different reason for going. He was such a fast swimmer people said he had webbed hands, and the teachers at his school had recommended he learn to swim properly.
Always a bit of a joker, Satoru, when they had free swimming time, would pretend to be a salamander and crawl along the bottom of the pool, then playfully pop up and pounce on the other pupils. ‘What are you, some kind of kappa?’ the swimming instructor had said, irritated, and the nickname Kappa – a kind of mythical water imp – stuck. Depending on the instructor’s mood, he sometimes called him Webfoot, too.
Once lessons began, though, Satoru was in the advanced class for kids who could swim fast, while Kosuke was in the ordinary class that included all the kids like him with allergies.
Despite all the Kappa and Webfoot antics, when Satoru swam at speed down the lane he looked incredibly cool. Kosuke and Satoru were good friends, but at those times Kosuke found Satoru a little annoying. If only I could be like him, he thought enviously.
But one day when he saw Satoru clowning around, diving into the water and cracking his forehead on the bottom, he was no longer so envious.
It was early summer, and they had been going to the swimming school for two years.
They always met up at the bottom of the slope below the housing complex to walk to swimming school together, and on this day Kosuke was the first to arrive. Which is why he was the one to discover the box first.
A cardboard box had been left below the post with the map of the housing complex on it. And the box was meowing. Hesitantly, Kosuke opened the lid and saw two white balls of downy fur. With a sprinkling of tabby patches here and there.
He stared silently at them. Such helpless, soft little things, he thought. They were so tiny he hesitated even to touch them—
From above him, Satoru’s voice rang out.
‘What’s up?’ he said, crouching down beside Kosuke.
‘Somebody just left it here.’
‘They're so cute!’
In silence, the two boys timidly stroked the fluffy fur for a few moments, then Satoru spoke.
‘Do you want to hold him?’
You have allergies, so don’t ever touch animals – Kosuke could hear his mother’s scolding voice in his head, but he couldn't just stand and watch Satoru give them a stroke. Kosuke had been the one to find them, after all.
He scooped one of them up in his hands and placed it on his palm. It was so light!
He wanted to carry on stroking them, but they were going to be late for swimming. Reluctantly, they peeled the kittens off them and returned them to the box.
They agreed that they would look in on the kittens on the way back, and raced down the road to the swimming school. They were a few minutes late for class and the instructor slapped them both on the head.
After class, they fell over themselves to get back to the bottom of the slope below the housing complex.
The box was still there, under the sign, but to their dismay, now there was only one kitten inside. Someone must have taken the other one.
It seemed to them that the fate of the remaining kitten lay in their hands. A kitten with tabby patches on its forehead in the shape of the character hachi. And a black hooked tail.
The two of them sat down on the grass beside the box and gazed at the little kitten curled up in it, sleeping soundly. How could any child not want to take this tiny, soft little creature home?
What would happen if we did take it home? Each boy knew exactly what the other was thinking.
Kosuke knew his mum would be against it because of his allergies, plus his dad wasn't so keen on animals.
In contrast to Kosuke, Satoru was quick to come to a decision.
‘I’ll ask my mum.’
‘That’s not fair!’
Kosuke’s reaction was fuelled by something that had happened at swimming school a few days before. A girl Kosuke was keen on saw Satoru swimming in the advanced class and murmured, ‘He’s pretty cool.’
Satoru could swim fast, he didn't have any allergies, and his father and mother were both kind people, so if he took the cat home they were sure to accept it. So not only did the girl Kosuke liked praise Satoru, but now he would get to keep this soft, tiny creature – that just wasn’t fair, was it?
When Kosuke told him this, Satoru looked hurt, as if he’d been slapped. Kosuke felt ashamed.
He’d simply been getting something off his chest, that was all.
‘I mean, I found him first,’ he finally blurted out.
To which Satoru, honest to a fault, said, ‘I’m sorry. Yes, you did find him first, Kosuke, so he’s your cat.’
