After a while my mother and I dozed off again, and my mother’s tight hold on the cat was loosened. So Armi jumped off once again. This time, he attacked a person sitting right behind us, who is young and tall. He must have sausage or beef jerky or boiled egg with him. He gave a yelp and other passengers chimed in to denounce the cat and my mother. My mother was so tired that she opened her eyes and went back to sleep again, but I was wide awake. I pushed my mother, but she only slouched over to sleep with her head falling on her chest. So I stood up and shouted that it’s my cat and nobody should touch it. If anybody touched it, I will give him some color–the verbatim translation in English sounds weird, but the common phrase actually means beat somebody up. I am a lazy tortoise right now, but when I was twelve I had some unruly energy about me.
The young man turned around, looked at me, and chuckled, “yeah, give me some color?” And people who were awake all laughed. I was twelve but I was tall for my age and I was very sensitive to his disdain. “Don’t touch it.” I yelled again. “You shouldn’t bring a cat on the train.” The young man’s friend, who’s sitting right next to him, said to me condescendingly. “What do you mean? People bring live chicken and duck and even goat.” I remembered my mom’s argument and repeated it. “They do that for a living. They have families to feed. But nobody brings a cat.” A farmer said while lighting up his pipe. All his luggage was piled in the narrow path between seats and he was sitting on a big chunk of what looked like his goodies bundled together. I tried to digest why livestock are considered legitimate train passengers while cats are not, but couldn’t understand the argument. So I said to him, “you shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for you.” He chuckled at my impetuousness and his wrinkled face wrinkled a bit more.
While I was distracted by the farmer, the two young men grabbed the cat, threw it into an empty bag, and hang the bag outside the window. Then they tied the handles of the bag to a little hook inside the window. When they proceeded to shut the window, they couldn’t do it all the way because of the bag handles. So they left it there with a slit open, which let in some badly needed air for the stifling carriage. I could hear the cat meowing even among the noise of the train wheels grating the railway, or probably just my imagination. I launched myself towards the window, but the young man stopped me and he was as strong as a wall. Actually he didn’t even confront me, but rather he raised just one arm to block me and I didn’t even have the strength to push his arm away. Frustrated, I started to scream on top of my voice, and soon my scream turned into crying. People who were already awake enjoyed the diversion, while people who just woke up struggled to know what’s the commotion.
A middle-aged man with a little scar on his forehead sitting at the seat facing the two young man opened his eyes and took a sleepy look at us. He’s with these two young men, but I had not noticed him. When he understood what was happening, he asked the two young men to bring the cat in. The young men protested that the cat was violent and would jump on people to steal their food. They had enjoyed their idle prank and intended to inflict their little punishment on Armi longer. However they also respected Scarface too much to ignore his request. What to do? They hesitated, their young men’s instinct at stamping the boundary and flouting the rule too precious to throw away. Scarface dozed off again. Five minutes later, Scarface opened his eyes and said, “bring the cat in, will you?”
Armi was back and put in the basket I took from my sleeping mother’s lap. Now Armi was totally subdued. The time spent hanging out of a fast moving train somehow made him almost as gentle as a real house cat. I tried to get back to my seat, but it was already occupied by an unknown woman who were as fast asleep as my mother next to her. My mother suffered from severe insomnia at home. Often she would stay awake whole night while everybody else slept. But her sleeplessness was completely gone on the train. The rhythmic rattling and shaking must be helping her and she slept all the way to our destination.
I stood there holding the basket with a tamed Armi who’s too frightened to make trouble anymore. I didn’t have to stand for long since the man sitting next to Scarface got up and disembarked the train at the next stop, along with his huge sack that’s twice as big as he was. The sack was put right next to him on the floor and the path between the aisles was barely passable. When he got up and hoisted his burden on his back, a big space was suddenly vacated. His body bent over like a bow and the sack on his back looked even bigger than when it was on the floor. He didn’t realize how comical he looked. If he did, he wouldn’t have shouted to warn people in front of him, “Get away from me. Here is a big sack passing.”
“What’s in that big sack of yours?” Someone shouted back.
“None of your business.” He replied.
“Let me guess what’s in there.” Another joked.
“I wish it’s your dead body in there.” He joked back.
“You should buy another train ticket for you sack. It’s bigger than you.” The first one said.
