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Of Cats and Bronchitis

Has any one of you ever seen a demon? A ghost? Some witchcraft type thing? Mazingaombwe? An exorcism or something?


I have only heard of such. Eyes rolling into the backs of heads, deep unsettling guttural noises, eyes turning red, fainting, the likes. It’s hard to know what to make of all of it. The world is a strange place. Mostly due to the fact that we hardly know what’s really going on. What exactly is going on in Palestine? Is there someone running some covert operation behind the curtain as the bombings continue? Why are you constantly discovering new animals anytime you tune in to National Geographic? Who built the pyramids? Why is there a constant background ringing in your ears? Why is that sharp pain on your chest so panic-inducing if it actually isn’t life-threatening? And the one that unsettles me the most: what exists in the unknown 70-80% of the ocean?


The questions will never cease and the answers might not even satisfy you. You’ll probably end up with more questions. Some of them rhetorical. Even if the question isn’t existential or one that induces extreme curiosity, it can still be quite confusing. Especially when the subject matter is a person. For example:


Why did my former neighbor think that our house cat harbored evil spirits into her house?


To be clear, it was she who moved out. The cat is still here. So are we.



THERAPY CAT

We have had cats live with us since 2018. The first one was called Easter, but everyone called her Ihisa (pronounced ih-ghi-sa). A female calico with a personality like that of a temperamental middle-aged secretary called Beatrice. Unlike Ihisa, Beatrice probably wears glasses with strong lenses. There may have been about 15 kittens that Ihisa gave birth to. Most of them we gave away. The ones we spent quite some time with are Safaricom, George Floyd and John.


Safaricom and her sister KQ were adopted by our aunt. KQ was brutally killed by a male cat that apparently ran things around the area my aunt lived in. The Maasai who was the acting watchman did away with it. Safaricom lived on for about two years before she passed on around 2021 from some suspected illness. That was after she got to play around with George Floyd when he was Uber-ed for a sleepover at my aunt’s. John was from Ihisa’s third litter. He was adopted to keep Safaricom company. He still lives on as a lively orange chonk who loves to socialize.


When we moved to a new place, Ihisa and George Floyd wanted nothing to do with it. Efforts to seek them out in the old place and bring them to the new home were futile; they would escape after a day or two. Bear in mind, I wasn’t bothered by this. I love cats. But I am not attached to them. I let them live their life how they wish. My older sister and two cousins were the ones who bothered with bringing them home.


It was after Ihisa and George Floyd were left to their own devices that our cousins (two sisters in primary school at the time) mentioned seeing an innocent kitten getting chased around by dogs along the murram road leading to our apartments. I shrugged it off. Cats and dogs will do as they please. My sister, however, talked of wanting a therapy cat and said we should adopt the poor thing. The decision would have been unanimous had I not been indifferent. Cat or no cat, I was good.


Fast forward a few years later and GG has become part of the family. A tabby cat with stark white on her chest and feet (I call them her socks). My sister named her Grace Gina (GG) because the cat was lucky to have received grace from us. Gina was a reference to a gray cat with long fur that she had tried to adopt the previous year but our mum wouldn’t have any of it. GG is a calm quite cat. She only ever meows when she wants to be fed or when you come into the house after leaving her alone for most of the day. A kind, antisocial and gentle feline. Not one person has been intentionally scratched by her. Not unless they tried to carry her and she scurried away from their arms (she hates being carried for some reason).


Compared to GG, Ihisa and her offspring were rude. If they were the ones accused of harboring demons, I might have seriously considered the accusation.


ARE YOU SAVED?

As soon as you enter the corridor of our apartment building, you are greeted by a sudden cold. No matter how hot the weather is, the corridor will always be cold. That being said, ‘sweater weather’ might as well be a conspiracy theory when inside the house.


I had just arrived home. As I fumbled with the keys, I heard the door behind me briskly unlocking. Why would anyone be in that much of a hurry, I wondered.


“Excuse me,” a voice demands.


When at home, I lose all interest in people-ing. The fact that this person wanted to socialize at that particular moment was already irritating. But, I remember her and my mum bonding over love for mass and the Catholic doctrine a few weeks ago. Conversation was mandatory. I turn around and acknowledge the lady staring firmly at me.


