What a Wise Alley Cat Wants to Know
What a Wise Alley Cat Wants to Know
I…am a cat.
…Ah, I thought so. You looked at me just now. Meaning you heard my voice.
My voice…no, I suppose not. Perhaps you just heard a meow and happened to see me.
Are you a cat lover? You certainly don’t look like one. I can tell. People who love cats have a certain aura to them.
Aah, look at you now. Your eyes have gone wide. What is it? Surprised to see a cat speak? That’s right, I’m cat.
I wanted to try introducing myself all grandiose-like, but I am an alley cat after all. I’m not that refined. Bear with it, if you will.
Human speech? Yes, I understand it. I’m faaaar more intelligent than you people think, though I suppose that’s only natural. I can’t speak, but I do understand you. I understand your emotions too.
You humans are a restless bunch who love cute things, am I wrong? Of course not. You’d never snuggle with us if that weren’t true.
Still, it’s a strange situation we find ourselves in. I don’t know if I can use human words now, or if you can understand cat speech, but the fact remains that there are few people who can converse with me like this.
And just at the right time, no less. Human, do you have a moment? Could you listen to my story?
It’s a story about a man and an animal who lived in this town. You just moved here, didn’t you? I can tell from your scent. That’s right. In other words, this is a story you don’t know. It won’t bore you.
It’s just, I have one request.
I will ask you a single question after the story is over. I’d like you to answer. I won’t force you, but I greatly wish to know how a human would respond. I know nothing about humans beyond what I can see, just as you know little of cat society.
Well then, shall we begin?
I assume you can see that house over there. The one on the corner. Yes, that worn-down, wooden house. An old cat—excuse me—an old man used to live there. His wife died some twenty years ago, leaving him alone ever since.
But three years ago, a dog appeared in front of his house. A shiba inu puppy without a collar. He was an abandoned puppy who had escaped his cardboard box and somehow managed to make his way down the road.
So imagine my surprise when the old man took in the dog without a word of complaint. I’ve lived a long life as an alley cat, and know everything there is to know about these streets, but the fact that the grumpy old man I knew actually took in a puppy interested me. So I decided to pay them a visit. Not the old man, mind you, but the puppy.
“Yo. So you’re the new guy?”
The puppy was inside a run down doghouse (not that it looked like one) in the yard, and had a leash around his neck. As an alley cat, it looked pretty tight to me.
Woof! The puppy barked, and then answered, “That’s me! I live here with Grampa now.”
“Oh really? How do you like it? Is he taking good care of you?”
“Well, he feeds me and gave me a house.”
“That’s good to hear. Did he give you a name?”
The puppy tilted his head. (To be more precise, he didn’t actually tilt his head. What I mean is that he made that kind of gesture.)
“I’m a dog, so grampa said that was good enough. My name is Dog because I’m a dog!”
Indeed. I had expected as much from that eccentric old man and laughed despite myself. At the same time, I became interested in both the dog and the old man. He was someone who was always at odds with the kids and residents of the neighborhood, and there was no one in the world who would call him friendly. Yet an old man like that was here living with a dog. Of course I was interested. Who wouldn’t be?
I decided to observe to see what would become of them, to see how the man and dog would grow together.
The dog—Dog grew up fast.
He was happy-go-lucky to the bone, and every time the old man picked a fight with him, or scolded him, or yelled at him, Dog reacted with a silly expression like he had no idea what was going on. And just when you’d think he had finally reflected on his mistakes, he’d start running around the small yard with his tongue out moments later. Inevitably he’d trip over his long leash, only to begin running around in circles trying to catch his tail until his eyes span. It would be too much to call him well-bred even as a compliment, and although he probably didn’t get to eat good food all the time, he was at least able to run around as much as he pleased.
Why did the old man take in a dog like that? I can’t claim to understand how humans think, but more than likely he was just lonely. Even the most eccentric person can have a stubborn streak of kindness in them. Humans really are a troublesome bunch.
Regardless, I can understand him being lonely after the old lady died.
Not that I can empathize, we alley cats live in solitude after all. We value sturdiness even more than so-called pride.
But I digress.
Dog’s behavior was so simple that the old man quickly realized he was an empty headed fool. He and the old lady had two kitte—excuse me—two sons back when she was alive, but both of them had already moved out. There were never any rumors about them coming back home, so I could only assume his relationship with them wasn’t good either. The old lady would be rolling in her grave if she knew their newest son had a flowerbed for brains.
I found amusement in seeing the old man yell at Dog for pointless things, and with the Dog’s ever oblivious responses. As a cat, there was just something about those off-kilter interactions that entertained me to no end. They perfected their back and forth exchanges over the years, almost like some comedy routine. And the fact that they were both completely serious only made it funnier. It even became a topic of discussions among alley cats—everyone knew that house was the place to go for a good laugh.
