I looked towards the cage again. I was surprised to see the animal. I had never seen such an animal in my lifetime. I looked at my friend. He was smiling blissfully. He was content.
“How much did you buy it for?” I asked.
“Quite a lot, my friend, quite a lot!” He said.
I was pretty sure that it was quite high. Or else he wouldn’t have avoided telling me the amount.
“But why did you buy it? I never knew you had a thing for cats. Or any animals for that matter.” I said.
“First of all, it’s not exactly a cat. Second of all, look at it. Have you ever seen such an exquisite animal? Look at the stripes. It’s like a little tiger. A mixture of cat and tiger. But I would like to think it is a tiger.”
I glanced again towards the cage. What I saw bewildered me to no bounds. My friend was right. It wasn’t exactly a cat. I had never seen anything like it. It had yellow and black stripes just like a tiger. If it were not for its size, anybody would have said that it was a tiger. Yet, its size was that of a cat. It was sitting down now. And even the body movements and the sitting down posture, it looked or should I say it perfectly mimicked the tiger. It was an amazing creature. The cage was about 4 feet in length and 2.5 feet in height. I thought that the cage was a little too small for a creature like that.
“It’s a small tiger.” My friend Ganesh exclaimed. It was evident that he was quite taken by the creature. I was not sure where he got it from.
“Is it a tiger cub?” I asked. This thought had occurred to me. I had seen tiger cubs, but only on TV.
“No, no it’s not a tiger cub. It’s a tiger cat.” He laughed.
“A tiger cat!” I exclaimed. “Ganesh, where did you buy it from? And whom did you buy it from?” I asked. My tone was curious and excited.
When Ganesh had called me earlier today and said that he wanted me to see something, an animal like this was the last thing on my mind. I could sense the excitement in Ganesh’s voice. My curiosity got the better of me. And of course I had nothing else to do. So, I got to his house as soon as possible.
“A Chinese gentlemen from Chinatown sold me this. Yesterday evening, I had gone there for a dinner party. After the dinner was over, everybody left. I was waiting for a bus to come along. That’s when I saw this beauty opposite the bus stand. I got intrigued by it. So I went to the store. I asked the Chinese gentleman about this animal. He said it was a rare breed. Believe me, it was looking amazing in that golden cage. It has such beautiful movements. Such elegance in an animal. I knew I had to buy it.”
“Are you sure, he said it is a mixture of cat and tiger. I mean, I never have even heard of such a cat. But I could be wrong.” I said.
“It’s a tiger cat. That’s what the Chinese gentleman told me. It brings good luck. I tried to buy it. But he wouldn’t sell it. I kept raising the price. But he wouldn’t care. He said it is an important member of his family. But I was adamant. I said I wouldn’t go without taking the animal.” My friend hesitated for a moment and then continued. “So in the end, he agreed to sell me this magnificent creature. But when I was taking it away, the Chinese gentleman said that, it doesn’t bring good luck to everybody. There is a hard price to it. But what is a hard price for good luck. Right? So I took it.” Ganesh was still grinning. He looked like a man who had just found a treasure of gold.
“Have you let it out yet? I mean, has the cat or the tiger cat come out of the cage?” I enquired.
Ganesh shook his head. His face gave a wince. “That’s just it. It refuses to come out. I opened the cage door. But it doesn’t want to get out.”
“Perhaps, this new surrounding is upsetting him. Perhaps he is missing his old master.” I said.
“Yes. Perhaps.” Ganesh replied. I saw a shade of sadness pass over his face. But it was momentary. And I could have been wrong.
But I had a nagging feeling that something was not right. Eventually I guessed if my friend was happy, who was I to interfere with his life?
I glanced at the cage. I saw the animal. Even its face was like a tiger. The more I looked at this amazing creature, the more I got convinced that it was more of a tiger and less of a cat. Only the size of the animal was small. In all other aspects I found the animal to be more tiger and less cat.
