The only pet I’ve ever had, is a cat named Chubby. Animal lovers would find the word pet objectionable, and feel compelled to elevate it to a more glorified term such as ‘family’. But words are just words to me. Calling your pet family doesn’t change the fact it’s a pet. And sometimes you could love a pet more than family.
Chubby was a naughty chubby cat, with coconut head, apple cheeks, all-knowing eyes, and a short stub of a tail that looked rather like a fluffy little ball than a tail. During my primary school years, he was the embodiment of the phrase ‘a bundle of love’ for me. To this day every time I think of him, an endearing sentiment still gives rise in my chest. I have a feeling it may carry on this way till the last breath.
My parents used to be relentless in placing the importance of education above anything else, and it’s only natural I failed miserably academically, since I didn’t happen to be the type who thrives under pressure – but that’s not the story I want to tell, I just want to tell something about Chubby.
Back then I didn’t get to play after school, in the courtyard or back alley, but had to go home and study. So Chubby was my whole world, my only friend, my soulmate. I did homework with him sitting on the desk, licking his forepaws rubbing a furry face. I watched TV with him napping in my lap, his little belly going up and down, like those gentle rolling hills in children books, always leading to some lovely dreamland … And every night I snuggled in bed with him, until my mother came to remove him from my bed, saying it’s unsanitary to have a cat in bed. Although every night I would sneak him back in after she’d gone to bed.
One day, Chubby ran into the street through an opened door. I ran after him but stopped short, as a truck turned around the corner approaching him. In that split second, I felt myself give in, instantly settling into a reality where Chubby is no longer with me – the adjustment was so swift, smooth and seamless. Then the truck braked just in time, and Chubby crossed the street safe and sound. A sense of relief flooded and revived me, so the love story resumed and continued.
Everything about him evoked a loving sense in me – his moist pink nose conjures up the downy feel of a baby chick, the sound of his sneeze is the pearly shape of a bubble from Betta fish, his sensitive whiskers are as cool as a minty tic tac on tongue tip, and those delicate ears lit up in a shaft of sunlight remind you of the gentle warmth of a rubber ducky, while the soft pat of his paws has the tender quality of a velvety scarf draping over your eyelids …
But a little sadness started lurking in me, ever since that moment when the truck was about to hit Chubby, and just how quickly my self-preservation mechanism kicked in, so ready and handy. While cuddling him tightly afterwards, I whispered in his ear, “Don’t mistake this for unconditional love. At heart I always put myself at the center and you’re just a pet.”
Chubby was such a dandy, devoting half of his awake time keeping up an appearance immaculate. The other half he either practiced jumping out at me like a flamboyant dancer, or exploring an attic full of old junks in the roof, with a ladder led up to it. The problem is he could climb up with all agility, but was terrified of climbing down. So many times a day, Chubby would meow pathetically from the attic, calling out for help; while I would hurry to fetch someone for the rescue, as I had a fear of heights myself … It’s the most fearful of times, it’s the most faithful of times.
One day, my mother brought home another cat. At that time we lived on an upper floor of a building with a restaurant at street level, and she was worried about mice problem. Chubby wasn’t the type of cat you could entrust with a real job such as catching a mouse. I was happy to have a new cat do the job.
But Chubby wasn’t happy. As soon as the new cat arrived, Chubby distanced himself from me, huddling up in one corner, casting not even a single look at me. An opaque screen was put up between us; no amount of pleading could make him take it down. Then one day, when I came home after school, Chubby wasn’t there, I couldn’t find him anywhere. No one ever saw him again. To this day, I don’t know where he’d gone.
I don’t remember much about the new cat, and I’ve never had another pet since Chubby left. Perhaps deep down I feel obliged to stay loyal to him. Chubby was a bullheaded cat, but his demand for unconditional love leaves its mark. Even God needs Abraham to offer Him that.
I know about Abraham since I joined a Bible study in town. The small town I live in now has more church steeples than people. Before coming here, I didn’t even know the word Creationist; after living here for a while, I discovered there’re people in this world who would take every word of the Bible literally, and leave no room for second guess. Still, I joined the Bible study. Mostly to practice English, in part because I want to study the Bible, then there’s also a small part of me dying to fit in.
It’s curious to watch yourself forever tugged between two forces – a desire to belong, and the need to be a bystander on the sidelines at all costs.
A woman named Lori took me under her wing the first day I joined the Bible group. She became a Christian because she heard God’s voice told her to, and she’s been multiplying ever since and homeschooling her six kids. She told me to feel free to ask her any question.
So I asked what God’s voice was like. She thought for a moment, then said it’s more like some inner knowledge than a voice. As we came upon the passage about God instructing Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, I asked if one day she heard God’s voice again, ordering her to sacrifice her kids, what would she do? At first she said she’d question whether it was really God’s voice. I reassured her that the voice would sound as real as the one she heard before.
“Then I would pray to God to give me faith to follow through with His command. A true Christian will put God before anyone and anything.” She said it with a staunch and slightly defiant look, glaring straight at some invisible spot in the air. The word ‘martyr’ occurred to my mind, somehow I used to mix up with ‘murder’. Strangely though, it gave me certain solace, as I realized Chubby was safer with me back then than Isaac is with Abraham. I would give Chubby up only when a truck was heading his way, but I would never give him up even if I heard God’s voice.
I envy the certainty Lori has about everything. She’s fiercely against abortion, but she supports death penalty. She’s against schools brainwashing kids to accept homosexuality, but she’s determined to instill the truth of Scripture into her kids as early as possible, so it would stick for life. And she’s against giving government the power to take away individual liberty, but when I asked, “Why not let your kids choose what to believe for themselves?” She said, “I am the mother, I know what’s best for my kids.”
As much as I envy Lori’s faith in her belief, for some reason I wish we all could be as free as Chubby. Sometimes I feel this urge to call out to all children born or unborn, “Run, Forrest, Run!”