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Excerpt for Signature with Love (Second Edition) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

SIGNATURE WITH LOVE

Fisal Ally

Published by Fisal Ally at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 by Fisal Ally


BASED ON A TRUE STORY

This book is dedicated to Mohammed Mustapha who departed from this chapter of his journey on December 25, 2011, and his wife, Salima, who departed on November 7, 2007. May peace and blessings be upon both of you, and on all their journeys.


Second Edition – December 25, 2018

Published by Fisal Ally at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 by Fisal Ally

All rights reserved.


First Edition published on December 25, 2012

Published by Fyzal Ally at Smashwords

The author uses different spellings for his names

Copyright 2012 by Fyzal Ally / Fisal Ally

All rights reserved.


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.


December 25, 2018 Smashwords Edition

eBook ISBN: 978-1-988288-72-7


www.fisalally.com / www.allymedia.ca



The reproduction of any part of this publication without the prior written consent of the author is an infringement of the author’s copyright. The First Edition from December 25, 2012 will continue to exist without any modifications.

This book is an account of the stories revealed to the author by Mohammed Mustapha on his life with Salima and the pets that had entered their lives. Relatives of Mustapha had also provide some of the accounts. Although this is a story about cats, the pages also paints a love story of Mustapha and Salima and the hardships they had faced later in life while living in New York. There may be some inaccuracies while the author was recreating the events and story lines, however, the author has written the account of the stories to his best understanding, with the historical information provided. Some of the original names were changed in the first edition.



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


Special thanks to Mustapha’s relatives who had assisted by sharing their knowledge and stories.

Special thanks to Tom O’Brien in the year 2012, and Sheriza Khrushed for reading through the book and assisting with the grammar edits, spell checks and suggestions.


Special thanks to Bronwen Strembiski for her knowledge in grammar, her assistance and for taking the time to explain to me the process of creating an eBook, and how and where to publish our eBooks back in the year 2012, while we were writing and editing our books at the café in St. Albert, Alberta, Canada, after a long workday at my job where I had worked as a Quality Manager. And with our perseverance and efforts, myself and others at the café worked very hard after work and on weekends to complete our books and artwork, while many in the café were socializing and some surfing the Internet.








ONE

A kitten at the backdoor




HOLLIS, QUEENS, NEW YORK - JUNE 20, 2000

Mustapha and Salima were having lunch in their Hollis, New York suite, when a warm summer breeze blew through their kitchen window.

“Hon, did you hear that?” she asked with a questioning glance.

Mustapha remained focused on the sports section of the newspapers. “I thought I heard something?”

“Like a crying soung?”

“Crying?”

“I thought I heard some whimpering.”

Mustapha glanced at Salima. “Sounds more like screeching from the cars on Hillside.” He lowered the papers, listening to the traffic coming from the avenue. He sipped his tea with an uneasy glance and said, “Drivers are always losing their patience over nothing.”

“Hon this New York,” Salima said and turned her head towards the doorway. “It sounds like whimpering.” She returned her gaze to her husband. “Hon, this is New York. Yuh know, the big apple—people always busy and in a rush.”

Mustapha let out a light laugh and said, “Oh yes, yes, you mean the city the whole world wants to be in.”

“Hon, don’t remind me. You know, I like the busy life. We live in the world’s greatest city.”

Mustapha chewed on his salad. “But all the rush, traffic, noise, pollution—”

“And all that jazz—”

“I’m getting tired of it. After a while the novelty wears off.”

“Only for some. Many can’t live without this rush. New Yorkers love this busy life.”

Mustapha inhaled deeply and a smile emerged on his face. “You know how I relish those calm days back in Nandy Park.”

Salima smiled. “I know. I know. It’s laid back compared to New York. And we had about everything back there.”

“What can I say, but those were the days.”

Salima got up and began clearing away the left overs from the table. Mustapha went to the kitchen and returned with a tablecloth and started to wipe the table. Salima stopped and turned towards the doorway, listening carefully.

Mustapha straightened up his body. He also heard a faint whimpering, and it wasn’t coming from Hillside. The whimpering grew and Salima left what she was doing and walked towards the doorway as Mustapha walked towards the kitchen. She hesitated and then walked up the stairs. She stopped halfway. The whimpering stopped for a brief moment and then started again. She hurried up the stairs and quickly opened the backdoor. Her head dropped as if she already knew what to expect. Much to her surprise, a small black kitten was at the backdoor crying with his head lowered, sitting on his hind paws. Salima moaned. The site of the kitten took her breath away. She stooped down and his bright shining green eyes came into view as if his eyes were illuminated from the inside. The kitten purred and lifted his head. Their eyes met for the very first time. Salima gasped and a sudden panic filled her eyes, witnessing the condition the two-month-old kitten was in. Her body stiffened as the kitten bristled with fright. She gasped in horror. Her body froze upon witnessing the blood dripping from the kitten’s mouth. His whimpering grew and a surge of emotions filled her, seeing the fright radiating from the kitten as his body shivered.

“Oh my God, what happened?” Salima gasped as the kitten tried to move towards her, but fell back on his hind legs, too weak to move. His mouth was twitching and from looking into his eyes, Salima heard him saying Help me, help me.

She crouched over and stroked the kitten’s head. A few seconds went by and his whimpering subsided.

“Oh my God!” Salima cried. She reached under, and the kitten willingly allowed her to scoop him into her arms. A tiny purr escaped from his mouth. She carefully straightened up her body, hoisting the kitten. “What happened?” She cried witnessing the horrible state the beautiful black kitten was in. She cuddled him in her arms and she could feel his heart thumping. She comforted him and he relinquished his trust to her.

The kitten was warm and fuzzy, and looked like black satin, except for a white streak that trickled down his forehead to his nose, another one from his chin down to his chest. The bottom of his paws were white and looked as though he was sporting little white boots, ready to play in the snow. Salima observed the kitten as he inhaled and exhaled soft tiny breaths. She closed the backdoor and carried him down the stairs to their suite.