“Is that grey cat yours?” she asks. Her tone of voice and harsh stare made it feel like I was in an interrogation.


“Umm… yes,” I reply. The scent of oncoming drama was frustrating. It was an uncomfortable experience being unsuccessfully threatened by someone who only got up to my chest level.


“Can you keep it away from my house,” she says while vigorously nodding her head. The more she tried to be intimidating, the more awkward it felt. I look at her, confused. How exactly did she want me to do that? Maybe if I suggested she just fling a Patapata flip flop at it with malicious intent, it wouldn’t bother coming back.


“Do you know that it passed in front me and I fainted?” she seemed to ask. There was no etiquette in her voice in all the words that she had spoken. Only a venomous accusatory aftertaste.


I frown at her, even more confused. Why would a person faint just because they’ve seen a cat?


“It is bringing demons to my house. I do not normally faint when I see cats. The fact that I fainted when I saw yours meant that it brought evil spirits to my house,” the accusations continue.


I still haven’t said anything. A few nods and grunts to show that I am listening are all. How exactly is one supposed to act in such a situation?


“Are you saved?”


At this point I am thoroughly confused. How did we even get there?


“Um… yeah. We got a home altar, holy water and everything right over…”


“Do you believe in evil spirits?” she cuts me off.


To put it simply, she had a lot to say. And I may be cursed with being a good listener. Even when my social battery is drained and some extrovert comes and starts chatting me up, I’ll listen attentively and ask the occasional question. I like the passivity of it as compared to the demanding nature of regular conversation. And I would be damned if my old man caught whiff of me being rude to other people for no good reason. The following paragraph gives a patchy retelling of the many things she said:


“… I have been cursed so many times. One day they event sent a jogoo. It came to my window and peeked inside. When I looked it, its eyes became red and I fainted. (I raise my eyebrows in wonder) Oh, yes! They use animals and birds. Even these birds you see that hang around the dirty sewer water, the dark ones with long beaks (the ibis); do you know they are not good? One time they flew in a circle formation above my head and… (Yup. She fainted. Again)


These people who have been cursing me have followed me here. I can tell. They have used your cat to send their evil spirits after me. But I rebuke them…


Where I used to live, every time I was leaving the house, I would hear a someone starting their vehicle. Every time! I was being followed. It was these two women. So one day I decided to confront them. I walked up to them… (I don’t quite remember what their conversation entailed. I remember that the climax went like:) … I grabbed my rosary from inside my shirt and pointed Jesus at them. Imagine they couldn’t even look at it! They were hiding their faces from the face of God, because they knew what they were.


… Even my son, they cursed him. His eye never used to be like that. (One of his eyes had a milky hue. The pupil was barely visible). These people will curse even your tongue. There were times when I would fall to the ground and my tongue would start rolling inside my mouth like a snake. It almost happened when I was out in public once. But I took out my rosary and stuck Jesus in my mouth. It stopped their curse from working…”


At times I can’t be bothered whether information is fact or not. Part of being a geek or nerd, I believe, is being able to play around with different thought sequences without adopting them. No matter how dark, disturbing or morally unacceptable. The reason I can remember most of what she said is because I found it genuinely intriguing. My responses were fairly generic and short: a lot of genuine damn-that’s-crazy’s.


About ten minutes in total she took to share her supernatural misfortunes with me. It seemed to calm her down. Maybe she saw how bored a demon would be if it ever possessed me. Maybe a homebody’s routine didn’t provide enough wiggle room for it to frolic.


“But now that I am aware that they are using your cat to send evil spirits to me, it should be okay,” she assures me.


Yeah, right. I wasn’t really buying that part. So when GG ambled to her open door and peeked inside, I was quick with the “Tssch! Toka!”. But she stopped me. Apparently, GG was now exorcised and sanctified of all evil spirits.


Maybe I had overreacted, I thought. Maybe she genuinely was convinced that the calm, antisocial, shy and kind GG bore her no ill will. Maybe we could be friendly-ish neighbours from then onward. Right?


Right?