Kosuke regretted having snapped at his friend, but all he could manage was a small nod. They parted a little awkwardly, and Kosuke carried the cardboard box with the kitten inside it home.
His mother, surprisingly, wasn’t against keeping the kitten.
‘Perhaps it’s because of the swimming, but you haven’t had any allergic reactions lately, so as long as we keep the house really clean, I think it should be okay.’
The main obstacle was his father.
‘No way! A cat? Are you insane?’
That was his immediate reaction, and he refused to change his mind.
‘What if he scratches everything with his claws? Looking after a cat costs money, you know! I’m not running a photo studio to feed some cat!’
Kosuke’s mother supported her son, but that seemed to make his father even more resistant to the idea. Before they had dinner, he ordered Kosuke to take the cat back where he’d found it.
So Kosuke, on the verge of tears, trudged back to the slope below the housing complex with the cardboard box held tighly to his chest.
But put the box back under the sign? He couldn't bring himself to do that. And so he found himself heading for his friend’s house.
‘My dad said I can't keep the cat.’ Standing at the door sobbing, Kosuke finally managed to get the words out.
‘I get it,’ Satoru said, and nodded. ‘Leave it to me. I have a great idea!’
Satoru disappeared inside the house. Kosuke waited at the door, guessing that he was going to ask his mother if he could keep the cat, but then Satoru reappeared, with his swimming bag slung across his shoulder.
‘Satoru, where are you going with that?’ his mother called out from the kitchen. ‘We’re going to have dinner as soon as your father gets home!’
‘You go ahead and eat!’ Satoru called out, slipping into his trainers at the entrance. ‘Kosuke and I are going to run away from home for a while!’
Satoru’s mother was always so graceful and gentle. Kosuke had never heard her sound so stern.
She seemed to be in the middle of deep-frying tempura, so although she wasn’t happy about it, she couldn’t come to the front door. Instead, she just popped her head out from the kitchen.
‘Ko-chan, what is he talking about?’ she asked.
But Kosuke was equally clueless.
‘Come on,’ Satoru said. He pulled Kosuke by the hand and they ran out of the house.
‘I read this book at school the other day,’ Satoru explained. ‘A boy found a stray puppy and his father got angry and told him to take it back where he had found it, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it so he ran away from home. In the middle of the night, his father came looking for him and, in the end, he said he would let him keep it, as long as he looked after it himself.’
Satoru rattled on excitedly.
‘What we’re doing is exactly the same, Kosuke, so I’m sure it’ll work out! The only difference is it’s a stray cat, not a dog. And you have me to help you.’
Apart from it being a kitten, not a puppy, Kosuke had the feeling that his situation was quite different from the one in the book, though he was, admittedly, quite attracted by the idea of his father feeling sad and giving in if he ran away.
He decided to go along with the plan. The first thing they did was go to a small supermarket and buy some cat food. We’d like food for a kitten, they told the man at the register, and the man, whose hair was dyed red, said, ‘Try this,’ and handed them a can of paste-like meat. The man had looked intimidating at first but turned out to be unexpectedly kind.
Then they had dinner in the park of the housing complex. Satoru had grabbed some bread and sweets from his house, and the two of them made do with that. They opened the can of cat food for the kitten.
‘So, by “middle of the night”, I’m guessing we need to hang out here until about twelvemidnight.’
Satoru had prudently packed an alarm clock in his bag.
‘But won't my father have a total fit if I stay out that late?’
Kosuke’s father seemed friendly enough outside the house, but with his family he was an obstinate man with a short fuse.
‘What are you talking about? We’re doing it for the cat, aren’t we? And besides, he’ll forgive you in the end, so it’ll all work out.’
In the book, the father had forgiven his son, but caught up in Satoru’s blind enthusiasm, Kosuke didn’t feel able to say what was on his mind, namely that his father was a very different personality, and he doubted that the plan would succeed.
As they whiled away the time playing with the cat in the park, a few people, out for a stroll, called out to them, among them a woman walking her dogs.
