THE NEW WORLD
The months passed by. There was no sign of General Jack. We sent wave after wave of flying scouts but it was futile. After three more years of flying, the scouts refused to fly any more of these missions. How dared they refuse? Did they not know I could have devoured them for their impudence? Whatever stopped me from wringing their impertinent necks?
Day after day, I waited for the General in our meeting place. I became more and more irascible.
I struggled to adapt to the new world. I was out of my depth.
One day, PikPak the leader of the chickens accosted me with his delegation.
“Whatever has gone wrong? We anticipated that we would each be producing twelve eggs a week. Now, we are only producing one or two eggs a week. Why is that?”
I stifled a yawn.
“I have no idea.”
“But you must know. You can fix it for us. You’re the Magician of the Five Kingdoms.”
“Am I? I’m sorry. I can’t help. You have to sort it out yourselves.”
“Bah! We were better off under Feline Rule. At least then we each produced six eggs a week.”
Another day, Buffy the leader of the rabbits waylaid me
“Miaow. We cannot get any rest. The birds sing all night. They sing ballads about you and the Battle of the Five Kingdoms. The dogs can’t sleep as well. They bark like mad. They bark at the moon. They join in the loud chorus. Please stop them.”
“Why should I? What is it to me? Let them sing and bark if they want to.” All the while, I scrutinized a fascinating tree over his shoulder.
“But, but… under Feline Rule, we slept in peace. The nights were peaceful. We were better off.”
On another day, Harold the chief of the goats complained.
“Miaow, we cannot even get to the stream to drink. The horses get there first and they spend ages washing themselves. The donkeys stay there all day and won’t budge. Then the sheep arrive and they block access to the stream, It’s impossible to drink or wash. By the time the others leave, the water is filthy. Please do something about it, Miaow.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Well, you’re the victor of the Battle of the Five Kingdoms. If you overthrew the Five Kingdoms, you can easily clear the crowds at the stream. You can do anything.”
“That, I cannot do, I’m afraid.”
“But why not? The felines stood no nonsense. The crowds did not gather. They’d be chased away.”
The haplessly tame animals constantly solicited my advice. They asked question after question. “How do we interact with the new human migrants? How do we interact with the animals of the sea? How do we master the great seas? What do we do about the restlessness of the young ones who want to explore and migrate to the New Lands?”
Their incessant whining riled me. Did they not realise that I was as clueless as they were? My fuse became progressively shorter. Eventually, I threw my restraint overboard. I gave them a piece of my mind. I expressed my contempt for their small mindedness.
One day, George the Fox and the Council consulted me.
“Chief Miaow, we have a problem. Nobody’s in command here. There’s chaos wherever you look. We need strong leadership. Someone who can impose discipline and give a meaning to all this mayhem. We need a king and we want you to be that king. Your word will be law.”
“I can never be king. If anything, we should offer the crown to General Jack. He is worthy of kingship, not I.”
“Granted. But the General has left…”
“He will return. He said so. He keeps his promises.”
“What if he doesn’t ever return?”
“He will return. I know it.”
“What if he’s dead?”
“Don’t be silly. Men like him never die. They live on forever.” I bristled.
“But that is the past, Miaow. You’re stuck in the past. We have to look to the future.”
“I see the past in the future. That way the future makes sense.”
With each passing day, I became more unreasonable and irritable. The other animals expected much of me but I disappointed them. I was not capable of organising the circle of life in any effective constructive way. I sulked because of my glaring limitations. I was no longer able to influence the course of events as in General Jack’s time. Frustration set in. I avoided society. I lost my appetite not only for food but also for life in general. I was unfulfilled, useless. I came across as apathetic and withdrawn.
How ironic! I always dreamt of being King of Our Land. I fantasized of how I would administer justice. My dream came true but now I had no interest in living the dream. General Jack had warned me it was an impossible dream. How prescient he was!
Relations were not much better with my family members.
My family lamented my transition into a grumpy recluse. I constantly snapped at my family members whenever they tried to console me. My abrasive reactions to the well-intentioned overtures of my loved ones mortified me. I could not help it and I continued to snap at them. Had I become impossible to live with? My family members worried about me.
Twinkle my daughter repeatedly egged me on.
“Dad, why are you behaving so?”
“I can’t suffer gladly those fools anymore.”
“But Dad, you are the moral authority in Our Land. People are shying away from approaching you with their problems. They know you’d bite off their heads.”
“The other day, a dog without a nose asked me to intercede for him with you. He was exploring the beach. Down at the waterline, he saw a small crawling rock with many legs emerging from either side. The dog was curious so he hopped off to sniff at it. This rock stopped and with two large pincer claws snapped off the dog’s nose. The dogs now demand guidance from you on how to interact with the creatures of the sea. They are perplexed. I don’t blame them. They don’t want to end up with bloodied noses.”