BRONCHITIS


Assignments, projects, reports, research, online classes, deadlines, the usual hullabaloo of being a design student. As much as the thought of the student experience drives you into lethargy, it actually is helpful. Not in the usual sense of ‘building your future’, rather in the sense that when it is time to rest you seem to naturally know what to do. And you enjoy it a lot more, too. Going to Tric Krypton Gaming Cafe on a Sunday after an arduous week of making tons of sketches is magical. All the tension and stress melts off. It might be one of the reasons why I sometimes mercilessly dominated my boy Aleki in NBA2K22.


On this particular weekend, I had bought 8GB worth of Faiba bundles. Yup. An entire season of anime was about to get ran through. Best believe! If my memory serves me correctly, this was the time I watched Your Lie in April. That scene where that girl (who was one of Kouhei’s childhood rivals) performed Chopin’s Etude #11 in A Minor… Wuueh! Goosebumps! I didn’t know classical music could bring it like that. While slowly getting morphed into a classical music listener, there’s a knock on the bedroom door. I tell the person to come in.


My cousin with glasses peeks her head into the room, “Hey, that lady is back here complaining about GG again.”


Maaaannnn…

I was the main adult in the house for most of 2021. How I wished there were a more refined adult to deal with the situation. But, like adults are supposed to do, I slid out from beneath my blanket and sauntered to the front door.


From how our last interaction ended, I couldn’t see any reason why the lady would be annoyed about GG paying her a visit. There was probably a simple misunderstanding. Maybe it was one of the other neighbourhood cats. I slide the curtain out of the way, smile a little bit at her and say hello.


“My son has bronchitis.” The accusatory tone and unsuccessful intimidating look were back.


Yet again, I was flabbergasted. Where did that even come from? What did it have to do with anything?


What?


If she were an anime character, her signature move would probably be called confuse-no-jutsu.


“Damn. That’s craz…” I began to reply.


“I thought I told you to keep your cat out of my house!”


I’m even more confused at this point. The memory of her saying GG was ‘sanctified’ was still vivid in my memory. She was even okay with GG peeking into her house.


“Wait. I thought you said…”


“Your cat came to my house and its fur is affecting my son! He can’t breathe properly!” she cuts me off.


“I didn’t even know that…”


“Keep-that-animal-away-from-my-house!” she interjects.


At this point I’d already picked up on her ‘style’; a crude form of talk-no-jutsu. It mattered not what I said; any sound from me fed her ire. She was getting louder each time she cut me off. Best believe I wasn’t about to spar with that BS. A couple more self-righteous threats are yelled.


Maaaaan, I was no longer mentally there. My conscience had taken a back seat, disappointed at the caliber of adult it had to deal with. Save for the occasional grunt, nod and head shake, she might as well have been talking to wall. Thankfully, the interaction didn’t last long.


“Do you want me to call your mum and tell her what you have been doing?” she threatens.


Of course the threat held no weight. None of them did. I shake my head no.


“Do you want me to call your… your auntie?” she corrects herself. I had no desire to explain that she was correct the first time. Who knows what she would’ve decided to hear and shout back?


Anyway, I shake my head again. As if the threat wasn’t flimsy enough, she repeats it. She now wanted me to speak.


Wow! What magnificent etiquette!


I mumble the blandest ‘no’. More indignant accusations are said under the breath before she recedes into her anti-GG abode. I sigh deeply, shuffle back to my room, slide beneath the warm blanket and continue watching my anime.


How can senior adults demand respect when they’re not acting respectable, I ponder. Adults are full of BS, aren’t they?


While we’re at it too, FUCK BRONCHITIS!



HOLY WATER


As much as my conscience did take a back seat while being shouted at, it didn’t make me emotionally immune. I was anxious for a while after the Sunday morning incident. Going to the shop became a tense episode of Ninja Warrior. I would have to dodge, bob and weave so I wouldn’t meet GG’s nemesis. Not that I wanted to meet any of the neighbours, either. As a natural introvert, it’s only normal that I dodge any form of interaction while at home. But now there was an actual raptor to look out for; not just a chatty human.


Honestly, I even considered throwing GG away. Maybe if I put her in a bucket one early morning, took her out and dumped her far from home? Heck, how hard can it be to kill a cat?


Thankfully (I’ve never slaughtered a chicken) I chickened out of the idea of sending GG to the upper room. Who was I to decide if she lived or died? And all of that just because of an annoying neighbour?