‘What are you doing out this late? Your family will be worried,’ she said.
They were too well known in the neighbourhood . Kosuke started to wonder if they’d chosen the wrong spot, though Satoru didn’t seem at all concerned.
‘Don’t worry about us,’ he told the woman. ‘We’re running away!’
‘Is that so? Well, you’d better go home right now!’
After a fifth woman had come up to them, Kosuke finally raised an objection.
‘Satoru, I don’t think this is how you run away from home.’
‘I know, but in the book the father came looking for them in a park.’
‘Yeah, but this doesn’t make any sense.’
At that moment, they heard a voice calling through the cool air: ‘Satoru!’ It was his mother. ‘It’s late, and enough is enough. Come home now! You’ve got Kosuke’s family worried, too!’
Satoru flinched. ‘There’s no way they could have found us so quickly!’
‘You didn’t think they’d find us?’
Had Satoru seriously believed they could hide from their parents when there were all these strangers around who seemed to know them?
‘I’m sorry, Mum!’ Satoru shouted. ‘But we can’t be found yet!’
‘Come on, Kosuke!’ He grabbed the cardboard box and ran with it to the gate leading out of the park. Kosuke could do nothing but follow. It felt like they were straying from the storyline Satoru had outlined, but there should still be time to put that right. Surely there would be. Well, maybe.
They managed to shake off Satoru’s mother and were sprinting down the slope away from the housing complex when all of a sudden there was a roar.
‘Come back here!’
The roar came from Kosuke’s father. It was probably too late now to put anything right. Maybe we should just apologize, Kosuke was thinking, but Satoru shouted: ‘It's the enemy!’
The story had taken a different turn now.
‘Run for it!’
By now, they’d completely lost sight of the narrative they were supposed to be sticking to. For the time being, all Kosuke could do was chase after Satoru, who was determined to keep running.
His portly and generally sedentary father couldn't keep up and they lost him after they’d rounded the first corner, but now the street was totally straight. There was nowhere to hide.
‘Kosuke, this way!’
Satoru had raced inside the small supermarket where they’d bought the can of cat food. A smattering of customers were flipping through magazines while the red-haired clerk listlessly restocked a shelf.
‘You have to hide us! We’re being chased!’ Satoru shouted. The clerk looked over at them doubtfully.
‘If they catch us, they’re going to get rid of him!’
Satoru showed the cardboard box to the clerk and a siren-like yowl rang out from it.
The clerk stared at the box for a moment, then headed to the back of the shop, motioning for them to follow. They had passed through a door when the clerk pointed to the back exit.
‘You’re a lifesaver!’
Satoru scampered out, followed by Kosuke.
He turned and gave a small bow of thanks, and the clerk wordlessly waved a hand at them.
From there, they scurried from place to place, but they were only children and there was only so far their legs could carry them.
Finally, they ran to their elementary school. Satoru’s odd little plan to run away from home had caused quite a disturbance, so much so that the news had got around the neighbourhood, and as they legged it into the school grounds, all the grown-ups were hot on their heels.
They prised open a window, one that all the pupils knew was out of kilter and didn't lock properly, and slipped into the school building. The adults had no idea how to get in, so they ran around helplessly outside, while the boys made their way up to the top floor.
They spilled out on to the roof and could at last put down the cardboard box with the kitten inside.
‘I hope he’s okay. He was shaken up quite a bit.’
There was no sound coming from the box so they quickly opened it. The kitten was nestled in a corner. Kosuke hesitantly reached his arm inside to touch it—
The kitten started to howl even louder than before.
‘Sssshhhh! You’ll give us away.’
The two boys tried to calm the kitten, but cats don’t often listen. Crouched down and shushing at each other, they could hear voices calling out.
‘I hear a cat!’
‘It’s coming from the roof!’
The grown-ups had started to gather down below.