“Hon, come see,” Salima called. “Hon!”

Mustapha had already cleared away the dishes from the table and was in the kitchen. He walked towards her holding a cloth. He squinted as a surprised look spread on his face. He stopped and then stepped forward and said, “A kitten? Where in the world did you get this kitten?” he asked.

Salima shrugged. “You remember when I said I heard—”

“Yuh mean that crying noise.”

“Yes, and you thought it was the traffic. Hon, no, no, it was this little guy. He was at the backdoor crying.”

“He must have gotten lost on his way home.”

“I don’t know about that, hon. It seems like he was ruffed up by a bully—yuh know, one of those big cats - the cowards that prey on the smaller and weaker ones.”

Suddenly, the gleam on Mustapha’s face faded. His jaw dropped as his eyes became fixed on the blood and mucus running down the sides of the kitten’s mouth. “I’m coming back,” he said and headed to the kitchen. “This kitten needs a good wipe down.”

Salima freed one hand, still holding the kitten. She walked over to the closet and pulled out a blanket and spread it on the couch as Mustapha entered the living room with a cloth and a small bucket filled with warm water. She carefully lowered the kitten onto the blanket and started to run her fingers through his fuzzy fur, caressing his back. Mustapha dipped the cloth in the water and gently wiped the blood from the kitten’s mouth. He rinsed the cloth and continued wiping away the blood and mucus. The kitten lift his head gazing at Mustapha, a tiny meow escaped from his mouth.

A smile emerged on Salima’s face. “He’s trying to say something. I think he’s saying thank you. Are you trying to say something dear?” The kitten hurled another meow from his throat.

Mustapha and Salima exchanged glances and smiled.

“I’m coming back.” Mustapha headed for the kitchen.

“Hon, while you’re in the kitchen, please check the potatoes.”

Mustapha picked up a knife and pressed it into a potato. “It needs a bit more cooking.” Salima was already preparing dinner. They had already made plans to go out, but their plans would have to wait for another day now that the kitten had needed their help.

Mustapha returned with a bucket of fresh water, a clean cloth, and a small bowl with water. “Let him drink this water,” he said holding the bowl at the kitten’s mouth.

Salima smiled. “Hon, that’s very thoughtful, but this little guy isn’t drinking—he’s not even moving.”

“He could have been starved for days.”

Salima encouraged the kitten to drink. She rubbed his head and the kitten began to hurl short piercing sounds at her. “He’s trying to say something. What if he’s trying to tell us what happened to him.”

Mustapha held the bowl closer to the kitten’s mouth.

The kitten’s glowing round eyes became fixed on Salima as she encouraged him to drink. He glanced at the water and back to Salima and then his little tongue emerged. “Drink baby.” The kitten lowered his head towards the water. He slapped the water with his tongue and pulled back. He drank a little more and then stopped.

“A little is better than nothing,” Mustapha said. He wiped down the rest of the kitten’s body: face, back, belly, legs and paws.

Emotions filled Salima. Her eyebrows furrowed. “Such a beautiful kitten. Oh such a beautiful kitten. I—I just can’t imagine this little fella in such terrible condition and he was out there all by himself.” She tensed up a little and stroked the kitten’s back. “He looks much better—all cleaned up.”

“But he’s still not happy. I want to see a gleam on his face,” Mustapha said.

Salima picked up the kitten and began to cuddle him. She then gazed into his big green eyes. She turned to Mustapha and said, “When I heard that groaning earlier, it gripped me—like sometimes how the cats back in Nandy Park used to groan when they get into fist fights with the other cats, and when they came home tired and hungry throwing themselves on the floor like they were dead. I knew something wasn’t right. You know, just intuition.”

Mustapha’s face brightened up from the mention of the cats back in Nandy Park. Many years had passed since they had last seen the cats in Nandy Park. Images of the four cats rolled through his head. “The cats in Nandy Park were in a league of their own,” Mustapha said. For a moment, the past gripped him. His smile faded as he focused back on the kitten, giving him his full attention. The kitten peered back at him. Mustapha broke out in a wide smile and said, “And this little guy looks like he is in his own league.”

“Hon, you looked like you were in lala land just now.”

“Lala land? I was just reminiscing on the cats back in Nandy Park.” He focused on the kitten. “We better get him checked out right away. He’s still bleeding a bit. He doesn’t look right.”

“I could take him to the dispensary,” Salima suggested. She tossed a lungful of air. “Hon, please get my purse from the room. I should have a twenty. I’m going to take him to the dispensary—they must have something that could help him.”

Mustapha went into the room and returned with Salima’s purse. She pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. There was also some change for the bus and she pulled out what she could get her hands on. Mustapha reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He pulled some money and extended his hand. “Walk with this, just in case.”


Mustapha and Salima had never hesitated to assist others; in this case, they were helping a helpless and abandoned kitten that came to their door crying for help. They didn’t give it a second thought nor had a little doubt about helping the kitten; they already knew that the fate of this little soul had depended on them—their plans would have to wait for another day.

“Cover him up,” Mustapha said.

“Pass me the small blanket - over there in the closet,” she pointed. Mustapha hurried over to the closet and pulled out the blanket. Salima lift the kitten and Mustapha wrapped the blanket around him. “See yuh later, hon,” she said as she carefully walked out the doorway and up the stairs to the ground level. Mustapha followed her. He reached over and opened the backdoor.

“Keep an eye on the potatoes.”

“Alright. Everything is under control. Be careful, okay.”

“Okay.”

“Watch your steps.”

“I’ll be back soon.”

“Don’t be long, and be careful.”

Mustapha headed back down to their suite.

It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon, as Salima hurried down Hillside Avenue with the kitten cloaked in her arms. She was in a hurry and took long strides swirling around people.

