I lost my phone on Saturday, or it was stolen. The entire Sunday, I read a book on Marxism in the Philippines edited by Abinales. I finished reading the book in half a day, all because there was nothing to distract me from reading. Except for one–Tumi’s wailing.

My poor cat kept going back to his litter box, scratching the walls of the pink, square plastic container which I lined with shredded paper bags from 7eleven. A follower on Instagram told me that it’s good to replace the usual cat litter sand with paper as paper won’t be too painful for the cat to claw repetitively when he attempts to poop following a major operation. (Last week, he underwent an operation to remove his ruptured anal sac and to clean the surrounding area covered with pus and abscess.)

Seeing Tumi in pain, neither eating nor drinking, unable to excrete the waste inside his body for four days, and looking at me with so much dependency one doesn’t normally see in a cat was disheartening. He would climb to the bed, clumsily carrying his heavy body to sit next to me. After getting tired of looking at me, he would inch closer and lean his head on my arm while my other hand held the book I was reading. Then he succumbed to sleep, to forget if only for a few minutes the pain and discomfort he might be feeling. Seconds later, his small head was held by my palm; he curled his body like a croissant, but it’s not the cute kind of cat croissant one sees on Instagram. He looked like a baby, and I think among the four cats, it was Tumi who didn’t grow up like a normal cat. It’s as if he’s suspended in animated kittenhood. And for this I feel that he, among my four cats, needed me the most.


I didn’t want to document his suffering. It isn’t my object whenever I take pictures of him sleeping or yawning or walking in the room without any clear direction where he’s heading. In fact, I question the need for Tumi to go through pain in order for me to keep him by my side.

I asked his veterinarian what our options are. The most radical is to open him up again to remove the hardened stool in his large intestine which is a result of his inability to normally evacuate his excretion from his digestive tract.

I said no. I didn’t want him to go through surgery again for my sake. Owning a pet can be a rather selfish thing to do. It’s keeping an animal in a small place, letting him wait for his owner until he finishes his day job, come home to him, feed him and play with him for fifteen minutes, then feel good about providing the animal his basic needs and what little time the owner has left after toiling the whole day, and himself being a version of a pet by someone who’s more powerful, better connected, more moneyed. It’s a little too cynical, but it is.

While at the vet last night, I observed the comings and goings of pet owners who were holding their animals, all dogs, close to their chests, imitating those Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and her child. It’s almost grotesque. The cat owners were different. The cats were caged, the owners aware of the fact that what they have is a semi-wild animal who would not think twice of using their sharp claws in the event they felt their safety is compromised. The cats were as sick as the dogs, but the felines based on how they stared at me knew that they had to be respected, their honor to stay intact in spite of the presence of IV tubes attached to their arms. When the nurse brought Tumi out, I saw an infant looking helpless, meowing to me as if he’s telling me that he needed to be held, that he missed holding my arms while I embrace him tightly.

It was a difficult scene to look at. I do not know what I have done to render Tumi dishonored, to forget that he’s a cat, that he is supposed to be independent of me.

tumi 2

My cats

Juanma has told me many times that I can empathize better with animals than with humans, that I care more for the welfare of my cats than for any of the people I know. I don’t agree with him, but there must be some truth to this observation.

I know when my cats are sick or are sad. I don’t merely anthropomorphize them because through years of raising them I can sense the slight changes in their meows, the drooping of their ears, or the abnormal shedding of their fur as indicators that something is wrong. My four cats are so dear to me that they figure prominently in most of the plans I have for the future.

I’m thinking of getting my third and a bigger condominium unit because I want to accommodate them and take them away from my ex who currently houses them. I think that they’re becoming too much of a burden to him. (Being with four cats while trying to begin a new life after a time with someone can be very difficult. How can he explain to the guys he’s dating the four felines that sit quietly while they talk about what each looks for in a partner? And for this I am most thankful to him for agreeing to provide a home for our cats) Sure, I see them regularly during the week to deliver their food, buy them the best cat food I can afford, take them to the vet for their vaccines and emergency health needs, but I want to see them every day, play with them, and make sure they have the best life I can provide. The condo I currently have does not allow pets and is too small for four cats.

I do not know when I started to be enamored with cats, but it should be when I was still young. Growing up, we never had a pet in the family because our house was practically open and any neighbors’ dog or cat could enter whenever they feel like it. But cats, they have smitten me with their proud demeanor and elegant gait. They look needy but are never.

I had wanted to have a cat but one cannot own a cat. Leave your door open and the next thing they’ll do is escape and find their happiness somewhere.

I believe my four cats will do the same. Sometimes, I intentionally keep the main door of the unit and screen door open to see what they will do. Didi, the youngest among the four doesn’t think twice of zooming out, Mimi hesitates, Priya observes, and Tumi will squeal, but all of them run out just the same.

I know, however, that they will have a difficult time surviving in the street. I’m imagining Tumi meowing at the top of his lungs waiting for me to scoop him up and take him home.

I understand that these four cats are a lifetime responsibility.