One angry voice rose up from the crowd, that of Kosuke’s father. From the sound of his voice, it was easy to guess that his son was in for a beating that would put his nose severely out of joint.
Kosuke, in tears, turned on Satoru.
‘It didn't work! You lied, Satoru!’
‘It isn't over yet. We can still pull this off!’
Again, a voice called out from below. ‘Satoru, come down here right this minute!’
Satoru’s father had joined their pursuers.
‘We can go up the fire escape,’ someone piped up, and it became clear that Kosuke’s father, his face burning with rage, was already climbing them.
‘It’s all over now,’ Kosuke mumbled, holding his head in his hands. Satoru ran over to the railing on the roof. He leaned over it and shouted, ‘Stop! If you don’t stop, he’s going to jump!’
A murmur ran through the crowd below.
‘What?’ Kosuke was horrified. ‘What are you doing, Satoru?!’
When he grabbed Satoru’s sleeve, Satoru gave him a blazing grin and a thumb’s up. ‘A comeback!’ he said. It wasn’t what Kosuke had been hoping for, but it did seem to be enough to stop Kosuke’s father dead in his tracks.
‘Satoru, is that true, what you said?’ Satoru’s mother yelled from below.
‘It’s true! It’s true!’ Satoru yelled back. ‘He just took off his trainers!’
‘Oh my god!’ People were screaming from below.
‘Kosuke, calm down now, kid!’ This from Satoru’s father, while Kosuke’s father roared, ‘Stop buggering about!’ Even from up above, it was clear he was furious. ‘Stop whining! I’m coming up, and I’ll drag you down from there if I have to!’
‘Don’t do that, Mr Sawada! Kosuke’s really going to do it!’ Satoru shouted, to stop him. ‘If you come up here, he’ll jump off, and he’ll take the cat with him!’
Satoru turned to Kosuke with a grave expression on his face. ‘Kosuke, could you, like, kind of straddle the railing?’
Kosuke replied that no way was he going to risk his life over all this.
‘But look, you want to keep the cat, don't you?’
‘Sure, but …’ For the sake of a cat, did you really have to go this far?
For one thing, the story Satoru had read about running away hadn’t ended up with the boy and the puppy jumping to their deaths.
‘Listen! Can’t we ask first whether it’s okay to keep the cat at your house, Satoru?’
‘What?’ Satoru looked as startled as a pigeon shot with an air rifle. ‘You mean, it’s okay for me to have the cat? Man, if you thought that, you should have said so!’
Beaming, Satoru called out to the crowd down below.
‘Dad! Mum! Kosuke says he wants us to have the cat—!’
‘Okay, okay. But first talk Kosuke out of jumping!’
A storm of misunderstanding still seemed to be swirling through the crowd of grown-ups who had not a clue what was going on.
Satoru, you really weren’t too bright as a child, were you?
I could hear Satoru and Kosuke’s conversation from inside my cage. I’d never heard such a mad story in my life.
‘It was after we came down from the roof that things got heavy.’
‘Your dad thumped us pretty hard, Kosuke. I remember, the next day my head looked like the Great Buddha in Nara.’
The cat that had thrown the whole neighbourhood into such an uproar was my predecessor, that cat Hachi, apparently.
‘Speaking of which, Hachi was a male tabby, wasn’t he? Aren't male tabbies supposed to be quite rare?’ asked Kosuke.
Is that so? Well, since Hachi and I have the same markings, I must be a pretty rare specimen myself.
I had perked up my ears to listen in, and Satoru said, smiling, ‘Well, the thing is … I asked a vet about it and he said his markings are too few for him to be classified as a tabby.’
‘Really? Other than his forehead and tail, it’s true – he was pure white.’
‘Man,’ Kosuke said, raising his arms then crossing them in front of his chest. I could see all this through the gaps in my cage.
‘I was thinking that if I had told my father it was a valuable male tabby I might have been able to convince him to keep it.’
Kosuke looked over at the cage. I quickly turned my head away so as not to meet his eye. Too much bother if he tries to get all friendly on me.
