The Cats of Istanbul: Chapter Thirteen

Kittens in the Wild

It was the shrill wail of Mother Arap that brought about the moment of realisation for Fatma. The idea had been there for a few seconds already - that their crate was no longer on the ship - but she had just been inspecting it calmly, as if an intellectual proposition to be checked for strengths and weaknesses. When she heard Ahmet's mother scream, somewhere in the distance, and then the thick, wet choke that came from her best friend's throat, a sound she had never heard before and never wanted to hear again, her senses rose beyond her in a crescendo of shock. She felt as though a thousand questions, come together in a voice of fire, had been loosed from her gut and then sent exploding to the edges of her brain. She fell forward in stiff alarm and felt her eyes near pop from her head.

Of the questions that now occupied her thinking, her mind knew not what to do, her brain was transfixed, but somehow the words fell out of her mouth, 'Ahmet we are lost. Our crate is in the sea.'

Ahmet's face crumpled. In an instant he shed a lifetime of emotion and love in one outpouring of despair - tears rushed from his eyes and dribble leaked from his mouth - 'But my parents…' he cried.

'I know' murmured Fatma, recovering instantly at her friend's distress, then moving closer to hold him, and there feeling his body shake. 'Please Ahmet' she said, 'it will be okay. I promise it will be okay. We are floating. They are with Zara. They're going to be okay.'

Then they only clung to each other in silence as their crate splashed through the raging storm. As the tumultuous seas crashed them from side to side their unfortunate vessel heaved and groaned with the stress, and all the while the rain pelted the outside with a thunderous staccato din. With every turn they hugged each other all the tighter, expecting the latest lurch to be their last, and soon to feel the crate sinking. Perhaps it was only the constant anticipation of death that stopped them from breaking down, but more likely I think that here, alone and lost at sea, Fatma and Ahmet first felt the rise of their heroic souls, for soon they both began to calm and both then noticed feeling stronger than ever before.

Eventually the storm began to subside and the kittens fell asleep. Slumbering, the worries of their shared subconscious seeped into their rest. Tossing and turning, they dreamt of giant monsters and roaring pirate galleons, of drowning, of screams in the night, of figures beckoning them from the distance, of waves crashing over Istanbul, of wicked courtiers and despondent princesses. Both were glad to awake when the seas finally thought fit to deliver them, depositing their crate on to the beach with a gentle scrape. 

They continued clinging to each other for some time, unknowing of what waited for them outside and unsure of what to do. 

Facing the inevitable, Fatma noticed a sparkle of energy begin to spread through her body and mind. A light thrill ran through her as she noted that now they were alone, she was in charge. She glanced into Ahmet's eyes and saw what she considered to be his consent. It was clear, if implicit, in the lost look he let out into the darkness of their crate. He would be alright she decided, his condition was more firm than before. Most of all, first of all, she needed a plan. With a plan she could reassure him properly. Still, it might not be a waste of time to have a word with him now. He might make himself useful while she thought about how to proceed.

'Ahmet… it is our time. It is your turn to be a hero. Let's go outside now. I want you to explore where we are while I think about what to do next.'

Ahmet felt suddenly warm again, and, holding a vision of Kadir in his mind, flushed his eyes once more with the light of adventure.

'Let's go' he said, excitedly. 

Quickly, he was up and out of the flap.

'Oh Fatma come and look' he called, 'it's amazing.' 

Fatma gave their crate one last look and made a note that something needed to be done about Ahmet's parents' bundles. Later, she thought. She put on her rucksack and picked up Ahmet's bundle and then followed him outside.

It was, as Ahmet had said, amazing to behold. Neither of them had ever seen a beach before, or the Black Sea, and the contrast of the two expanses of colour, the brilliant blue and the sunlit white, took Fatma's breath away. On either side of them the sands stretched unendingly into the distance. Behind them ranks of dunes reached up into the green hills beyond. Before them, the waves lapped quietly up the shore. Above, the morning sun shone forth a salute of warm promise. It was beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, and for a few timeless moments she quite forgot about the task-in-paw. Overcome by sensation, she sat down and began to purr. 

