Tamri village, situated behind the Atlas Mountains, had been under the lockdown for three months and a day. Before the probable announcement of its lifting, the cat stood up; her ears were pointed backwards and her back was arched and rigid. She was staring furiously through the closed window. A few minutes later, she was sniffing and pacing along the closed door. Lights outside were on despite the total absence pedestrians. She was popping out her eyes through the two holes she managed to dig with her firm sharp claws. For three months, she was kept indoors, unable to eat and defecate properly and freely. She was not made for this stuffy cubby-hole, not made to live like a rabbit in a tiny warren. She was hardwired for hunting and stalking her preys. Probably, her fellow felines were now feasting on delicious rodents in the backstreets of Tamri. She felt herself undergoing a dangerous metamorphosis from a free outdoor cat to an enslaved, untrained doll. During all this time, she felt like being on stage performing a play, spending time pretending somebody who was not her. Her enthusiasm was flagging; and her meowing and howling were increasing. My life is one long boring day, she thought, scratching the closed door for the tenth time this morning. For long, she pretended to be his only companion and she perceived the studio like the closed room in the Bluebeard fairy tale, scary and stifling. But she wanted to scream at his face, “Enough is enough! Let me out, blockhead!” She no longer wanted to amuse Si Hamu in his old armchair, and to behave as a lifeless doll lounging around. 

            Why do I call him Si . Mr? He is just a jobless man. He has never worked a single day since he got his B.A. ten years ago. He is neither Si nor Lalla! Jobless Hamu, that’s all! The cat thought for a while.

The cat kept meowing, hissing and purring to be heard outside the closed door. Accustomed to her noise and her little tricks, Si Hamu was careless and inattentive. He was lolling calmly about, his third joint of Hashish in one hand and the cat’s fate in the other. “Come, Catty. Let’s watch TV! Let’s see the situation outside!” She hated to hear this utterance as much as she hated to be near him. She was bored with his sweet sillies, fed up with film fantasies and serial Turkish love stories. She was too weary to hear the news of the day’s mortality rate and the number of confirmed cases.

Though she did not understand all the words, she became acquainted with every tune of ads and every TV presenter’s facial features. But this was not what she wanted! This was not it at all! As a living creature, she could no longer stand it. Silently, she jumped on his lap to play the hated doll again, but she determined that it would be in a different way this time. She remembered the easy fights she won in the street before the quarantine; her techniques of pouncing and stalking mice were exceptional and creative.  She usually ripped open their stomachs with little sharp paws. Maybe she would use them tonight with this gaunt and haunted-looking Hamu. She raised them high to scratch his cheeky face. Giving it a second thought, she stopped abruptly. She realized that it was not the right time for a revolution. Hamu is not a mouse! She thought. She felt numb in his lap. Though TV was on, she felt silence in the room for a while. It was the calm that precedes the storm, she thought again. A sudden strange feeling warmed her heart and energized her suppressed desire to revolt.

            “What’s up, Catty? Why are you in a bad mood again?” he said, taking a puff at his doobie.

She was silent. The cat was hypnotized, immersed in an American film on TV. She watched blond fish, clean and large dens, and delicious pots of milk moving in front of her. From now and then, she threw a glimpse through the closed window; she saw stormy waters in the film and she imagined they were all around the studio. I am in a real trap. I’ll never be out, she thought. For her, the mind boggled at the long amount of time that Si Hamu spent within the four walls. “Was he blind? Mad? A prisoner?” she murmured every day but with no clear-cut answer. Since Si Hamu was usually alone and jobless, the nation-wide lockdown did not seem to affect him much. His inheritance was nearly at its end; but he would not worry about that during these hard times of the pandemic. Things got blurred in her mind and she concentrated on the film once again.

“Are you hungry? Take some popcorn! Take!” He threw her some popcorn and crashed the last bit of cigarette near the chair.

