On a typical evening in Mombasa, an old coastal island on the Indian Ocean, the air is usually heavy and humid. Local inhabitants and tourists will often be seen sitting in groups, in open air restaurants and cafés or on their front porches. They tell stories and call out to passers-by until late into the night. In the narrow alleys on the less attractive part of town, less savory characters are known to peddle the wares of the night, bodies and drugs. At least that is what I’ve heard. I would be lying if I said that I’d seen it with my own two eyes.
It was on such a night that I sat on my small, cramped living room floor, swatting flies with one hand and trying to fan myself with the other. I silently wished I had a third hand to wipe away the sweat that was making a tingling path on the side of my face to drop down my chest and continue its slow crawl into my navel.
Inevitably, I decided to step out onto the back porch. Our apartment block was a concrete jungle, enclosed in a walled fence and cemented all round to reduce the maintenance costs that would be required to keep a gardener on. I don’t have green fingers anyway and I dread the creepy crawlies that are attracted to plants. So, I lowered myself onto the sole reed chair that adorned that part of the house and let the darkness envelop me. I watched the shadows play along the wall and listened to the chirping of crickets, which at that time of the night was the only evidence of life in my neighbourhood.
Eventually, I was jarred from the calmness of my little, dark haven by my phone. It was my younger sister.
“Where are you?” She asked the question that has replaced “hallo” in most telephone conversations these days.
“At home, sitting with the crickets. Why?”
We had our half-hour conversation, routine stuff about work and family and life, but as she was hanging up, she said, “You’d better watch out for the djinis. They’re probably watching you right now.”
I’m sure my sister’s words would never have come back to me had I not had the encounter that that I’m about to narrate to you.
I had just hung up when the largest, furriest tom cat I ever saw walked up to the porch. I thought he was just passing by; after all, Mombasa has a high population of stray cats. But no, he stopped and looked straight up at me.
“Helloooo, “I cooed, expecting that he wanted to get some friendly attention.
“Where did you come from?” I asked in that sing song voice we tend to adopt when we talk to animals (I assume you do too).
But this was not a tom cat out to play, the brown and white fur on his back bristled. He bared his sharp pointed teeth and emitted ferocious sounds as he approached me.
I threw the first thing I could lay my hands on at him – my house slippers, and ran in to the kitchen, banging the door behind me. His first instinct when he saw the shoe come at him was to retreat, and then he came back at me with all the anger he could muster. I stared at him through the window, shaken by the vicious attack. Our eyes met, and my adversary came purposely toward me, hopped on to the window ledge and stared at me through the glass as if to say, “Open this window if you dare, and then you’ll know who I am.”
I left him at the kitchen window and went to the living room, shaken but not yet completely out of sorts. In fact, I wouldn’t have remembered that incident either, until I woke up the next morning.
Tomcat had been busy. He had torn my favorite reed chair and the abandoned house slippers to shreds, defecated outside my door and poured my trash. He had scratched my window pane with his claws, probably trying to figure out how he could get to me.
“What did I ever do to you,” I muttered angrily as I cleaned up the mess.
I recalled my sister’s words and regretted that I had always dismissed some people’s theory. They say that cats’ bodies are the preferred host for evil spirits. They go where people don’t go, they see everything and they are capable of anything. I installed an air conditioner the next day. I will never sit on my back porch.