Image by Dim Hou from Pixabay 

SCR-E--E—C—-H! The car came to a halt as little Bappa stood in shock. In front of the monstrous Jaguar stood a feathery white and grey cat, with its back raised like a hump on a camel's back like he had seen them in "Sonar Kella" (Golden Fortress). The creature was least perturbed, daring the car to have a go at it.

Bappa dashed across the road and picked the cat up in a flash as he heard the driver badmouthing some choicest epithets at it. Surprisingly, the cat started shivering in his hands and became quite timid with its tail still up. Bappa ran home with the cat in his hands. It was the most beautiful cat he had seen in his life.

"God! What the hell have you brought home this time?" Tanmoy Babu, his father, barked from the entrance to his house. "Put it down. Put it down at once. There is no knowing what disease you may get from this horrid, stray cat!"

Bappa stood at the door without the slightest intention of carrying out his father's order. His father's screaming brought his mother out into the courtyard.

"Where did you get that cat from, dear?" His mother, Chhanda Devi asked as she came out of the kitchen.

Finding his mother coming on the scene, Bappa heaved a sigh of relief.

"I was going to Dwip's when I found this cat being nearly run over by a car. The driver's uncle was so rude. Instead of trying to help, he was cursing the cat and its owner… "

His response made his parents take a closer look at the cat. It was not a stray but a pet cat. The smooth feathery fur made it clear. The black spots and patches all over its body coupled with the sea green eyes and feathery tail endeared it even to his parents after a while.

"Somehow the cat must have gotten lost. The owner may be looking for it right now. Let me go out to see if anyone has lost a cat or not."

Tanmoy left soon afterward, leaving Bappa looking all gloomy and worried.

"Can you give it some milk, Ma? The cat may be hungry." As Chhanda Devi was going back to the kitchen, Bappa, petting the cat, asked his mother, "What if its owner comes looking for it, Ma?"

"You will have to give him back, Bappa. Just think how much the owner must be missing such a beautiful cat."

Bappa looked crestfallen at his mother's words and was about to follow his mother into the kitchen when Chanda Devi stopped him. "Don't bring it inside, beta. You know how annoyed your father will be. Besides, growing too fond of it in a short while may not do you any good."

But Bappa was looking at the pitch-board cartoon beneath the staircase instead. Good. It would serve as the cattery for the time being. He held the cat nearer to his chest with one hand while with the other he picked up the cartoon.

Soon, the cat had a comfy place to stay in. Bappa found some torn clothes and spread them inside the cartoon to make a bed for the Siamese beauty. And when it started licking and lapping the milk up from the bowl with the blackened bottom, Bappa's happiness knew no bounds.

He started calling it Bichchhu. Bichchhu became the center of Bappa's life for the next couple of days. The night it rained cats and dogs, he insisted on the cartoon being brought inside his room so that Bichchhu did not get frightened by the thunder and flashes of lighting.

It was a late Friday afternoon when Bappa came back from school to find a bespectacled, elderly man talking to his father. The moment Tanmoy Babu saw him, he cried out, " Bappa, this is Mr. Sen from Ananda Palit Road (a nearby locality). The cat you found the other day belongs to him. He has come to take it back. Can you hand it back to him?"

Bappa snailed across the courtyard to the place beneath the staircase. Bichchhu was not in there. It took him sometime more to find out that Bichchhu was trying to get a cockroach out of a corner behind the almirah in his mother's room. When he came out with the cat, he was trying his best not to cry in front of the stranger.

"Yours is a good cat, Mr. Sen. It has behaved itself quite well in the last couple of days. I have never seen a cat like yours. It never shitted or peed inside the rooms. You must have trained it quite well……"

Though Tanmoy did not notice the tears welling up in his son's eyes, Mr. Sen turned to Bappa and said, "You seem to have grown quite fond of Bichchhu. Don't you? (Why did he call Bichchhu by the same name? Bappa wondered.) To tell you honestly, he makes life hell for my wife and me at times. I don't even know how he sneaked out of the flat the other day! Thank you for saving him. I was thinking of asking the Corporation people to come to pick him up and dump him in the pound."

"Can I… . can I, in that case, keep him for a few more days?" Bappa couldn't help asking as his father looked sternly at him. It seemed like Mr. Sen was just waiting for such a god-gifted opportunity.

"You want to keep Bichchhu? That'll be a great favor, Son. I've to reach my wife at her parents' in Alipurduar in a day or two. Both my wife and I didn't know whom to ask for taking care of him in our absence. If you can keep him for a week, I shall be much obliged. I'm even willing to pa… " he cut his speech short in the middle looking at Tanmoy Babu. Then he hastened to add, " Of course, if it isn't a problem for you."

"Can I keep him forever then?" The request just came out of his mouth while Tanmoy Babu blurted out, "What kind of request is that, Bappa? Where are your manners? The cat must be like a child to them." Then turning to Mr. Sen, he added, "I am sorry. He's gotten very attached to the cat in the last few days… "

But Mr. Sen broke into a smile. "If it is okay for your parents, you can keep Bichchhu even forever on the condition that you'll keep us updated about him. In case, there is any problem, let me know at the earliest and I'll do whatever I can. Thank you, Son, for saving us."

But it was Bappa who was thanking God for letting him keep Bichchhu. The friendship that developed between him and Bichchhu in due course of time was something worth making a movie about.

.    .    .