“What does it eat?” I asked Ganesh.
“That’s just it. I didn’t ask the Chinese gentleman about his eating habit. So today I got fish from the market. But he is refusing to eat it. He is just turning his mouth away. He is only drinking water for now.”
“But cats eat fish.” I said.
Ganesh nodded and looked at the animal, still smiling he said, “But he doesn’t. I am thinking of giving him chicken. Let’s see whether he likes it or not. But I am sure of one thing though, my luck is changing.”
After some time, we got up. Ganesh said he was going to the market to bring food for his precious animal, while I left for my home.
After two days, I left office early. I was very interested in my friend’s new pet. So I went to the National Library to research on cats. Any type or breed of cats. Very soon I came across this breed. The tiger cat! I read up the material. It said tiger cats are a direct breed of the tigers found in Asia. However, they are mainly cats. They are extremely rare to find. Not even 400 of them exist today. And most of them are found in China. I saw the attached photo of the tiger cat. I must say what I saw at Ganesh’s house didn’t actually match with the photo. But I was getting confirmed that what I saw was indeed a tiger cat.
Three more days had passed. I was busy with my work and I had completely forgotten about Ganesh and his tiger cat. Suddenly on the sixth day, Ganesh called. He sounded very worried and scared. He was rambling on and on about his tiger cat. He said he was going crazy with it. He was unable to go outside, because he didn’t want to let this tiger cat out of sight for one moment. And he was hooked on to it. He just couldn’t take his eyes off it. And something terrible was happening to it. I tried to calm him down and asked him what had happened. But he couldn’t say. He said, he couldn’t call anyone and he thought about me. He had shown this creature only to me and now he wanted my help. I asked him to calm down and said that I would come to his house as soon as possible. Within the next hour, I reached his house. When he opened the door, I saw my friend’s face. He looked tired, scared and highly anxious. He was sweating and it was evident he had not eaten for a long time.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“Come inside. Quickly. I have to show you something.” He said. He was shivering with fear.
There was a slight noise, something like low growl, coming from the other room. It was in that room where he had placed the cage and the tiger cat. Suddenly, I felt a shiver along my spine. He grasped me and took me to the other room. I could sense his sweaty palms cold with fear. There was a foul smell coming. But I could not identify where this smell was coming from.
As soon as I entered the room, what I saw sent shivers through my body. I was looking at the cage. But what I saw I could not believe. This could not have been possible. Was I seeing things? I saw a large cat or a middle-sized tiger inside the cage. The cage now was completely filled by the animal’s body. It was barely able to move. I could see that it was looking at us. The eyes of the animal were green and it was filled with hatred. I was hypnotized for a moment. I could not shift my gaze. I thought I was paralyzed by fear, by the animal. I will be never be able to forget what I saw that day. My friend came close to me and whispered into my ear. His voice was hoarse. He said, “Do you see? Do you see what has happened to my cat. I can’t understand what happened to him. It is growing daily. I tried to feed him, but he wouldn’t eat. He would only drink water. And every day I watched him grow. I couldn’t go out. I was scared that if I went out, he would escape. And in five days he has grown up to this size. I don’t know how much more will he grow in the coming days. Help me!”
He put so much stress on the last two words that he almost screamed in his whisper. I stood my ground like a lamp post. My brain was still trying to put things logically. I knew what had happened was impossible. Yet I was looking at this…creature, which had grown in size in five days! It was impossible.
I breathed in deeply and with almost a herculean effort I managed to look away. I slowly managed to stagger out of the room. My friend was holding me. He came out too.
I saw a chair and sat down. I was sweating too now. This was incredible. What was I supposed to do? I closed my eyes and breathed deeply for some time. When I opened my eyes, I thought of something.
“Do you remember the place from where you had brought this infernal thing?” I asked. There was anger in my voice. And I did not hide it. I had warned Ganesh earlier. But he kept insisting on keeping this creature.