“How should I know? Anyway, it serves that dog right. You should have told him not to be presumptuous. He shouldn’t be poking his nose into unknown matters that do not concern him.”
“Dad… What’s come over you? Talking about interaction, Porky the chief of the pigs asked me for your advice. A posse of pigs saw a human walking. They rushed to him. They wanted to befriend him. This human, picked up rocks and threw them at the pigs to chase them away. They are at a loss on how to engage with the humans. You are the best person to address their concerns given you were so intimate with one yourself.”
“With that filthy stench, I’m not surprised. Those pigs should have washed themselves before making the advance.”
“Dad, you’re not being helpful.”
“Twinkle, I have no answers, only questions like them. General Jack was the only one who had the answers. If he were here, he’d know what to do.”
“But, he’s not here, Dad. The onus is now on you. Why are you escaping from the responsibility?”
“I can’t do it, Twinkle. It just not in me. These exertions have drained me. I’m an empty shell. The General used to act through me.”
“It was still you who acted then. Surely, that part of you can act, now.”
“You don’t understand.”
“Do you know what everyone is saying about you? It upsets me and Purr so much. It’s unjust but on the other hand, your behaviour is fuelling their vile gossip. Oh, Dad do something! We were so proud of you. We used to look up to you so much. We love you. What can I do for you? How can I help?”
“Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it. It’s best we don’t talk about it anymore.” I slinked out of the hut while her back was turned.
“Dad, Dad?...Dad!” reached my ears as I was a few paces away. I suppressed a cynical chuckle. Twinkle must have twirled round to find the room empty.
A day later my son Captain Purr called on me.
Purr pleaded with me, “Dad, what’s wrong with you? Why are you avoiding us? Is there anything we can do for you? Both Twinkle and I are so worried.”
“This does not concern you son, stay out of it.”
“How can I?”
”Look, General Jack entrusted me with a responsibility. It was easy when he was around. I received the credit that was due to him. I merely did everything he said, down to the slightest detail. Now that he’s gone, I don’t know what to do. I have failed. I’m not cut out for this. I avoid everyone because I don’t want to reveal my incompetence. I do it for your sakes’ and for the family’s honour. I don’t want to be remembered as a fraud.”
“You succeeded then. You achieved the impossible. It should be easier now. If you put your mind to it, you’ll succeed again. You just have to pull yourself together. I know you can do it.”
“You don’t understand, son.”
“What is there to understand, Dad. It’s as clear as daylight. This is not the real you.”
“What do you know about that?”
“Look Dad. If it’s about Scratchy, we know how badly you took his death. Twinkle and I, we grieve as much as you do. We miss him. He was a force to be reckoned with. But life has to go-”
“Look, just shut up. You know nothing,” I hissed and darted out of the room.
The sheep had long tried to attract my attention. I snubbed them. One day, Purr showed up in my hut.
“Dad, the sheep have asked me to pass on a message. The foxes are harassing them. A day does not go by when at least one sheep goes missing. They want to organise a vigilante force. They need your help.”
The mundane view outside the window was not impressive. The throbbing headache I had all morning intensified.
“Dad, you’re not listening.”
“I said the sheep need your expertise. Will you help out?”
“I don’t see how I can make a difference.”
“Oh! Come on. Nobody in Our Land is more qualified. You were the co-founder and leader of the Union Jacks. Everyone knows it.”
The ensuing silence was interrupted by Purr’s frustrated voice, “Will you or won’t you help them?”
“I wonder what Twinkle is preparing for diner-”
“Dad, don’t change the subject. Will you help them or not?”
“No, I won’t.”
“Because I won’t.”
I erupted, “Because they are fools. That’s why,” and I stormed out.
There was a morning when I loitered outside Purr’s hut. Twinkle and Purr were inside conversing in agitated tones unaware that I was within earshot.
Twinkle lamented sobbing, “I’m worried about Dad. He shuns me; he shuns everyone. The more I try to engage with him, the angrier he becomes. He’s so irritable. He’s not eating. Yesterday I prepared his favourite dish. He used to gobble it up. Now he doesn’t touch it. He goes missing for days on end. He’s losing weight; his peel has lost its silky sheen. I’m at my wits’ end.”
Purr said, “He’s a shadow of his former glorious self. I can’t make him out anymore. Him and me, we can’t get through to each other now. He rebuffs my attempts to reason with him. He is happy only when alone, brooding. I’ll ask Jackat to shadow him. Dad enjoys his company. Dad fascinates Jackat. On the other hand, Jackat is restless. It might do them both a world of good.”
