Thursday, August 26, 2010

Little Man: An Allegory

The cat had been on his own for a few weeks. He didn’t like the way life was going either. It was a cruel world he had been introduced to, and ever since his mother had disappeared he had known nothing but hardship. There was the constant feeling of hunger. His whole existence was nearly a never-ending search for food. However, that was not quite the case, because his most overwhelming constant urge was that of fear and an unceasing attempt to avoid danger.

There were dogs, coyotes, other bigger cats, cars, and worst of all: kids. He had several run-ins with all of these dangers and his state of mind remained frantic most of the time.

On this particular morning, the cat was being drawn to a house. He had no logical reason for his attraction to it, if cats can even be accused of having logical reasons, but he couldn’t stay away from this house. He had known on occasion for houses like this to be a likely source of a free meal, so he cautiously approached the door and meowed.

It wasn’t long at all before the door was opened and a big man stood at the door. Noticing the cat he crouched down and held his hand out. The cat eyed him with some suspicion. This big man looked a lot like a big version of the kids that had chased him before and he didn’t know whether to trust the man. He was tired and hungry though, and ready to give up, so whatever the outcome, he stepped across the threshold into the house.

The man shut the door and reached up behind the cat’s ears and scratched them in a way that sort of reminded the cat of good times long forgotten, of his mother. Then he stood up and walked off into the house. “Come on, Little Man. Let’s get you something to eat.”

Little Man, as he came to be known, learned a lot about domesticated life in the first days of living in that house. His transformation into a house cat had cost him nothing, he had merely accepted the invitation into the man’s house, but in a way it had cost him everything for he was no longer his own cat. Not that it bothered him. He had all the food and water he wanted. He had the companionship of the other cats in the house. He had the care and love of the man, or The Master, as the other cats called him. Most of all, he had a freedom from fear for the first time since that fateful day when his mother had simply not returned to the crawlspace under the shed where he had first opened his eyes.

There were also, however, some demands placed on him in the house. He was not allowed to be a wild cat anymore. He had to use a litter box to relieve himself, he was not allowed to mark any part of the house as his own, and while he could look at the fish in the aquarium he could not touch.

He got to know many of the other cats in the house, and after an initial urge to mistrust them; he even had raised his coat and hissed at them at first—a part of his wildness coming to the surface—he soon learned to accept their friendship. There was Old Tom, who had been wild for ten years before he came to the house and was generally solitary and slept all the time. There was a female called Daisy whom Little Man seemed to remember from the time under the shed, but he wasn’t sure. Then there were a couple of young males his age who Little Man spent most of his time with playing in the care free atmosphere that only the house provided.

While there was a freedom from fear in the house most of the time, Little Man soon discovered the one danger that did exist, at least potentially, in the house: the other cats and the latent wildness. Two weeks after his arrival Little Man noticed that Daisy was keeping to herself and licking a raw sore on her flank. As he got closer, he noticed the stench of rotting flesh in the wound. He felt a surge of the old fear well up within him. Where had she gotten such a wound, and in the house! It was soon discovered with a visit from the vet, that Daisy was recovering from an abscessed wound—the cause—cat bite!

Little Man feared at first that he would be the prime suspect. He was, after all, the newest cat there, and had been wild most recently. But many, it turned out, suspected Old Tom, for he had been wild for so long that much of his old ways lay just under the surface. The truth was harder to believe. The least likely suspect of all had attacked Daisy. The real culprit was Kitty. Kitty had never even been in the wild! She had been born after her mother had shown up, pregnant on the doorstep of the house. She had been the only kitten that had stayed at the house when all the others had left. She had lived at the house for nearly ten years. Little Man realized that the wildness was not something you learned and had to unlearn. It was inside each of the cats even after they had been domesticated.

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