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  • Litter
  • Anum Asi (bio) and Joey Yu (bio)

fiction, Pakistan, cats, kittens, caretaking, family, mother, daughter, children, nurture

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Nadia knows, when the mother leaves them, that they will die. They lurch from side to side, low on the ground, ears folded over into crinkled triangles. Claws soft, mouths brown with dirt, meowing in the damp soil of the flower bed.

"What should we do?" Karim asks.

"We can't just leave them there," says Nadia.

"They'll get onto the road. Or the billas will eat them."

She was returning home from Gizri, planks of wood for a shelf she is designing piled in the back seat of her car, when she saw the kittens in the flower beds just outside their gate. Now she lifts each kitten into a cardboard box, feeling the struts of their ribs against her fingers, considering. Nadia and Karim live with his dadi, who has taken care of Karim since both his parents died in a plane crash, earning him the lifelong pity of all his relatives and the word bechara permanently affixed to his name. But even bechara Karim won't be able to convince Dadi to let them keep a brood of five kittens in the house.

"Take them to the butcher's shop by the bridge," says Karim's phuppo. Tahira Phuppo visits Dadi each morning before work to check up on her health. She is in and out in under ten minutes, impeccable and smooth, hostile to inconvenience. "There's food, chichras. And maybe some other cat will find and mother them."

The kittens' eyes are shut, swollen mounds suggesting the dark liquid of iris and eyeball underneath. They jerk their heads blindly through the air, searching for the warmth of fur and teat. [End Page 112]

"Decide based on what you can do," Tahira Phuppo says, before getting into the driver's seat of her car parked by the gate. "Wasim doesn't have time to feed them."

Wasim cooks for everyone in their house and often the houses of various aunts and cousins as well, in addition to managing all the tasks that keep their household running: making and freezing shami kababs, airing out mattresses and carpets, keeping up with Dadi's pill regimen, taking her on her daily outing to the park with her walker.

Karim puts Nadia's fears into words. "Should we just call the rescue people? Maybe they can put them to sleep."

"We can try to feed them," Nadia says.

A skinny brown cat slinks into the garden and Nadia nudges Karim. "Maybe that's the mother," she says. The cat doesn't come near the kittens. Instead she goes around the corner of the house. Karim follows her and Nadia hangs back as the cat makes her way to the dim alley by the kitchen door where she usually receives scraps. The neighborhood cats eat everything that Wasim lobs at them—giblets, carrot peels, spoiled bread. In the gloom of the alley, Karim shines the flashlight from his cell phone at the cat and sees a melting pink wound underneath her tail.

"Maggots!" he tells Nadia as the cat, startled by his gasp, runs away.

The same thing happened to a kitten that Nadia and Karim had rescued from under the wheels of a rickshaw, just after they got married. Karim's dadi is allergic, so the kitten stayed outside, half-feral but open to petting and stroking every now and then. Then she got pregnant and ran away. The next time Nadia saw her she had a wound the size and consistency of a raw chicken breast on her flank, pulsing pinkly. Nadia cajoled her into a picnic basket and took her to the vet. The vet dug out maggots with a curved silver pick. But within a week, the wound had blackened.


Nadia's mother calls while the two of them are standing in the alley wondering what to do.

"I'm coming over," she says on the phone, and then appears just a few minutes later in the back seat of a rental car. She's in town...


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pp. 112-117
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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