Monday, October 7, 2013

The Tale of Boo the Cat

Boo Cat (photo by Susan Bauer)
Once upon a time, on the banks of a great river and in the shadow of a Great City, there grew up a small village make all of tents. They popped up like mushrooms, the motley collection of nylon and canvas and even some wooden shelters built of timber and plywood scavenged from the trash heaps, from among the unwanted things, the things cast away by the people of the Great City.

The people who came to the Village of Tents came because they had nowhere else to go and found themselves alone in the great world, in the shadow of the Great City, and without hope. And because they had no hope, in defiance and maybe a little in despair, the people named their village of tents "Hopeville", and clung to one another for survival, and began to build a community in the shadow of the Great City and its prosperity.

The people of Hopeville had very little in the way of material goods. They had neither TV nor washing machines nor bathtubs nor computers. Humid summer days by the river oppressed them with heat and mosquitoes; icy winds in winter with created a special variety of hell. Food they got however they might, through begging, and scavenging, and the kind gifts of strangers.

For the most part, the more fortunate residents of the Great City went about their business and paid no attention to the small village growing up in its shadow. Sometimes young men from the city would drive down to the river in their bright cars blaring music into the night and toss a flaming ball of rags into the village for sport. When a small canvas home would catch on fire and burn, the boys from the city would screech and yell, joyous with their conquest, fleeing back to the city in their bright cars before the sheriff or the fire brigade could arrive to put out the blaze.

What does it matter, the city boys told each other, crowing among themselves. They're only homeless people. And indeed, the boys went mostly unpunished, though the Fates see all.

And though the folk of Hopeville had little enough of wealth the way the world measures it, yet out of the night to their campfires crept creatures with even less still, poor and hungry and sometimes ill, frightened a little, and all alone.  Knowing what it is to be alone in the world and forgotten by it, hungry and cold and afraid, the people of Hopeville welcomed the creatures which the the people of the Great City had forgotten and cast out, and the people of Hopeville shared what they had, giving aid and succor to the lost creatures of the Great City. A few scrawny cats, a few starving dogs made their slinking way to the campfires of Hopeville, and were taken in.

What little food the people had, they shared, and the creatures were grateful, and loved the people, as cats and dogs have, down through the ages, wherever there have been folk to show them kindness.

Now among the people of  Hopeville lived a woman named Sepporah (not her real name),
and with her lived her man, Amadeus, (and that is not his real name, either). And just as in the Great Cities there are burroughs and wards and neighborhoods, each with its own governance and customs, even so was Hopeville really a number of small villages grouped together for mutual benefit, and one of these villages called itself Atlantis after the land that was lost. And it was in Atlantis that Sepporah lived with her man, Amadeus.

Sepporah with chocolate skin and hair like the soft curly wool of a black lamb was wise and kind and clever and good. And when three brother cats came to her fire and made themselves her guests, she welcomed them and pondered how best she might help them from her small store of goods.

When a kind veterinarian heard of the Village of Tents and that there were animals there and no one to help, he gathered the most needful of his tools and betook himself down to the riverside where most in the Great City feared to go. There he offered the services of his craft to the people and animals of Hopeville. And Seppora and Amadeus greeted him with joy, and made him welcome, and made a place for him at their campfire beside the slow brown waters of the river.

And thus the three cat brothers ~ Snip, Tiger, and Boo ~ received vaccinations and medications to keep them free of fleas and worms and other parasites, and were neutered by the kind veterinarian and thrived under his care. Likewise,did Sepporah speak to her village mates, teaching those who would listen the ways of caring for the cats and dogs who ate at their fires, and because of her did many animals thrive who might otherwise have not. And Snip and Tiger and Boo roamed the shade of trees at edges of the river and lay in the sun with the breeze tickling their whiskers, and slept at night beneath the stars curled up in the arms of kind Sepporah and of Amadeus her man.

Now Amadeus loved the three cat brothers above all else in the world, save only Sepporah. This the cat brothers knew and came when he called and curled by his feet when he sat by the fire and purred on his lap in the long winter evenings when he scratched the itchy places behind their ears and fed them the best pieces from his plate. Whatsoever he had, they had first, and for this the cat brothers loved Amadeus, the blond giant of a man who lived in the tent of gentle Seppora.