“Yes, yes I remember.” Ganesh said. His eyes looked pleading. It was as if he was begging to me to take this problem away. He had suffered enough.
“Well. Let’s go there. And find this Chinese gentleman of yours and ask him to take back his animal.” I said in a little more commanding voice.
“Yes. Yes you are right. Let’s go there. We need to find the man. I can’t keep this thing.” He said.
We quickly got out of the building. Initially he was feeling a little insecure about leaving the creature alone in his apartment. But I had to convince him, that it was the only way. Since I didn’t know where he bought this animal from, he had to come with me. It took us an hour and a half to reach Chinatown. We swiftly moved within the narrow streets of the place and reached the shop. Ganesh suddenly stopped. He looked crestfallen. He was standing in front of the shop. But the shutter was pulled down. He frantically searched for a door or some sort of opening. But it was all in waste. I went to the adjacent shop and enquired. The shop keeper couldn’t help me. He said he didn’t know where the owner had gone or when will the shop be reopen. He simply couldn’t tell us anything. Ganesh was looking everywhere. He was asking everyone on the streets. But no one had any idea about the shop.
“Perhaps there is a back entrance. Let’s go in the back to check it out.” He said.
In my mind I knew that this will be hopeless. But I couldn’t refuse. We went across and circled the whole neighbourhood, but there was no door. There was no opening or any entrance. I looked at my friend. He looked around in dismay. He looked so distraught that I felt pity for him.
“Ayushman!” Ganesh looked at me and said, “I have to tell you something!”
I slowly walked to my friend. I had never seen him like this. His face was looking so much older. It was evident that he had not been sleeping properly. In fact, I was quite sure that the last few days, he had not slept at all. He looked visibly thinner. As if, within a few days he had lost at least 10 kilos. This new pet of his was causing him a lot of pain. He looked afraid. He had not eaten too. What had he become?
“What is it?” I asked. I talked quite softly and in a reassuring tone. Right now he needed it.
“Well, the Chinese gentleman, from whom I got this cat.” He stopped. He looked at both sides of the street. He looked reluctant to talk. Yet he was making an effort to say something. He was struggling with himself.
“Tell me the problem.” I held him on his shoulders. I could feel him shaking slightly. His nerves were on edge.
“Well…actually he did not sell it to me.” My friend said. He did not look at my eyes. His eyes looked blankly to the roadside.
“What? What are you saying? Did you steal it?” I exclaimed. This statement of his did not come as a shock to me. I was kind of expecting it. I knew that something was bothering my friend. Perhaps this was it. And in a way, perhaps a certain kind of guilt was overwhelming him.
“I offered the Chinese gentleman a lot of money. But he did not want to sell it. For a moment he went inside the shop. I was just standing there. I had an idea. And that is when I ……” He left the sentence unfinished.
“And that is when you stole it?” I asked.
“I did not steal it. I kept all the money I had on his table. I took the cage and quickly got out of the shop. The cage was heavy. As soon I got out, I got a taxi. I was lucky. I quickly got in with the cage. The cage fitted in the taxi. So it was easy. And I left.” Ganesh finished.
“But that’s stealing Ganesh. Don’t you understand?” I shouted in anger. I was a little irritated. Anger and frustration had crept into me. Only then I realized that what kind of a predicament my friend is in now. I am only feeling his frustration. I took several deep breaths. Ganesh kept looking at me. His eyes looked ever so innocent. I understood that he only wanted to get out of this weird situation. I had to think for him. It was quite obvious that he was unable to think for himself. I had a different idea.
“All right. Listen. I think I have a solution. First, let’s buy a bigger cage to fit the thing. Right ….Right.”
Ganesh nodded. At this moment he would agree to anything I say, I thought.
“Ok. “ I continued, “Then tomorrow, we visit this shop again. If it is closed, then we hire some guys from the zoo, to take this thing in to that bigger cage and from your house to somewhere safe for both of you.”
