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Run, Run, Run Away, Come Again Another Day

Once a proud and majestic feline, I now spend most of my days curling up in the corner of a bombed-out building, trying to avoid the deafening sounds of gunfire and explosions. I had witnessed many things in my life, but nothing quite like this.

For weeks, I had watched as people frantically packed up their belongings and fled the city, abandoning their homes and their possessions. It was difficult to see, even to a cat, that in many cases, they had to leave behind their elderly or ill family members because it was impossible to move them. At first people tried to leave in their vehicles, but soon realized that the traffic was too heavy, and the roads were blocked. They had to give up more things and start running on foot.

I considered leaving, too. But besides the frightening air raids, the panicked behavior of humans was also terrifying. Danger and uncertainty drove them crazy. They wailed, cursed, shouted, and began to turn against one another.

“See, that’s the consequence of you voting for the Green Cross Party!”

“You think if the Blue Star Party won, we would be better off? Don’t be naive. We will be enslaved under the expansion of imperialism!”

When the husband and wife were yelling to one another, a gray-haired man commented in a cold tone: “Do you think the decision of invasion is based on your voting inclination? Do you think your arguments now can save the world? Smartasses.”

So I decided to retreat to a temporary shelter, hoping to wait out the violence and destruction until it was safe to emerge again. Would it end soon? I had no idea, and neither did these desperate people.

As I watched the exodus from the roof of an evacuated house, I couldn't help but feel a sense of sadness and loss. Although these people were mediocre, selfish, and hypercritical, they were my people, my community. Now they were scattering in every direction, driven apart by the horrors of war.

During the first weeks of the evacuation, finding food was easy as most households had left behind plenty of provisions. Opening their refrigerators, pantries or cabinets, I could find meat, cheese, corn, eggs or bananas. However, the relentless bombardment eventually reduced the city to rubble and debris. With the power off, food stored in refrigerators decayed quickly. For days, I had been surviving on scraps and as I roamed the desolate streets in search of sustenance, my will was weakened by hunger.

I checked the home of the quarreling couple and found nothing but a half bottle of red wine. They had purchased the wine to celebrate their successful investment in Bitcoin. The fast surging price of the cryptocurrency before the war made them feel wealthy. Too bad that I couldn’t take the wine, it was a very expensive French brew. They did not have any food at home, they always dined in fancy restaurants.

I walked into the destroyed theater. The gate was blown apart, and the walls were cracked. I moved toward the stage and carefully avoided the glass shards all over the floor. The seats were broken, with cushions and fabrics ripped. The ceiling fixtures swung under the badly damaged roof and could fall at any moment. The floor of the stage sank, and the residual part of the burned curtains were hung on the distorted rail. All the stories that ever had been performed here had gone into oblivion, overwhelmed by the haunting stench of ruins. There was no food, no prey, not even a cockroach.

Two horse chestnut trees by the theater stood amidst the devastation, their trunks, branches and leaves scorched during the rains of shells. It used to be a place filled with the chirping of birds, but now it was quiet. All the living beings had disappeared from here.

I adventured further to the home of Beatrice and Fedir. Fedir’s ash was buried in their garden not long before the war. Fedir was 91 years old, so his passing wasn’t a surprise to the community. But as a shrewd observer, or a sneaky peeper, I was sure Fedir’s death was suicidal. Fedir had been aware that the invasion was imminent, but due to his age, it was impossible for him to travel hundreds of miles to reach the temporary shelters for refugees. He urged Beatrice, who was 55 years his junior, to leave without him. Despite his pleas, Beatrice refused to abandon Fedir and run off by herself. Having lived through World War II and the occupation of the same invader, Fedir feared that terrible things would happen to them if they stayed. He was particularly concerned about the safety of Beatrice, a young woman of great beauty, who would surely be a target of the military men known for their brutality and abuse. Fedir decided to stop drinking and eating, attempting to starve himself to death, so that Beatrice would be able to leave without worrying about him.