One day a caravan of white trucks came to the Village of Tents, and men in uniforms came out of the trucks, and in their hands they carried hammers and nails and great tall signs with red letters, many signs, and these signs they nailed up 'round about the Village of Tents. And when the signs were all hung, the uniformed men climbed once again into their white trucks and drove away, and the people of Hopeville gathered about the signs and read the news, and reading wondered.

Some, upon understanding the import of the red letters, raised shouts and angry fists and curses. Some sat in the dirt and began to weep,or to rock and moan, and some just sat, their eyes blank and unseeing. Seppora and Amadeus held silent hands, saying nothing. But that night Amadeus wept over Tiger, who sat purring in his lap, and Seppora clung to Snip and Boo, desperation clouding her dark eyes.

The red letters on the tall white signs told the people of Hopeville they must leave. Bulldozers were coming to level Hopeville to the ground. The tall white signs gave the dates planned for the destruction, and the dates were not far away.

Many decisions are made in the marble halls of power by men in shiny shoes and ridiculously expensive suits, decisions which mean life and death and sanity and despair to people whom the shiny shoed men will never meet and wouldn't care to. And sometimes the decisions are made with compassion and sometimes they are made for expediency and always they are enforced with the  iron fist of power and always the people are told the decisions made are for the best.

But no one in the marble halls of power thought of Boo and his brothers when the decisions were made to call in the bulldozers and remove the people of Hopeville and Atlantis and Dignity Harbor and Sparta to different homes. Better homes.

Boo and his brothers, sleeping in the arms of Seppora and Amadeus knew not that the home where they had known kindness, the only home they had ever known, would, before the moon turned, be a flattened wasteland covered with dust. So Boo and his brothers slept content as they did each night, but Seppora did not sleep.

Within the Halls of Power a woman walked, a woman with red hair and a kind heart, a woman overworked and short staffed, an honourable woman who though she served the Lords of Power, served the people too, and the people were ever first in her heart. And it came to the ears of this woman that the bulldozers would  soon be rolling over the tents of Hopeville wiping all away, though the people themselves would be given other housing, for a time at least.

Now the woman with the red hair and the kind heart was wise, and when she heard what what the Lords of Power decreed, she thought, "But what about the cats?" For, being wise, she knew there would be cats. She made discreet inquiries, which was not easy, for now the people of Hopeville distrusted the Lords of Power and those who served them, because of the tall signs with the red letters telling of the coming destruction and that they must leave aforetime.

And the woman with the red hair knew many who lived in the Village of Tents would defy the Lords of the Great City, the Lords of Power in their shiny shoes and ridiculously expensive suits, rather than leave behind their animal companions, or give them over to be killed. And she knew nothing  anyone could say would convince the people of Hopeville that their animal friends would not be killed, for trust had been shattered between the people of the Tents and the lords Great City, in whose shadow the Village of Tents lay. And so, as Seppora brooded sick with fear and Amadeus wept, the woman with the red hair pondered what might be done to help the animals.

As she lay in her bed in the warm spring night, she remembered her of a group of souls who had come to her not three months past, with a petition and a plan for giving aid to the City's cats, and she wondered if they might help, and so she called them to her.

She told them what she knew and asked,

"Will you help?"

And the women gave each other a long look and the oldest among them looked back at the woman with the red hair and said, "How long? How long do we have."

"A week," she told them, "before the first of the bulldozers roll."

She saw their eyes widen and the corners of their mouths turn down and she guessed what things they did not say.

But the youngest only answered, "We will do what we can."

And the women went away and took counsel among themselves, and a whisper went out on the wind of the coming needs of the cats who lived, unknowing, in the Village of Tents by the river's reedy edge.

In the towers and cottages and tall slim townhouses of the Great City the wind found many Compassionate People and it whispered to them of the cats' great need. And the Compassionate People opened their cupboards and their pantries, their storerooms and treasure chests, and brought forth all things the cats would need as they moved from their home by the river's edge. Cat food and litter, cat carriers and warm blankets and even toys, and they gathered their gifts together and waited, and the women who were called chose some from among them who journeyed down to the river's edge to see what might be done.

But the People of the Tents were suspicious, for they no longer trusted the People of the City, because of the sake of the tall signs with their red letters, and of the bulldozers which were coming.