‘What about Nana? His face looks exactly like Hachi’s, but what about his markings?’
‘Nana can’t be classified as a tabby either. He’s just a moggy.’
Well, excuuuse me. I glared at the back of Satoru’s head, and he went on:
‘But, to me, Nana’s much more valuable than a male tabby. It’s fate, don't you think, that he looks just like the first cat I ever had? When I first laid eyes on him, I knew, someday, he had to be my own precious cat.’
Hrumph. You’re just saying that because it sounds good. I know what you’re getting at. But still.
Maybe that’s why I saw Satoru crying that day. After I was hit by the car and had dragged myself back to his place. He mentioned that Hachi had died in a traffic accident.
Satoru must have thought he was going to lose another precious cat to a car accident.
‘That was one good cat, Hachi. So well behaved,’ Kosuke said.
To which Satoru replied, with a smile, ‘Though he wasn’t very athletic.’
According to what I heard, he was the type whose legs went all spongy when someone grabbed the back of his neck. A cat who couldn’t catch mice, in other words. Pretty pathetic, if you ask me. A real cat would immediately fold in its legs.
Me? I’m a real cat, naturally. I caught my first sparrow when I was less than six months old. And catching something with wings is a lot trickier than catching any four-legged land creature, believe you me.
‘When he was playing with a catnip toy he’d go dizzy, chasing it around.’
‘’Cause he was usually pretty placid.’
‘What about Nana?’
‘He loves mouse toys. The kind made out of rabbit fur.’
Hold on a sec. I can't let that pass. Since when did I love that awful fake mouse?
It smells like the real thing, so if you throw it near me, of course I’ll fight with it, but no matter how much I chomp on it, no tasty juice comes out. So when I finally calm down I’m worn out, and the whole thing’s been a total waste of time, d’you understand?
There’s that manga on TV sometimes where the samurai cuts down a dingbat and sighs, ‘That was a waste of a good sword.’ To me, that’s kind of how it feels. You’ve hunted down yet another useless thing. (By the way, Satoru prefers the shows with guns.) The least they could do would be to stuff those toys with white meat. But could I take this complaint to the pet-toymakers? Stop worrying about what the owners think and pay some attention to your real clients. Your real clients are folk like me.
In any case, after one of those pointless chases, I usually let off steam with a good walk. But Satoru usually tags along, and that makes it hard to do any successful hunting.
What I mean is, the minute I spot some decent game, Satoru interferes. Deliberately makes some careless noise or movement. When I glare at him, he feigns ignorance, but all that racket gives us away, thank you very much.
When I get upset and wave my tail energetically sideways, he gives me this pathetic look and tries to explain.
You have lots of crunchies at home to eat, don’t you? You don't need to kill anything. Even if you catch something, Nana, you barely eat it.
You idiot, idiot, idiooooootttt! Every living creature on earth is born with an instinct to kill! You can try to dodge it by bringing in vegetarianism, but you just don't hear a plant scream when you kill it! Hunting down what can be hunted is a cat’s natural instinct! Sometimes we hunt things but don't eat them, but that’s what training is all about.
My god, what spineless creatures they are, those that don't kill the food they eat. Satoru’s a human being, of course, so he just doesn't get it.
‘Is Nana good at hunting, too?’
‘She’s beyond good! She snagged pigeons that landed on our porch.’
Right you are. Those blasted birds get all superior in human territory. I thought I’d show them what’s what. And Satoru, all teary-eyed, always asked, ‘Why do you catch them if you’re not going to eat them?’ If that’s the way you think, then don’t interfere when I hunt on our walks.
And didn’t Satoru complain about pigeon droppings on the laundry he’d hung out to dry? He’d be happy if I chased away the pigeons, and I’d get to hunt. Literally, two birds with one stone, so why the complaints? And by the bye, ever since that incident, the pigeons have never come near our porch again, but have I heard a word of thanks? Still waiting!
