How to unlove…Strip your heart of love, replace body parts he touched, delete photographs from the album
The cat doesn’t know you love him. Or that you are about to unlove.
So what does the cat do? Alights on the window sill, insists you let him in, because when he wants to be let in, he wants to be let in. And there you are by the kitchen window, one arm akimbo and the other lifted up in the air, wagging a finger at him.
Should you open the window to let him in or be still and watch until he leaves? But that moment of him leaving is the point that will break your heart. And it is that moment you must avoid seeing. And so the urge to avoid seeing that scene translates into the urgency of throwing him out. The kitchen window will have to remain shut-- not allowing in is tantamount to throwing out.
That cat is a murderer! Baa says.
And as if to prove Baa’s point, the next morning, the cat brings you a dead sparrow and plops it on the doormat. Meow, he says. Here. You cannot hunt and so I must, for you.
You stare in horror at the dead bird. Throw the cat out, they all shout.
You remove his bed from the back porch temporarily, but retrieve it at night and check several times to see if he has returned. You wonder if you will ever see the cat again.
In the morning, a dead baby mole is lying still at the threshold. You shriek and the cat leaps down from the wall and says: Meow!
Days become punctuated with the gory paraphernalia of dead birds and rodents. The voices become louder. Throw that cat out!
On a stormy night, you wait and wonder-- did the feline get stranded? Every day becomes a wait. If you fall in love with a cat, you must suffer, they say.
Then one day, he shows up, wraps his long body against your ankles the way fog clings to trees. The cat thinks you’re the toy. You exist because he does. When he is bored, he walks out of the back porch into the street, hops on to the house on the other side. And it is another night of waiting for you.
It is sometimes days before the cat decides to return. Once in a while, during his absence, other ferals show up. They all look like him. Tabby. Stealthy. Moody. Graceful. They all moan when they are at their favourite meal. Like nursing babies. Then, suddenly leave.
You aren’t even a feline person, Baa says. Why are you letting him stay? Get a dog instead!
But you know I am a dog widow, I insist. I am not ready for a dog yet.
And you are for a cat? Cats never love you back. Remember that, he says.
I know. I know. It’s not like I love Babu Bagh.
Babu what? Now he has a name? More like Murder Meow-- going around killing the birds. And what is with the rice grains you leave out for the birds? Are you trying to bait them for your cat?
He is NOT my cat! I don’t even like cats. I am a canine person!
You dump his bed in the trash once again, remove the water and the food bowls. You must prepare to forget. Cats are too independent. They cannot be owned. You must prepare to unlove.
You get the boiled chicken out from the fridge and ladle it out to the community dogs. Community dogs being dogs, are grateful. They wag their tails, their eyes beam and they gobble the food down. They boop at your knees and strut alongside you during evening walks. You pat their head, cup their face in your palms and speak in gibberish baby talk. They let you hug them. And it feels like home. Home is familiarity.
When you’re back from the walk, you get a glass of water and your muscle memory draws you to the back porch. There’s no cat there.
Strip your heart of love, replace body parts he touched, delete photographs from albums. If they reappear on other platforms, delete again. Remove from trash. Wipe out strands of night where his voice hangs in the air like lingering light. Snap your synapses to get rid of the bits in where he appears to have shown up from a childhood memory. These memories will happen on repeat, so repeat action each time.
Delete old emails, empty chat boxes, get rid of all stories he wrote, unlearn every poem. This means undoing the rhythm that sets your heart in motion. Erase him from the memory of your reproductive system. Layer up on antibiotics, ensure a clear cervix, wipe clean the memories of first flutter by the navel— tell the reproductive system to get a new memory. Forget.
Block him on all apps. Check again to make sure. Unblock to see if he has reappeared and then block again. Remove chunks of years. Unspool the feel of the contact of your fingers with his hair, even if only imaginary. Stop twirling your fingers even in imagination, let go of those tresses. Pause at the temple and retract fingers. Detach. Disengage.
Imagine you never saw his toes. And if they did curl to your touch, look the other way when you see feet that resemble his. Suck in some cool monsoon air and the drumming up of the rain’s rhythm but let go of that rhythm.
Fill those crevices inside you with tarmac so no cavities are gaping open waiting to be filled again with the outpourings of life. No longer remind yourself that the expanding of his sternum at the sight of you was the same as your clavicle rising and falling.
Breathe— but release.
Suburban Tales is a monthly column in Nepali Times based on real people (with some names changed) in Pratibha’s life.