Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Ahming Zee

Photo by Thomas Park 

People were swarming in heading straight to the pet lady as she was taking kittens one by one out of her carrier and into a big cage. Everyone in the Pet World knew her, and her all, although she was not on its payroll. She was here first Sunday of every month to display her kittens, and take applications from the customers for the possible adoption of any of her kittens. She did not belong to any shelters. “Shelter cats get killed to leave room for more,” the pet lady said, “but I keep them.” She tried to give away the kittens if she could – that is, if she could find qualified applicants – applicants did get disqualified due either to their lack of experience with cats or to their past improper treatment. This job kept her busy – so busy that she got no time to even catch up on her personal matters. When she became less busy – if she ever had such down time – she would go visit the pet owners, those adopters of her kittens. She had been doing it for the past twenty years. She had to make sure every kitten had its home – not a shelter, nor an asylum. She discovered over time that some of her pet adopters let out the cats, or did the declawing, or both. Things like this pierced her heart, so much so that that she penned into the contract to any of her future adopters that anyone adopting her kittens must follow the rules on paper. Those rules were accumulative, so were the number of her cats she had to keep herself as the more restricted the rules, the less qualified potential owners she could find. In any event, the last thing she would do was to give the cats to the shelters.

   “Hi Pet Nana,” one customer called with a smile.

   “Pet Nana? What a nice name!” I said.

   “Yeah. Her name is actually Paclana, so people end up calling her Pet Nana.”

   Pet Nana heard this, and smiled kindly. With this, everyone in the crowd turned their eyes from the cage to the lady. She was a middle build in her fifties. Her fishtail wrinkles deepened the impression of her kindness and amiable countenance. As she took the last kitten into the cage, Pet Nana closed the gate of the cage, scanned the crowd quickly, and spread the application forms on the side table.

   My wife Chinchin, who had salivated at owning a kitten for years, was pressing her body against the cage with her arms on top of the cage, and kept saying, “How cute those kittens!”

   “At least two dozen in the cage.” I said.

   “Twenty-six altogether,” Pet Nana said.  “They are kittens between three and six weeks. Interested?”

   “Yes, at least one,” Chinchin said.

   “That works better than having just one, as I believe all living things work in pairs. With two together, they play with each other when you are away from home.”

   “Can I take two right now?”

   “No, not right now; they are now too small to give away just yet. The kittens are free for adoption, and here is what you need to do: Fill out the application like some people are doing right now. Wait for my call in a day or two if you qualify for adopting our kittens. Wait two more weeks before you come and pick up.” Pet Nana spoke while keeping her eyes inside the cage.

   “Let’s do this,” Chinchin yanked my sleeves while fixing her eyes on the caged kittens and said, “you stand in line for an application form, and I will make a pick.”

   As I walked over to the line, some kids were squeezing themselves in to get a closer look at the kittens, and poking their fingers in to greet them.

   “No poking please,” Pet Nana said, “These kittens are still too young to have built up their immune system yet.”

   “Stay away from the cage.” I heard some parental voice shouting from the back of the crowd.

   I suspected that Chinchin might not be able to get the best pick by the time we filled out the application, so I waved to her and called her over and said, “Don’t waste time, honey, make up your mind right now while I am in line.”

   Pet Nana just smiled.

   “They all look cute,” Chinchin said, “but that yellow-and-white looks so special – big eyes with white paws, looking friendly with people. If I have to pair this up with another, then …”

   “This is a good pick,” Pet Nana said, “This yellow-and-white is a girl, and was born inside my house. I kept holding her so she is used to being with people. She is bond with this boy.”

   “This male kitten?”

   “Yes, I found this boy together with two of his brothers in a barn close to my home. They were only about one week old, and with no mother around. I left them there for a day just to see almost every hour if their mother would show up. I never got to see their mother, unfortunately.”

   “So he’s deserted by his mother?”

   “That’s what I thought.  Not sure what ‘appened to his mother.”

   “Must have been hard for you to raise them all up without a mother.”

   “I’m tellin ye.  I fed them with milk and saw them grow.”

   Chinchin was examining the male kitten – it was a tabby, and interestingly his jaw bore a small black goatee-like spot. Chinchin looked quite amused with her steady and loving eyes. What was unusual about him though, was that he was constantly trembling and cornered himself aloof from his companions. As he never seemed to be standing up, but was always lying there. As he occasionally moved, he crawled. “Can he stand up?”

   “He can stand up, but is so easily scared of people. He hisses, so I call him Mr. Hiss.”

   There was a burst of laugh from around.

   “Do you like adopting a Mr. Hiss, dear?” Chinchin turned to me, giggling.

   “Mr. Hiss! Yeah, sure. You know I always want to meet challenges to convert things.  Will consider it project to convert him to be a Mr. Non-Hiss.”

   “Just show your love and care, with bonding time, and you will be fine,” Pet Nana said.