They’re the closest I can have to feeling unconditional love. I care for them because I hold myself accountable for them. The relationship I have with my ex has undergone drastic changes, but my relationship with my four cats will never change. I wish for them to stay healthy, happy, and hopefully one day figure out that the reason they still see me bringing a sack of dry food and cans of wet food to their place even though I do not live with them anymore is because I love them.

The tale of our Hachiko

Hachiko is Baby’s gift to me on our third month. I must have hinted that I wanted a fish, and I must have jokingly specified I wanted a fighting fish in one of our late night conversations.

He’s a Siamese fighting fish, doomed to eternally live a solitary life.

I had six pet goldfish when I was in college who stayed with me until just before graduation.  They all perished when my landlady, whom I left them to be taken care of while I was studying in Kuala Lumpur, overfed them with those green-and-red pellets.

I named all my goldfish before so when they died because of my landlady’s over-eagerness, I felt that gaping hole of having lost loved ones. But I never blamed my landlady as fishes have naturally short lifespan, though I won’t deny that I had this urge to serve her coffee mixed with what was left of my fish’s pellets after she told me that she killed my pets.

I can’t have a dog because I move around quite often (and I never really liked dogs; they’re overly patronizing and love licking). Cats are fine because they’re intelligent, independent, scheming, and non-obtrusive, but I can’t have one unless I have a place I own.

I guess, so long as I continue living a life like this, moving from one place to another almost every six months, I can have nothing but fish as pets. I do nothing much except to feed them every morning and change the water in the bowl every weekend.

Then Hachiko arrived.  We had to eliminate other names from our long list–Curry (because that night I cooked curry for my baby, Fynn because of his beautiful fins, Peacock, Cock, Alabama, some other odd-sounding suggestions, then finally, Hachiko). He is named after that faithful Akita dog who waited 9 years for the coming of his master  in front of the Shibuya station in Japan.

My first glimpse of Hachiko was his beautiful fins fluttering in the water inside a fragile glass that was wrapped in newspaper and plastic bag under the bathroom sink. I peeked inside but acted like I did not see anything so I would not spoil my Baby’s surprise.

I had to sneak him to my unit because my condo prohibits its tenants from having pets. A week ago, while moving his tank, I accidentally broke it, so I had to temporarily place him in a plastic pail in the bathroom while I rushed to a hardware to buy a glass tank but ended up in the grocery and bought a transparent cookie jar instead.

The first thing I do in the morning before I start with my morning rush it to check my Hachiko and feed him with flakes (not anymore the green-and-red pellets) that promise to give him brilliant scales and lush fins.

Hachiko has given me something to look forward to after a tiring day. And something to remind me that he’s from somebody whom I love so much and who loves me back as much.

Having fish as pets, again: my affairs with these swimming creatures with orange (or whatever color) scales

I had six orange-colored groupers (I assume) before when I was in college which I bought from one of the lines of illegal pet shops beside Atrium mall in Iloilo. Originally, they were fourteen, but because of over crowding in the small aquarium I borrowed from my landlady, the death toll was so quick that in the span of three days only nine survived. The ailing three died eventually leaving the six bright orange small fish.

I in fact gave them names–they were Marley, Soledad, Trining, Mayang, Carlito, and Carlitito. I know it was dumb to give them names since they all look the same, and they are fish. Fish, unlike dogs, cats, or turtles, do not lend themselves to the fairly idiosyncratic and idiotic human tendency to name their pets. But giving my fish names made me responsible for them; as I associate human attributes to them, my conscience wouldn’t bear not providing them their needs to survive. I was like their father.

They managed to survive 8 months. All of them died of asphyxiation when my landlady overfed my fish. I asked her to look after them when I left for Malaysia to study, but when I came back, the sad news of their tragic death left me in despair. They could have lived longer, say 20 years (I’m trying to be funny), if not for the negligence or paranoid-because-the-fish-might-die-of-hunger thinking of my landlady. By the way, one of  them was named after her.

So this afternoon, while strolling the busy streets of Hanoi on my bike, I happened to pass by a pet store and saw these beautiful fish you’re seeing now. After a short negotiation for the price, my Vietnamese, thank God, is already capable of answering the high demands of the art of bargaining, I got them, plus the fish bowl and the plant, for 60,000 dongs. Not bad, I think.

There’s an orange, bright red, creamy white one, and black one that looks like pregnant. When I was very young, I had this illusion that all fish I caught from the nearby drainage were pregnant because of their bulging abdomens.

I have not thought of giving them names, yet. Maybe they will like it if I give them Vietnamese names. I’m considering Nguyen, Huong, Duong.

One more thing, fish do not require careful attention from me, which I will not be able to provide them on a regular basis; nonetheless, at the same time seeing them swimming inside the bowl, feeding on the plant or the flakes I give from time to time, can divert my attention from reading and writing once in a while.

They’re a breath of life inside my room where unwashed clothes, books, and papers are littered all over. Well at least, aside from me, there are four other organisms inside my room, five, including the plant.

A welcome sight.