"Cat Lender" Maria Kataoka
It was a cold, cold winter day when I arrived at Kotoden Takata Station, carrying a lot of luggage. In the winter, even the sun seemed to sleep in and was hesitant to show its face. Therefore, though it was almost 6 o’clock, the surrounding areas were still quite dark. As I bought a train ticket and sat down on the platform bench, I realized that the swallows’ nest in the station building was still intact, which warmed my heart.
Suddenly I felt a presence and when looked to my left, there was a little boy sitting there holding two calico kittens in his arms.
“G-g-g-g-good morning!” Taken by surprise, I greeted the boy in a clearly trembling voice.
“W-w-w-w-what are you doing? W-w-w-w-where is your family?” I asked.
“Cat lender! I’m a cat lender! My job is to lend cats and help warm up those who seem to be cold. See?” Saying this, he pointed at a piece of origami paper which was stuck on the wall with thin cellophane tape.
“Cats for rent. Free of charge. Warm.”
Thinking back on it, my question about this family was completely ignored, but for some reason I wasn’t bothered by it.
“L-lend me one, please,” I asked before realizing it.
“Yes, thank you as always! Which one would you like? This one is quiet..., and the other one is docile.”
The boy put so much effort into talking to me that I found him adorable.
Therefore, instead of pointing out, “As always? This is my first time! Also ‘quiet’ and ‘docile’ mean pretty much the same thing!” I actually replied with a lax face,
“The docile one, please.”
When I placed the cat that I received from the boy on my lap, its body heat gradually warmed up my entire body. I was in tears before I knew it. One by one, teardrops fell onto the back of the cat’s head. The cat narrowed her eyes as if she were upset.
“Why are you crying? I wonder if the quiet one would’ve been better... Here, I’m going to swap them. S-shall I?” asked the boy. The cat he was holding was swinging like a trapeze. I pushed the cat back to the boy’s chest and opened my mouth,
“I have parted with someone I loved.” I confessed.
“Was he your partner? Did he die?” the boy asked.
“No, he is not dead. Right now he is still home in bed. Sometimes people part ways without dying, you know.”
Without a moment of hesitation, the boy pressed me with more questions with an almost crying face,
“You don’t love him anymore? Do you hate him now?”
I searched and searched for words that would not hurt his feelings and replied,
“He was who I loved the most, and now he’s become who I wanted to love more. That’s all.”
Until I was almost 21 years old, I had lived a life without any romance, and then he became my first ever love. To see the man I loved I commuted by Kotoden to Takata Station from Hanazono Station near which I lived.
“Shall I come get you in my car?” My boyfriend tried to offer me a ride many times.
“I don’t want to inconvenience you.” I would always dodge his question, however, as I truly enjoyed my time on the swaying train, preparing my heart to meet the one I loved.
In the beginning, we dated like middle schoolers. Holding each other’s hands was the best we could manage, and going out meant going to the nearby shopping mall. With time, though, we became able to travel as far as to Kyoto. He was a warm person to hug.
Come to think of it, he also loved cats. The time when he astonished me by buying a 5,400-yen stuffed calico cat was a fond memory.
“Miss!” the boy called to me while I was lost in my thoughts.
“I hope you can fall in love again,” said the boy with a smile.
The surrounding areas had already become light. The train bound for Takamatsu Chikko should be coming shortly.
“Have you warmed up?” the boy enquired.
“I surely have. Thank you so much. How much do I owe you?” I asked him as a formality.
“No charge, as it’s written there. Oh, I may be willing to take that delicious looking thing,” and he pointed his finger at the ramune*2 sticking out of my pocket. He accepted the ramune from me, hugged me and ran off.
With a clickety-clack, the train was coming closer. Now that I came to think of it, he also loved that ramune.
(*2 “ramune” is carbonated soft drink originally sold in Japan.)
The 3rd Nakazora Literary Award
"Kotoden Story Project"