It was a black cat that did it. Breaking the ice, I mean.
One of my pet peeves about Dubai is its general lack of warmth. For a desert city where the mercury stubbornly stays above the 40 degree C mark for more than half the year, the volume of frost here is unbelievable. Even our mouths are set in hard, frozen lines by the time we leave home.
When we come across random strangers, we don’t usually smile and greet them. Instead, we give them a once-over, head to toe and back. In one sweeping glance, we take in their clothesshoeshairmakeupaccessories, and either try to hide the ‘wow’ or dismiss them as hardlyworthbothering.
At times we don’t see them at all, caught up as we are in our own world…one that is most likely smart and rectangular, and comes with a touch screen.
There’s also the fear of rejection, mind you. What’s the guarantee that the smiled at will smile back at you? And who wants to be embarrassed in the big city? Not me, for sure.
Though there are times when I have smiled at perfect strangers, and got equally warm responses. There are exceptions to all rules…
But coming across Annie with her lovely smile and her friend Suma who has an illogical fear of cats was a pleasant surprise. Strangers who smiled and made conversation… I was transported back to my Bombay days (Mumbai for the uninitiated, though I insist on calling the city Bombay whenever I can get away with it) when one used to make train friends, bus friends, friends in the park, friends who shared a queue…
It was yesterday evening that I met them. I had started my usual round of phone calls sitting on the usual bench in the middle of my usual evening walk-in-the-park, when I was startled by something pushing hard against my legs. A black cat, obviously restless and desperate for something. I tried to ignore it, but it refused to be. Finally, giving in, I started rubbing its back in an effort to appease it.
That was when I noticed a girl in her twenties standing there and watching the show, smiling. A couple of minutes later, she came up to me and asked if I liked cats. I don’t, not particularly. Not cats, nor any other animal. A spate of childhood heartbreaks at losing pets has kept me wary of getting too close to any animal. Spatial constraints through most of my adulthood have put an end to any further attempts at keeping pets.
“Maybe it’s hungry,” the girl I later came to know as Annie said. That made sense. So I went to the grocery at the gate of the park and bought a small bottle of milk. On coming back, both the girl and the cat were missing, the latter having decided to pursue other walkers for its needs. I tried to lure it towards me, but to no avail.
Then Annie, who was sitting on a bench at a distance, saw my efforts and led our friend back to me. In between pouring out milk for him, we got talking, and I learned that she was from Bombay. Now that made perfect sense to me. You can take the girl out of Bombay, but you can’t take the Bombay out of the girl.
She also introduced her friend, who was standing well away from the cat. The three of us got talking. I learned where they lived, that they were old colleagues on their way to meet a friend and that they were into market research. I must confess though that between their curiosity and my compulsion to talk, they ended up learning more about me than I did of them.
When we parted at the gate, we parted as friends. A really warm feeling, rare as far as I am concerned. The beginning of the mighty thaw, perhaps?
All thanks to a black cat hungry for milk and some TLC.