Chinchin grew up with cats, and had a yellow-and-white striped one when she was nine. During the Cultural Revolution, her parents were convicted as anti-communists only because their three-month overseas studies, and was accepting the re-education in a most deserted rural area, the little cat became Chinchin’s only company. She lived on steamed corn bread for those hard days. She cried one day and said to the cat, “You know, my little kitten, I would die of hunger before you do.” Cats can leave their owners without thinking twice. Chinchin’s cat stayed with her through all those years, until one day the cat was stealing the neighbor’s sun-dried sweet potato, and was instantly beaten dead. Chinchin cried as her neighbor said, “Keeping a cat is another proof of you bourgeoisified when many people still go starving.”

   From that day on, Chinchin was determined to not keep a cat in her lifetime in order to wipe out the disgrace. The end of the Cultural Revolution had seen many of the mishandled cases depurged, including Chinchin’s parents’, so now her parents were living peaceful life with five cats. “Gone are those days, but my little yellow-and-white relives in my mind.” Chinchin said one day to me. “We have changed in time and space.”

   “I know,” I said, “you like to adopt a cat, and find him or her a home.”

   “Rather, I would find myself a home with a cat,” Chinchin said.

   “Not just one this time. Together you will get two!” I said.

   We exchanged gleeful smiles – the kind of smiles that only belonged to Chinchin and myself.

   Telephone rang.  It was Pet Nana. “I reviewed your application, and I’m happy with it.”

   “Thank you, Pet Nana. How longer do we have to wait to bring the kittens home?”

   “Two more weeks,” Pet Nana said, “They need to further build their immune system, and it will be easier for them to leave their companions when they grow a little older.”

   They talked for another few minutes for the two kittens we were adopting before Chinchin hang it up.  “Pet Nana treats pets like her own kids,” I said.

   “Sure she is,” Chinchin said.

   “Why does she have to give them away then? For example, you don’t give away your own kids.”

   “No, you don’t,” Chinchin said, “unless you keep adopting more than they can be sheltered under your roof.”

   “Why does she do this, though? For a living?”

   “Can’t be for a living. I think she struggles more with more kittens she gets. Remember she said she is not on a car assurance, and she would not drive on a bad weather?”

   “Yeah, so she saved that money for the cats. I won’t blame her. I wonder how she makes a living.”

   “She lives by herself, she told me today on the phone. Cat business is non-profit. Donation may be the only source of income. Poor Pet Nana!”

   “And a sweat one!” I said with awe.

Everyday the two kittens were the only subject of the day.

   “We got to have a name for each kitten.”  Chinchin said. So everyday she took some time searching the internet for a nice name.

   “We got to do a clean-up of the house so kittens will not get dirty,” Chinchin said. I did not remember doing much of the housework myself but by the pick-up day, I scanned the house, it was incredibly clean and all furniture looks shiny.

   Chinchin busied herself with all sorts of we-got-to’s, and finally came the pickup day, a big day for both Chinchin and myself. We greeted Pet Nana as she stepped in. She looked a little dispirited today, maybe because today was a snowy day, I thought. She asked for our cage, which we just bought from this Pet World. We did the paperwork, and she showed us the dates when we needed to give shots to the kittens for immunization. Then she took out the Tabby from the cage and carefully placed him into the cage we brought. As she took out the yellow-and-white, she held him tight in her arms, “Bye-bye honey,” she said to the kitten, her eyes all tears.

   “Don’t worry,” I said, “My wife will just be another Pet Nana.”

   “Yes,” Chinchin said, “I will take good care of them, and you can stop by our home anytime.”

   “I will be fine, this is life.” Pet Nana said, wiping away the tears from the corners of her eyes, “You keep me posted on everything about them, good or bad. And send me pictures while you can.” As she said so, she made a careful transfer of the kitten into our cage.

   “So sentimental this Pet Nana,” I whispered to Chinchin while she was closing the cage door.

   “Have you come up with any names for them yet?” Pet Nana said.

   “Yes,” Chinchin said, “The yellow-and-white is ‘Huahua’, same color and name as the one I had 15 years ago back in China.”

   “Could be reincarnation.”

   “The tabby is ‘Liby’.”

   Pet Nana responded with a nod, and carefully put down the names in her notebook, and kept wiping her eyes.

   This was late October, and it was drizzly. As we both got into the car, I heard Chinchin saying, “Now we have got four people in our family.” I did not say anything, but drove the family of four heading home.

   “Liby does not seem to meow, but chirp,” my wife said as she woke up the next day, “he chirps all the time while walking as if he were looking for something.”

   “Maybe he is looking for his friends that he no longer sees with us,” I said.

   “But Huahua doesn’t. She meows only when she gets hurt by Liby, the dominant male, who always jump on Huahua with claws.”

   “They are playing with each other. Besides, survival of the fittest.” I said while reading the morning newspaper.

   “Adopt a male wolf then, and he will be a real dominant male,” Chinchin said, getting up from her sofa, and stepping to the bathroom.  “If you cannot win, the wolf will be better than you in your philosophy.” Her voice trailed off at the far end of the corridor.

   “Today Liby has run his litter bathroom eight times, but Huahua only three,” Chinchin said one day while she was preparing dinner, and me drinking wine, “It’s like he got diarrhea.”