‘It was a real problem that time,’ Satoru said. ‘A sparrow or a mouse I could bury in the bushes next to the apartment building, but something the size of a pigeon, that’s a different story. I ended up burying it in a park, and the only conclusion anybody who spotted me, a thirty-year-old man burying a pigeon, could come to is that I was a pretty dodgy character.’
‘There are more and more weird things happening these days, too.’
‘Right. Every time someone passed by, I would say apologetically, “I’m so sorry, but the cat did it,” and they’d look at me really oddly. And wouldn't you know it, that was the one occasion Nana wasn’t with me.’
Ah, so he had an awkward time, did he? I should have been with him. But Satoru didn't tell me, so it's his fault, and I’m not going to apologize.
‘Sounds like Nana’s wilder than Hachi was.’
‘But he’s quite gentle sometimes too, like Hachi. When I’m feeling depressed or down, he always snuggles up close …’
Not that hearing these words made me happy or anything.
‘Sometimes, I get the feeling he can understand what people are saying. He’s pretty bright.’
Humans who think we don't understand them are the stupid ones.
‘Hachi was a very kind cat. Whenever my father had a go at me and I went to your house, Satoru, he’d sit on my lap and refuse to jump off.’
‘He understood when people were feeling down. When my parents had an argument, he’d always side with the one who had lost. It made it easy for me as a child to tell who had won and who had lost.
‘I wonder if Nana would do the same, too?’
‘I’m sure of it. He’s pretty kind.’
Hachi seemed to be a decent sort of cat, but going on and on about Hachi this and Hachi that made me think, If a cat that’s dead was so good, maybe I should die too, and let them see how they like that.
‘I’m sorry,’ Kosuke suddenly murmured. ‘I should have taken Hachi from you back then.’
‘There was nothing we could do about it.’
Satoru sounded like he didn't hold a grudge. Instead, looking at Kosuke, it seemed to me that he was the one who did.
Though Satoru’s family brought Hachi up, it was as though Kosuke did the job half the time.
Whenever he went over to Satoru’s, he played tirelessly with Hachi, and Satoru sometimes took the cat over to Kosuke’s house.
At first, Kosuke’s father stubbornly refused to let Hachi in the house, so they played in the garage, but before long his mother let them bring the cat inside, if not into the studio, and little by little his father got used to it. He warned them not to let Hachi sharpen his claws on the walls or the furniture, but sometimes when he passed by, Kosuke’s father would say a few nice things to Hachi.
Kosuke regretted that he couldn't have Hachi himself, but he was very happy when his father played with him. It felt like his father was meeting him halfway.
He even hoped that, if he ever found another stray kitten, this time he would be allowed to keep it for himself.
Because it was a very special thing – to have your own cat in your own home.
Whenever he stayed overnight at Satoru’s, sleeping on the futon beside his bed, he’d often be woken in the middle of the night by four feet clomping over him. Feeling the weight of a cat’s paws pressing into your shoulers in the middle of the night – not much beats that.
He would glance over and see Hachi curled up in ball on top of Satoru’s chest. Perhaps finding it too hard to breathe, Satoru, still asleep, would slide the cat beside him. Lucky guy, Kosuke thought. If he were my cat, we could sleep together and I would let him walk all over me.
‘My father seems to have taken a liking to Hachi, and I’m thinking, maybe, if we find another stray kitten, he might let me keep it.’
‘That’d be great! Then Hachi would have a friend.’
The idea made Satoru happy, and on the way to and from swimming school, he’d kept an eye out for another box with a kitten inside it.
But there never was another cardboard box with a kitten inside left under the housing complex sign.
Of course, it was a good thing that no more poor cats were abandoned. Because, even if they had found another cat, Kosuke’s father still wouldn’t have let him keep it.--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- File Size : 6252 KB
- Publication Date : October 23, 2018
- Publisher : Berkley (October 23, 2018)
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 281 pages
- Language: : English
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- ASIN : B07BJL55TB
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