Man, stop!


It took an uncomfortable ephemeral minute for me to realize that it wasn’t my ‘fight’. Never had I ever exorcised a demon nor had I taken a first aid class to know how to help someone with bronchitis when shit hits the fan. Now that I think about it, it was most likely a test from God (or Allah, or the universe or whatever you believe in. I am hard pressed to find the difference). A test to see how I would respond to the situation. A mini cannon event. Here’s how I cracked it: I took some Holy Water from the home altar, sprinkled some on GG and asked God to handle it.


(Catholics are encouraged by the church to have an altar at home where they will face while praying the rosary. It doesn’t need to be fancy. A small statue of Jesus on the cross and a candle will do. My mum’s wall unit has a lot of real estate at the top section, though. There’s like 3 statues of Mary Mother of God, a portrait of Jesus, a portrait of my late aunt who was a nun essentially all her life and a couple of candles.)


As He is known to do, God came in clutch.


The kitchen is a communal space in our apartment. Especially between us the youngins i.e. below 30. This one time we (my two cousins and I) were chilling there when there was a knock on the door. You already know who it was. The supposed-to-be-intimidating look was present but it was less vicious than the last time.


“Can you come and get your cat,” she demands.


I frown.


“That isn’t our cat,” I calmly reply. “Yeah. Hold on. Our cat is…”


I lean away from her and peer at the kitchen scene. The two primary school girls still in their red school sweaters were chatting and doing stuff, probably preparing supper. Seated by the door leading to the back area, unconcerned with the affairs of the plebeians in her presence, was GG. Chilling. Relief and joy washes over me. I look back at her.


“Yup. Our cat is right here,”


She is now confused. What ever would she do with the bold accusation she had let rip? I was grinning inside, pleased with this season finale of Ninja Warrior.


“Then whose cat is this?” she asks timidly.


“And how the hell am I supposed to know that?” I shout back.


Nah, I’m just kidding. LOL. What I actually said was, “I don’t know. But our cat is right here.”


Somehow, she was still unconvinced. I could see it in her eyes. So I offered to go and confirm with her that it wasn’t GG. Into her living room we go, turn left to the kitchen, go past the back door and into the back area. Her pace was mad fast, as if she was trying to escape her retribution. I heard a cat yowling. I walked through the back door just in time to see her kick at something around the corner of the house. She walks back awkwardly.


“That isn’t our cat,” I reiterated as she neared.


All harshness had left her aura. I’m guessing it was guilt and shame that now ate at her. I remember repeating the phrase ‘that isn’t our cat’ a couple more times. She didn’t look me in the eye when she closed the front door to her house. I victoriously walk back to the communal kitchen and fill them in. There was barely any interaction between us and her after that.


A few days later I was retelling the event to mum when she called in to check up on us from Torit, Eastern Equatoria in South Sudan. To my surprise, mum complained about how talk of demons, evil spirits and such were the main topics the lady would bring up in their conversations. Mum didn’t approve of that.


Generally, the lady would keep to herself and avoid everyone. I do not recall her ever talking to any of the other neighbours. The last conversation I recall her having with the caretaker was more of a one-sided altercation. She was yelling at him about something being his responsibility. Something about something at the base of her door that apparently meant someone was trying to get into her house or something. Afterwards she suggested to her son that maybe they call the cops. I don’t know what exactly was going on. I couldn’t be bothered either. Why, I am a proud PhD holder in Minding My Damn Business.


Even after she had moved out, I would still catch glimpses of her around Karen Shopping Center and church. One time I had sat in a tuktuk beside the driver. As I was alighting, I recognized her and her son from the corner of my eye seated in the back. I might have been imagining things, but I think I felt an unpleasant energy directed toward me from her. But, hey: PhD in Minding My Damn Business. I received my change from the tuktuk driver, crossed the road and casually strolled home.


I am not a certified psychologist or psychiatrist, but I suspect some of her behavior point at schizophrenia. Was it caused by something specific? Did she actually have to fight against devil worshipers? Does she ever manage to make any friends? During our last interaction, was there ever a cat? I only saw her kicking at something from around the corner of the wall.


Was there anything there at all?

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