“Mother Cat” by 張婉雯 Cheung Yuen Man, translated by Audrey Heijns

Pregnant cats always remind me of Aunt Ng.

When we were still getting to know each other, I found it hard to know how to talk to her. Her voice is very loud, and if she shouts from one end of the street, you can hear what she says at the other end. When the people she hangs round with start discussing political issues, she is liable to suddenly go off on a tangent and start talking about a cat on Yau Ma Tei Street or dog kennels in the northern New Territories, about cats and dogs that were fortunate and those who were unlucky, about volunteers who were poor and others who were very wealthy, long and short stories, one after another. But issues such as policies, rights, pressure groups, social activities… these she knows next to nothing about.

Yet once in a while she calls me to have a chat—no not a chat: in her case she would talk “official business” when she spoke of her days looking after cats and dogs out on the street day after day, about feeding them and taking them to the vet. Sometimes in a single night she would catch seven or eight cats from the neighbourhood and call a van the driver of which she knew and she would pay for transport herself. She would take them to the SPCA to be neutered and then return them to where they came from. That was Aunt Ng’s main job for many years, but besides that she had another profession—she was a casual cleaner.

Just like all affairs of the world, along the way there are bound to be obstacles. Aunt Ng said to me:

“Last night when I caught a street cat, a couple of Nepalese asked: ‘Why are you catching those cats? Are you doing something against the law?’ I told them I was taking them to the vet to get neutered. They said ‘Oh,’ and walked away. But there were some local people instead who made some sarcastic comments. For crying out loud!”

That is why I say that she and I live in two different worlds. While I sit at home sipping hot tea in front of my computer writing essays criticizing the policies of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Aunt Ng is outside on the cold street, hoping to bump into a cat. One winter in the middle of the night, some of the night stores on main street were still open. There was one that had a steaming hotpot on the table where guests were playing the drinking game Chai Mui, they were shouting numbers and drinking. In the dim kerosene lamplight at dawn Aunt Ng transformed into a dark figure at the entrance of the lane. With a cigarette in the corner of her mouth, arms crossed, eyes narrowed, line of vision sneaking off far into the deep lightless alley. The dark figure flew past with a swish, then the cage snapped shut with a click. A sad and shrill cry of a cat was heard. The spark in the dark night that flew mid-air was Aunt Ng’s cigarette stub tossed accurately in the bin nearby. Unhurriedly she walked over, crouched down, tapped the top of the cage with her fingers and laughed saying:

“Dear cat, be good now. You’ll be back in two days.”

That scene is based on my imagination after watching too many martial art movies. In the way I imagined it, there is none of the actual fatigue and frustration. That night, between 12 midnight and four, Aunt Ng caught six cats. Whereas I as the writer, who is good at making things up but hopeless when it comes to taking any real action, was already sleeping like a log.

But Aunt Ng isn’t bothered by that. She only wants to have someone to listen to her. Many of her stories she told me either over the phone or in text messages—she has no idea about the internet. As a result she also doesn’t have any web-friends. She only has real life friends, volunteers, people who listen to her troubles, and in turn she listens to theirs. Everyone feels a bit better after that and returns to the street to continue being busy feeding cats, trapping cats, neutering cats and returning them again … after the torment, cats and humans live on and occasionally bump into some luck and kindness after the fatigue and disappointment. There was a man who would walk his dog every night and he would help Aunt Ng throw dry cat food on top of a high eaves, so that the cats could eat their fill straight away. “He is tall and I am short so when he turns up I don’t need to go looking around for help.”

The other day Aunt Ng received another call for help. “There’s an old lady who keeps a dozen cats. Five of them had feline ringworm (a common type of skin disease) and she didn’t have money to cure them. She said she wanted to commit suicide with the cats in her arms. I said, ‘Don’t even think about it. Ringworm is easy to fix,’ so I went to the pharmacy to buy some ointment, I showed her how to apply it and later all the cats got better. I even had to call her every day just so that she could get a few things off her chest.” I said: “So, Aunt Ng, you care for human beings as well as animals.” It seems that she expected that remark for she chuckled, “Sometimes when you care for cats, you also have to care for their owners.”