Some moments later she became aware of her brain making observations about the nature of sand - it looked like white soil at a distance, but on closer inspection it seemed to be a mix of all sorts of things, with some that she could only guess at. These must be pieces of shell - the casings of sea creatures she had only read of - and these bits of seaweed, but then most of it seemed to be just a refinement of rock. Perhaps that was it she thought, sand must be the souls of rocks, and the beach must be their heaven.

Ahmet turned around to look at her and laughed.

'Come on Fatma' he said, 'you can't just sit there all day. We have an adventure to go on, a prophecy to find and a hero to rescue.'

Fatma blushed and said, 'You go to see what's out there and I'll do the thinking, thank you Ahmet.'

Ahmet smiled and was about to speed off into the distance when, rarely, a thought stopped him. Why didn't he try grace, as Kadir had taught him? 

'Wait there a second' he said, 'let me try something.'

He then closed his eyes and let his brain relax, remembering Kadir’s lesson, trying to become aware of his senses. What he had to do was find the relation of things - first of his immediate surroundings. He observed the feeling of his paws on the sand, the brush of the breeze past his face and the shine of the sun on his fur. He then listened carefully and caught the sound of Fatma purring lightly - something which made his heart flutter - and then the sounds of the sea and the gulls which somewhere flew above them. Finally, he let his brain slip into his whiskers and then felt forwards and around him. Astonishingly, he began to form an image in his mind of where they were. That was the sand, and there the sea, through which his senses seemed unwilling to pass, but then there was the air, and in it light. He pushed further forwards and felt himself becoming one with the world around him. Suddenly he found his mind racing forwards, and then there was something - a town - and his brain just seemed to know that it was Trabzon. 

Suddenly he felt his consciousness being pulled forwards at an even greater speed and then hit the edge of a thick, foul darkness. He heard a human laugh and then begin to speak. 'A kitten!' it said in a mean and mocking voice. Panicked, his brain sprang backwards. He opened his eyes again and he was back on the beach. It was okay. They were alone. Everything was just the same as it had been when he left it.

'What was that?' Fatma asked.

'Oh something Kadir taught me' he replied, unsure of how to explain what he had done or what he had seen. 'He called it grace, only I'm not very good at it yet. It's like seeing the world with your senses and understanding what to do with it. Anyway, I think we're going to be alright for a little while at least but then I think there is danger at some point. I think Trabzon too is not far away. I'm going to check.' And with that he smiled at her again and then ran off in a blur of sun-scattered sand.

In comfort, and with satisfaction, watching Ahmet's racing form recede into the distance, Fatma began her work, the articulated process of reasoning she had, somewhere in her mind, attended excitedly since landing on the beach. It was an interesting topic to engage in - what to do now with this most ambiguous of adventures, and indeed what do now with this most terrible of worlds, with the alley cats scheming, and the rooftop cats flexing their grip on power, squeezing the gutter cats in their dusty, innocent lives.

After gazing into the ambi-blue horizon for some moments too many, in becoming tired of pushing her brain against the scrolling mural of problems she felt within scope, she winced and drew back to critique her thinking, there reminding herself sharply to focus on the problem-in-paw. She needed structure. There were many questions that needed answering, but there were some glaringly important ones that needed to be decided as a priority. They were stranded on a beach, somewhere on the coast of the Black Sea, and it might be hundreds of miles to Trabzon, or for that matter to Istanbul, or indeed anywhere, and they had been separated from Ahmet's parents and Zara. Zara in particular was a loss to the quest, she was after all leading it, and was the driving force behind its conception. Ahmet's parents were less concerning in terms of utility, but emotionally for Ahmet she could see that it must matter. The subtlety of the whole thing was that there was just no way of knowing what had happened to them.

