Wednesday, February 01, 2006

This evening around dusk I went for a short walk along the Nile. I didn’t have anyplace to go or any errands to run. I just wanted to get out of the apartment.

The sky was clear, a sort of deep grey-blue with thick bands of light brown and beige around the horizon, and there was a tiny sliver of a crescent moon hanging above the Cairo Tower, which stands just across the river from the downtown embankment beside the Egyptian Museum, where I was standing.

I got a shave and a haircut yesterday: a first. Truth be told, he didn’t do a stellar job on the shave and I’ll be using my electric from now on.

I’m slowly getting to know my downtown neighborhood. I knew there had to be a barbershop near my apartment. In fact I was pretty certain there had to be one just around the corner. The question was, which corner? There are lots of them.

So I walked around literally for about 90 minutes looking for an open barbershop. In the end I came back to my apartment and asked my doorman, using a combination of rudimentary Arabic and hand gestures, where I could get a haircut. He took me to the nearest barbershop, which was, you guessed it, just around the corner.

You see a lot of dead cats in Cairo. There are a lot of stray cats and about as many cars, so they get curious (the cats, that is) and run out into the middle of the road and get killed.

For whatever reason, you don’t generally see too many dying cats. Today on the way back from my walk along the Nile, lying between two parked cars I saw a dead cat that wasn’t quite dead yet. It had assumed the standard dead cat position and it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going anywhere.

The cat raised his head up and looked at me, as if to say, “Hey, there. Sorry to bother you but you could you do something for me: find something heavy and bash my skull in. Would much appreciate it and I’ll return the favor next time we meet.”

He (or she) seemed to be handling the whole thing with remarkable grace and dignity, not meowing or crying in that way cats often do. It wasn’t clear how the cat got banged up. There was a dog nearby on sidewalk, looking at me. I wondered if the dog did that to the cat and was waiting for me to leave so he could finish him off.

I looked around, and walked up and down the street. I couldn’t find anything heavy. Nothing at all. No big stones or loose paving tiles anywhere. On the ground nearby was a big hulking piece of a car, but it was just a plastic fender.

The dog circled around one of the cars and looked at me again.

I regret to say that I left the cat how I found him. And here’s the thing. I knew this then and it haunts me now: Though I made a genuine effort to find something to put it out of its misery, I didn’t try hard enough. Of course I could have found something, if I’d walked far enough. I could have even come back to my apartment and taken that cheesy plaster statue of the Greek nymph that’s decorating my entry way, and killed the cat with that. (That probably would have caused a stir, since one of the nymph's breasts is showing.)

But I didn’t. It pains me greatly to admit it, but I gave up too easily because didn’t have the stomach for it. I’m sorry.

Somewhere in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence writes that during the Arab Revolt, when the Arabs couldn’t take their own wounded with them (as they often could not) they would kill them, because otherwise they would fall into the hands of the Turks who would torture them. (This line’s in the movie, too, when Prince Feisal meets the reporter for the first time.) Lawrence wrote that this actually had nothing to do with the notion of putting somebody or something out of his or its misery – something that was completely alien to the Arabs. If, when traveling across the desert, a camel broke its leg and they were in too much of a rush to use the meat, for instance, they would leave the camel to die slowly in the desert, rather than shoot it as the British would. Better, they argued, to give man or beast as much time as possible to ponder his fate and make his peace with God.

I don’t think I agree with that and I’m not using it to justify what I did or didn’t do to the cat today, which was a failure of will on my part. It just came to mind.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the cat in misery - I'm with you - I just haven't the stomach - it's one of several reasons I no longer keep pets at all, much as I love to have a cat around.

I spent a week in Cairo many years ago, and know just the area you describe so well. I think a holiday in Egypt may have to happen sometime soon.

~bishop joey

2:13 PM  
Blogger David Weman said...

That was some awesomely good writing.

8:15 PM  

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