At any rate, both the old man and Dog lived as they always did. Their sometimes good, sometimes bad relationship continued on for another three years.
Driven by a cat-like whim, I occasionally paid that worn-down house a visit and told Dog about the goings-on in town. He had become aware of a Maltese living five houses down and secretly asked me about her every once in a while. She dressed in frilly clothes and seemed to be around the same age as Dog, but if nothing else, the Maltese certainly didn’t seem to be the type to be interested in a mutt like him. I half-jokingly urged him to stop courting her.
At the insistence of the others in the neighborhood, the old man finally began to provide Dog with some semblance of care. He began taking him to the vet, properly feeding him, cleaning the doghouse, and the like. Given his constant horrible attitude, the he tended to attract the ire of the rest of human society. Though to be honest, I thought it worked out nicely.
Things only began to take a turn for the worse late autumn last year.
It was cold day with chilly winds coming in from up north. I didn’t go outside often those days due to the excessive cold, but had made up my mind to walk over to the worn-down house. There was a store with a nice old lady near there who gave us cats canned food every so often, you see. We had to be smart about it though; it was all about choosing the right timing. Going too frequently was a bad idea, so moderation was the way to go.
Dog yelped and called my name the moment I jumped atop the wall surrounding the old house.
“Ah, Mister Cat!”
I am an alley cat, and as such I have been called many things. However, I don’t have an official name. Like I said, I’m a street cat. Don’t have a proper name, and don’t need one either.
Yet a cat like me was call Mister. I knew he wasn’t smart enough to add an honorific to the word cat, so as far as he was concerned, my actual name was Mister Cat. It wasn’t something worth correcting, so I let it be.
“Mister Cat, Mister Cat!”
“Well I’ll be. You look lively today, Dog.”
“Listen to this! I’m hungry!”
“Are you now?”
I was hungry too. I didn’t have the energy to play along with him right then. As I decided to hurry along, Dog barked, “Wait! Listen to this!”, to stop me. I tentatively stopped walking along the wall.
“You know, Grampa sometimes forgets to bring me food. But then he comes out to feed me when I bark at the house.”
“Well, good for you.”
I turned tail and made it clear that I wasn’t interested, but those kind of subtleties were entirely lost on Dog.
Of course he barked at me again.
“Mister Cat, how come Grampa forgets to feed me now?”
“I haven’t a clue.”
“He’s never, ever forgotten before!”
“Then maybe he’s starting to become forgetful.”
“Forgetful? What’s that? Is that something you become?”
What a guy. He didn’t even know something so simple.
“Humans tend to forget things.”
“But he didn’t used to forget?”
“It’s because of his age.”
It was like his brain was just like a puppy—like a kid’s, no matter how old he got.
“When humans get older they start being unable to remember things.”
“Whaaat, that’s a big problem!”
“That’s why you should bark at the house before you get hungry.”
“But I already bark when I’m hungry.”
This dog may have been raised outside, but he was still a pet in the end. He lived a carefree life in a world that was so unforgiving to an alley cat like me. He didn’t know the fear of dying in a ditch on the roadside.
“You’ll be too tired to bark by the time he notices otherwise.”
Dog looked at me, breath taken away by the advice I gave him while I stretched. (To be more precise, he didn’t actually have his breath taken away. What I mean is that he made that kind of gesture.)
“Well then, I’m off. Need to get something to eat myself.”
“Oh, okay. Bye bye then!”
I walked to the end of the wall and jumped down to make my way to the old lady’s store.
There was a thin layer of snow on the ground by the time I visited the old house again. It was around then that construction work began near where I slept. I didn’t know what they were building or breaking, but the racket they made every day was becoming unbearable.
Dog had become visibly thin in the long while that I hadn’t seen him. Just like before, he barked when he saw me perched on the wall.
“Mister Cat, Mister Cat!”
“Hey, Dog. What’s going on?”
“Listen to this! Grampa doesn’t talk to me anymore!”
I don’t know why you’re telling me though, is what I thought, but seeing as I was the one who had gone out of my way to visit, l decided to respond like a proper adult.
“It must be lonely.”
“It is!” Dog barked.
Each and every one of his replies was idiotic. I found myself shocked at how simple he always managed to be.
“Grampa comes out when I bark, but then he leaves without saying anything.”
“Oh? Then I guess I won’t get to see you two fight anymore.”
I had to pass this information on to the other cats in the neighborhood. They never knew what to do with their abundance of free time. It didn’t matter to me either way though. I’d keep visiting this house all the same.
“Why doesn’t Grampa talk to me anymore? He used to talk so much!” Dog stopped wagging his tail. “He never laughs now either.”
“Laughs? You’re telling me that old man laughs?”
“He looks at me and laughs!”
He was laughing at you, Dog…but that was besides the point. In other words, the old man didn’t respond to Dog like he used to. My whiskers twitched.