Salima was five-feet-seven inches tall, fifty-six-years old, medium built, and wore a green dress just below her knees. Over the years, she had gained some weight, and although she was faced with some medical conditions, she was still very active. People passing by on Hillside peered into her arms with curious eyes. A girl became excited when she made out the kitten’s face peering out at her from the opening of the blanket. An elderly man smiled when he made eye contact with the kitten. Cats had a way of casting spells on humans, drawing their attention and gaining their affection. A lady’s face brightened up like a child when she saw the kitten—she waved at him and then smiled at Salima. Salima returned a hesitant smile as she hurried down the avenue; there was no time to spare a smile. The pace was fast and everybody seemed to be in a rush and in someone’s way. It was the New York life. Jusy busy. Life would not be the same in New York if people were not in a hurry. Traffic was heavy and car horns blared.

In just under ten minutes, Salima entered the front door of the pharmacy, which she and Mustapha always get their medication from. Instead of walking down the aisle in the store with Mustapha, this time Salima was carrying the kitten in her arms. She stopped in the line-up where customers were waiting to place their prescriptions. The person in front of her heard the cat purring and turned around. He was surprised to see the kitten peering back into his eyes as if to say, Please let us through, can’t you see I’m bleeding. Salima waved at the pharmacist. “Oy!” she called out. “Oy! Excuse me this is urgent.” She exposed the kitten and the pharmacist came out and hurried towards her.

“This kitten’s mouth is bleeding,” Salima quickly informed the pharmacist.

“Blood?” she said, having a closer look at the kitten.

“I just found this poor little thing crying at my backdoor, bleeding,” Salima said grimly. She could feel the kitten’s heart thumping against her arm. “We already cleaned him up and wiped him down, but he’s bleeding again. Can you do something immediately to help him?” The shoppers waiting in line agreed that the kitten needed immediate attention. Salima had a way of being direct, and always knew what she wanted. “Please quickly!”

“I have a medication that will help.”

“Anything that will help. Please.”

“Come with me.”

The pharmacist headed back to her work area and Salima followed as some of the customers smiled and waited patiently and that doesn’t often happen in New York with all of the rush. The pharmacist disappeared at the back, and shortly after returned with a medication. “It’s liquid. It’s to be given every two hours,” she instructed as she wiped away the blood and mucus from the kitten’s face with a wet cloth. She then opened the bottle, sucked up some of the medication with a medicine dropper and tried to feed the kitten.

The kitten turned his face away. She tried again and the kitten raised a paw and meowed, as if to say, Don’t like, don’t like.

“Open mouth baby,” Salima said soothingly. She repeated herself and the kitten succumbed to the medicine dropper being pushed into his mouth. The pharmacist squeezed and the kitten pulled away with a crunched face. His mouth twitched, trying to spit out the medicine. The pharmacist smiled. Customers also smiled, letting go of their urgency to have things done right away. Cats were an important part of the American society.

The pharmacist provided Salima with the liquid medication and medicine dropper, and Salima was thankful for the help of a professional. She paid for the medication and she was on her way home down Hillside Avenue with the kitten cradled in her arms. People smiled getting a glimpse of the kitten’s face as his eyes become fixed on them.



AT HOME, HOLLIS, QUEENS, NEW YORK - JUNE 20, 2000

Steam filled the air as a pot with rice boiled on a low-lit burner. Mustapha was helping out with dinner as he awaited Salima’s return. His thoughts were on the kitten. Suddenly, the past gripped him again.



LA PENITENCE, BRITISH GUIANA Guyana, SOUTH AMERICA - 1961

Mustapha was born on December 5th 1933 in La Penitence, a district of Georgetown, located in Demerara, British Guiana, South America. His full name was Mohammed Mustapha, but his name should have been Mohammed Mustapha Haniff. During his registration at birth, his last name was missed, and that was a common problem in British Guiana. He was twenty-seven-years old, five-feet-ten-inches tall, slim built and handsome. He was the eldest of six children and had completed his schooling at St. Stevens High School, and then at Enterprise, which was the equivalent to college. After completing Enterprise, Mustapha was hired by the Demerara Electric Company, a forty-minute bike ride from his home in Middle Road, La Penitence. Riding a bicycle was common and owning a car was a luxury. He rode a black Rudge bicycle to work, which was very special to him. The Rudge had belonged to his brother-in-law, Allen, who had departed from this journey two years ago in 1959 after he was held up during a robbery in the county of Berbice, while Allen and his brother, Deen, was working for a British company named Paulin & Company, and Allen was on duty traveling in a car with police escorts carrying lots of money to pay the workers.


Dressed in grey pants and short sleeves white shirt, Mustapha opened the front door on the second floor and stepped outside onto the verandah of the two-storey house, which was recently built by his father, Mohammed Haniff, and his mother, Hamidan. His father’s name should have been Mohammed Haniff Bacchus whose lastname was also missed on his birth certificate. Thus Mustapha’s real name should have been Mutapha Bacchus. Their lastname should have been Bacchus and not Haniff. Teddy got up from the platform wagging his tail to greet Mustapha. Peggy scuttled out from the house and onto the verandah.

Mustapha turned to Peggy and said, “You stay.” Peggy meowed. She wanted to go with him. She was a beautiful black cat with one green eye and one blue eye and little white streaks.

The air was fresh and calm from the overnight rainfall. Everything was lush and green; the earthy tang rose up into the tropical air. Mustapha inhaled deeply feeling a deep solace looking out from the verandah on the second floor. He felt the humidity on his skin. He could almost taste the moisture in the air. The golden Demerara sun was slowly rising and looked like a giant orange haze at the horizon. Mustapha smiled and went back inside for his Rudge. He gave his salaams to his mother, father and siblings as Teddy and Peggy watched from the verandah. He brought his bike out to the verandah and lifted it down the stairs. Teddy and Peggy scuttled down after him. The dog trotted and the cat pranced as he pushed his bike down the long walkway. The pathway was not paved and boards were placed ontop the earth for when it rained and became muddy.

