I wrote and published “About a Fish & a Cat” in Derafsh-e Mehr, a literary journal that I managed at the University of Mazandaran. It is a tribute to my neighborhood, Azimiyeh of Karaj. Asbi square is the main square in Azimiyeh. If you like to read the original Persian version of this story, it has also been published on Sinarium: «درباره ی ماهی و گربه».
Among the numerous statues of horses scattered on Asbi Square[i], there are a few pools in which people release their Nowrouz goldfishes[ii]. The fish live in those pools for the rest of the year. But usually, not many of them survive until winter.
Many things shorten the lives of the fish. As long as the schools are open, the kids chase them with sticks and stones. During summers, the dirty and sludgy water kills the fish. During winter when the surface of water frosts there wouldn’t be much food to eat. During all the seasons the big enemies of the fish, the cats are there to ambush around the pools and attack the fish that swim near the edge of the pools, or eat the dead fish that are washed to the edge. And sometimes the birds who live on the pines trees on Asbi Square hunt the fish that swim near the surface of the water. But the same as any other creatures, the fish have a huge enemy that cannot be compared to any other: The fish themselves!
For the people who joyfully and peacefully watch or feed the fish in the pools, it is hard to believe what competition is taking place in these pools. They don’t know how difficult it is for a little fish to find food here; the larger fish don’t have any mercy. Have you ever seen the fish fight?
My parents and I, alongside with much other fish lived in these pools. I said we lived because now I am the only inhabitant of this place. I had a good life until the fall of this year. The life of a kid is tough in such a crowded place, but my mother took care of me. When we needed to eat, my mother and I would hunt together_ until fall of this year.
I loved my mother very much. But I hated my father. He was never with us; he was after his own business. My mother raised me all by herself. Without my mother, I would have never lived to this age. As much as I can remember, my father not even once showed me affection; as if I wasn’t his daughter. He had no feelings for his wife either. He didn’t have any feelings even when my mother got killed; he wasn’t even sad.
Until the fall the population of the pool grew very much smaller. Most of the fish had died in a way. It was a day in final days of fall when my mother was swimming near the edge of the pool when that cat attacked her _a cat with a blind eye. They said he had lost his eye in a fight. He was one the worst villains in the world. God knows how many others he had killed. His looks got stuck in my mind; though not many cats live around here. I vowed to take revenge on him.
From then on my life became so much difficult. By winter coming, the food became scarce. And soon there were no fish in the pool, but my father and I. It was just my father and I. But can you believe that then I even ate less food? Can you believe that someone has to compete for food with her own father? He beat me for a piece of food several times. And he took the best part of the pool, and I had to live in the coldest and most dangerous parts and feed on his leftovers.
But when you live in one of these pools for a long time and have to always hide from one hole to another, gradually you will begin to learn about the different things that take place in Asbi square. For example, you will learn about how other inhabitants of this square are competing with each other. You will learn that the one-eyed cat has a young son who has not a happy relationship with his father.
Asbi Square was the territory of the one-eyed cat; and he didn’t want to share it with anybody, not even his son. The best sleeping place and the best food was one-eyed cat’s. And he didn’t have a rival. He had lost his one eye a long time ago in the fight for territory. And the other cats knew he was not scared to lose his other eye to save it. Even the humans were scared to approach him because he was so huge and savage.
On many occasions when I crept into one dark corner of the pool I could hear his skinny son with his bulging eyes and his long neck grumbling and grinding his jaws out of fury and mutter: “I wish you’ll go under an 18 wheeler and be crushed into a thousand pieces so that the whole world will get rid of you! Old greedy cat!” One should respect the pride of a young cat, or he will hold a grudge against even his closest relatives. But this grudge of the young cat struck me with an idea. I thought about it for a few days until I made a good plan _a plan that was good for both of us.
An afternoon I went to the very place where the young cat lounged and grumbled. I stopped at a reasonable distance so that I would be safe if the cat attacked me. I called him: “Hey, hey, cat!”
The cat alertly stood up and looked around.
_ “I’m down here.”
As he spotted me his eyes were about to pop out.
“Are you fed up with your life?!” He asked in extreme surprise.
“Listen, I have important things to tell you,” I said quickly.
_“You have 5 seconds to speak, or…”
_“Be sure if it isn’t worth being heard I would have never put myself in such danger. What I want to tell you is important for both of us.”
_“Speak up then my supper!”
_“We have a mutual problem. You fix mine; I fix yours!”
_“What? What are you talking about?”
_”You see; I know how you feel about your father.”
Suddenly he froze in the same spot. “If you were in my shoes you would have learned about everything too. But don’t be scared, I didn’t have spoken to a soul. I’m here to tell you I have a similar problem.” The cat was still silent. “I have a good plan. I’ll help you get rid of him. You’ll be the new king! But on one condition: dump my damned father. For you it is a double ride with one ticket, right?”
The cat stammered a bit a then said: “Such a thing is impossible. Nobody can fight my father.”
“Fighting anybody needs a special method,” I said. “Everybody knows what a greedy and selfish creature your father is… And he won’t make an exception even for his own son.”
“Now, what’s your plan?” The cat asked hesitantly.
“I’ll go to where your father usually sleeps, early tomorrow morning,” I explained. “You come near the pool and splash the water with your paws and make some noise. But be careful not to fall in the water because there the edge of the pool is covered with sludge and is slippery. And when your greedy father wakes up and sees how his young son has become brighter than himself and has found such a fine prey early in the morning, he will do anything to catch me before his son does. And exactly when he is busy doing this you’re gonna’ push him into the water. And it’s gonna’ be impossible for him to get out_ I promise. But don’t forget what you’re gonna’ do for me!”
