The stray cat gave birth to kittens. Four of them lived, which was a bit of a miracle considering. Prior to the birth, she crept over the black stones of the tawny red clay city. The fat sun that hung so determinedly in the sky finally relented and slipped toward the horizon. The cat settled down. She moved only when the people hide. And when they moved, she hid as best she could. People started to come to life again now that the sun was gone. They crept out of doorways and opened shutters to let in the hope of a breeze. They carried their prayer books to the open mosque in the center of the square. They bowed and prayed and filled the hours.
She was pregnant. Very pregnant. And in being pregnant with a litter her movements where hampered which is a very unfortunate situation to be in as a cat. Especially in this area. There were children to contend with. They did not like the cat. Any cat. Especially the one girl.
“Get out of here!” the girl screamed, stamping her foot only inches from the cats face. The cat pulled back and hissed, baring all its teeth. She swiped a paw out and nicked the girl’s bare toe. The blood glistened. The girl ran away. The cat was pleased.
She cleaned herself, her fat rolling belly. The cat knew she had to find a place to deliver these kittens. There was nowhere safe in this city. There was a spasm of pain down her back that made her legs twitch. She wanted to run but couldn’t.
Later that night the girl came back. She yelled at the cat again, her face contorting into a snarl. The cat dug her claws into the dirt of the road and hissed back, teeth showing, ears flat. The girl kicked at the road, a shower of dirt and pebbles flew at the cat. She tried to run but managed only to hobble under a nearby car. The girl laughed and peeked under the car. The cat pulled herself in as close as she could. Her eyes stung from the dirt that was now stuck in them. She didn’t dare lick her paw and try to clean them out. She didn’t dare move. Still was safer. She waited for the girl to go away.
Days later, right before the waves of pain that would send the cat leaping, with a half born kitten falling out of her, the girl came back. The cat watched her; her and another one. Taller. Stronger. She could smell the boy before he rounded the corner. They spotted the cat and laughed. The cat purred to calm herself. The kittens inside her rolled over and over each other. The boy climbed the stairs behind her up to the balcony. The cat watched him and wondered what he was doing.
He lifted a glass jug which shone in the sun, the light blinking off it like a warning. The cat started. Something was wrong. She could feel that.
“Do it,” the girl on the street yelled. The cat turned her attention to the noise and the boy above her, on the balcony tipped the jug pouring thick olive oil out of it which splattered and smeared the cat in its slime. The cat tried to run again. The oil coated her fur making her skin itch horribly. Hobbled, she hid under the car, behind a wheel. The children laughed, their voices fading down the road. The cat tried to clean herself, desperately knew she had to clean herself. Her rough tongue pulled at the oil soaked hair. The kittens inside her rolled over and over again. It was time.
Only four would survive. They would be confused by the foreign smell of their mother, her fur still matted with oil. They would nip and cry and refuse to drink. The ones that died, their necks twisted, some half formed, she left under the car for a day. Later she would gather them, one by one, her mouth closing over the loose skin on their necks. Some had no necks so she dragged them by whatever she could. She lined them up, neatly, right on the front step of the girl’s home. She cleaned them each in turn and then she ran away to wait till sunset when the girl would find them. She would wait to hear the girl scream.