Shanghai was occupied by the Japanese army up until the end of WWII. There were checkpoints throughout the city where sentries stood guard. One was the Garden Bridge over Soochow Creek.
My sister, 11 years older than me, picked me up from school after work (yes, I had to wait until 5 o’clock, always the last to leave school) and went to cross the bridge. As usual, the sentry demanded that we kowtow to him before daring to cross, but Maria was feeling combative that day and refused to do so. The sentry then poked her with his rifle, whereupon Maria flew at him and pummeled his face. The sentry beat her with the rifle butt. I stood there worrying, of all things, about her hat which had flown off her head and into the creek.
Eventually an officer arrived and told the sentry to stand down. He let us go on over the bridge. Maria said nothing all the way home but then shut herself in her room to cry. She was black and blue all over for a week.
She is gone now, but she was a feisty woman. She taught me to dance and to play cards. We sang duets together, and shared passwords and our own language. She was Big Sister through and through.
Whenever I go out then come back inside is the time for treats. Loaner comes to greet me with meows and trills and we go through the ceremony of getting out the tuna fish.
It is the least I can do for her since we have moved to this new place, an apartment with no lemon tree or grass or flowers. She has adapted, I think, but I worry that she cannot bask in sunshine as she has in the past. The rays hit the balcony in a slant and she has yet to go out on it.
If Bijou were still with me I wouldn’t have moved at all. That little cat lived for the outdoors. I miss him and yearn for his shenanigans, his gallops throughout the house, his squeaks that may never have developed into proper meows. Not that Loaner gives out proper meows, more likely croaks.
The heartstrings vibrate in pain and nothing can be done about it.
Our Berkeley Branch of the California Writers Club had a speaker from Egypt, Laila el-Sissi, who was betrothed at the age of 14 to a 39-year-old man she had never met. Her book, “Out of the Shadow of Men,” tells of her life with an autocratic father and an older sister, also betrothed at 15 to a stranger.
Laila has quite a few things to say about the Islam religion and its rigid views on the role of women in it; that is to say, that women have almost no value in Muslim society. She did not sound bitter in her talk but as if she had escaped a prison camp.
The book has been translated into multiple languages and she anticipates returning to Egypt next month for book signings (which engendered an anxiety in me that some man might shoot her expecting to go to paradise for the act). But Laila is going back, nevertheless. May her life be saved.
After almost seven weeks in my our new domicile, my pussycat Loaner has made a solid homestead of my closet. She comes out when it is time for a treat and winds her way around my ankles as if to make up for our separation during her time away from me. We have a balcony but it may as well not exist, as our western exposure and a tall building allows only a brief slant of sunshine to touch us. I worry about its lack for Loaner. I know she misses her lemon tree and the grass — or perhaps she doesn’t; perhaps I am projecting my concerns for her new state of living.
As for myself, I am beginning to connect names with so many appropriate faces. At first it was bewildering — the name would fly out of my head as soon as it was offered — despite my efforts, and the next time had to confess to it in embarrassment. I have made the acquaintance of two women who have achieved the age of 100, and am awed by their ability to walk, much less feed themselves, leading to the introspection of how many years I will be living here. As my final home, I could do worse. I am not truly alone, although a new kind of bravery will be demanded of me. I must find a sense of humor to fit this particular scenario. Like Loaner, I must find my own closet, a state of being to fit the circumstance
Ana, she of the dozens of throwaway cats in her apartment, sends me a petition to stop the vaquejada, an event in Brazil which involves tormenting a bull in the ring.
Two men mounted on horses chase a bull around and around, corner it between them, pull its tail, send it tumbling, and supposedly ride off in triumph.
This “sport” has been banished but is in danger of being revived. People like Ana are distraught over the prospect, and I at a distance cannot find the words to express my dismay.
Why are humans so prone to cruelty? Why do they burn, slash and stone innocent animals? I signed another petition decrying the killing of a three-month-old kitten by a drunken woman. She stomped it to death. Some people are born wrong-headed but it doesn’t take much to turn them even if they are not born with the ugly traits. Take the children who are now taunting Latino classmates with chants of “Build the wall!” Will that behavior improve as they grow up? I fear the opposite.
Ana, my Brazilian friend, has spent decades putting her heart where her convictions are. She feeds feral cats on the grounds at Rio de Janeiro’s Jockey Club and takes home others in need. People leave cats at her doorstep. As of this counting, she has 35 in her small apartment. Imagine the horrific results of this crowding, yet Ana forges on.
She marches with animal advocates, all five feet of her tiny frame, and writes letters to the legislature. She was ferocious when the mayor of Rio ordered the rounding up of feral animals to be killed. This took place in preparation for the Olympics. In her opinion, the man wasn’t qualified to be alive himself. His priorities actually did seem skewed. He did nothing about the sewage in the beach waters. That the Olympics went off without a hitch and did so with no credit to him was sheer luck.
Ana and I worked together at the American School of Rio de Janeiro. After I left to return to California she began her war on cat killers. She is quite a dame, is Ana.
Having just come free of the Japanese army occupation, Shanghai felt the exuberance of the Americans like a power wash. They strutted down Nanking Road, their fore-and-aft covers tilted at rakish angles on their heads while Jeeps rode the streets reinforcing the change in perspective. Not to be outdone, the sailors wore their covers precariously poised over their eyes and did their strutting like roosters in the barnyard.
They made us laugh and then they made us think Americans were like children let out to play. They organized a Rickshaw Derby, with the coolies wearing numbers on their chests as they ran with a pretty Chinese girl seated behind. My parents, sister and I watched from the second-floor window of a restaurant as the rickshaws passed, and we laughed when the winner was draped with a wreath much like a horse.
We did not know, at the time, that these men had come from heroic battles in the Pacific, Iwojima, Okinawa, Guadalcanal, and Tobruk, and they as well as us, were flinging off the fevers of war.