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White Cat   Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano

The White Cat
Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

The cat perched patiently on a shelf overlooking the wooden table displaying boxes of traditional Japanese candies in the old sweets shop. Her pupils round as the full moon, watching intently for any motions in the dim room. She turned her head slightly towards a faint sound from a dark corner, rasps of tiny feet scurrying on the wooden floor. A dark shape appeared and moved haltingly along the base of a wall. As she watched, her tail twitching, the shape emerged into the open beneath the table. She pounced. A sharp squeal, then silence. When the owner opened the shop in the morning, he found a dead mouse; but the cat was nowhere to be seen. She had retired comfortably somewhere in one of her secret hiding places after the long night guarding the shop.

By mid-afternoon, when the shop owner lowered the kakishibu noren curtains to block the sun, the cat would reappear. She would sit in the sun in front of the shop, washing her face and grooming her thick white fur. Housewives coming into the shop to buy sweets for their families would comment on her beautiful white coat. They had no idea she was an expert hunter and merciless killer. A little later, the neighborhood children would walk past the shop going home from school, two or three walking together, too busy chatting and laughing to even notice her. There was one boy however, whom she looked forward to seeing, the little one who walked alone, his hair unkempt, trousers too short. She did not know his name; he called her Nyan-Nyan-Chan.

One sunny afternoon, Nyan-Nyan-Chan was taking a nap by the front door when the boy walked by. He squatted down, laid his book bag on the ground, and ran his hand along her smooth coat. She arched her back and rubbed her head against his calf. The boy took out a little rubber toy animal and tied a string around it, then pulled it along to entice her to chase. It was a strange animal with a bulbous head and fearsome teeth, somewhat like Godzilla she had seen on TV. She pounced on the toy and would not let go, which delighted the boy. Once in a while though, she had to pretend to miss and let go of her prey, just to keep the boy interested.

So it was like that day after day. The boy’s visit became Nyan-Nyan-Chan’s favorite time of the day. The shop owner had gotten used to seeing the two playing together. Sometimes, he would offer some treats for the boy to take home. Months went by, then years, the cat watched the boy growing up fast. Then one year, he rarely stopped by to play with her anymore. Some afternoons, she would see him zipping by on a bicycle. She understood, he was entering into a different world. Sooner or later, they all do. She too.

These days, her once silky white coat was no longer luscious. She could hardly see the mice in the dark, let alone catching one. The shop owner talked of getting another cat. Some nights, Nyan-Nyan-Chan would fall sound asleep on the perch above the display table, dreaming of chasing a little rubber toy.