An alley cat and his unlikely ally

An alley cat and his unlikely ally

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An alley cat and his unlikely ally_L
Illustration: Martin Megino

You won't consider me significant - I'm just a stray old cat hanging around the streets of Sham Shui Po.

However, while I'm just a mere domestic shorthair tom with dark tabby stripes - sort of like a miniature tiger - I have got a story to tell.

I was seven human years old at the time, which is middle-aged in cat years. As the alpha male around here, I had always been arrogant and fiercely independent. All my mates depended on me and I was willing to protect them - even at the cost of my own life.

Sham Shui Po hadn't changed much during the generations we've lived here. Old, densely packed apartments still lined roads jammed with vehicles, and the air was still full of exhaust fumes. The crowds of shoppers walking among the market stalls and bargaining with the vendors were another constant. But their noise, and the scent of the traffic, gave us a warm feeling of home.

Between the old apartments are the little alleys most people don't bother about. But there, up on the canopies of the buildings, was where we climbed to warm ourselves in the sun - and where we fled for safety.

Since the days in Sham Shui Po are full of hustle and bustle, we usually only hung out on the streets in the middle of the night. Then the restaurants finally closed and we could feast upon delicious scraps.

However, we were always aware that we could be surprised at any moment by the dreaded Animal Control officers.

These would suddenly appear when we were busy searching for food, trapping any cat they came across in their hated cages.

But, in truth, we had an instinctive distrust of all humans.

This only began to change with the arrival of Anna on our streets. She was a middle-aged Chinese woman who, dressed in a casual T-shirt, an old pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers, showed us a side of human nature we had never known existed.

Warmth and kindness shone from her dark eyes and, despite my suspicions, I found myself relaxing when she smiled.

Each night, we eagerly anticipated her arrival, hungry for the aromatic salmon she always brought us.

But while the other cats allowed her to stroke them, reminded of the way their mothers licked them softly when they were young kittens, I remained wary and never let her pet me. Every time her hand reached towards me, I would flinch away from it.

And soon it seemed my suspicions about her true motives were proved well founded.

Cats began to vanish at night, only to reappear days later, acting as if nothing had happened.

At first I ignored this, assuming they had been prowling for food in other neighbourhoods.

But when I eventually investigated, I found each now had the tip of their left ear clipped off. Surely this was a sign of abuse.

But questioning the cats, I received an answer I could scarcely believe.

The clipped ear was a secret symbol to show Anna's allies that the cats had been de-sexed.

But, incredibly, the cats had been happy to accept these spay and neuter operations - despite the fact they now could no longer have babies!

However, I did notice that the de-sexed cats had become more placid and less temperamental, which was, I suppose, a good thing.

Despite being the wisest cat on the streets, I was baffled. But there was little opportunity to ponder this conundrum, as disaster was about to strike.

Returning to our alley one evening, I caught the strong scent of blood in the air. Immediately, I knew something was wrong. Searching in the shadows, I was horrified to find my friend lying dead on the ground, with a stick through her belly.

Anna, too, was filled with dismay when she saw what had happened. As she gently lifted the corpse, I could see her eyes watering.

In the days that followed, the murderer returned again and again, killing brutally and mercilessly.

Even my sister didn't make it. As she died, she stared at me with an agonised expression on her face, tearing my heart apart. I felt like she was pleading with me to save my fellow cats.

I swore I would not let this nightmare continue. I would do whatever I could to defend my mates against this cold-blooded - and seemingly invisible - assassin.

Terror had spread among us, and even the slightest sound would send a chill shooting down our spines. I had to raise morale.

"Come on, my brave warriors, we can defeat the murderer! But we have to keep our spirits up!"

Then, one dark night, I heard footsteps echoing down the alley. I turned to see a man, dressed in black clothes and combat boots, towering over me.

A cap cast a dark shadow over his face, and his mask revealed only his eyes. They glinted with such coldness, my heart froze.

Even before I saw he was holding a stick in one hand and a chef's knife in the other, I knew he was the murderer.

I tried to think of a strategy that could defeat him, but fear, and the seeming impossibility of victory, left my mind utterly empty.

As he took three steps towards me and raised his knife, my legs were urging me to run.

But I had already made the decision to fight. I was the alpha here. No one could harm any of my mates without defeating me first.

I hissed, arched my back and sprang at him, scratching his leg. He tried to kick me with his other leg, but I was too quick and dodged out of the way.

I slashed again at his injured leg, causing him to yowl in pain. But I could tell this only made him angrier and hungrier for revenge.

He started to slash at me with his stick, and as I ducked his blows, I began to doubt how long I could keep this up - my endurance would not last forever.

Then I felt the stick slam into me, sending me flying back into the wall.

The murderer laughed, his eyes glinting with joy. I saw his hands tighten around the knife as he dropped the stick and walked towards me.

I tried to flee, but I was cornered. I tried clambering up the wall, but its surface was too hard for my claws to dig into.

I would not give up without a fight, without trying to save my friends, but as he raised his knife I knew this was the end for me.

"Stop it! Leave my friend alone, you murderer!"

As the shout echoed through the alley, I realised who it was - it was Anna!

For a moment, the murderer appeared shocked and I saw his eyes fill with fear. Then, worried he would be caught in the act, he began to run.

Anna, however, wasn't going to let him get away. She stepped in front of him, extending her arms to block his way.

This was incredibly risky - the murderer was still holding his knife! I knew I had to do something.

I leapt into the air, higher than I'd ever done before, and clambered up his back.

As I sank my teeth into his neck, I heard him bellowing in agony. He tried desperately to shake me off, but I managed to maintain my grip. As I recalled the death of all my mates, I was blinded with rage and my claws dug deeper into his shoulder.

The sound of racing footsteps, and of someone shouting, brought me back to the present. It was Anna's allies - and with them was a policeman.

The murderer was quickly handcuffed and I leapt off his back.

Exhausted, I lay on the ground, breathing heavily as I watched the murderer being led away. But, despite this, nothing could be changed for my dead friends.

Anna walked towards me. She paused, before slowly reaching out her hand towards me. This time, even as she began to gently stroke my fur, I didn't flinch.

Instead I looked into Anna's eyes, and at that moment I could read her thoughts perfectly clearly.

I had never been petted by a human before. I was surprised at how comforting this felt, and I knew what she was trying to say.

"Thank you so much," Anna said, breaking the silence, "for protecting your fellow warriors."

"I'm going to name you Tiger," she added with a smile. "You have the heart and the courage of those noble beasts, and your stripes make you look like one."

It was a beautiful name, and I rubbed my face against her hand to show that I liked it.

I thought that I should be the one thanking her - she was the one who had saved me in the end. As I looked up at her, I realised she was crying.

Sure, humans could be unpredictable, violent and brutal. But now I knew that there was also another side to human nature, a much kinder, more understanding side.

Anna and her allies. I never knew who they really were, but they had finally gained my trust.

Janessa is the winner of the Young Post's 2011 Summer Story competition that ran during the holidays. Janessa and the other nine finalists will receive gift vouchers from Dymocks

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