   “I’m drinking wine, the kind that gives a urinary flavor.”  I said dryly.

   “I don’t care. You are drinking. Not me,” Chinchin snapped.

   “Wait for a few days and see what happens,” I said

   “But it has been over a month.”

   “You know what I would do?”



   Chinchin, who was slicing lamb chops for the hot pot dinner, stopped. She was about to say something but her voice failed her. She looked visibly upset. “You mean return Liby?” She sat down beside me, picking a peanut near me, and slowly sent it to her mouth.

   “Why not. There are millions of good cats in the world for you to pick from.”

   At the moment, Huahua was rushing down to the first floor. In a second, Liby stepped out from his litter box area, and broke out chirping again.

   “He couldn’t find his buddy again,” Chinchin said.

   We did not carry on with the topic about Liby, but the next day Chinchin and I showed up at Pet Home with Pet Nana,

   “I’m so sorry it did not work out,” Pet Nana said, “Like I said, anytime for whatever reasons you can choose to return.”  Pet Nana took back the kitten, gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek, and put him in the cage.

   “Poor Huahua – he will have no company from today,” Chinchin said when we were back home.

For the next three days, Huahua did not eat much, and played rarely.

   “He is always asleep,” Chinchin said, “Is he ill?”

   “Well, just think if all of a sudden I lost you!” I said.

Chinchin finally decided to call Pet Nana as we noticed Huahua getting thinner.

   “I am sorry to bother you again, but poor Huahua has not eaten much since Liby left. Not sure if it’s a coincidence or she misses her company.”

   “Well,” said Pet Nana, “I was just about to call you, because Liby is worse – he is not eating anything other than a little but water every day. He cries all the time, and even my neighbors showed their concerns.”

   “I guess you are right,” Chinchin said, “They live in pairs at least.”

   Now I could see my wife’s eyes getting wet.

   “If you don’t mind,” Chinchin went on, “I will have Liby back.”

   “You sure?”

   “I’m sure.  I should not be the one that lets them suffer.”

   “I’m so glad you said that,” Pet Nana said.

   We both could not believe our eyes when we saw how skinny Liby was with only three days’ separation. “I am sorry, so sorry,” Chinchin said to Liby, wiping away her tears, as she was holding Liby in her arms. Liby was peering into Chinchin’s eyes, purring – first time he purred. “He purrs!” Chinchin cried out of her skin.

   “He just had his immune shot yesterday, and needs another one in a month from now.”

   “I will remember that,” Chinchin said.

   We thanked Pet Nana again, and stepped out into our car.

The two kittens reunited, and started playing happily with each other again. We did not forget the next shot after a month, and showed up at the Pet Home late morning. To my surprise, I saw a woman sitting at the doorstep of the McDonold’s.

   “It was Pet Nana,” I said to my wife, who was also watching the woman from inside our car as we slowly drove by. She was in rags, with a cage on one hand, and a box on the other. She held the box high up as she saw a passer-by. She was mumbling something as if she were asking for pennies.

   We made a U turn just to give a second look, and both recognized – it was Pet Nana.

   “How did all this happen?” Chinchin murmured.

   “Well, Pet Nana once said she was not buying insurance,” I said.

   “Poor Pet Nana, she ended it up like this all because of her love for cats.”

   “We slowly ramped up to the parking area of the McDonald’s, and started greeting Pet Nana from inside the car.

   Pet Nana was taken aback as she saw us. She talked with us, just as she was, engaging and interesting. She asked about the two kittens and so forth.

   “So what happened that made you end up here?” Chinchin ventured to ask.

   “I am a happy single woman, and as you know, I live on donations,” she said.

   “Any more kittens in the cage you are holding?”

   “Yes, if you want to see them. Five of them. I just secured them from the railways last week. Now I have more kittens at home if you want to see them all. My place is only one block away from here if you want to go now.”

   “Sure,” Chinchin said, her face brightened.

   Her home was a small apartment on the first floor, and adjacent to it was a barn used as a factory or something before.

   “No one traced the history but the barn was pretty much deserted,” Pet Nana said, “I will be moving out from here by this month, though.”


   “I can no longer afford the place, with the rent already the lowest I could possibly find around here.”

   “Where are you moving to? What will happen to the barn with the cats?”

   “I have no idea where to move to, maybe a barn myself. I have been looking for a new home for them.” As Pet Nana unlocked the barn, Chinchin and I were both shocked. We could not take a head count of how many cats Pet Nana had – at least three dozen. As the door got opened, all of them meowed toward Pet Nana, as she reached her hands toward the top shelf, which was stacked up with cat cans of all kinds – hundreds of them.

   “Shall we go home now?” Chinchin said.

   “Are you leaving?” Pet Nana said.

   “I mean shall we go home altogether?”

   “Me, too?”

   “You got a new home now, and with all your cats, Pet Nana,” I added.

   Pet Nana did not say a word. She was only sobbing.


  1. This was beautiful, heart-rending! There are so many people around us who live their life for others and not themselves. I hope and pray their karma takes them to the best of all places.

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