Nevertheless, the women came back, day after day, bringing with them the gifts the Compassionate People had gathered for the cats, and working along side the kind veterinarian, and waiting, and offering to help.

And slowly trust began to grow, and The People of the Tents made room at their fires for the Women, and they talked, the Women from the City and the People of the Tents together, and they took the measure of one another's hearts.

Then one night as the Women came from the City to visit the Cats of Hopeville and the humans who cared for them, they were ware of a great keening and a great sorrowing and a great growing despair as the people of Hopeville sat about their fires in the gathering dusk. And the Women sat down at Seppora's fire, where Seppora had made room for them. Amadeus walked the woods in a restless mood, and Tiger and Snip walked with him. But Boo clung to Seppora, and to the fire, and butted his soft head into the hands of the Women, asking for pets.

"Seppora, Seppora," the Women said. "What has happened?"

And Seppora lifted eyes yellow with despair to their faces and told them.

The Lords of Power were giving vouchers to everyone in Hopeville who wanted them, every single person, and the voucher would grant them housing for one year in a brick and mortar building, an apartment, or a house,  and the Lords of Power would pay the rent for the people of Hopeville from the public treasury.

And the women looked at Seppora and asked, "Is this not good?"

But tears washed Seppora's eyes and ran down her cheeks and of a sudden she scooped up Boo Cat and buried her face in his soft fur. He rubbed his cheek against hers and mewed, his eyes golden globes in the firelight.

Then the youngest kenned the truth and said, "They will not let you take the cats."

And Seppora only shook her head and wept.

"Only one," she said at last, clinging to Boo, "Only one. And what will happen to the rest?" Her eyes searched the faces of the Women who were guests at her fire. "If we leave them here alone, they will die. How will they eat? Where will they shelter? Who will keep them warm and protect them from hawks and coyotes? And if they live, the men in the uniforms and the white trucks will come and take them away to be killed. And how do we choose?" And she said no more but fell to sobbing.

And the women looked at one another's troubled faces. But the dark eyes of the youngest woman flashed fire, for she was brave and fierce and she leaned forward, her dark hair tumbling about her face like a veil, and touched Seppora on the arm.

"They will not die," she said. "Not one."

And Seppora nodded, weeping, while Boo Cat purred and blinked with his great golden eyes reflecting the moon.

And the word went out again to The Compassionate People, that dire was the need of the riverside cats, for it wasn't only food and litter and carriers and toys which were needed, but homes, homes, homes, and this is harder for homes are scarce.

Fifty cats were in need of homes, for cats are prolific breeders, and not all had passed through the hands of the kind veterinarian, and it had been a year for many kittens. But the Kind People and the Compassionate People laid aside their tasks and did what they could, and word went out on the wind and the homes were found, and this was no small thing.

Then the day came for Seppora and Amadeus to choose, for the bulldozers even then had come and stood waiting, engines idling and purring like great iron beasts hungry for their prey. Vans had come to take the people of Hopeville away, away to their new homes, their homes for a year, and Seppora and Amadeus could only take one cat. And the cats they could not take must go to new homes as well, to homes with strangers.

How does a person make a choice such as that? It is a choice to break the heart. In the end, Tiger and Snip went away to new homes with strangers, and Boo Cat, being the lucky one, went with Seppora and Amadeus.

Then the bulldozers rolled through and Atlantis disappeared as surely as did its namesake, the land that was lost.

I am happy to tell you that Tiger and Snip are faring fine in their new lives. From time to time the wind brings news, and it has been always good. For a long time Tiger was ill with a mysterious illness, but he has recovered and thrives, and his new family loves him and he them.

The news of Snip is good as well.

But the end of Boo Cat's tale is not yet told, and you must listen yet a while to hear it all.

For a year Boo Cat lived with Seppora and Amadeus in their cozy new apartment, up a flight of stairs, on an old tree lined lane with brick paved streets. It was perhaps not the safest neighborhood in the Great City, but they were glad to be together and to be warm and to be making progress, as the social workers told them they were doing. Though perhaps they missed, from time to time, the warm community of the river's edge, for it is hard to be alone among strangers.

