The City Heroes
and other stories from the heart of Africa
by: Omoruyi Uwuigiaren
The Outside World:
The night was as dead as a doornail and Lady Tranquility took her seat in the neighborhood. Dag, a frustrated cat in the pool of old age, had nothing better to do than lie on the rooftop of a bungalow that was begging for renovation. The cat gazed at the beautiful earth that spread before him as if it were a balance sheet under the nose of a shrewd accountant.
Dag was not alone. Other cats that had also known misfortune lay around the old cat like a pasture clothed with flocks. Dag cleared his throat and said, “I have no passion for living any more. How can we exist without offending?”
“That is for the next world!” said Fred as he scratched his hindquarter.
Raising his head and yawning, Pork said, “It is impossible to walk through life without enemies. It may be better to live in isolation. But I have yet to see an isolated man who is happy.”
Dag sighed as if the hands of impossibility had challenged him. “Did I tell you my master has not fed me for two nights?” he asked his friends.
“No, but I have heard that bedtime story before,” said Pork as he sighed then turned away.
“I will never forget what that old man did to me,” said Dag as he shook his head.
“I have never seen you in this mood,” said Pork. “Tell us, what did he do to you?”
“Three nights ago I chased a rat into his kitchen. The little devil disappeared into a hole in the wall, which was near my master’s soup pot. I wanted to leave the kitchen, but I knew that as soon as I’d gone, the rat would come out of the hole and devour the soup. So I stayed back to keep vigil over the old man’s meal and possibly snuff the life out of the foolish rat if he ventured out of hiding. As I lay silently in the corner, hoping I would take care of the unfortunate soul if the opportunity presented itself, I heard a squeak and was not disappointed when I raised my head and saw the rat. It was heading towards the soup pot on the table. Seeing that the rat was too close to the pot, I pounced.” Dag paused and fought gallantly to hold back his tears. “But I missed the little devil and fell on the pot, and the soup poured out. The rat, happy with my fate, squeaked and disappeared through a little opening on the window frame.” Dag heaved at the indignity of his memory.
“It was silly of the rat to mock you,” Pork reacted.
Dag continued. “The disturbance almost presented me with a meal, it’s true. But before I had even a taste of the soup my master, an old dwarf of a man, rushed into the kitchen and pointed his torch in the direction of the chaos. He found me at the center of the mess and was disappointed. His face went red with rage because he thought I was trying to feast on his soup. This might have been true if I’d had the opportunity, but before I could blink, he grabbed the broomstick by the doorpost and gave me the beating of my life. When I finally broke free of his angry grip, I fled from the kitchen. That night I slept on a mango tree by the old fence in his compound.”
Pork’s countenance fell. “Anybody in your master’s shoes would have done the same. Don’t get me wrong; I do not mean that you were at fault. You had good intentions, but your master did not understand. Well, such is life! And don’t blame yourself, because mistakes make our world go round. Like every cat, your duty is to get rid of the rats. But that was not your night, Dag, and apparently your master could not understand why such a deed was committed under his roof.”
“I doubt if he will ever trust me again,” Dag said sadly. “I have not been myself since he chased me out of the house.”
“Don’t be drowned by your misfortune. And don’t expect too much from people. Let it go, Dag. The only thing that is constant in life is change. Besides, you are not the only one with a sad story. Fred told me that his master’s new wife doesn’t like him,” Pork said. He looked at Fred, who frowned as if he had not tasted a befitting meal for a while.
“That’s too bad,” said Dag.
Fred spoke in his kindest voice: “Every cat knows how important it is to be loved by the master and his family.”
Dag coughed a bit and said, “So true! At my age, I have no business with people who do not love me. But as long as I get my meals, I’m okay.”
“I understand you, Dag. But what happened to me was a miserable experience. My master’s wife is a witch!” Fred disclosed.
Pork was alarmed. “Ah, that’s a horrible suspicion.”
