The Cat in the Kiosk | Edward Mc Whinney
There was a large cat asleep on a pile of magazines in a newsagent's kiosk. It was a busy street and there was a queue of people, money in hand to buy the newspaper. No one seemed to pay any attention to the cat, yes quite a large cat, sound asleep on the pile of magazines. Is he real, I wondered as I looked in at him through the glass. He had such a perfect face and his nose seemed to have been stitched into place by the neatest, prize-winning hand. He had a patterned snail-coloured fur and I wouldn't be able to hang around long enough to find out the colour of his eyes. Further along I paused outside a barber's shop and thought about going in for a haircut. There were three chairs occupied and two clients with drowsy demeanours waiting on soft leather armchairs beside a low table that had magazines and newspapers scattered over its surface. The girl barber nearest the window had mad tattoos all along a muscular arm. There was a scorpion in black and white, hairy dancers and what looked like a circus clown crying from the top of her shoulder. She was wearing a sleeveless black vest. There were words on the back of the vest. I had to wait a few moments to read them properly as it seemed at that moment important to do so. When she turned to shave the side of her client's head I read what the words were, they were Self-Belief. I wondered did she understand what they meant. She didn't look English with deep sallow skin and wild black hair. Just as I was about to walk away the girl with scissors in hand came to the door and said; Well are you coming in or not? She said it in Spanish with a guttural voice and I suspected that she was a man, I mean a transvestite. There was a step down into the shop and I took it. I sat in one of the leather chairs and picked up a magazine. I read an interview with an English TV presenter who had made it big on Spanish TV and that if ever he was worried about making a fool of himself he would never have gone before the cameras. On his first day in the studio they sent him down to the bar for four “hijos de puta.” He was pointing out how much his Spanish had improved over the years. Another barber stepped down into the shop back from her break and again it seemed that she was a woman who had once been a man, or even a woman who was still a man. In truth I was somewhat confused because I have a bad eye for these things, his big muscular arms, hair all done to death, bracelets, chains and crucifixes hanging from every place you could hang them from. Her entrance was more like that of a whore arriving in the brothel for an afternoon's work, haughty stride, high arsed, pristine-white pants and cock-suck mouth. It was the voice that gave the game away definitively. Hola it's me Lola. When it was my turn Self-Belief pointed me to his chair. Number two all round I said, to keep things simple. Luckily, I didn't have to do much talking as she herself was very chatty, from Costa Rica, with a love of Irish music and mountains. Being in a barber seat is more like being in a dentist's chair than in a taxi, so as you know I find it much easier to think of something to say in the latter, maybe it's the motion, the world passing by. Being stationary, my thoughts remain static. She had very strong arms, a beautiful ebony colour under the tattoos, big Gaelic footballer's hands and a voice that came out as a surprise, deep-toned, jangling out through the heavy lipstick and make-up and female paraphernalia, clamorous earrings, studs, eyeliner. Hers was a voice for the bass baritone section of the operatic choir. She spoke interestingly about Costa Rica and a trip she'd taken to Galway of all places, what wonderful people there and such fabulous music. She was in no rush with the electric razor doing the task in three times what it might take an Irish barber, pausing as she would to embellish her observations with theatrical gestures. When she laughed she shook all over. All in all an edifying if not precisely hair-raising experience.
Then I was mobile again, rambling aimlessly, sucked into the sea of ephemeral faces, noticed by none, anonymous in the sun. I thought about going back to the newsagents' kiosk where I'd seen the cat sleeping but soon gave up trying to retrace my steps. The temperature was in the high thirties. I passed a bar that had a vestibule with a brown couch in it and a passageway with a palm tree. It looked very cool so I stepped in. There was an elderly man on the couch in the vestibule. Hola, I said, as I passed. He didn't respond. He looked funny. His blank eyes stared right through me. Moments later the ambulance arrived. Two boys came into the bar and said; you know the old man who was outside on the divan? He's dead. He's after dying. Dead? Are you sure? The barman said. I think so, one of the boys said. He's gone away in the ambulance. Then everything settled down again and I ordered a Voll Damm, as far as you could get from an Irish Winter's day, when the sap is at its lowest, trees bare, growth at a standstill, earth dead, ponds covered in a light skin of ice, one of its mysteries, one of the mysteries of our little island in the North Atlantic that it can produce mad beauties with hearts fuelled by nitroglycerine, arteries throbbing with the craziest zest for life, let's do this, let's do that, now, now, now.
Energised by the sugar in the beer I walked back onto the street with the kiosk and the cat, an urgent need to see its eyes. Don't ask me why. When I got there the cat was gone. I noted a slight indentation in the stack of magazines where'd he been sleeping.
At the L64 bus-stop, waiting for the L-64 to Playa Castelldefels, a stern, masculine-looking Catalan woman shouted at an Asian girl who tried to jump the queue. The Asian girl retreated behind me in line. When the bus arrived she again jumped ahead but the Catalan woman was there watching her like a cat ready to pounce on a little bird. She had dangerous, bottle-green, feline eyes. The Asian girl sat down on a seat in the bus shelter and never got on. It was hot, so hot that the heat compressed the skin. The bus was full of noisy kids returning to the campsites outside town. I got a seat at the back and dozed off despite the racket of voices, despite the shuddering and bumping and clattering movement. I dreamt of a house by the sea in Ireland, cats with green eyes lying around in the garden. A sudden burst of a mobile phone with a hip-hop tone woke me. The bus was passing a strip club, behind petrol pumps, a narrow building, ratty, weedy parking lot, a van thrown under a tree, a battered Volvo by the back door, more weeds in the gravel. Nothing moved. The heat of the late afternoon sun has them all paralysed, the long-legged strippers and the fat club owners, paralysed until the night falls. We reached the stop for the campsites. All the noisy kids with their phones and walkmans got off leaving me alone on the bus except for a girl half-way up the isle, reading the Lord of the Rings. My stop was not so far now. I better not doze off, I thought, my eyes heavy, the eye-lids closing, closing, needing to stitch tight like the eyelids of that cat asleep on a pile of magazines in the sun.