“What if it doesn’t stop growing?” Ganesh had tears in his eyes now. His voice was almost pleading.
“It will stop growing.” I answered in a loud affirmative voice. But I was unsure of it myself. What if Ganesh is right? No, I couldn’t even bear to think on that line. I need to think positively.
By evening, we had got a bigger and a stronger cage. We took this cage to Ganesh’s apartment. It was un-assembled. The cage had come with rivets and bolts and had to be assembled by the right people. I asked him to wait until the next morning. He followed everything what I said. ‘What an amazing transformation in a man. The same man who was so happy and confident only a week ago.’ I thought. I shook my head in disbelief.
I left his apartment and went home. That night I couldn’t sleep. It would not be wrong to say that even I was a little worried with what I saw. How can any animal grow so large in just a few days? There must be a rational explanation to this. But unfortunately I couldn’t find one. I did not know when I slept that night. But it was a long time later.
When I woke the next morning, the first thought that came to my mind was how was Ganesh doing. I decided to call him right away and ask him about the situation. The phone couldn’t connect. I got ready very quickly and quickly went to his house.
I came up to his door and knocked for a couple of times. But there was no answer. I thought maybe he was sleeping. So I knocked quite loudly the next time. But again there was no answer from inside. My heart gave a miss. Suddenly a cold and an uneasy feeling crept unto me. ‘Was he all right?’
I had started sweating. I knocked on the door a few more times and again there was no answer. I went to his neighbour’s door. A middle-aged looking man with a moustache and light beard opened the door. It was very evident he was sleeping and I had disturbed his sleep.
“Excuse me, I am sorry to disturb you like this so early in the morning. But did you by any chance see or hear my friend Ganesh?” I asked him.
He looked at me. His eyes were slightly open. He was a little confused. But after a second or two, it seems he understood what I said and then he shook his head. I thanked him for his reply and let him proceed with his sleeping. He did now know anything. I looked around. There was no one there. Perhaps Ganesh had gone outside. But then why would he have gone outside? And his door was locked from the inside. He had to be inside. I thumped hard on the door this time. I didn’t care what anyone would think. And I was least bothered about the noise. I kept knocking and thumping and in between calling his name. But still there was no answer. The neighbour had opened the door again. There was an irritated look to his face. I quickly explained to him that my friend was in some deep trouble. And that no one was answering his door. The sleep from his eyes vanished. He said he would call the police. Meanwhile, I decided that I wouldn’t wait for that long to wait for the police. Using all my might, I gave a mighty push to the door. It almost broke. But it couldn’t resist the second push. And as soon I entered Ganesh’s room, I saw an old man lying on the floor. My heart was beating so hard, I thought it would come out. This was not right. I called Ganesh’s name loudly. But there was no answer. Slowly I moved towards that old man who lying on the floor. It looked as if he was at least 100 years old. His skin was dry and shrunken. The hair was white and gray. I looked at his hands, it was bony. As if only the dry skin was on bone. One of his hands was on his chest. His face was twisted as if he was under a lot of pain. His face looked like a skull covered by very dry skin. There was pain in his expressions. I looked at his legs and it was bent in a very awkward way. As if his feet was suffering from severe cramps. The old man was dead. But who was this old man. And where was Ganesh?
Suddenly I thought of the animal. Where was the beast? I nervously looked around. Was it inside the cage or had it broken free and perhaps Ganesh had run away.
I slowly walked into the room where Ganesh had kept the cage along with the tiger cat. What I saw amazed me to bounds. The golden cage was still there. And in one of the corner of the golden cage, there was a small cat, almost the size of a kitten. It was resting and contently licking his paw. I could not believe my eyes. I searched the whole apartment, there was no one else. I knew it but I was reluctant to admit it. I walked nervously towards the old man. The dead old man was my friend Ganesh!