Twinkle and Purr, bless them, could not be more different from me. Twinkle was a frivolous, well-meaning extrovert. Purr was unimaginative, staid but reliable. However, they were not in the class of my dead son, Scratchy. Ironically, Purr’s proposal concerning Jackat was a masterstroke. Jackat then, was a blossoming kitten whose emerging traits resembled Scatchy’s more than anyone else. The more time I spent with him, the more I admired him. I was conversing with a reincarnated Scratchy. My fondness of him grew each day. He was to be a tremendous help in my later years.
The truth was that the inner white cat was dying. Previously, General Jack’s presence nurtured it. This demanding entity needed constant sustenance. Now it was withering. It was parched and desiccated. It was wasting away. The innate grey cat was taking over again. That pained me. I constantly thought of ways to resuscitate the white cat in vain.
The older generation continued to respect and honour me until my dying day. The survivors of the Battle of the Five Kingdoms though were shrinking in number. It was different with the emerging younger generation. These had become indifferent to me. I became irrelevant in the daily management of the circle of life in Our Land. The truth was that I, like everyone else was a follower. None of us had leadership qualities. Not even George the fox. He had the guile but he did not have the brute force to rein in all the other animals. He could never command the respect needed for kingship.
A group of young cows approached me once.
“Chief Miaow, there was a group of erect two-legged animals the other day. We introduced ourselves but they ignored us. What can we do to get their attention?”
“How should I know?”
“But our elders tell us you know everything. You were full of ideas.”
“Those ideas were not mine. They were General Jack’s.”
”Who is General Jack?”
“General Jack was a great man. He led the revolt against Feline Rule.” I bellowed.
“Oh! Our elders tell us he never existed. He was merely a symbol the real heroes of the resistance brandished, to rally the animals. They also say that you were the key rallying figure. Only you can sort out this mess, now that the heroes departed for the new green lands.”
I glared at them. “What else do the elders tell you?” I asked in an irritated tone.
“Oh! The heroes were those valiant chargers of the Western, Eastern and Southern trains. They fearlessly confronted the formidable enemy. They chased the enemy out of the land to the ends of the world.”
A few weeks later, a group of fox elders visited me. George the fox was not among them.
“Chief Miaow, we have recommended that you are titled for your role in the Battle of the Five Kingdoms together with the other heroes.”
“Well, the heroes of the Western, Eastern and Southern trains, of course.”
“As far as I can recall there was only one hero.”
“You refer to George the fox?”
“Of course not!” there was loathing in my voice, “I refer to General Jack.”
They retorted, “The debacle of the battle was the fault of General Jack. He drew up battle plans that could never work. At the assembly, everyone had contested his various military strategies. The General had suppressed all opposition. He rubbished the most plausible battle plan propagated by George the fox. In fact, George’s blitzkrieg battle plan won liberation for us.”
“How can you say that? It’s not true.” I was incensed.
“The General was a dangerous, irresponsible boy. He almost provoked a violent feline crackdown upon us. Thankfully, George the fox forced the General’s hand. He saved the entire resistance campaign that the General was on the verge of scuppering. Some considered the General a double agent in the pay of the lions. And with good reason. He was responsible for countless deaths of our fellow animals. When the going got tough, he fled like a coward.”
“How dare you say these words? Please leave. I have nothing more to say to you foxes.” I shoved them out one by one .I slammed the door in their faces.
In recompense, they proposed to name me Chief Miaow the Great. I refused. Any claim I had to greatness rested in my ability to recognise the potential in General Jack’s personality. He deserved the title not me. The great figures are those whose acts echo through the ages. He achieved the victory for us. Together, him and I, we rocked the world. Through him, I midwifed a new world but he created the new world.
The animals were sweeping the memory of General Jack aside. It became fashionable to belittle the role General Jack played in our liberation. Some even had the audacity to suggest that he was not a hero. General Jack had made the extraordinary seem deceptively ordinary. That was his indisputable gift. The result of his feat was phenomenal. It was unparalleled. He split animal time in two.
The propagandists revisited the subject of the Battle of the Five Kingdoms. In the initial years, this subject was taboo. No one wanted to reveal his or her embarrassing presence in that farcical battle that never was. The version of the historic event was then manipulated. The propagandists even altered the order of the compartments in the Western, Eastern and Southern Trains. In their version, the fleeing cowering feline enemy occupied the front compartment whereas the following compartments were bristling with the fearsome allied heroes. They maintained the General was dangerous to our cause. The animals alone had overturned Feline Rule. They did it despite him, not because of him.
