“Keep up, slowcoach…we don’t want to miss them”
“But I’m smaller than you..my legs are only little”
Honey sighed and sat down to wait for her small companion. Huffing and puffing, Peter finally caught up and sat down beside her to catch his breath. “Where are we going anyway?”, he asked.
Honey was play-pouncing in the grass, where a tiny moth fluttered just out of her reach. “You’ll know when we get there” she called to him, “Come on!”
The two kittens resumed their journey. Honey trotted in front, her head high, her step full of purpose. She was oblivious to all distractions and, apart from the occasional pause to sniff a flower or to swat at a loose leaf or to chase a butterfly or to laugh at the reflection of her own eyeball in a dewdrop, she remained resolutely focused on her goal. Peter scampered and cantered behind her, filled with anticipation and determined not to fall behind.
Just off the path, a bush rustled loudly and a marmalade kitten shot out in reverse, tail poofed, a daisy in his mouth. “Mfff ghhth…” he said.
“Jean Luc?” said Honey
The marmalade kitten spat out his daisy. “I thought I’d take some flowers with me, you know…to present to him? They fight back, though.”
He left the lone daisy, a little chewed, on the ground and bounced off after Honey. Peter thought for a second, then picked the flower up gently in his teeth before setting off at a run to catch up. After a short time, during which they did not waver from their purpose, apart from a short excursion up a tree, a pause to drink at a small pool, a few moments spent happily splashing each other with water and a comfort break for all three on a patch of soft earth, they came to a small stand of silver birch trees on an area of fresh, spring grass. The intense green was shot through with the gold of the late afternoon sun as it broke through the leaves and made dancing patterns beneath the kittens’ feet. So intent were they, though, on reaching their destination that they hardly spent any time at all darting after the shadows, giggling and seeing who could jump the highest to reach the young leaves on the lowest branches. Peter thought this was the most beautiful place he had ever been. He loved the brightness of the colours and the warmth of the sun on his back and the smell of earth and new grass and the velvety softness under his paws. He could not stay, though. They continued walking until, finally, they broke out of the trees and emerged into the clear space beyond, and Peter drew in his breath at the sight before him.
The soft, springy grass continued to the edge of what appeared to be a deep canyon, dark and mysterious despite the sunshine. In front of him, right against the precipice, the gnarled trunks of two ancient trees twisted and knotted together to form an archway and beyond….was it a road, a path..? No, it was a bridge. A bridge that curved upwards and away from the cliff. A bridge so long that its span seemed to disappear into a silvery mist, which sparkled slightly as it swirled around in the breeze.
Still more magical to the little kitten, though, was the fact that this whole area – right up to the tree arch – was full of cats. He had never seen such a gathering. There were old cats and cats in their prime, long haired cats, short haired cats, curly haired and even hairless cats; cats of every hue and shape and size and many, many kittens. They sat, stood, loafed, stretched, washed, played, chatted and dozed. They purred, murred, mewed, miaowed, chirped, chirrupped, snored and sang. Honey and Jean Luc were already seeking out friends and playing amongst the kitten pack, but Peter was overawed, until a familiar face appeared in front of him and booped his nose.
“Hello, Auntie Sheba” he said, a little relieved.
“How sweet of you to bring a flower” she said, “although I think you should put it down for a while, or it might wilt.” He laid the daisy carefully in front of him. “Did Honey tell you why we’re all here?”
“No…is it a party?”
“Kind of,” said Sheba. “We’re here to greet new friends. They’ll be crossing the bridge tonight, so we need to make them welcome. Do you remember the night you arrived here?” Peter nodded. “Do you remember how you were feeling as you crossed over the bridge?”
“Yes,” he replied. His eyes misted up for a second at the memory. “I was sad because I’d left my mama and brothers behind, and I was scared because I was on my own.”