I'm not sure what the real cause of Fedir's death was, but I have no doubt that to him, it was a release from the burden of his failing health. Fedir and Beatrice had been married for 13 years after meeting at a book club where they fell in love immediately. For the first several years of their marriage, they enjoyed each other's company, reading, traveling, and shopping together. However, as time passed, Fedir's health began to deteriorate rapidly, while Beatrice was in her prime. She adapted to Fedir's pace and waited on him hand and foot. Despite her devotion, Fedir felt that, almost throughout their marriage, Beatrice was doing nothing but waiting, waiting—for him. She took him to doctors, to get sunlight on good days, or to funerals of old friends. She took care of him when he used the restroom, and she bathed him tenderly and ritually every night. In fact, Fedir felt not only like a prisoner to his own declining body but also Beatrice’s sacrifice. Although she never complained, Fedir was convinced that Beatrice was trapped in her responsibility to care for him, as well as the credit their community gave her. Being virtuous could be a confinement. Eventually, the threat of war prompted Fedir to make a drastic decision.

But it was my assumption. Who am I to be credible in making such a conclusion?

I crept through the ruins until I came to a collapsed building of a supermarket. Inside, amidst the wreckage, I discovered a stash of canned meat and fish. There must be adored cats living around this neighborhood. I began clawing and scratching at the tins until they finally gave way and devoured the contents of each can with ravenous hunger. After finishing my first full meal in a long time, I licked my paws and whiskers to restore my elegance.

Between air-raids, the streets of the city were quiet, although the distant rumble of tanks was heard occasionally. It was a drill. Our army was trained to operate the tanks, among other military vehicles, sent to us from far away by our allies. As I arrived downtown, I noticed the door of the Irish pub was hanging off its hinges. Upon entering, I saw the tables and chairs were overturned, and smashed bottles and glasses were scattered around. It was evident that the damage was done by looting, not by bombing.

An episode in the pub I had witnessed a couple of years ago resurfaced in my mind. It was a typical Saturday night, the cozy establishment buzzing with energy from the evening crowd. Amidst their low chatter and clinking of glasses in the dimly lit space, a light sweet scent of e-cigarettes filled the air. I recalled seeing Monica, a theater actress, approach a lone traveler. Her sky-blue dress provided a stark contrast to the red wine she held in hand, and the few steps she took towards him convinced me that she could outdo me on the catwalk.

A DJ arrived to entertain the customers, and the My Wild Irish Rose he first played turned on the entire place instantly. Monica and the man got on their feet, swayed to the center of the pub, and danced in the loving song. Monica’s blue dress swirled around her knees, and her smile radiated. They moved fluidly and exchanged words while their faces were close to each other’s. I rested in a seat at their table and noticed Monica’s facial muscles began to show a little bit of rigidity. I was curious, and I watched them closely. When the music was about to end, I read Monica’s lips, “Fuck off. You don’t belong here,” while struggling to maintain a fake smile.

I did not remember what happened afterward, but looking back, I realized that their quarrel was not that of ex-lovers, but rather political. Their dance was a negotiation which broke up. Political manipulation between hostile entities had been ongoing long before the outbreak of war, but the public ignored it.

I left the pub and walked into the House of God. The altar lay in ruins, the nave charred by a fierce blaze, and the fragments of the fallen cupola now scattered on the floor. As I surveyed the devastation, my eyes fell upon burned copies of Bibles and amputated icons of saints among the debris. The gallery above appeared to be in imminent danger of collapsing. The priest and his staff had stayed in the beginning of the invasion, hoping to provide safety and comfort for people who did not flee and sought shelter. They were wrong to assume that the holy place wouldn’t be razed. The destruction of the aggressors was indiscriminate.

Where is Monica now? Where is Beatrice? I looked up at the sky, not knowing when the shells would fall from heaven next time.

“You don’t belong here.” I heard it again.

How much should we recede to find our peace?

C. J. Anderson-Wu is a Taiwanese writer. In 2017 she published Impossible to Swallow and in 2021 The Surveillance. Based on true characters and real incidents, her works look into the political oppression and the traumas resulting from the state’s brutal violation of human rights. Currently she is working on her third book Endangered Youth— To Hong Kong. C. J. Anderson-Wu's stories and poems can be found in literary journals all over the world.

Photo credit: Krin Van Tatenhove via Midjourney AI


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