Later I finally understood why Aunt Ng would make such a statement: one afternoon many years ago, when she was on her way home, she saw a pregnant mother cat on the side of the road. Only her belly was big—the rest was a bag of bones. Her eyes were closed up because of infection. She was curled up in a ball and shivering in the flowers. When Aunt Ng saw her, it reminded her of something that happened to her many years ago: pregnant, single, no one to take care of her, no money. So then she went out and started to feed stray cats.

That day I arranged to see Aunt Ng, having bought some extra cat medicine and food for her. When I saw her cross the street, she was limping with her left foot, so I asked about her health, and she said that she suffered from joint strain, as a result of all those years lugging the vacuum cleaner back and forth. And staying up late to roam the streets at night to catch cats. I handed over the goods, and she thanked me. Then she told me that she had got three fines from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department—each of them for $1,000. I know it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. Nor is she the only volunteer who gets them. Later I saw her limping into a vet clinic. I know the clinic is kind. It gives 30% discount on the treatment of stray cats. I saw Aunt Ng pull out of her pocket a wad of $500 bills held together with a rubber band.

Officials once proclaimed: “The Trap-Neuter-Return Plan is not ideal.” I wonder what their interpretation of “ideal” is. But I think the view of those honourable senior officials must be very different from that of Aunt Ng’s. Sometimes I run across a mother cat in the street. While next to her a few kids get carried away playing a game, the mother cat looks around carefully and makes sure she protects her kittens. Her demands are voiceless. Yet her dignity is innate. Yes, I see Aunt Ng in every mother cat.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

母貓 / 張婉雯

大肚貓總是讓我想起吳姑娘。

初相識的時候,我不太懂得與吳姑娘相處。她說話嗓門很大,街頭喊一句,街尾也聽見;大伙兒在談論政策問題,她會忽然岔開,由油麻地街貓說到新界北狗場,一頭又一頭幸或不幸的貓狗,一個又一個貧或富裕的義工,一個又一個短或長篇的故事。政策、權益、壓力團體、社會運動……這些玩意兒她不懂。

然而,吳姑娘間中還是會打電話來跟我閒聊——我也說錯了,對吳姑娘來說,她都是在談「正事」,也就是指她日復一日地照顧街上的貓們狗們,餵食,看病,一個晚上捉七、八隻貓街坊,然後召相熟的客貨車,自付車資,送到愛護動物協會做絕育手術,然後又把送回原居地。這是吳姑娘多年來的日常工作,她在正職以外的專業——吳姑娘的正職是鐘點女傭。

如同所有世事一樣,過程總有阻礙。這一天,吳姑娘對我說:

「昨天晚上捉街貓,有幾個尼泊爾人過來問我:『你捉貓作什麼?是不是作非法用途?』我跟他們說是捉貓去絕育,他們『哦』了一聲,就走開了。反而是幾個本地人,對我冷言冷語,哼。」

所以我說,我和吳姑娘是兩個世界的人。當我坐在家中,喝著熱茶,對著電腦寫文章批評漁護署政策時,吳姑娘正在寒冷的街上守株待貓。冬天半夜,大街上尚有幾檔夜店,桌面上冒著火鍋的煙,交織著猜枚聲與么喝聲。昏黃的大光燈後,吳姑娘,化身成巷口的一個黑影中,嘴角叼著一支煙,雙手交叉胸前,眯著眼睛,視線遠遠地溜向無光的深巷。一個黑影『啾』聲飛過,『卡嚓』一聲,籠門關上,傳來貓的淒厲叫聲。一點火星在黑夜的半空中拋出半圓的弧度,是吳姑娘把煙頭準確地丟進不遠處垃圾桶中。她慢條斯理地走過去,蹲下來,手指叩一叩籠頂,笑著說:

「貓呀貓,乖一點哦,過兩天便可以回來了。」

以上只是出於看武俠片太多的想像。想像中沒有現實的疲累與挫折。那個晚上,半夜十二時到凌晨四時,吳姑娘捉到六隻貓們。而我,一個善於想像而拙於行動的寫作人,早已沉睡夢中去了。

可是吳姑娘不計較這些。她只想找一個能聽她說話的人。許許多多的故事,都是吳姑娘在電話中,或是用短訊告訴我的——她不懂上網。吳姑娘自然也沒有「網友」,她只有現實世界中的朋友、義工,聽她吐苦水的,吐苦水給她聽,然後大家吸一口氣,又繼續往街上跑,餵貓、捉貓、放貓……苦惱過後,貓和人都得繼續活下去的,在疲乏與失望之後偶爾碰上幸運和善意。有一個男人,每晚遛狗的時候,會替吳姑娘把貓餅拋上某處高高的簷篷,讓那兒的貓早點得溫飽。「他長得高,我長得矮,他來了,我就不用四處求人。」

這天,吳姑娘又接到個案:「有一個婆婆,養了十多隻貓,其中有五隻患了金錢癬(一種很普遍的皮膚病),沒錢醫,說想抱著貓兒一同尋死,我說千萬不要呀,金錢癬容易辦呢,於是便往藥房買藥膏,教婆婆如何照料貓,後來貓就痊癒了。我還得天天打電話去,聽婆婆哭訴呢。」我說:「吳姑娘,原來你待動物好,對人也不差。」吳姑娘像是料到我會有此一說,「嘿嘿」地笑了兩聲:「有時關心動物,也得關心牠們的主人呀。」

後來,我終於知道吳姑娘何出此言:很多年前的一個下午,她在回家的路上,看見街邊一頭懷孕的母貓。除了肚子大,母貓整個身體都是一副骨頭,眼睛因為染病而瞇著,瑟縮在花團中。吳姑娘看見牠,就想起多年前的往事:大著肚子,單親,沒人照應,沒錢。於是,吳姑娘開始跑到街上餵貓。

這天,我約了吳姑娘碰面,幫補她一點貓用藥物與食物。我看著她從對面馬路過來,左腳一拐一拐,便問候她的近況,她說是關節勞損——長年累月拖著吸塵機走來走去,晚上還得捱夜捉貓。我把東西交給她,她謝過了,又告訴我最近收到漁護署的傳票——三張,每張一千元。我知道那不是第一次也不會是最後一次,而她也不是唯一有此遭遇的義工。之後,我看著她蹣跚地走進一間獸醫診所。我知道那間診所很好,七折服務流浪動物。而我看見吳姑娘從口袋裏拿出來的,是用橡筋圈捆成一疊的五百元紙幣。

官員曾說過:「流浪動物絕育放回計劃未如理想。」我不太清楚他們口中的「理想」是甚麼。但我想,尊貴的高官,和吳姑娘心目中的「理想」,應該大不同了。有時,我在街上碰見母貓。三兩個孩子在她身旁忘形地嬉戲,母貓卻環視四方,留意周圍的一切,盡她的所有能力去保護幼兒。她的要求是無聲的。她的尊嚴是天賦的。是的,在母貓身上,我看見一個又一個的吳姑娘。

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

● Cheung Yuen Man likes writing and is concerned with animals. She won the 25th United Daily News Award for fiction debut (short story) in 2011. Her publications include You Are Here 《你在》 (2020), Those were the Cats 《那些貓們》 (2019), Daily of Dust《微塵記》 (2017), Sweeties 《甜蜜蜜》 (2004), and The Pole《極點》 (with Mok Wing Hung). In 2019, Cheung won the Recommendation Award in the Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature, the Hong Kong Bookprize and the Hong Kong Publishing Biennial Award for Daily of Dust.

● Audrey Heijns
, based in Hong Kong, is working at Shenzhen University. Her translations of Chinese literature have been published in literary magazines, including Het Trage Vuur, Twee Ronde, KortVerhaal, Terras, Renditions, Exchanges and Poetry International.

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