“Exactly,” said Sheba. “The new cats and kittens who are coming will be feeling the same way. They too will have left behind family and friends and hoomins who loved them and they are feeling very sad and confused right now. So, we come to the bridge to meet them, so they can begin their new journey in the company of friends, just like you did.”
“I don’t remember so many…” said Peter, gazing over the multitude. He recalled his own journey across the bridge, confused and lonely, missing his mother and brothers and his cosy nest. Even though there were other cats making the crossing with him, each of them was focused on their own feelings of loss and their apprehension about what awaited them at their destination. Each of them walked alone through the shimmering mist, eyes fixed straight ahead, lost in their own thoughts. Peter rarely allowed himself to recall that long, sad walk.
He much preferred his next memory, which was of emerging from the mist into a strange land lit by moonlight, a velvet sky scattered with a million jewels, a warm breeze carrying the tang of summer meadows and distant oceans and…a round, fluffy kitten face with huge blue eyes, neat white whiskers and a laugh like the tinkling of a bell…. He remembered his sadness dissolving as the laughing kitten kissed his nose and licked his ear and scampered off to show him where the best climbing trees were and how he could shake the branches of a bush to make a cloud of butterflies emerge…Honey had been his big (and bossy) sister ever since and he adored her.
“Keep your flower safe,” said Sheba “and go and play until it is time. When the sun goes down, the Circle on Earth will meet and sing to the Moon to help our kitties on their way, then we will be ready.”
“Why do they sing?” asked Peter.
“It’s the way of cats. The Circle is the whole community of cats all over the world, and when a cat or kitten reaches the end of its life, the Circle sings to the Moon, so that She will know of their passing and be ready to receive them and so that She will know of how they spent their time on earth, who they loved and who loved them. The song is sung everywhere – beneath the clear skies of the desert, in the land of the Midnight Sun, in the icy dark where the Aurora dances, in the heat and thunder and lightning of the tropics, amongst the noise and grime of the city….everywhere. When the song finishes in one part of the world, it is picked up in another and continued as the Moon makes her way around the Earth. It is an endless circle, like birth, life and death. A life is lost but, somewhere, a new life begins. The song never ends.”
Peter looked over to where Honey and Jean Luc were playing with the other kittens. He had loved listening to Sheba, even if he didn’t understand everything that she said. Instead of joining in with the play, he sat on the cool grass and watched as the clouds turned from white to pink, all the while dreaming of deserts and auroras and thunderstorms. As the sky turned to deep indigo, there was a noticeable shift in the atmosphere. The hubbub ceased, sleeping cats awoke, chatting cats became quiet and there was a ripple of movement as they all formed themselves into a semi circle. The air was alive with anticipation and Peter was almost beside himself with excitement, shifting from foot to foot, eager to know what was going to happen next. Sheba sat down next to him. “Ok, Peter,” she whispered, “back straight – whiskers forward. Here they come.”
The mist on the bridge began to ripple and swirl and shimmer in many different colours, then out of the fog stepped a handsome black kitten. He paused tentatively on the bridge before stepping off onto the grass. Behind him came another young cat, black and white. Jean Luc ran forward to greet him and Peter watched as the two frantically washed and groomed each other, clearly overjoyed to see each other. Now, all around him, cats were walking forward to greet the newcomers as they stepped off the bridge. All the meetings seemed to be reunions of family members or old friends, full of affection and familiarity. Peter wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. There would be no friends or family of his coming tonight – he had looked in on his family earlier that day and they had all been fat and healthy and happy as usual. He looked back at the handsome black boy who had been first across the bridge. He was standing alone, looking sad and confused. Remembering how relieved and safe he had felt the moment he had been greeted by Honey, Peter at last knew why he was there.
A firefly danced in front of his nose. Trying to focus on it made his eyes go crossed, so he eyeballed it with just his right eye. “I pounce you later,” he hissed. “I’m busy right now.”
Peter stood up, straightened his back and stiffened his whiskers then, clutching his daisy, he stepped forward towards the black kitten