Miao.

[THIS IS PART OF A WRITING CHALLENGE] They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But some book covers attract and fascinate. Browse Amazon, or look on your bookshelves and choose a book you haven’t read that has a cover you really like. Now, you’re going to steal that cover for your own story. Okay, not really “steal” — just borrow. Write a story of your own that would go with that cover…

So, I picked up Hariku Murakami’s book “Kafka on the shore”. This is a book I have heard about a lot. And this is going to be my first Murakami. The cover (if you can see the picture) has a black cat with green eyes on it. And on the spine of the book are two fishes.

Miao is Sheetal’s best friend – more than just a pet. A 9-year old Sheetal had found the cat mewing from under one of the concrete boulders in Nariman Point. She had stretched out her hand and a black kitten with shining green eyes had come crawling out. It was love at first sight for both of them. Sheetal’s parents – Mr and Mrs Bhandari were dog people out and out. But they relented on the promise that the cat would not be allowed to go out for walks and drag back dirt or dead birds into the house.

When she was 15, her family had moved to the slightly less crowded Madh island area. It wasn’t counted as Mumbai according to her – all her friends had been left behind in Worli’s Govindam apartments. She had never been able to make friends easily. Her friend circle in school had consisted of the same 6 faces since they were in fourth grade. Outside of that she hardly spoke to anyone, even though she wondered how it would be to hang out at coffee shops, meet friends for a movie or go out on dates. Therefore, Miao soon became her only company at home. They would go for walks in the garden, never venturing out of the back door towards the beach. Sheetal was always scared that the stray dogs would chase Miao. Miao, however, looked ever so fondly at the lines of fish that the Koli women dried on the beach. But he had started to think that maybe the beach was not a place he was supposed to go to, since Sheetal screamed every time he tried creeping out.

Sheetal would be gone soon. She was going to college. For the first time in her life she was travelling to New Delhi and will be living there alone. Khanna aunty has said that she can always come and stay with them in her Greater Kailash flat, but she isn’t sure if that would be a good idea. Sheetal is scared that she will be an outside there as well. People would go out and have fun, would probably go shopping while she will be cooped up in the library or will go for walks around campus. She knows Karan is also going for Eco Honours in the same University. But then she had always tried to avoid Karan, ever since he had asked her out on a date. She liked him a lot but was scared, as always, that he will not like her one bit if he started talking to her for more than ten-fifteen minutes. She had finally relented and agreed for a date. One simple chai-coffee date. And yet, here she was wondering if this was a mistake. She hadn’t been able to sit still since morning. She had cleaned her room thrice, arranged and rearranged all her books, made lists of things to buy for Delhi and scribbled things on every newspaper she could find. Miao had dutifully followed her around the house. Now, as they walked around the garden again, Sheetal noticed Miao’s longing stare at the fresh rows of fishes the fisherwomen had strewn on the sand. The bigger fishes were lined in five neat rows, with alternate fishes facing the water. The smaller prawns and shrimps had been dumped and then flattened and spread by hand. Miao mewed softly, hoping, for once, that a crow would drop its steal in the garden by mistake. He could tackle crows – he had killed pigeons previously, and rats on a few occasions.

Sheetal kept thinking. About how the date would be. And about what clothes to wear. And how she could completely ruin the first date of her young life. But mostly she thought about how much she worried. She had always worried about things – from examinations, to time, to parents fighting, to what people thought. All that worrying had done her no good. She wanted to have a life. A life with less worrying and more living. One which would let her be all that she wanted to be, or could be. Now was the time. College would be a new beginning. She must be brave. She must learn to take risks. And it would have to start now – with this one date. And with Miao crossing the threshold to steal some fish.

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