The house in front of their home was an older and smaller house sitting on six-foot wooden stilts that belonged to Mustapha’s auntie, Jamilla, also known as Betty. The long walkway stretching from the front of their house ran parallel to Jamilla’s house and to front road called Middle Road.

Mustapha opened the front gate and Peggy meowed. It looked as though she was pouting. She knew she wasn’t going anywhere. Teddy ran through the gate and onto the road, wagging his tail. Mustapha turned to Peggy and a smile broke on his face.

“You stay inside the yard,” he said.

The cat never ceased to put a bright smile on his face. She looked up at Mustapha as if to say, If Teddy could make his way around town, then so can I. The cat was persistent. She whined a little, and began to throw her little angry tones of meows at Teddy. Teddy turned around and stuck his head back in the yard as if to say, Look here little gal, you’re holding us up and I’m not going to be responsible for your little tail with all them stray cats and stray dogs running around wild in town.

“Back inside Peggy.”

The cat was obedient to Mustapha. She purred and waited. She purred again and then turned around and ran towards the house and sprinted up the stairs and leaped onto the ledge of the verandah, watching as Mustapha got on his bike and began to pedal with Teddy trotting next to him. They vanished from the cat’s view, making their way down Middle Road, La Penitence.

Teddy was also very obedient to Mustapha and sometimes escorted him to work in the morning. For Teddy it was a workout—a way to begin his day. A couple minutes later, Mustapha made a right onto Hunter Street. Teddy was right next to him. The dog’s morning run with Mustapha had begun one day when Mustapha was half way to work on his bike, and when he turned around to check traffic, he was surprised to see Teddy trotting behind him. He was very surprised to see the dog. He smiled seeing how the dog had wanted to accompany him, as if to protect him and to make sure he had gotten to work safely. But when he said, “Get back home Teddy! Now!” It looked like Teddy had turned around and went back home, but when Mustapha arrived at work, he was even more surprised to see the dog wagging his tail with his tongue hanging out. Since that day, Teddy began to escort him to work.

Another day Mustapha was pedaling fast, heading to work.

“In the corner, Teddy! In the corner!” Mustapha exclaimed as the ugliness of traffic filled the streets with cars honking, and impatient drivers cutting off each other.

Georgetown was the capital city of British Guiana, and it was a busy place where people from all walks of life across the country arrived to carry out business. Many commuted across the Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo rivers by the ferries and speedboats. Mustapha and Teddy travelled through the streets as people, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, carts and other means of transportation crowded the streets. The dog kept up with him, swirling around anyone and anything that got in their way. As Mustapha pedaled through Georgetown, he could feel the moisture in the air settling on his forehead with sweat breaking out on his back. The forty-minute bike ride to work everyday was a healthy workout for both of them.

Mustapha’s left foot dropped from the pedal and onto the ground. He jumped off his bike and entered the front gate of the Demerara Electric Company. He turned to the dog, blowing a little. “Man, I’m tired like a log, but I’m sweating. Look at you! Not even a sweat and still full of energy.” The dog shook his body with his tongue dangling, exposing his teeth, and then started to pant, cooling off. Mustapha laughed. “Aren’t you lucky dogs don’t sweat, else you’d be soaking like me.” Mustapha laughed a little. “Alright boy—alright, it’s time for me to start work. I will see you later. Be safe and stay in the corner.” Teddy waggled his tail with his tongue hanging. He turned around and started to trot. Mustapha had great confidence that the dog would return home safely, as he always had. He entered the building of the Demerara Electric Company to commence his workday.



HOLLIS, NEW YORK – JUNE 20, 2000

Mustapha smiled, reminiscing on the good times back home. It was almost three o’clock in the afternoon when the backdoor opened and he snapped out of his thoughts, as he anxiously awaited Salima’s return. He didn’t realize she would be that fast. He headed up the back stairs to greet her and the cat.

“That’s quick,” he said as Salima entered with the kitten. He held the door opened for her.

“It should have been faster, especially in the condition this poor little soul was in,” she replied, a little uptight.

Mustapha smiled, gleaming at the kitten wrapped in the blanket. “Yes, he looks more lively.” The kitten tilted his head and meowed.

“He seems better,” Salima agreed. She gestured for Mustapha to take the small bag with the medication from her hand. He did and she carefully walked down the stairs carrying the kitten.

“What about the bleeding?” Mustapha asked with a concerned look on his face, closing the door behind him. “It looks like it stopped for now.”

“The medication will help. Check the bag. It’s in the bag. We have to give him the medication every couple hours for a few days, until it finishes. The pharmacist said he should fully recover in a few days.”

“That’s wonderful news,” Mustapha said with relief. “I was so worried about this little guy. He was on my mind since you left with him to the dispensary. He has a way of awakening my old memories—”

“Memories?

“Memories that were buried.”

“Well it’s nice to reminisce, once in a while.”

“Peggy.”

“Peggy? Who is Peggy?” Salima asked abruptly.

Mustapha laughed. “You don’t remember Peggy?”

“Peggy?” She pondered for a moment. “The only Peggy I can think of, is, the cat back in La Penitence?”

“Yes, yes, that Peggy?’

“How did this kitten remind you of Peggy?”

“Well don’t you remember that Peggy was black just like him with little white stripes?”

A broad smile emerged on Salima’s face. “How could I forget? Peggy. Yes, Peggy, the one with one blue eye and one green eye.”

“Yes, yes, that’s the one.”

Salima’s face lit up. “Oh my, my, she was such a darling. Oh what a beautiful darling Peggy was.”

Mustapha pulled out a blanket from the closet and spread it on the sofa and ironed out the wrinkles with his hand. Salima carefully lowered the kitten onto the blanket, trying not to cause him any more discomfort.

