First of all, I want to say a big screw you to my home state of Florida's congressional candidate Dan Fanelli who wants us to pick out dark people as terrorists because "they look like terrorists". You're an idiot, Dan. People like you are the reason I sometimes feel that tinge of embarrassment when I mention where I'm from.
Delal, her sisters and I were standing by the bus stop, right outside of the entrance to the fish bazaar. Suddenly, a small orange kitten burst out of the alley onto the sidewalk, wailing at the top of its lungs. It dodged under one pair of feet, then another, darting in a panic under the benches, to the people waiting at the bus stop, and then finally under a municipal truck unloading bags of cement. There was something about the way it ran, in short bursts, bumping into things and then crying out, like it had completely lost its mind. I had a premonition for the little cat. Something seemed to be coming, something awful, I don't know. We tried to catch it, save it somehow but it was too freaked. After it ran under the truck, I could hear it crying still from somewhere beneath, but couldn't find where it was. Delal and I checked between the tires, up under the chassis, but it was nowhere to be seen. Then it was silent. The workmen claimed it had run off, but I was standing there the whole time and didn't see a thing. What would they care anyway? It was just another stray cat in a city teeming with them. It's death would be utterly meaningless to anyone but it, and instantly forgotten.
I think it somehow got up into the wheel wells, quiet there in that dark place, thinking it was safe, it's strange panic subsiding a little (I imagine its heartbeat, powerful, rapid, banging against its rib cage as if it wanted to burst out) not understanding that when the truck started up and began to move, it would die.
It seems such a pathetic, sad thing, something so small thinking it has found safety, and in that very shelter, in fact, because of it, about to suffer and die, to end, to end, to end. I can't stop seeing it, running crouched under all those people's feet, all those people who might help it somehow, but don't, can't, or won't. The fat housewives, the groups of grunting high school boys, the girls in high heels. Indifferent indifferent indifferent.
I find myself praying tonight. I don't know why or to what.
There was a mosque nearby. There's a legend about Muhammad, that one day his cat, Muezza, fell asleep against his arm, and rather than wake it when the call to prayer came, he cut off his sleeve so that he could get up without disturbing its sleep. It's a good story. Kindness, pity, compassion, is more important than the dogmatic following of a set of religious rules.
We get made fun, we Americans, for being too enamored of our pets. There is some justification in this--we're accused of treating our dogs and cats better than we treat each other, and some people do. And yet, how a person treats an animal is also a prelude of how they will treat people as well. I remember the kids next door who used to set lizards on fire, and there was something in the lizards doomed struggle not to die that made me sick to my stomach. It was wrong. I knew it, to do such a thing to another living thing. And I remember my Tibetan friend Tenzin, who stopped me from killing a roach we found in his house. "Everything wants to live," he explains. "Everything fears dying as much as you do." And he was one of the most gentle people I have ever met. One of the hadith (stories about Muhammad) says that God sent a woman to hell for locking up a cat until it dies of hunger.
Stray animals are quite lucky in Istanbul. There is an army of old men and housewives who pile food wherever cats congregate. Nothing goes hungry. Quite the contrary, they fatten on the finest foods. Roast chicken, high priced yogurt, white cheese, lamb. And yet when one gets in trouble, they are utterly helpless. I found a cat near the graveyard once. Something had happened to its neck. It looked like someone had tried to cut its head off--a huge gash ran around its throat. A vet had sewn it up with ugly looking stitches, but the animal could not move in a straight line or hold its head still. It moved in a circle and bumped into things as it ran, though it still seemed quite cheerful somehow, bouncing jauntily toward me in a playful way except for its grotesque twirling of its head. I fed it tuna. I couldn't take it home as both my roommates were allergic yet, after some calling around, I managed to find someone who would. When I went back to pick it up, however, it had disappeared. The tuna stood half eaten among the gravestones.
There's another hadith that I like. It sounds just like something that might come out of a Buddhist's mouth, particularly a Tibetan Buddhist. It was told by a man named Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "While a man was walking he felt thirsty and went down a well and drank water from it. On coming out of it, he saw a dog panting and eating mud because of excessive thirst. The man said, 'This dog is suffering from the same problem as that of mine. So he went down the well, filled his shoe with water, caught hold of it with his teeth and climbed up and watered the dog. Allah thanked him for his good deed and forgave him." The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving (the) animals?" He replied, "Yes, there is a reward for serving any living thing."
I don't know what I think of religion any more. This last story is beautiful, I think, and yet most "religious" folks would miss the point, and instead of showing mercy to living things, start building statues of dogs at wells and punishing people who don't leave the proper offerings or who can't quote the story verbatum. Or worse, start taking pictures of fuzzy kittens against rainbow backgrounds with Bible or Koran quotes beneath, feeling good about themselves and their piousness, while forgetting that the ones most in need of compassion are the mangy strays you are too afraid to touch--both human and beast. I'm getting preachy now. Oy vey. Mercy mercy mercy.