The Truth was under attack. A great Lie had supplanted the Truth. Self-important animals who had most to gain- animals like George the fox and his associates- propagated this historical revision. However, there were many others too. They wanted to improve or advance their position in the new circle of life. These animals were ambitious but had a conflict of interest. They themselves knew that none of them could ever become king. Not one of them had it in him to be king. They were enthusiastic kingmakers. The kingmaker derives the same benefits of power that a king holds. These propagandists were desperate to canvass for any candidate who had the personal traits suitable for kingship. No such candidate existed since the Battle of the Five Kingdoms. Thus, the king’s throne remained vacant.
I could not stand by, doing nothing. There was a concerted all-out attack on the Truth. A new kind of battle raged, a bloodless one. I had to be the Defender of the Truth. I had a duty to preserve it as a treasury for the sake of those animals interested in the unadultered Truth. How could the new generation tackle the future if they could not understand the past? They would merely repeat the mistakes of the past. This was a battle for the hearts and minds of the animals. Whoever won it controlled the lives of all the animals in the realm. As General Jack had predicted, the victors would acquire absolute power to rule the animal world.
I had to challenge and expose this propaganda as lies. If I did not do it, no one else would. I resolved to keep General Jack’s legacy alive by writing the memoirs you are reading in the form of a journal. It was a thankless and hopeless task. I was to pursue that task until my dying day. Mine was a lone voice taking it out against an infinite contrary voice. This was to be my new mission. The injustice of the great Lie galvanized me out of my self-defeatist state of mind. I found satisfaction in battling for the truth, although I became a figure of ridicule.
This was the only way I could help the new circle of life. I had to expound on the wisdom of General Jack. The journal will be a useful tool for the younger generation to avail of when addressing the challenges of the new world. My ineffectiveness had banished me to the outermost circumference of the circle of life. As a Defender of the Truth, I was reborn. I became a mover and shaker within the animal world. I was back in the centre of the circle of life. Not as a doer like in the past but as a moral authority.
I wrote the journal over the next ten years. General Jack had not yet found the safe place for us. I was the only one who constantly looked out for him. I spent the waking hours at the W-shaped tree reflecting, writing and waiting. The other animals passed by. They stopped in their tracks to stare at me with smirking faces. After a few minutes, they nonchalantly strode off shaking their heads. There were too many deniers of the Truth around. They mocked me. Old age made me set in my ways. Old habits die-hard. I was always thin-skinned by nature. Detractors affronted me. Embitterment set in. I retaliated with abusive invective against my detractors. I did not seem to be making much ground. There were not many seekers of the Truth around. I floated in a sea of indifference.
General Jack had become my holy grail. I knew it was there but I could not find it. The younger generation thought that General Jack never existed. They considered him a myth or a figment of our imagination. The young ones, who never met him, believe only what they see, feel and touch. They refer to me as the sole leader of the resistance who sadly had become touched in the head after the initial catastrophe of the Battle of the Five Kingdoms.
General Jack once mused, “What will happen if the overlords were to be eliminated?”
I replied, “Well, obviously we will rule ourselves.”
Then he said, “There will remain a vacuum which will be filled by other masters. You just replace one with the other. One will be as despotic as the other.”
I thought it was good the upper powerful classes of the other Four Kingdoms settled in the New Lands. They would have lorded it over us just like the lions. The problem is no one of us domesticated animals is powerful enough to rule the land. We match each other in strength. We are too submissive. Some are more stupid than others are. Some more clever. Some indifferent, others too selfish. Can the new humans become our new Overlords? If they resemble General Jack, they will be good and fair leaders.
How we miss the guidance of General Jack! Ridding ourselves of the Feline Overlords in retrospect looked easy. Rebuilding and adapting to the new reality is much more difficult. One thing is certain though. I will ensure the legacy of Captain Jack lives on forever. In the children’s stories, we will name many heroes and protagonists after him. In the adult world, many great military commanders will emulate his military strategies.
The journal is practically finished. I want to write the last lines at the W-shaped tree. It is dusk now. The sky is indigo-tinged just like when I had my first apparition of General Jack. I am old and rickety now. I am very tired but I must make the effort. I have to be there when General Jack arrives to tell him that he won after all. Better late than never. It’s the least I can do for him. I sit down. The journal is finished. It’s so thick, it looks more like a book. I remember that I have not yet decided whether to title the book “The Four Ways of Life” or … I turn my head sideways to nostalgically scrutinize the eastern horizon one last time. My dim eyes well up. Behind me, there is the sudden loud rustling of leaves. I have to see who there is, but I do not have the strength to turn my head. I am so weary. I’m an empty shell, drained. I hear my constant refrain, “Surely, he’ll come. Surely, he’ll come. Surely, he’ll come…” monotonously whispered under my breath. My mind is blank. The horizon is blurred. I try to write but my eyes become too heavy, as does my hand.