“The pharmacist wants us to feed him every two hours until his food is finished.”

Mustapha reached into the bag and pulled out the prescription. He read the label. “Food?”

“The pharmacist called it food. I didn’t.”

Mustapha shook his head and laughed. “Man, back in Nandy Park, there was no such thing as a medication for a cat. We would have fixed up Daoud with some curry and rice. And he would have been strong and healthy in no time.”

Salima smiled hearing Daoud’s name. “Curry? Hon, cats over here don’t eat curry.”

“Then, maybe, we should open up a business—with a new spanking curry recipe to make an American cat strong and healthy,” Mustapha said.

Salima burst out laughing. “Stop your clowning around.”

“This is no joke. Yuh know how the cats in Nandy Park used to crave for curry and roti and they were as healthy as ever—rarely ever sick.”

“Hon, that’s because they were out running and jumping around, and gallivanting all day in the sunshine.”

Mustapha laughed a little as images from those golden sunny days rolled through his head—the cats running up and down the alley, and with spring-like legs sprinting up the stairs. “It must be the curry.”

“Curry?”

“Curry can make a cat sprint down the alley and up the stairs. The cats back in Nandy Park used to gobble down rotis in seconds flat—and with a little curry—”

Salima cut in, “That’s because the curry burns their little behinds and set them on fire.”

“Man, don’t joke.”

“Hon, you really think curry is the cure for a cat’s illness?”

“Curry cures anything. You can add more pepper and other spices. Curry has turmeric, and that’s healthy. You can add ginger and cinnamon and a hot red pepper. Even add a bowl of dhal pea soup with some baji spinach can do wonders.”

Salima laughed and then put on a serious face. “Hon, listen up. This kitten is not a Nandy Park kitten,” she reminded him. She tried to stifle back her laugh, but she couldn’t hold back. “Yuh want the police lock us up for giving curry to this American kitten! The spice alone will kill this little guy.”

Both of them laughed

“Oh man, don’t joke. People over here don’t even know what’s good for them, much less a cat. As a matter of fact, spices like turmeric and cinnamon are good for the body. New York kitten, American kitten, Nandy Park kitten, it makes no difference—curry is curry, and if curry was good for Daoud then curry is good for all cats.”

Salima clasped her hand. “Hon, over here, there are laws for cats, and we better abide by the rules for an American kitten.” She chuckled. “Life in America is different from life in Nandy Park. And I bet cats over here never touches leftovers.”

“Unless it’s a stray cat. Even over here some cats have it tough. Sometimes I see cats in the garbage cans in the alley looking for their next meal.”

Salima frowned. The thought sickened her.

Mustapha’s memories became vivid. He leaned towards the kitten and said, “Man, yuh look like a prince—a true American prince.” He was in a joking mood, happy to see the bleeding from the kitten stopped.

Salima glanced at her watch. “Hon, it’s been almost two hours since the pharmacist fed him. We should get his medicine ready.”

He didn’t answer.

“Hon.”

“What? You said something?”

“I said!” she emphasized and then continued, “It’s time to get this kitten his medication. It’s been two hours since I left the dispensary. It looks like you’re lost in another world.”

Mustapha smiled. “Well—”

“Well, you look lost.”

“Well kind of.” He paused and took a breath. “Just seeing this kitten, I—I just can’t help thinking about the cats back in Nandy Park.”

Salima rubbed her fingers through the kitten’s fur. A questioning glance appeared on her face. “Hon, and is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Mustapha’s face lit up. “It’s a very good thing. Back home memories are golden memories.”

Salima’s smile widened. “And one day the memories of this American kitten will also be golden, especially the way how he entered our lives.”

The kitten sat on his hind legs on the couch with a calm gaze as though he had always lived there. He tilted his head listening to them. Mustapha and Salima felt a lot of compassion for him. The kitten had already gained their affection and love. It was as though they had known him all their lives.

“Food is coming sweetie,” Salima said admiring the kitten. The smile on her face faded. “And if anybody comes looking for you, I will give them a good piece of my mind so they will never forget what I have to say to them, and they will take good care of their cats.”

Mustapha cleared his throat. “Alright, alright,” he said, trying to get Salima to relax. She was still upset about the condition she had found the kitten in.

“They will never forget a word I have to say as long as they live,” Salima said bluntly. She turned to the kitten. “I promise you that dear little one.” Salima had a way of getting across to people what she had to say without shouting or arguing. She had a way of being direct, punctual and sometimes unyielding, like the way she was at the pharmacy. She knew how to get things done in a hurry. In many ways her character complimented Mustapha’s more soft-spoken, calm and cool ways.

“You think somebody just dumped him in the yard?” Salima asked.

A concerned expression appeared on Mustapha’s face. “You remember when—”

“Daoud?” Salima cut in, anticipating his next word?”

“Yes. Daoud. Daoud was a real prince too, and he earned his living, unlike many cats. Or should I go as far to say Daoud was a king—he thought he was the king of our home.”

Salima laughed. “Oh, hon—my stomach is going to burst.” Her laughter grew. “Daoud was something else. You’re right about him being the king.” She quieted down and said, “ I remember when we found Daoud in our yard in Nandy Park. He was just a baby, yuh know—and yes, he also looked like a prince.”

Mustapha laughed a little. “And he grew into a king. Man, Daoud had class and style.”

Salima’s eyes became fixed on the kitten as Mustapha began preparing the liquid medication, reading the directions.

“Ready?”

“Yes.” Salima held the kitten on her lap as Mustapha squeezed the top of the medicine dropper, sucking up some of the liquid from the bottle. The kitten tried turning his head away as Mustapha placed the dropper into his mouth and squeezed.”

“It looks like he’s trying to say, get that thing away from my mouth,” Mustapha said.

“He doesn’t like it,” She paused. “Swallow,” she encouraged in a soft tone as Mustapha squeezed more medication in his mouth. “You can tell he doesn’t like the medication.”