She looked out and scanned the waves as far as she might, following the meeting of sky and sea in all directions, but there was no sign of anything, no ships, no wrecks, and no cats drifting neatly along on top of a plank or panel of crate. Where might they be?

It was possible that the ship had made it through the storm and continued on its way towards Trabzon. Really, it was quite likely. Their crate had survived intact, and that was much less well-built, and after the storm had subsided, the ship would easily have been able to direct itself to the destination it had originally set out for. 

There was of course the risk that something else had happened, for it might have gone in many different directions, all of which appeared far less likely but also unpleasant. They might still be at sea, happily tucked away on the ship or distressed and stranded, floating aimlessly around on makeshift crafts, chanced upon from the storm-wrecked remains of their vessel. Alternatively, more attractively, they might have called into port at another town, anywhere along the coast, to shelter from the storm, and perhaps even to make repairs.

Really, it was impossible to know. Still, it felt most likely that they were in Trabzon. That was what would normally happen, and even if it was by no means certain, it was the best she could do.

Of course, she was only a kitten, and even if among the most intelligent of cats, she could not have known that she had arrived upon a separate world, a most unsettling area of the universe, where things do not happen as they normally would, for there things are affected by any number of nasty motives, none of which occur to the average gutter cat.

In any case, on that point she had decided. They had to push forwards. That was the first of the questions dealt with. She would talk to Ahmet on his return. He might want to wait a little, but eventually, if Zara and the Arap parents didn't soon suddenly appear on the edge of the blue beyond, they would have to push on alone towards Trabzon. 

Ahmet was still out exploring the beach, so Fatma browsed her mind for other topics to consider. There was the rather worrying point of what if the others hadn't made it to Trabzon, and they didn't turn up. What should they do then? What of the prophecy and of Izmir?

She noted affectionately that Ahmet had assumed immediately that they would be going on with the adventure, regardless of the fate of his parents and Zara, or, she supposed, simply inconsiderate of it. The sensible thing of course would be to turn back, to make their way home to Istanbul, but she knew that it would be difficult for Ahmet to accept, and for her, well it felt odd.

Not really thinking, just feeling, she stared at the two options - to push onwards with the adventure on their own, or to return home to Istanbul. It was the feeling of it that led her forwards. The adventure, and all that it entailed, brought forth a very mixed set of feelings, fear, uncertainty, suspicion, but also excitement, and then something a little higher than all these things, something perfectly peaceful and entirely sure of itself, a sense of righteousness, virtue perhaps, perhaps it was something like what Ahmet thought of as heroism, but for her it was present as a gentility - it was the right thing to do, to engage in addressing the world's problems. Pursuing the prophecy, it had been agreed, had its purpose, and returning to Istanbul, the other option, just made her feel so deflated. It wasn't scary, like pushing on into the unknown, but it seemed so less fruitful as a way forwards in the world. It led to nothing but the day of the gutter cat conference, just after the raid, with nothing achieved and no idea of what to do next.

The idea of continuing felt like the better thing, of that she was clear, but judging things on the feeling of it didn't seem to be a reasonable solution at all. She tried to assert her sense of rationale. What were the negatives? Of course there was the risk that they would not succeed - and of all the things that might happen, what would happen was just indeterminable - anything was possible - they might meet an end to the subject anywhere between glorious success and utter failure. They were sure to come up against rooftop knights and alley cat enforcers, and who knew what sort of human and dog lived by the coast, or high up in the mountains. Their chances of actually carrying out the plan to find the prophecy were so limited. And what with the credibility of the quest being so questionable to begin with, it seemed like madness to continue on their own.

She continued to look along the ups and downs of the issues on either side, but found she was only coming up against the same thing. In general, she found that this was the case whenever she had reached the limits of her reasoning powers. In such cases, normally, there was nothing to do but to look for new and better information. This too led her thinking towards pushing forwards. For some reason, although she was not sure what, she felt that the future, as it was set up in her mind, with them going on an adventure and fulfilling the prophecy and saving the world of cats from evil, was full of hope. And so it was with an open and positive aspect that she looked up to find Ahmet racing back towards her.

