Helmi Ben Meriem is a researcher of Somali literature at the University of Sousse, Tunisia, where he is finishing his PhD dissertation under the direction of American fiction writer and professor of Anglophone studies, Edward Sklepowich. Mr. Ben Meriem focuses in his creative writings on marginalized segments of the Arab and/or Muslim world such as women, homosexuals, atheists, and religious minorities among others. Mr. Ben Meriem has an unpublished novel entitled "Good Night Letters: An Epistolary Novel" and is currently working on a new novel by the title "Helmi's Corner".
Simone and the Purple Blanket
Waiting for my wife to return from work. Wrapped in my purple blanket next to the French door, gazing at the open blue sky. All I can hear is the sounds of cars passing by, men chattering in the café downstairs and of course cats meowing. This neighborhood has many cats in it because it is situated between two hotels. Outside of the hotels, dumpsters are filled with leftovers especially fish and meat.
Hearing cats going mad in the street, fighting and making all noises. I remembered my cat Simone. She died a year ago. My wife and I lost her to cancer. I reached to the bookcase near me and took the photo album dedicated to Simone. It contains all photos we took of her.
In the first page, I saw her vaccination book, which only contains seven vaccination stickers. She died young, very young. I can still remember the day I took Simone to the vet, when she fell sick. The vet told me that Simone was dying and that she could do nothing to save her. That was one of the worst moments of my life. Maybe even the second worst day. The first is the day she died. That day when life changed in my small family: a family of a couple and two cats. I am sterile. My wife accepted this. Love conquers everything. Her family wanted her to divorce me, but she refused. “I love Mohammed. I cannot leave him,” she told her family.
As I was leafing through the album, I reached the two pages where my favorite photos of her. The first is of her sleeping in her bed wrapped in a green towel. The second is when she was eating ice cream. She used to love ice cream so much. Vanilla ice cream. Simone is an all-white cat, which may explain why she only loves vanilla ice cream. The third photo is the last one taken of her: sleeping on my left side under the purple blanket.
The purple blanket. The purple blanket has witnessed many beautiful memories of Simone and us—especially me. The purple blanket kept us warm and cozy in that awful winter. The winter that saw Simone’s death.
Simone came to our home in early 2000. My wife and I had been married for two years. One day, we were watching a Tunisian soap opera, in which a woman wrote in her will that all of her money should go to her cats when she dies. My wife Nejla, whose head was in my lap, looked in my eyes, smiled and said: “Should we adopt a cat?”
Her suggestion took me by surprise. She thought that I did not hear her. She said it again. I looked into Nejla’s face. Her face that brings peace into my life.
“A cat! Are you sure?”
“Yes. Let us bring a kitty to our house. Make it a home for a kitty.”
“That would be a great idea. But where can we find a kitty? Most cats on the streets are grown-up cats. . .”
“We can go to a vet and see if there is a kitty. Let us adopt. Come on, Mohammed!”
I put my right hand on her left cheek. Then put my index finger on her lips and said: “Say no more my love.”
No words can describe the smile that took over her face. She reached for the back of my neck and pulled me down for one of the warmest and passionate kisses.
“I love you, Mohammed.”
“I love you, Nejla.”
The next day, on our way from the faculty where we both teach, we stopped in front of a building, in which we were told there was a vet office.
Inside, we found a woman with her dog. She was holding her dog tightly and talking gently and affectionately to him or maybe her. We sat at the left corner and waited for our turn. Later, we told the vet about our desire to adopt a cat. She told us that she had one all-white cat. Nejla’s eyes were burning in happiness. The vet said that we could adopt the cat if we want. We went to the room at the back where the pets are kept.
Simone, or who the cat that we would eventually call Simone, was curled up in one corner away from other kittens. So white like pure snow on a mountain in the Alps. The vet took her in her hands and put her in Nejla’s hands. I could not help myself and kissed Simone’s nose.
“So cute. She is our daughter now.” I told both Nejla and the vet.
“My God. I will give her the best life we can afford. She will bring happiness into our life.” Nejla was so excited and thrilled.
We signed some papers and took Simone to our home. It was not till later that night that we decided on her name.
Nejla and I were in our bedroom reading each a different book with the cat between us. Nejla was reading Rita Monaldi’s Imprimatur, a novel in Italian; she was going to teach it next month. I was reading for the third time Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. From time to time, we would be looking at the cat and smile at each other.
“What should we call her?”
“Maybe Loulou.” I told her.
“That’s too cheesy, Mohammed.”
“Maybe Rita then.”
“Rita. Why not Simone? After all, we live in a Francophone country.”
“Simone. Simone. Simone. Sounds great,” then I looked at the cat and said “, what do you think? Do you like it? Do you want to be called Simone?”
And that was the night when Simone became Simone. Simone became our daughter, our only child. She became the center of our life and home. We bought all that she needs: a cat litter, a cat carrier, and all kinds of food—dry and wet. But it is vanilla ice cream that Simone enjoys most. Summer and winter. Seven blissful years we had all of us together: Simone, Nejla and me.
June 2007. That month brought chaos into our life. Simone felt sick. We took her to the vet, who told us that Simone had cancer. Our temple of happiness fell to the ground. The next three months were the worst days that Nejla and I had lived through.
Simone’s health was deteriorating and she was losing weight rapidly. She could never control her bowl movement or walk. She kept to her bed in the saloon. We made her a palace of pillows and drapes. We moved her litter box to the saloon by the eastern French door. Simone had her ice cream bowl in front of her bed, a bowl shaped like a fish where she eats her pouches and a glass bowl with fresh water.
November 2007. I was sitting in the smaller sofa in the saloon with Simone curled by my feet. I was working on my first novel in English that tells the story of Simone. Unexpectedly, Simone stood on her four paws and looked out of the window. Her tail was up. I thought she was going to get some food. Suddenly, my feet felt warm, really warm. Then they felt wet as if someone poured water on my feet. From behind me, I heard Nejla shouting to me:
“Mohammed, I think Simone is peeing on you.”
Nejla burst in laughter. Then rushed to me to get Simone off the sofa.
“No, no. Leave her to finish. Let us not disturb her.”
After finishing peeing, Simone walked towards my face and licked my hands. Such a lovely cat. Nejla brought some baby whips and cleaned Simone. Then we took the purple blanket, which was partly soaked in pee, to the bathroom. I washed my feet thoroughly and came back to the saloon where Simone was waiting for us and looking towards the saloon door.
Incidents like that happened again several times. Each time, our love for Simone grew bigger and bigger.
Simone died near the end of 2007. We built her a grave in the common garden in our apartment building. Her grave was decorated by a portrait—printed on six medium-sized tiles—of two birds carrying a basket filled with flowers.
Simone died young. And her presence is still felt in very corner of the flat.
I pushed away the purple blanket, stood up and walked to the master bedroom. I stepped into the balcony. From here, I can see Simone’s grave surrounded by flowers.
Simone, my daughter. You will never be forgotten. That I promise you. Mwaah. I blew her kisses like I always do.