Mustapha looked at the kitten and said, “Ah, not tasty like curry, eh?”

Salima chuckled.

“Must be bland,” Mustapha continued. His medication was not as tasty as curry and roti, or dhal and rice, but it was what the pharmacist had prescribed. In America, what was prescribed for a cat should be given to the cat.

“He’s beginning to look better,” Mustapha said.

Salima smiled. “Hon, I’m happy this kitten entered out lives. He also has a way of making me reflect. Hon, you remember how we met?”

Mustapha smiled. “How could I forget how we met? And we’re still sitting together after all these years.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“Has to be good.”

“Then it’s destiny?”

Mustapha’s smile widened. “Yes. It has to be destiny, else we would have already been divorced like many today.”

They felt good helping out the kitten. It was moments like those that kept the bond between them strong—through the good times and bad times, and until death do them apart. It was what marriage meant in those days—a commitment, a lifetime commitment, based on love and friendship.




TWO

Marriage Proposal




LA PENITENCE, GEORGETOWN, BRITISH GUIANA Guyana, South America - 1961

Mustapha worked half days on Saturdays from 7 to 11am. It was January, almost noon. He was going home, speeding down Middle Road on his Rudge bike, stirring up dust, leaving a dust trail behind. A relative waved at him; it was his uncle Shanko, his mother’s brother.

Mustapha waved back. “How yuh doing, man?” he called out as he passed by. He was always polite and never passed a relative or a friend without acknowledging them or stopping to greet them.

“Yuh hurrying today.”

“Uncle Shanko, I have some business to take care of.” His uncle already knew what his business was; his sister had already updated him and some of the other relatives.

Mustapha continued down the winding gravel road lined with mainly two storey homes on both sides of the road, boasting corrugated zinc roofs painted in different colors. Fences and gates enclosed most of the homes. Children were out on the street playing. Stray cats and stray dogs hung out—even domesticated cats and dogs were out for a while and then returned home. A cat was sitting on the fence observing everything that went on. Mustapha arrived home and got off his bike.

“Mustapha!” one of his friends called out from the crossroad that ran parallel to the homes. The boys were out playing a game of cricket and needed a few more players to get a match going.

“Alright!” Mustapha’s voice rose. He waved. “Give me an hour!” Mustapha enjoyed a good game of cricket, but had other matters to tend to. He loved sports and always knew the latest West Indies cricket team scores. He also had the scores of recent overseas cricket games. He reached over the gate and unlatched the lock. He entered the yard, pushing his bike.

“Meow,” a little voice came from the side.

Mustapha’s face brightened. “Well, well, look who is here.”

Peggy scampered up to him. She knew what time he would enter the gate, returning home from work. Mustapha continued pushing his bicycle down the long walkway as Peggy pranced behind him and then sprung ahead.

The ground level of the two-storey home was divided into four apartment suites, lined by a cement walkway, snaking around the entire house. Mustapha braced his bicycle against the post, and headed up the first set of stairs to a big platform half way up, connecting to another set of stairs stretching up to the verandah on the second level. Peggy was behind him. She then sprinted up the stairs. Mustapha and stopped on the platform, as a marble flew up into the air.

“Duck!” Shameer exclaimed from the yard, to the right of platform; he was Mustapha’s youngest brother. Peggy growled at the boys playing marble as Mustapha dodged a shot to the head. “Watch it! Watch it!” he exclaimed. The marble bounced off the house. “Watch the windows and keep an eye on my bike. I’m coming back.” He left his bike on the platform as the boys continued playing marble. Mustapha reached the verandah and patted Teddy on his back. He opened the front door and as he entered, Peggy scuttled through his legs and into the house.

“Salaamu alaikum Peace be upon you,” Mustapha said, smiling and greeting everyone as he entered the living room. Everyone returned their salaams, “Walaikum salaam And upon you peace.” His right hand reached back and he pushed in the front door, closing it. He smiled at the unfamiliar lady sitting on the sofa, chatting with his parents and his sisters, Ashar and Naz.

“Mustapha, mi want yuh meet someone,” his mother, Hamidan, said. Hamidan was forty-eight years old, just under five feet tall and medium built with long black hair combed into two plaits. She was wearing a dress down to her ankles.

Mustapha smiled and settled into a chair. The lady had brought him news about a girl named Salima, who was of age to be married, and she wanted to arrange a meeting between Mustapha and the girl’s family. The lady was a friend of a friend, and had heard many good things about Mustapha and his family.

Mustapha blushed. “Yuh sure yuh have da right person.”

The lady laughed. “Oh yes, mi sure, now seeing you in person and hearing yuh voice.”

“Well, you know, first impression can be wrong.”

The lady laughed again. “Oh yuh jokin, man. Yuh don’t strike me as a person that would get out of hand. Besides I have good judgement.”

Mustapha chuckled. “Yes, yes. Ma and my siblings could tell you a story or two,” he said jokingly. Hamidan frowned at her son. She refrained from talking about the times when she used to lock him out of the house for staying out late and hanging out with his friends. Ashar and Naz exchanged glances with their older brother and stifled back their laugh. Back in those days, when he was locked out, his sisters would rescue him by opening the door for him or passing food out the window for him. But that was years ago when he was young, curious and wanted to experience life, like any teenager in the Americas. Aside from his regular visits to the movie theatres, he had also frequented the cricket matches, car races and horse races, which were the big sports of the day. Aside from his outings, he had very good qualities and refrained from alcohol while many of his friends indulged in rum, Guiana being a rum producing country for the world. He wanted to experience life and from his experiences, he had witnessed many problems that existed in the country that had left many young men and their families in ruins, and one of the main problems were young men becoming addicted to rum and wasting their earnings on it.

The lady caught his attention. “Mustapha, I am very pleased to meet you. My first impression of you is correct. And besides I did my homework.”

