Sometimes finding a beautiful thing means a lot, and when it happens in a foreign land, bringing with it love and comfort, it can mean even more…
When I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, there were very few things that were beautiful or uplifting about every day life. The whole place was dusty, and when it wasn’t dusty, it was muddy, there was little electricity and the food was terrible. It was indeed a hard place to live, which was why, when I heard a tiny, mournful cry coming from the dusty little yard of my dusty little house in Kabul, I thought no good would come out if it. It would probably be an animal who was another victim of the harsh life happening outside the walls of my little house and the guards who guarded me. It turned out to be one of the loveliest blessings I ever had. Let me explain.
The source of that plaintive cry turned out to be the tiniest little calico kitten, all skin and bones, who fit into the palm of my hand. I found her under the broad leaf of a squash plant that my gardener, Habib, had planted along the base of the wall that surrounded my house, because walls surround all houses in Afghanistan. Somehow, the little kitten had fallen into my yard and was lamenting her fate. When I stooped to pick her up, I remember that she seemed to sense that her tragedy was ending. She gratefully ate the food I gave her, greedily drank her milk and finally settled in my arms and slept. In time, she understood that her life would be safer from now on. It was so safe, in fact, that as she grew, she ventured outside the walls into the hard world again.
Soon, the tiny kitten, who actually never grew to be big, could be seen roaming around the northern end of Kabul where we lived. She would be gone for days, sometimes weeks at a time, but she always came home, seemingly unaffected by the world outside. When she was home, she would sit on an ottoman in the living room and sometimes watch the movements happening on my TV. Sometimes she would just follow the people who worked for me, the gardener and the guards, sitting by them as if she were an old friend come to tea.
Charlie became famous in our neighborhood. My Afghan neighbors began to understand that she belonged to the “khora ji”, or foreigner, who lived in the little house. I know they knew, because when the city had erupted in riots and fighting, and I had finally made my dangerous way home, my neighbors knocked on the gate of my wall and silently dropped Charlie into my yard when my guards cautiously opened it. Later, when another riot erupted just down the street from my house at the Afghan National Assembly, the same neighbors came to my guards and told them that they, and my pets, were welcome to come to their homes to be safe.
It was such a touching gesture, but I remember smiling when they told me after I had come home that evening because Charlie was not home. She had been out all day, monitoring the dangers and surveying the foolishness of the humans until she tired of it all and returned to get a little chicken and some milk and watch a little TV.
My Charlie……. how I do miss her….and that is why I wrote the Heroes Can be Little books that I hope will acquaint a whole new generation of children. with my brave little cat.