“Yeah? I’ll do that when you pay another ticket for your fowl mouth.” He replied.
I sat down at the vacated seat and put the cat basket under the seat. I am usually a sound sleeper, but I didn’t feel sleepy at all on train rides. Scarface woke up around five o’clock in the morning and complained that he always woke up early in the morning and couldn’t go back to sleep anymore. “I am getting old.” He said. As he said this, he lit up a cigarette.
The two young men were not sleepy at all. It turned out that it’s their first train ride, going on some urgent business–which was a secret that they couldn’t share with me–for this new job they just started. I teased them since I had several train rides before. They looked a little embarrassed, and teased me back,
“Armi is not a real name for a cat, isn’t it? This name is too offhand, too indifferent, as if you are too lazy to come up with a name.” One of the young men said.
“I can call him Mimi.” I said.
“That’s even worse. See, you don’t have a name for him and you don’t give him food.”
I stared at them angrily but my anger only amused them. To show them I am not a miserly cat owner, I cracked two boiled eggs, the last two I had, peeled them, and gave to Armi, who was too frightened to come out of his basket but not too frightened to quickly finish the eggs.
Now Scarface and the two young men started to talk. This was their business trip to the big city and now they were returning home. They talked about their impression of the big city, jeered at people’s pigeon hole like living quarters, resented people’s snobbery, enjoyed ice cream for the first time, and marveled at how much business one could do in a big city. It’s a topic I was very familiar with and when I said something, they really showed interests and listened to me and asked relevant questions. Then they started to talk about corruptions at the city and at the train station and even on the train. Their attitude was a little cynical, their manner resigned, their hope sincere. It was all new to me and I asked questions like a typical impertinent teenager. To my surprise, they didn’t dismiss me, but rather they explained how the big sack guy could get on the train with such a big sack, why he selected a night train, and how the train crew could turn a blind eye.
I usually hated the crowded train journey, but that night and that morning were my favorite time. It was my first love for strangers, my first time talking with men who were interested in talking with me. My parents and relatives always dismissed me as a child and the conversation at home had always been formulated and predictable. No wonder we wanted to keep the talk to a minimum. What’s the point? I always had girlfriends to talk for hours but we kept a distance from boys.
My mother and I got off the train late morning. I hated the fact that we had to disembark so early, but I had no choice. I wanted to ask for their address so that I could write to them, but I was too embarrassed to ask. My grandmother gave me several handmade sachets with fragrant herbs stuffed inside. I couldn’t give the sachets to the guys when my mother was watching our leave taking. So I waited until my mother and I walked to the door. I abruptly turned back and walked to them–they were sitting and still talking, a little surprised to see me turning back. I said something which I couldn’t remember now and handed over a big handful of sachets with red strings. My address was written in a piece of paper and tucked inside. Without waiting for their response, I turned around impetuously and moved to the door to exit the train.
My mother was upset that I gave my grandmother’s gift to strangers, but she’s more upset that I gave our address away. She was worried that they would show up at our door unexpectedly, but she really didn’t have to worry about that since no letter and no person ever showed up at our door. I guess my address was somehow lost.
My mother and I thought Armi would love the new home with all the fresh fish, shrimp, eel, frog that he could eat. However Armi was not happy. We lived in an apartment on the third floor and it was impossible to let Armi out. Now he became an apartment cat, not able to go out. When he was with my grandmother’s neighbor, he could roam the neighborhood, wander in and out of the five families in the house, sit on top of the exposed beams under the roof, lie on any of the roof he chose, practice his hunting skills. Now he could only move between bedroom and living room. He was mad. He was so mad that he hid underneath the big bed all day long. He would only come out when his dinner was ready and I would go to tell him, trying to coax him out of his hiding, but to no avail. He pretended that he didn’t hear me. After a while, when he’s really hungry, he would come out to eat.
When he murdered my father’s five gold fish, my father decided that he had to go. At the time, we knew farmer L who lived not far away from us. Every two months, he would carry a big bag of rice on the back seat of his bicycle and come to knock on our door. It took my father several days to find out the farmer’s address. Somebody in the neighborhood knew where his village and his house is. The cat was sent away.
L would bring stories of Armi to us every two months. Now Armi was the leader of the barn cats. He roamed the village every day and was praised as the best mouse and rat catcher.