The young cat liked my plan. He agreed to do as I told him to do, tomorrow.
Early next day morning I went to where the one-eyed cat was sleeping. The young cat came and did what I had told him to do. The one-eyed cat woke up and saw his son squirming in one meter away from him near the pool. He jumped up and approached him. As he saw what a fresh and pretty fish he had found, he gave out a snort and yelled: “Get out of the way, son!”
“It’s my fish. I’ve found it.” Said his son.
“Shut up silly. You are born to eat the leftovers. Get out of the way before it escapes.” Said the one-eyed cat crossly.
“I came here first. It is mine, whether it runs away or not.” Said the young cat.
The one-eyed cat tired of arguing with him slapped him in the face and said: “Shut your mouth! Next time I’m gonna’ break your neck!”
The young cat who tripped and fell a few centimeters backward covered his face with his paw. The one-eyed cat saved the moment and came toward me. His mouth watered as he saw me again. I pulled myself back toward the middle of the pool a little. The cat thought I was going to escape, so he hurriedly came forth, stopped by the edge of the pool and leaned toward me as much as he could. He was only a little away from me when the young cat unhesitatingly, with all his strength, pushed him forward. The one-eyed cat slid and fell into the pool. Paddling his paws he tried to get out of the water, but every time he went near the edge, his son pushed him back again into the water. And the one-eyed cat who saw death before his eyes begged his son for mercy:
_“Son! My dear Son… Save me. I beg you. My sweetheart, I’m your father! You’re gonna’ have half of my territory! No_ have all of it. Just don’t let me die. I beg you!”
“Even now all of it is mine.” Replied the young cat with a severe and indifferent look on his face.
The one-eyed cat paddled a little more and finally floated on the water with his mouth open, like a piece of flesh.
When I assured he was dead, I went near the young cat and said: “Congratulations young king!” And he laughed with pleasure. Then I told him: “But there is one more unfinished work to do…”
“Yes, you’re right, pal.” He said. “Tell me what to do?”
My father slept somewhere in the middle of the pool, around the legs of one of those cement horses that stood in the pool. He thought that it was the safest place. And of course he was right; unless you have a daughter who gives away the path to reach the center of the pool to a cat!
_“Look, my dad sleeps there in the middle of the pool. From what I know about my slothful father, he won’t wake up until a few hours later. So, be relaxed. If you follow the path I show you, be sure you are going to be safe. Go celebrate your kingdom with a nice breakfast!”
I showed him the way. The cat stood on the edge of the pool and doubtfully took the first step on the ice. He made a few more steps shivering with fear. After he went forward a little more, gradually he felt more confident and then began smiling. When he reached the middle of the pool, he turned his head to me and mimed: “Where is he?”
“Go a little more,” I replied.
He stopped just above my father’s head. He liked to sleep where there was a hole in the ice so that he could be ventilated. The cat leaned towards the water without making the slightest noise. Raised his paws, and then swiftly put them into the water and threw my dad on the ice. And before my dad who was wiggling on the ice could realize what had happened to him, he put his paw on his stomach, bit his head and cut it off from the cheeks with a few strokes. Then he raised his neck and smiled at me while my dad’s head was hanging from his teeth. And I smiled back in response.
He spat my dad’s head into the water, grabbed his body with his teeth and made a movement to walk off the ice. He shook his head in my direction and looked at me questionably meaning “Where should I go?” And I yelled “Just go straight from where you are.” not feeling any danger anymore. And I swam to somewhere else to place myself right in front of him.
The young cat was walking fast, and he could not wait to take my father to a corner to eat. But suddenly he stopped. I think he had heard something. He wanted to turn back, but in less than a second he was in the water up to the top of his head. The ice under his feet had broken, and he didn’t even get the moment to save some air in his lungs. He swallowed a bunch of ice-cold sludgy water. While he was hysterically splashing the water with his paws, each time his head came out of the water he just repeated: “Why? Why? Why? Why…” What a stupid question! Why?! He really didn’t know why? Did he really think I would be satisfied with one pool or a few pools? Didn’t he think that I wanted all of Asbi Square? Didn’t he understand that I wanted to get rid of all of the cats in this neighborhood so that my children and I could live here peacefully? Was he really this simple?! What did he think? Only stupid creatures consider simplicity and honesty to be virtues. With honesty, you’ll just be an underdog. But I didn’t want to be that. Yes, I did something that nobody dared to do!
A few hours later, a janitor who was cleaning Asbi square, took the frosted body of two cats and a beheaded body of a big goldfish out of the pool with his shovel, while murmuring something and shaking his head. I think he pitied them… silly.
The pool is almost empty. I am the only one who has survived. All of Asbi Square pools are mine; that means the entire Asbi Square is mine_ Ha-ha! I have done my duty for now: I’ve avenged my mother’s death, I’ve emptied the square out of the cats, and I’ve wiped out my coward dad. And Nowrouz is coming in a few days, and people are going to release their fish in the pools, and I am going to become the queen of the fish of Asbi Square_ without a rival!
[i] Asbi Square is located in Azimiyeh neighborhood in the city of Karaj, Iran.
[ii] Nowrouz is an Iranian holiday lasting for 13 days which marks the beginning of spring and the year in the Iranian calendar. It is customary for people to buy goldfish and keep them in a fish tank until the 13th day of Nowrouz when they finally release them in rivers, lakes, or pools.