At the end of the year, the rent paid by the Lords of Power ran out and, being just as poor in worldly wealth as they had been before, Amadeus and Seppora had not the wherewithal to pay the landlord the rent which now came due on their tiny apartment. Homelessness loomed again. But where now, would they go, since the Village of Tents had been bulldozed into dust and all its people scattered?
Boo the evening after being separated from his family
 (photo by Danielle Faulkner-Schaffer)

The only answer for them was to move to the street where they would wander, and street life is a hard life. There is no fixed place to call home. Night after night they would sleep in different places, on different park benches perhaps, in different abandoned buildings, trying to stay safe, trying to stay warm, trying to stay fed. Without an address, they will not have food stamps, so staying fed is not a given.

And how would Boo Cat survive? They had a carrier, a gift from The Compassionate People, which Boo Cat loved and in which he liked to curl, the carrier door open, to take his naps and to watch the world go by. Would they take him in his carrier, to the streets? When and how would he get out and stretch his legs and do the natural things which cats must do? And if, frightened in a new place, he ran and hid, how would he find them again? The next night they would be somewhere else.

And how would he eat?

Seppora cradled Boo Cat to her, weeping. Boo Cat, the lucky one. The one she had kept with her. But now he might starve on the streets with them.

They remembered the Women who had helped and, two days before they had to leave their apartment, they called, and one of the Women answered.

"Please," Seppora said, whispering into the phone, choking on tears. "Please help Boo Cat."

They sought no help for themselves; what help was there to be had? But for the cat who slept on their pillows and shared their food and loved them, they would beg.

One of  the Women went, alone, for there were none to go with her this time. Brave and kind, she drove to their tree lined street and climbed the stairs. It was their last day in the apartment. Tomorrow they would be homeless once more.

Amadeus, big blonde bull of a man, prone to bluster and to wide gestures, Amadeus sat on the edge of the bed and sobbed, great wracking sobs that blurred his eyes and shook his shoulders. Seppora did not weep, but her wounded eyes wept waterless tears from a sea of despair.

Boo Cat wept as well, and clung to his humans crying. All the way down the steps in his carrier, all the way on the ride to the garage where another of the Kind and Compassionate people had agreed to give him temporary shelter in a spacious crate, he cried and shook. And, transferred to his crate, he cried and cried for his family long into the night, despair darkening his golden eyes.

Where Seppora and Amadeus have gone I cannot say, for I do not know, nor do I know if I will ever hear of them again, nor know the end of their story. I think of Seppora's kindness, her gentleness, her generosity with the creatures less fortunate than herself, and I wonder, can it be true our world holds no place where her gifts of compassion and kindness can earn her a home, a roof, a bed, a place for herself, her man, her cat? Can it be we value these things so little, and that she is a disposable person, and of no value to us in the Great City at all?

God help us if that is so.
Boo Cat waiting to travel to his new forever home
 (photo by Susan Bauer)

The end of Boo Cat's tale I also cannot tell, for it's not yet come to a conclusion. As I write now, he is safe and warm in the garage of the kind woman who shelters him. She and many of The Compassionate People come daily to visit Boo Cat, to pet him and feed him treats, to comfort and console him, and to let him know, as best they may, that he will be all right, that he is loved. And they are networking for him, The Compassionate People, trying to find him a good home, a home where he will be loved and valued and kept safe forever, and never be homeless again.

UPDATE (2013.10.07):
In the time between writing (Friday, 2013.10.04) and posting (Monday, 2013.10.07), the networking of the Compassionate People has paid off, and Boo Cat has a potential home. I will update as soon as I know more from his foster mother.

Hopeville was a real place, and this is a real story, if somewhat "dramatized." The tale of Boo, Seppora and Amadeus is only one out of many tales in the rescue of the animals of Hopeville. This is the first time I've written about Hopeville, but my experience there, in May and June of 2012 had a profound and humbling effect on me, which I am still sorting through and with which I am still coming to terms. I am amazed how the very poorest of the poor often have the most generous of hearts. I don't have any pat solutions for the issues surrounding homelessness; alas I am not that wise. But I will tell you the greatest of the things I learned, and that is that we are all in this together, and kindness is afoot in the world, in many places. And for that I am profoundly grateful.

 stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of short stories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjects: felines , philosophy, and folklore. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com. Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. OMC - I have leaky eyes here. What a beautiful story and you told it so very well. Unfortunately, it is probably a typical story that many could tell. Homelessness is so sad as is the homelessness among the animal community! I do hope he is adopted into a good home.