Mustapha smiled. “Well, I’m glad you did. So there will be no surprise.”

The lady laughed and Hamidan’s smile broadened as she exchanged glances with her children. Mustapha had had a good upbringing. His mother was very strict, and sometimes used the broomstick on them, but she was good to everyone and made sure all of her children were well taken care of. Mustapha was her eldest child, and she had never let him get away with anything; she wanted him to set an example for his younger siblings.

Hamidan had worked hard throughout her life. After she was married and began to have children, she had retired from working in the sugarcane fields to take care of the children. But, she continued working from home: sewing clothes and wedding dresses She also worked hard in the yard: cleaning and planting vegetables. Fresh vegetables picked from the garden and fresh fruits right off the trees in her yard were a good part of their diet. Hamidan was the brain for building the big spacious house they were now living in, providing a wonderful home for her family, including her mother, Marium Rossamond Nani, and her mother-in-law, Mariam Dadi. In the way parents cared for their children, their children also cared for the parents as the parents aged and became weak. An extended family was a big part of family life—it was all about caring and looking out for each other. Before moving into their new home in 1960, they had lived on the main floor of Marium Rossamond’s home, located a few houses down Middle Road, La Penitence. Months after moving into their new home, Teddy and Peggy had entered their lives.

The second floor of the house, which they resided in had a spacious living room, dining room and kitchen, along with three bedrooms, and extra space to build another room. There was also a big kitchen and another area for another fridge. The floor was made from long strips of polished hard wood and the front of the house had long narrow windows that stretched from one end to the next. The ground level of the house was divided into four apartment suites, which were rented out, and brought in an income. Under Hamidan’s roof, everybody was taken care of, including the cat and dog. Hamidan was a strong-minded woman with a sharp mind and wanted the best for her children. She had never hesitated to raise her voice or to use a belt to keep the children in line.

Hamidan had encouraged Mustapha to take out a savings account, and he had taken her advice, saving up for the day he would be married. She had never taken any money from him while he was working; she wanted to see him get married and get a good start in life.

His father, Haniff was a man of medium height and medium built. He was a tailor and would purchase the best fabrics to make clothes. Sometimes he traveled away from home, many times taking the train from Gorgetown to sell his tailor made clothes and fabrics. He was also an Imam Priest, for the Masjid Mosque in Peters Hall during the 1940’s and into the 1960’s. At the time, the Masjid was a small wooden building, which was later torn down and rebuilt.

Mustapha was eager to hear about the marriage proposal. He wanted to get married and settled down, and he wanted to meet the person of his destiny. He saw marriage as a long-term relationship and a lifetime commitment. Others had asked for his hand in marriage, but he had wanted to see his two younger sisters, Ashar and Naz, married and settled before he did—and they were married in 1959.

The visitor cleared her throat and smiled. “Mustapha, you will be pleased when yuh see di gal,” she said.

Ashar cleared her throat. “Then tell we someting bout the girl.”

“Hee hee,” the lady began, cheerfully. “Yuh going to like her. And yes she’s beautiful.” She glanced at Ashar and Naz and back to Mustapha. She continued, “She’s seventeen. Her parents said she’s of age to be married. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Baksh, want her to get married to a respectable person. I will arrange for her parents to come over. How does that sound?”

Ashar nodded. “Good idea.”

Naz smiled. “I would like to meet them.”

Mustapha cleared his throat. “But, she’s young for my age,” he said with a concerned look.

The lady laughed a little. “Nah, nah, nah—a little age gap could be a good ting. Ten years difference is nothing today, man.”

Hamidan turned to her son and said, “I want you to meet her parents before you say no to any of this.”

“I will be happy to bring Salima’s parents to meet y’all, and y’all could decide what the future holds for this handsome young man,” the woman interjected. “And trust me—they will have no regrets. I think Mustapha and Salima are good match.”

Hamidan smiled. “Then we look forward to meeting them,” she said. Her husband was quiet throughout the conversation; he left the marriage arrangements to his wife.

“I will arrange for them to come over next week,” the woman said and turned to Mustapha. “Not to worry about age—age is just a number. Ten years difference is nothing. Some wisdom in a marriage is always a good thing.”

Hamidan’s smile widened. “If she’s for you then its destiny,” she said with a few words of encouragement. She glanced at her other children and back to Mustapha. She emphasized, “And if it’s already written in the stars, then nobody can change that - yuh must find out fuh yuhself.” Hamidan loved reading novels; she could easily spend a full day, getting lost in a world of romance books.

Shortly after their visitor departed, and Mustapha went out to the crossroad to play cricket.

A week later Mr. and Mrs. Baksh arrived in Middle Road, La Penitence to meet Mustapha’s family. And as usual Peggy was out on verandah waiting to greet them as if she was the lady of the house, expecting her guests. She greeted them with a meow and they smiled back at the cat. And in Peggy’s eyes, the cooking was done and the snacks and drinks were ready for her guests.

Very often, it was the parents that made the marriage arrangements. Even if a boy and girl were already interested in each other, the arrangements still had to go through the parents before a wedding could have taken placed. Occasionally, an arrangement between a boy and a girl first had to go through the girl’s brother who was already a rival of the boy from school days or from playing cricket, or even from a different village. Sometimes licks fights broke out between the girl’s brother and his rival who wanted to get married to his sister. And if the girl didn’t have a brother to fight for her, her uncles were next in line to face off with the boy, but instead of licks, they would have beaten him down through British Guianese wisdom and psychology—some called it insults. At other times, a big dog was let loose on the boy by the girl’s grandmother, chasing him down the street in front of a crowd of spectators; a cat was too small and wimpy for the task. Sometimes the mother, gripping a belna rolling pin or even a cutlass, would chase down the boy herself. Other times it could be a rock that landed on the boy’s head, bursting his head open—thrown by the girl’s little brother. Sometimes, all the madness and confusion led to eloping, and the girl becomes disowned by her family, never to enter the house again, or never to show her face on the block again, or even around town.

During dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Baksh became acquainted with Mustapha. They were pleased with him. They saw many good qualities in him and hoped he would take the next step to meet their daughter. Mustapha had nothing to loose, but he wanted the girl to make her own decision about marriage and not her parents. After dinner, Mr. and Mrs. Baksh bid the family adieu, feeling satisfied with the meeting.


Saturday morning arrived and Hamidan and the girls were up early in the kitchen, preparing dishes and gifts to take for Salima and her family. Mustapha entered the kitchen with a towel wrapped around his waist. He unlatched the backdoor and stepped outside onto the back platform facing the Atlantic Ocean; a tall gooseberry tree blocked some of the view.

Peggy darted up the stairs with long strides and began to roll around on the platform, batting her paws in the air as if to slap Teddy in the head. The dog was lying calmly and ignored the cat. Peggy started to push the dog with her paws, and then punched the dog in his head. Suddenly, the dog jumped up and barked at her. The cat quickly sprung backwards and out of the way.

Mustapha turned to Teddy. “Yuh need a good soap down, man.” Teddy barked, indicating that Rose had already soaped him down a few days ago, and that he was not happy about it. The dog hated the soap downs. His place was outside in the yard, guarding the house from choke-an-rab thieves. There was a barrel lying in the yard with the front and back open, and Hamidan had seen how much Teddy loved going in and out of the barrel, and she had spread a blanket in the barrel for him, and he began sleeping in the barrel.

Peggy growled at Teddy and ran into the kitchen, sniffing the air as if to say, Who the hell had the nerves to lock me outside with that ugly brown dog, and why wasn’t I invited in for sweets.

“Peggy you look hungry,” Naz said. “Where were you?” Naz was visiting with her husband, Deen.

“It must have been Hassan or Shameer that put out Peggy from the house this morning before they went out to clean the chicken coop,” one of the girls said. Hassan was also Mustapha’s brother who was two years older than Shameer.

Peggy growled as if to say, Don’t let this happen again.

“Don’t blame me Peggy,” Rose scolded the cat.

The cat had the best of both worlds. There was something about Peggy—she had a way with people and everyone just loved her—she ate for free, never had to pay rent, and never worked a day in her life nor had to earn a living. The house was like a restaurant where she ate when she was hungry; it was also like a hotel where she slept. This was her home. She was an outdoor cat and spent her time indoors and outdoors. She was in and out of the house, and when the door opened, she would hurry in and head for the kitchen as if to say, Is my meal ready, yet? And if nothing were ready for her, she would sit in the kitchen and wait until a plate with curry and rice, or dhal and roti was placed in front of her. She wanted a full meal—the full deal. She would eat her belly full and then head back outside, charged up with lots of energy: climbing, sprinting and chasing rats. It seemed as if she just lived for the pleasures of life, and when she was ready to explore the outdoors, nobody could have stopped her, and nobody had ever stopped her from entering the house, whereas Teddy’s place was outside and he had to watchman the house and kept his eyes out for thieves; he worked for his meals.


At home, everything was catered for Mustapha. His younger siblings looked up to him. His sisters helped out with the cooking and cleaning throughout his growing up days. His breakfast, lunch and dinner was always ready for him and on the table.

Mustapha yawned, stretching, and looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean. He began brushing his teeth and then entered the shower, attached to the left side of the platform. After showering, he stepped out with the towel wrapped around his waist. He smiled when he saw both Peggy and Teddy on the platform with their plates filled with food, eating. He opened the backdoor and entered the kitchen and then opened the door to his room to the left of the kitchen. He pushed open the window in his room and then stood in front the mirror as a beam of sunlight came through the window. A tinge of nervousness crept through his body. He took extra care and extra time to grease his hair with brylcream and combed his hair nicely, getting every strand of his pompadour hairstyle in place; the pompadour haircut was in fashion, similar to Elvis’ haircut. Although he was anxious, he had no expectations; the marriage proposals he had previously did not materialized, and this one may or may not.

Half an hour later, Mustapha entered the kitchen dressed in stylish brown pants and a white shirt. The girls were singing along with the Indian film song coming over the radio. Although Guiana was in South America, Indian movies from India came all the way to this part of the world since there were East Indian populations in places like Guiana, Surinam Dutch Guiana, Trinidad and other places in the Americas.

“Looks like this handsome young man is all ready to meet the stargirl,” Ashar joked.

“Buddy must be the starboy from the latest Indian movie,” Naz teased.

Mustapha blushed. “Yuh joking, man!”

Rose laughed. “No buddy, we’re not joking.”

“You’re a starboy,” Naz said.

Mustapha laughed and said, “Well, I don’t know about that, but I have a gut feeling that—” He stopped in midsentence.

“A gut feeling?” Ashar asked.

“Oh, just a feeling that this—”

“That this is the real one,” Rose said.

Their mother’s smile broadened. “And it’s time yuh settle down,” she said firmly as they were finishing up the rotis and aloo fried potatoes for breakfast. Hamidan was filled with joy. She wanted to see her eldest child married and settle down, while he was still young and getting marriage proposals.

Hassan entered. “PL364 cleaned, polished, shined, and ready to go,” he said referring to the license plate of Deen’s grey and white Austin Cambridge car. He and Shameer were helping Deen clean and waxed his car.

Deen entered the kitchen. “Mustapha, yuh looking shine up, bhai brother,” he said with a broad smile.

Mustapha laughed. “Man, well, yuh know, it’s time I make a match so I better look polished and shine like PL364.” They exchanged laughs.

The family sat down on the wooden benches in the kitchen and ate; some sat on the floor cross-legged. Jokes, riddles and jumbie ghost stories were normally told during their meals, filling the air with laughter and sending chills up their spines, but instead the conversations were about traveling to Providence where Salima lived.


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