“I know what I am saying. I cannot count the number of times that she threw me from the balcony,” Fred replied.
“What?” Dag mused. “You mean she threw you from the second story of the building?”
Fred nodded. “Yes! The last time she did it, I fell on top of a car and fractured my leg.”
“So that’s why we didn’t see you for a few weeks,” Dag said with a frown.
“I had to stay away to avoid embarrassing questions,” Fred replied.
“Was your master aware of her treachery?” Pork asked.
“No!” Fred replied.
“That’s where you went wrong. If I were you, I would have disgraced his wife before him,” Pork boasted.
“How?” Fred drew his haunches into a tight ball as the stars began to disappear from the bare chest of the sky.
“Good question… I would make sure he saw me as soon as he returned home,” Pork replied.
“I tried it several times. But the woman always locked me out. My master never once set his large, innocent eyes on me,” Fred said.
Dag cleared his throat as if an idea had flown into his head. “I wonder when all this will end. If we are not beaten, then we are killed without guilt or mercy, like an antelope that strays into the den of a deadly predator.”
“I do not foresee any end to our tragedies because the people do not care about us. They seem to be swimming in a strange pool. They are selfish and self-centered. To be optimistic, our victory might be in the next world,” Fred declared.
Pork disagreed with them: “We are not all suffering. Blaize has a good master and he is doing well.” He looked about. “I wonder why the little soul is not here. Maybe he is under the spell of sleep. Of course that is what to expect when the going is good.”
“Why would a rich cat venture into such a humble neighborhood to find his meal? Blaize told me he has the luxury of feasting on the same fare as his master, whose heart flows with the milk of human kindness,” Fred said.
Suddenly, a strange movement from behind alarmed them. “Who is that?” Dag inquired. He cast a weak glance at the darkness that wrapped itself around the silent night.
“Who do you think?” said a tiny voice, laughing.
Blaize advanced grinning from ear to ear, his tail held high and the tip curled forward. “Good evening, guys?” he greeted.
“Blaize, it’s you!” Dag smiled and thrust his face forward, as if trying to spy a thief on a cold night. “I didn’t know that you would be here tonight. And what is it that you’ve brought with you?”
“A roasted fish—for you guys,” Blaize replied and dropped the meal before them. A ray of hope flushed over their faces. Pork smiled like a man under the spell of liquor. “Fish from you, Blaize?” He moved a few steps closer and smelled the fish. “It smells like the gate of heaven!” he said. Then he looked at Dag and Fred and said, “What are we waiting for?”
And all three cats feasted as if there were no tomorrow.
“The stars have disappeared,” Blaize observed. “Let’s make it snappy; I am afraid it may rain tonight.”
“Rain is good,” said Pork. “It washes the dust away.” Then he returned to the meal.
Blaize was apologetic: “The fish seems not enough for you guys. Perhaps you will need to find something else to eat in the neighborhood.”
“The neighborhood is for all of us,” Dag said, chewing noisily. The joy of all three cats almost reached the high heaven as they licked their mouths and the meal settled well in their bellies.
“Thanks, Blaize,” said Pork. “What a lovely way to begin the evening.”
“What are friends for?” said the fortunate Blaize. “I would give more if I had my way.”
“Now, let’s see what we can get in the neighborhood,” Dag suggested.
Enthusiastic Fred agreed. “Not a bad idea!”
Blaize led the way down the bungalow’s rainspout, and one after the other, they disappeared into the warm hands of the darkness.
1. This story is told from the point of view of:
2. What did Dag and the others have in common?
a) they were all brothers and sisters
b) they all lived in the same house
c) they had all known misfortune
3. What had they all experienced?
a) they were forced to chase mice all the time
b) their masters mistreated them
c) the dogs chased them
4. How did the friends eat that night?
a) they stole fish from a shop
b) they chased mice
c) Blaize brought them food
Special thanks to Omoruyi Uwuigiaren for providing us this excerpt from his wonderful book.