Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A dead cat on the line

And we can watch a thousand faces
Made active by one lie.
-W.H. Auden's "In Time of War”

I was eight out playing near the gate. I heard the sound.
No matter what people tell you, the sound of distant gunfire is not frightening.
I walked out of the wooden gate and looked around. I saw the spot where
my cat had died a few months ago. Run over by a truck. The body wasn’t mangled. It seemed asleep in the middle of the road, a red trickle oozing out of its one ear. For cats death is just a trick. I was just a kid, I thought, had I taken it to a hospital maybe it would have lived. But, there are no hospitals for cats that block the national highway. I think the municipal people dumped it someplace wet. It didn’t even like water. But, it was dead, so I guess it didn’t matter. Toto died.
Unlike any other day, this day I did not sit down to write numbers of passing cars.
Instead, I went back in and dug out my buried sin. The pocketknife, I had stolen from my grandfather’s shaving kit. I dug it out from the empty plot in the maze of concrete plinth. My uncle was going to add another room to his new marital house. I dug out the knife and marveled at its smooth-black-asbestos grip. I put it back in its grave and loitered around some more, maybe to think up one more crazy game. By the time I got back to the house, the news was doing the rounds. I heard: Just around the corner Army had shot some local rogue right in the butt. People asked me, 'where was you?' and I replied, “ Outside”. They asked me if I did see anything, I don’t know why, but I lied. They put the words. What could I say. I replied, “ Yes, I saw it all. Two shots straight, aimed at his ass. The guy fell down; they picked him up and put him into a waiting van. I think he lived.” Guess that’s how a lie is born. I must have recited these lines a thousand times. I recited the lines on demand to cousins, uncles and their wives. And I watched a thousand faces made active by this one lie.
After all these years, the lie has died its silent death. But, I still dread the line, “Do you remember the cat that died?”

1 comment:

  1. Poignant story, criss crossing the innocence lost and side-stepped in the maze of a 'civil world.'

    ReplyDelete

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