Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Athens Portraits: The Fall

She knew in an instant that she was going down. And going down hard. 

A foot snagged in the netting flung across a shopfront under renovation as she dashed along the over-furnished, over-populated pavement could have no other possible result. That much she knew – been there, done that, time and time again.

Inside her head it played out in tortuous slow motion allowing her time to observe every single detail of the scene. She was powerless to do anything to stop her inevitable slam into the grimy paving slabs dusted with dirt arrived at the bustling port from Syria, Afghanistan, and countless other war-torn and persecution-plagued lands.

Passing faces turned to watch the spectacle. People like her, rushing home at the end of another working day, tired, weary, eager to reach home and put their feet up. They watched, then they turned away. Somebody else’s problem, after all. 

The backpack holding her laptop shot off her right arm and flew skywards, promising its own spectacular touch-down.

And then, impact. Pain exploded like a firework in her left shin – the one already permanently battered and slightly misshapen from last year's unfortunate encounter with a train and that gap you’re supposed to mind. The smash of her right knee was a mere coda to the main event, but it hit at an angle that promised a deeper bruise in the days to come. A heavy “oomph” pushed itself out of her mouth as the breath was knocked out of her, and an ominous tinkling sound rang in her ears from her laptop skidding across the concrete.

Embarrassment overcame possible injury as she dragged herself to her feet trying to brush the dust off her work trousers.

An anonymous hand reached out and touched her softly on the shoulder in a gesture of sympathy and concern, before handing her the backpack. No words were spoken, just a heartfelt glance from deep chocolate brown eyes beneath a dark headscarf. A look that crossed oceans of misery and misunderstanding and spoke a simple, human question: “Are you OK?”

A nod, a shaky grimace and a hand on her heart in gratitude was all she could manage, stunned by the simple act of kindness from a stranger who had probably seen more inhumanity and danger that she’d ever dreamed in her wildest imaginings. She was lost for words.

With a shy smile, the woman in the headscarf bobbed her head and returned to the crowd which quickly swallowed her up and carried her away. 

Wage slaves continued putting one foot in front of the other, blindly, unseeing, eager to get home for their evening meal. None missed a beat or diverted from their path to check on their fallen colleague. The only note of kindness had come from a stranger, from an unknown country, who didn’t know where she’d be sleeping that night, or even if she’d be having an evening meal.

Get the violins out, you're in for a sob story

I never knew my mother. She didn't want me. Left me in a dumpster along with yesterday's leftovers and sticky takeaway cartons.

I was no more than two days old, still had the umblicial cord attached to my belly like some useless, filthy piece of old string Mama dearest had chewed through to sever the maternal bond. 

I don’t remember much from those first two days. I know it was dark (my eyes were closed), and scary, and unknown. Too weak to climb out, and with a hunger gnawing away at me, all I could do was cry. Who knows? Maybe the sound would reawaken some semblance of pity in the female who dumped me like a used paper napkin.

But my mother didn't hear me. No female did. A man did. A big, loud, clumsy fella whose chat and laughter died the minute his oafish ears caught the sound of my mewling when he came to dump his own garbage. The harsh joviality in his voice softened as I felt warm hands scoop me up and a strange cooing sound rain down on me as a work-roughened fingers stroked my head. Before I knew it, I heard doors slam and an engine start up. New smells, very different from the stench I’d been sitting in, invaded my nostrils. I didn’t know anything about anything, except for my fear. And my hunger.

I was put in a box lined with something soft and warm. I snuffled up against it, paddling it with my feet, but was rewarded with no sustenance. But at least it’s smelt safer somehow. I ignored my growling belly and curled up against the softness to sleep.

I awoke to new hands lifting me out of the box, touching me, making soft sounds and trying to push something in my mouth. I fought it, frightened of the invasion, but then a few drop of something warm and wet gave me hope. I grabbed the tiny piece of plastic and began suckling, greedily, frantically. Soon, I was full, and my belly was aching. I soiled myself and was lifted into warm water where my feet paddled to find the way my still closed eyes couldn’t.

But I didn’t need to see to know that, by some kind of random act, I had found my way home. Or rather, it had found me…

That was nearly three years ago. 
The humans are part of my life now, and if I’m honest I’m quite fond of them. Big Red still feeds me every morning (she’s the easiest to wake), and Dangly Man (the one who rescued me from my humble dumpster beginnings) is as soft and forgiving as a marshmallow, even when I knock things off shelves to get his attention.

I even allow them to sit or sleep in my place now and then, just so long as they know they are tolerated as guests who have to serve as pillows.

I mean, a cat’s gotta get its beauty sleep, hasn’t it? 
Especially one that’s had such a rough start in life as I have.