Perhaps I was a cat and am now reincarnated as a human
Michael Harding: I saw my cat bang his paws on the floor and tears came out of his eyes
Michael Harding has been trying to instruct his cat in the complexities with Buddhist philosophy. It’s not easy.
It’s not easy to instruct a cat in the complexities of Buddhist philosophy. But I do try. Especially when the beloved is away and the sleet is falling on the roof and the little pot-bellied stove is crackling with logs and the cat is curled up on the sofa, staring at me like a grumpy monk.
“I want chicken,” the cat declared.
“You’re not getting chicken,” I told him.
“But your beloved gives me chicken,” he protested.
So I corrected him.
“She gives you the skin of the chicken.”
He rolled on his side, turned his arse towards my face, and stared at the flames in the stove.
“She gives you scraps when she’s roasting a chicken,” I continued. “But I don’t roast chickens. I live out of paper bags. I give you dry food. I don’t make a fuss about you like she does. She favours you in particular, as opposed to all the other mangy cats in Leitrim. She differentiates. She sees you as special. But I don’t think that is very Buddhist.”
“She’s kind,” the cat muttered. “That’s Buddhist.”
“But she’s killing you with kindness,” I replied. “Then she goes away and all you have is me, and a bag of dried nuggets. And you won’t eat them, because you’re spoiled. How could you ever survive in the wilderness if you don’t take what you get.”
I saw him bang his paws on the floor and tears came out of his eyes, and I thought he looked remarkably like Michael Gove
“I don’t live in the wilderness,” he whinged, his eyes watering. “I live with you. I thought you liked me.”
“I refuse to make a fuss about you. I’m trying to be emotionally detached,” I shouted, and I was very nearly getting the broom from the kitchen.
“You call yourself detached?” the cat replied, “but you’re as cross as a bag of cats.”
Admittedly I was a bit irritated.
“Are you annoyed with me?” he wondered.
“Yes,” I said, “I’m thoroughly frustrated with the way you’re looking for a chicken that I don’t have.”
“You do have chicken,” the cat screamed. “I saw little bits of chicken last night, floating in the Thai soup you took home from the Take-away.”
I saw him bang his paws on the floor and tears came out of his eyes, and I thought he looked remarkably like Michael Gove.
“You do have chicken,” he insisted.
“Okay. Okay. So I have chicken.”
I went to the bin in the kitchen and took out the white plastic container from the Chinese take-away, hoping to find the dregs of the soup, but not a single scrap remained.
Then a new idea arose in the universe. I took a chicken stock cube from the pantry, warmed it in a saucepan with a few spoons of water, and poured it over the dry food.
I was missing my beloved, and so I had taken my frustration out on him
“Come out here, and see what I’ve got,” I shouted from the pantry because he was still stretched at the stove.
I waved the bowl of nuggets and warm chicken stock under his whiskers. His nose twitched.
He sniffed the bowl for a long while. Walked away. Then returned.
Finally he looked at me and uttered a barely audible sigh, as if to say – Thank you. And he started munching. Munching and devouring, and half way through he looked up at me again and I felt ashamed that I had been angry with him.
When he was finished we both sat at the pot bellied stove and I put on another log, and the sleet was still falling outside, but we were cosy enough. I was looking forward to his company for the rest of the evening.
Perhaps I was a cat, I thought, and am now reincarnated as a human. Or perhaps he was a human and is now reincarnated as a cat. Who knows?
But some rhythm in the universe brought us together, like two monks in a monastery. I was missing my beloved, and so I had taken my frustration out on him. He was missing my beloved’s cooking. And so he pestered me. But with compassion and the imaginative power of a human brain, we had found a solution; chicken stock cubes. Now we could both sit happily at the stove for the rest of the evening. Free from loneliness. Detached from further desires; in a calm and shared state of contemplation.
But he surprised me by heading for the back door.
“Where are you going now?” I wondered.
“Out for a shite,” he said.
“I thought we were going to practise our Buddhism?” I protested.
He didn’t even reply. He walked into the back yard and dissolved in darkness, as if he had achieved a level of supreme detachment far beyond my comprehension.