“It’s because of his age.”
Feeling like I had this conversation with him before, I explained to Dog what it meant for humans to get older. As expected, dog’s reply was “Whaaat, that’s a big problem!”, the exact same thing he said the first time.
“People laugh less when they get older.”
“Because laughing tires them out.”
“Why? It’s so fun though.”
“Maybe because he’s all alone. That old man stopped having fun long ago.”
Dog looked like I had just told him about the end of the world when I said that. (To be more precise, he didn’t actually make the shocked expression that a human would. What I mean is that he made that kind of gesture.)
“Oh no! He won’t talk to me anymore then?”
Though asking me a question like that put me in a difficult position, I answered. “Perhaps.”
Dog whimpered, looking even sadder than he did before.
“I want Grampa to get better. I want him to call my name.”
“That’s impossible. Old age is getting to him.”
“Impossible? Can’t I eat that old age?”
Good grief. He didn’t even understand the basic concept.
“Dog, listen to me. A person’s age can only increase. There’s no going back when someone gets older. All of us will have to die someday.”
“All of us will die someday…?”
“Yes. Humans, me, and even you. Living creatures get older and then they die. You and I are aging as we speak. Age isn’t something you can just eat.”
His response sounded reasonable enough, but I doubted he actually understood what I meant. Having finished my explanation, I bid him farewell and went on my way.
The next time I saw Dog was the season where people scatter beans outside of their homes. The vinegary smell of sushi rice was in the air as I made my way to the worn-down house. It was getting chillier now that the sun was setting. I found Dog was lying on the ground looking forlorn.
“Mister Cat, Mister Cat.”
“What is it, Dog? You look lonely.”
“Listen to this. Grampa left and didn’t come back.”
Dog’s meek behavior gave me pause, and I found myself sitting down on the wall (obviously not cross-legged like a human).
He was curled up in a corner of the small yard on top of a thin layer of snow. What was I supposed to say here? Was I supposed to comfort him? Encourage him? I found myself at a loss before quickly abandoning those un-catlike thoughts. Selfishness and capriciousness, that was the cat way.
“When did the old man leave the house?”
I see. That certainly was worrying. It didn’t really matter for cats, but a human not returning after leaving the day before was cause for concern.
The stubborn old man I knew didn’t have enough connections to stay at anyone’s house overnight, and as far as I knew, he had never left the house empty before. He did go on trips back when the old lady was alive, but never since he became alone, all the more so after he picked up Dog. No matter what happened, he always returned by evening.
I asked Dog if he was worried.
He responded, “Worried? I’m worried? I’m cold and it hurts. I’m shaking. My heart hurts when I think of Grampa. I think there’s something wrong with me.”
“That’s the kind of feeling it is. You can call that unease.”
Dog looked up at me. He certainly was a fool who didn’t understand emotions, reasoning, and other important things, but not even knowing what his emotions were called was just too pitiful.
“That’s right”, I replied. “You’re worried about the old man, and now you feel uneasy. But it’s that old man we’re talking about. I’m sure he’ll come back soon.”
“Yeah, so do I. Because now that I think about it, he went out barefoot.”
Wait, did I just hear him say ‘now that I think about it’? Had Dog suddenly matured in these past few months? I was impressed. Impressed because dog finally had his own doubts about whether or not it was normal for people to go out barefoot. A cat like me did, because I had these paws that humans like so much. So did Dog. Even that haughty Maltese from before who wore stylish boots in the house didn’t wear shoes when she went on walks.
It was only natural that he felt something was wrong about a human living the house barefoot.
“Does the old man always go barefoot?”
At my slightly stupid question, Dog barked “No!”
“Grampa puts on skins!”
He put on skins? This dog really was an idiot. He didn’t understand that skin and clothes and shoes were different things. Maybe he the old man going barefoot was just misunderstanding on his part.
“More importantly, Dog. You look thin.”
Dog looked down as I squinted against the setting sun.
“Are you eating properly?”
“Do you want me to bring you something?”
Dog shook his head. (To be more precise, he didn’t actually shake his head. What I mean is that he made that kind of gesture.) Still, he looked really hungry to me.
I figured it was about time I returned home. I was quite pleased with my new sleeping spot, and had no intention of telling anyone else about it. It was a lovely, comfortable place to sleep. The other cats didn’t intrude, and crows didn’t bother me either.
“See you, then.”
“I hope the old man comes back.”
I said my goodbyes and called it a day there.
Unable to resist my curiosity, I jumped on top of the wall at the house again early the next day. Dog barked the moment he saw me.
“Mister Cat, Mister Cat!”
He was full of energy…it was actually kind of hard to deal with so early in the morning. And to think I was worried about how downhearted he was yesterday.
“You look lively, Dog.”
“Listen to this! Grampa came back!”