From the light shining from his eyes, Fatma could tell that he was excited from some way off, but as he got closer, she could also tell that there was some degree of worry present in his reaction to whatever he had found out there, beyond the horizon. In any case, there was news, and she would have more information. 

'Trabzon…' he said, a little out of breath and ill at ease, 'it's not far away - an hour's walk or so.'

'But Fatma' he continued, quickly, without giving her a chance to reply, 'there is a cat, a cat called Balthasar, some sort of gypsy I think, he says he can show us the way to Karendir.'

Fatma was amused. Not only had Ahmet found Trabzon, he had also found Karendir. Clearly, there was no doubt in his mind that they would be going on with the adventure. 

'But did you ask him about the others?' she asked him. 

Ahmet fell a second in introspection, before rebounding to inform Fatma. 

'No' he replied, a little surprised by her question and then by himself for having forgotten about them. He was however not overly disappointed with himself, or critical of his mistake, for Ahmet knew that opportunity had not yet closed its doors on this early waymarker in their quest.

'He is still there!' he continued eagerly. 'He said he would wait for me to get you and then he would explain how to get to Karendir.'

'Okay' said Fatma. 'Let's go then I suppose?'

'Yes' said Ahmet, pausing, thinking, and then giving their crate one last look.

'No doubt the others will already be in Trabzon' said Fatma. 'When we've found them we can come back here and get their things, but let's not carry them now.'

'Yes' said Ahmet, thinking again quickly, 'but wait', before dashing off and disappearing into the crate, only then to reappear after several seconds of rifling and rustling with a small bundle in his mouth. 

'This is the best of the food' he said, 'shall we eat it now? Or later?'

'I think we had better look for the others first' replied Fatma. 'Let's eat after we've found them.'

Ahmet nodded his assent, and with that the two kittens set off along the beach towards Trabzon, and onto Karendir they supposed, ideally then back together with Zara and Ahmet's parents, and so safely restored of their full questing team.

On their way along the beach, Fatma took Ahmet through her thinking so far - what their predicament was and where they stood in relation to the prophecy and adventure.

The critical point, she explained, was finding the others in Trabzon, or understanding where they were if not there. It was only if they couldn't find the others that they had any real thinking to do, for then they were faced with the decision of whether to pursue the prophecy alone, or return to Istanbul, unfortunate and empty-pawed. 

On the second point, she told him, she thought best to defer discussion, as it really didn't do to dig into the worst of ideas when reality offered guidance only an hour's walk ahead. 

Ahmet nodded at her reason agreeably, but with a happy equanimity that would have maintained itself before any number of arguments. It was clear to his heart that they were adventuring right there and then, and that whatever happened along the road, it would only lead to more adventure. Ahmet gave no credence to the proposed critical point at which reason might hold firm and prevail over heroic progress. Not going on an adventure was a betrayal of his heart that his head simply couldn't conceive of. 

Fatma understood Ahmet, and understood exactly how he was behaving in relation to her recommendations. She had however grown familiar with his reactions, and fond of them. They suited her really. She was doing what she could to bear up the beacon of reason, and Ahmet wasn't doing anything to stop her.

Soon they both fell into contented silence, at peace besides each other, and there slowly sank further, into the deep calm that resides always in the gentle hum of nature - the sally and stroke of wave upon shore, the call of the gull and its glinting white sweep, the flame-flicker of fish darting beyond the safety of the deliciously silver shoal. Ahmet was conscious of being hungry, and Fatma of being slightly stressed, the nag of imperfect planning persistent as a throb at the extremities of her brain, but neither cat strayed far from nor was caught beyond the borders of their assumed serenity. 

Fatma felt as though fallen from a dream when finally she felt Ahmet bring their walk along the beach to a close, changing the tense of his stride and coming to a strutted stop in the sand, then pointing forwards with the raise of a paw and a puff of the chest. 