Briskly she jumped to the door, scratching the door with her claws and leaning her head on its panel until she felt exhausted. She was yowling; her mouth was wide open.  All her vocalizations and body language expression were nugatory and indecipherable. Si Hamu did not get her message; or he pretended not to get the hang of it. He ignored her and went to a cracked mirror beside his cluttered bed. He saw himself as a handsome man. It seemed as if the man loved the mirror and the mirror loved the man. He started caressing it and giving lavish kisses. With a strange frown on her face, the cat attacked a wad of paper on the filthy floor and moved slowly to her usual place under the bed.

The studio was a pig-sty; it looked as if an earthquake had hit it. A candle was lighting the poorly furnished studio. Si Hamu’s dirty clothes were scattered all around; unread books covered the dusty ground; old slices of bread and empty beer bottles were decorating the top of the little set and popcorn was dispersed all over the bed. Because of the increase in the number of cases infected with Corona virus, he decided to shut the door of his studio firmly; he bought all his needs during the first days of the quarantine and then he crept like an animal into hiding with his cat. He nailed his door all around so that no one would approach him. With the door and window closed, the studio stank like a rotten fish.

“What a beautiful man I am! Tomorrow I’m going to change my haircut. I’ll look like a prince Ha! Ha!” he said to his reflection on the surface of the mirror.

            “Tomorrow is my birthday! Yes, I’m going to have a party. But how old am I? Still young, still young, man! Yeah! I’m going to invite my dead parents, my future wife, my Catty, all my friends, my auntie Tamo…No! No! No! Not auntie! She stole my dad’s fortune! She will never see me again. No! I hate her! Did you hear me? I hate her to death! No auntie here!” Si Hamu held the mirror firmly in his hands and started shouting again, “No auntie! Never mention her name in my place! I’ll kill her if she comes in. Did you get it, Catty?”

His shouting bombarded the studio and tuned with the sudden sound of heavy rain in the outside and the rising crashes of the wind. The cat stood in fear, trembled and gaped at her boss. White spume was leaking from his wide mouth. To blow off the steam, he wanted to beat something nearby. He kicked his coffee-table and shouted out, “Where are you, Catty? Come out quickly. Close the door. Don´t let Tamo in. Quick. Quick! She is my virus!” Without waiting for an answer, he checked both the door and the window. They were firmly shut. On his way back to his bed, he kicked the cat harshly. Meowing and sobbing began again. The kick was so painful that she lost consciousness. She was numbingly lying on the floor for some time.

“Shut up! I want to write a poem for tomorrow. We’ll have a busy day tomorrow. Go to bed and be ready for the party. You’re also invited,” said Si Hamu. He picked up a pen and tore a paper from his old dusty copybook and started scribbling some words and reading aloud:

“ Tomorrow is my birthday

My viral birthday,

No one is invited but me and me…”

He stopped for a while and said: “this is not poetry! “He crumpled the paper and threw it away. He tore up another paper from the copybook. He started writing and reading again:

My viral birthday is tomorrow

No one is invited but me and Catty…”He tore it again and shouted: “Rubbish! This is not a catchy beginning! Catty, help! I want a verb of action! Help!” He kicked her again, but this time not so hard. She was still lying on the floor near the armchair. He started his poem again:

“BREAKING OUT

Of the quarantine

I stealthily snuck out

To invite myself to my thirtieth birthday.

Tonight was a banner night:

Myself and I would celebrate

The beginning of my second life

I washed my hands countless times

And that made me nearly new.”

He reread these lines loudly and felt ecstatic over his achievement. He grabbed the cat with one of his fleshy hand and put her on the bed. He stood in front of her and reread the lines again with a bit of musicality:

“BREAKING OUT

Of the quarantine

I stealthily snuck out

To invite myself to my thirtieth birthday.

Tonight was a banner night:

Myself and I would celebrate

The beginning of my second life

I washed my hands countless times

And that made me nearly new.

What do you think, Catty? Is this not genius? This is a good start! In two minutes I came up with a poem! A Moroccan Whitman! This is my first poem in this quarantine! I think I have overcome what is called the writer’s block! Great! Ok! Give me some space now. Let me focus!”

He threw her away with his right hand and she magically stood on her paws unhurt this time. He carried on with his poem after reading the first part for a number of times. He wrote:

“I made a cake with no decoration or a candle on top.