I could hear some voices from inside when I looked towards he worn-down house.
“I was worried because we couldn’t reach you!”, someone shouted.
It was a man, but not the old man. One of his sons must have come back home.
“Shut up!” The old man seemed full of life too. “Who are you!? Don’t touch me!”
Clearly this wasn’t a peaceful situation. I walked along the wall to get a better view of the inside and saw three people. One of them seemed to be the old man’s son, who had a woman standing next to him.
“Father, please calm down.” The teary faced woman pleaded with the old man. He then turned around and shouted at her too “Who are you! Get away from me!”
I had no interest in conflicts between humans, but had a good idea about what had happened. Old age was a terrifying thing indeed.
I continued along the wall until I got to the entrance, and saw a police car parked in front of the worn-down house. The officers were saying things like “search” and “care” and “thank goodness.” Seeing both Dog and these humans bustling about this early in the morning gave me a headache.
When I returned to where Dog was , I found him happily wagging his tail and barking to the house.
“Grampa! Grampa! Feed me!”
He repeated over and over again. Like a broken record, he faced the house and barked.
“Grampa! Grampa! Talk to me!”
Was it persistence? Desperation? No, it was nothing of the sort. Dog was simply overjoyed that the old man was back. He was happy from the bottom of his heart and didn’t know what else to do. He was an idiot, pure hearted and foolish. That’s why he could be could be so happy about one single thing. No other thoughts even occurred to him.
“Grampa! Grampa! Call my name!”
Just when I thought to say something to Dog, the window suddenly flew open and the old man stuck his head out. With a demonic looking expression, he looked at Dog and shouted,
“You’re too loud! Shut up, you damn dog!”
Dog was hopping around. It almost looked like he was dancing.
“You remembered my name!”
“I said be quiet!”
“Grampa! I thought you already forgot my name!”
Humans couldn’t understand out words, so what Dog was saying never made it to the old man. Dog, being the idiot he was, didn’t recognize this, and joyfully ran around the yard the entire time.
The man and woman frowned when they walked up from behind the old man to see Dog.
Dog looked at the man.
“That’s my name!” His tail wagged fiercely. “That person over there knows my name too! I’m so happy! I love my name!”
I decided there to leave the house behind.
According to the rumors on the wind, Dog was taken away by the old man’s son and wife. He was as noisy as always it seemed, and never responded when the couple called him by his new name, Taro. What he did enthusiastically respond to though, was when children pointed to him and said, ‘look, a dog!’ when he was taken out on walks.
As for the old man, he now lives in some faraway place where there are lots of other old people like him. From what I hear they have all sorts of animals visit once a week, so he gets to pet dogs and cats, and made friends. He’s not all alone anymore, it seems. Good for him.
I’m told his memory returns sometimes, and he asks about Dog’s whereabouts, but people are not clever enough to know if he’s asking about a dog, or Dog. There’s nothing to be done about that.
I still sometimes visit the house where Dog and the old man used to live when the mood strikes me. There’s no reason for it. There doesn’t need to be. I just aimlessly walk along the wall; it was part of my original route anyway.
Although, there are times where it almost feels like I can here someone call me Mister Cat
And that is the end of my story.
Well then, human. You may have forgotten, but there was something I wanted to ask you.
I haven’t forgotten. I want to hear your answer. Of course, I’m not asking for a perfect answer. Humans are not wise, and neither are dogs. In fact, there are even unwise ones amongst cats. You are just one of many.
So here is the question.
Angry as he may have been, the old man called Dog’s name to the very end.
Tell me, what did you think about Dog’s joy over hearing his name? Did you think him pitiful? Adorable? Or perhaps did you see him as admirable. Did you find it painful? Ridiculous? Maybe you even snorted in laughter. He was an idiotic, foolish, stupid dog, like I said. Did his story have you rolling in laughter?
Tell me, what did you think?
What did you think about Dog?
That’s all I want you to tell me.
I don’t know what to think of him.
I’m sure you find it odd. He was only a thoughtless dog, but I’ve never been able to understand him.
I’ve asked my cat acquaintances, our natural enemies, crows, the deer and racoon dogs that live in the mountains…I even asked the Maltese, and she didn’t know either.
Tell me. I don’t care how you answer. Say something
Though I’m wise, I do not know.
About the old man who went senile. About Dog who didn’t who in his ignorance, pranced around regardless.
What a fool. He was an idiotic, stupid dog.
But that’s not all he was.
Why does it feel incredibly painful? Why do I feel sorrowful and bitter?
The truth is, I already know.
That not a single creature in the world is truly wise.
Put together, everyone’s an idiot or fool.
And surely the biggest fool, the biggest idiot, the biggest imbecile, is neither Dog, nor the old man.
It’s me, who didn’t do anything that day.
So tell me. What do you think about Dog?
What am I supposed to think?