The Cat Dakwar

May 17, 2024
cat with Palestinian flag

This is my story, inspired by events in eastern Rafah last week, when 25 families followed a street cat to safety during an Israeli bombing attack.

* * *

We know each other well. We were born in the same neighbourhood. We used to play ball together, in the alleys of the Sabra neighbourhood, the heart of Gaza City.

In our neighbourhood there are street cats: they do not run away from passers-by, they do not leave the neighbourhood, they know all our faces. They know the generosity of mothers, who allocate them leftover food and they know Uncle Naji the butcher throws them leftover chicken, as do the restaurants and dairy shops.

Street cats in our neighborhood do not steal food from home kitchens, nor do they frighten children or steal what is on their plates. Street cats determine who is generous among us and who does not have mercy. My mother always says whoever feeds the cats will eat with the cats in heaven because all cats will go to heaven.

Dakwar is the name of my friend’s cat. When I call his name, he comes quickly to play, and despite the war and the fires burning around us, we continue to play together.

When our house was bombed, my mother said we would go south to the tent camp area, south of Rafah.

My father hired a donkey to pull a cart, and we all sat in the cart with some of our belongings and a tent that my father had bought.

We walked with a caravan of donkeys that pulled many of the people of our neighbourhood, and our cats together walked along side us. Our cats are always with us. They even play with us on the seashore though they do not like to swim.

Our cats do not live in homes, we do not know where they sleep, they are good at stealth, and they fear Gloating, so no one knows when they are sick unless they are dear to them.

After we set up the tents, darkness fell, and I became afraid to sleep. My mother asked me to sleep inside the tent with my two sisters. My sisters were afraid of the tent’s darkness, asking a thousand questions of mother like: "What if a scorpion or a mouse enters and comes upon us?'

My mother replied: "Outside the enemy drones monitor our movements so we must hide here in our tents ... there is danger out here.”

Afraid, we hurry to the tent and were followed by Dakwar, my friend, the displaced Gazan cat. At first Dakwar was clinging to my leg and my mother said: “Don’t be afraid. He tells you to sleep and he will guard you.” After a while, Dakwar jumped and killed a scorpion near my sister Hoda, then came back and slept under my feet. We slept and Dakwar stayed up to guard us.

During the day, I entered the maze of the tents, which were scattered in vain in the chaos of nowhere. I found children playing ball, cats scavenging through garbage and Dakwar eating a mouse he had caught. I greeted Dakwar and ran to play ball with the children of our neighbourhood.

We children steal joy from the fear of war. Even though we have not eaten for two days, and we have not showered for a week, we still make jokes. Laughter does not die in us. We have many jokes about donkeys, dogs and cats and even about the lack of skill of adults in pitching tents or driving donkeys. Everything that happens with us is new, unusual and strange.

Suddenly, enemy aircraft dropped leaflets on us telling us we have to leave, to the coast of Rafah. There is no time. We have to leave in an hour, and even the hour turns into minutes.

Bombs begin falling on the tents. Panic dances in the eyes of the adults and silences their tongues, and we wait for them to guide us.

Where is the escape from the fire? The enemy bombs everywhere ... north, south, right, left. We freeze in fear, waiting for the adults to say where to go ... how to escape.

Dakwar jumps up and meowed loudly calling for my mother, then he started running. My mother said, “Follow Dakwar!” Some of the men laughed, but the women walked with my mother and all the children followed us with the cats and the donkeys. With his quickest steps, he entered deserted farms near bombed houses. Walking only through narrow roads, Dakwar did not follow the wide streets.

Finally, Dakwar started meowing loudly and running fast. Dakwar was the first to step on the coast of the Rafah Sea ... we were safe. Dakwar had saved us from the bombing, he saved us as he always does. Dakwar was only born to live free, and he will remain free.

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