I patiently waited.

No one called.

No one cared.

Myself stood leaning on the doorframe

With a black mask on his face so I could not see

If he was grieving or mocking.

We did not shake hands.

He did not give me our usual hug.

I told him we should not miss out tonight’s party.

He said, ‘Hush! Hush! Haven’t you heard the news?

More confirmed cases just a few streets over.’

He slammed the door and hurried home

I sat alone, shedding a tear

Though it could be sweat from the fever.

I whispered,“ Happy Birthday, Si Hamu

Your first day in the second life is history.”

            When he finished his poem, Si Hamu stood up in front of the mirror to read it loudly. He imagined his dead parents and his girlfriend watching reading his masterpiece. He grabbed his cat again and threw her in the armchair. He started his rehearsal as if he was in a live poetry reading. When he finished, he was waving his hands triumphantly. He slapped the cat with his hand and shouted:

“ Applaud me, dirty Cat! Clap your hands to the new Whiteman!”

            Unable to speak, the cat watched him uttering words she could not decipher. He threw away his paper and the pen and went to his bed. The moon was looming large in the dark sky. The sound of thunder was heard loudly outside. The weather inside was freezing and stuffy. The light of the candle was dim, reaching its end. The cat gave a glimpse through the small two holes in the closed window, her unique thread that she had with the outside. She felt she was no longer a wild cat. She had lost the skills of hunting and fighting. She was filled with rage at the thought of her strange transmogrification. In a seemingly full-fledged determination, she stood up with her hair sticking up and her ears lying flat along the top of her head.

It is the right time. I can no longer stand any further humiliation. Enough is enough! she thought. She frowned at Si Hamu, who was snoring deeply in his bed. She looked twice at her sharp claws, her only weapons against her new enemy. Her teeth were sharp and thin. She was raising her tail up and took a deep breath. Like an experienced soldier, she stood up straight and fixed her eyes on the foe. Without any further hesitation, she jumped on Si Hamu’s head, scratching and biting with all her strength. She heard the walls started moaning and shaking. The revolution started. Si Hamu, a bit scared at the beginning, fought back, kicking and squeezing the cat’s throat between his sturdy hands. His face went, his eyelids quivered and his fingers writhed. A volcano erupted. Within a few minutes, the cat was cold dead. His strength and height were in his favor. He cursed the day he brought the cat in this place; and he even cursed the day of his birth. He became as mad as hatter. He grabbed a knife and cut the cat into pieces. Bloodshed added new touch the disorganized and dirty ground. Si Hamu seemed to enjoy the scene and started throwing away the pieces of the cat into different directions. “Take! Take! Take! You are going to regret it. You’re like aunt Tamo. Take!”

Being sure that the enemy was completely defeated, Si Hamu stood up proudly near his mirror. He looked for his poem and it was soaked in blood. He felt a strong desire to celebrate his victory; but a convulsion shook him and he fell down, covering himself in a mask of dust and blood. Then he was still again for a while. On the mirror surface, he perceived a disgusting, frightening face. Out of anger, he smashed the mirror with his right fist and knelt down, screaming, “Never! I’ll never have a new companion.”

Mohamed Mahou grew up in the Souss Region in Morocco. He earned his Bachelor degree in English Studies at Ibn Zohr University in Agadir, Morocco. For twenty years, he has been teaching English in high school. Mohamed got his Master degree in Comparative Studies at Ibn Zohr University. Based on his personal experiences, Mahou writes his fictional works in Tamazight and  English. He has participated in various national and local poetry readings. His publications include the following: Ifrgan (Thorns), a collection of Berber Poems, published in 2O12 by the Royal Institute of Amazigh culture in Rabat. “To be Abiku”, “Ahmed Porfakir”; two Poems in English published in the newspaper, Messenger of Morocco in 1996, Iftasn n Ul (Oceans of Heart), a collection of Berber Poems, published in 2010; and Tamsirdt (the Lesson), a play written in Berber language, published by the Ministry of Culture and Tirra Association in 2015.

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