'There' he said, 'are the steps up to Trabzon, and besides them, when we get there, you will see Balthasar, sat off to the side.'

Fatma assessed the place pointed at by Ahmet. It seemed innocuous enough, and looked more or less as it should, but she could not help but feel as though the simple success of their arrival was somehow dissembling. She felt the scene to have an underlining of malaise, which she could not account for, the uncertainty of which prompted indecision. She felt like saying 'Wait! We should not go there!', but this seemed ridiculous - how could she explain herself? So settling away from such unreasoned behaviour, she ushered them forwards with her eyes. In only a few moments, they had arrived at the steps and were thus confronted with a grinning gypsy cat sat scruffily in a corner between cliff and town wall.

Fatma wasn't at all sure where to place him, but seeing this meeting to be a moment of significance in her investigation, she made especially sure to scan his appearance and behaviour for meaning.

He was ever so unkempt - dirty and his fur untidy, sticking up in all sorts of undignified places - that he was unpleasant just to look at, but not only through lack of grooming, for from his capacious, roving eyes, and from his shifting, lecherous grin, there seemed expressed a most disturbing energy - sweet, but sickly, enticing, enveloping, and so very hard to keep focus on. 

'You must be Fatma' she heard, then checking her mind to find that the cat was talking to her.

'Your friend Ahmet here said you were looking for Karendir. It isn't too far I think, possible for you to get there today I should say, or by early evening at the worst if you set off at a good pace while the day is yet young.'

Fatma felt herself about to agree with him - 'Yes they were looking for Karendir and she was pleased to find out that they might get there today' - but she stopped herself. The others - that was the critical point - what had happened to the others? Struggling to assert herself she gushed out her reply.

'Thank you… Balthasar… Yes we were on our way to Karendir but we were separated, from three other cats, one elder of the gutter cats of Istanbul, Zara, and Ahmet's parents. Our crate fell off our ship you see, in a storm, and the others were left on it. We had hoped we would find them here, in Trabzon, where our ship was heading. Did you see the ship? Did it arrive? Did you see three cats? Perhaps they were looking for us?'

Balthasar looked most taken aback by this news. 

'How awful! How distressing for you both! You must have been scared witless! And what, you just drifted in your crate and landed on the beach over there?'

Fatma raised her eyes - yes, she was about to say.

'Ha! My what are the chances?' he roared, looking up to the heavens as if to share in some secret joke, that sat quite apart from their misfortune at sea.

His face then fell in an instant, as if suddenly realising the matter. 

'A ship you say?' he said, now concerned and caring. 

'You've lost your parents Ahmet? Why didn't you tell me? No, I haven't seen any ship come in, and you're right, there is normally one that comes in from Istanbul, yes now I think of it, normally it would have come in this morning, but it didn't, and I should know, I've been sitting here since yesterday lunchtime!'

'Of course, I wouldn't worry, I'm sure they are absolutely fine, the others I mean - the cats you are looking for. I mean, I haven't heard any news of a ship wreck, or for that matter of any survivors being found along the beach, except yourselves of course! So I'm sure they'll turn up somewhere soon enough!'

Fatma felt her heart sink. They weren't here, and without them all of the simplicity of purpose she had planned on, and all of the emotional reassurance she had hoped for were so too absent. 

'Would you like to wait here with me?' she heard Batlhasar ask. 

Suddenly she felt sick. It was though a great swirling pressure had fallen from the skies and then set itself in all about her. She felt it move inside her fur and then deeper into her body. It was horrible, and there was nothing she wanted to do more than to run, to get out of this place and to get as far away from Balthasar as she possibly could.

'We need to decide what to do' she somehow managed to reply.

'Come on Ahmet' she said. She then sprang up the steps to Trabzon, distancing herself from Balthasar as quickly as she might.

Ahmet followed her, his mind still only thinking of onwards.

'What about Karendir?' Balthasar could be heard shouting after them. 

'Don't you want to know the way?'

'I shall tell them you are heading that way if I see them!'