Written by M.J.C
One summer day around 1972 or so, my brothers and neighborhood friends were playing outside our apartment that was just off East 14th Street in East Oakland.
As with most summer days in Oakland, it was a pleasant day, around 74 degrees, and we played all our favorite games, made lots of noise, and just did what kids do on a lazy summer day: a whole lot of nothing.
The five of us lived on the 2nd floor in our two-bedroom apartment that was much too small.
Mom mostly stayed inside, except when she’d sit on the balcony and just observe what was happening around her, or talked to neighbors, or her younger brother and sister, if they happened to be visiting.
We played and made all the fun kid noises that were loud, louder, and loudest because we didn’t hold back. We were outside and could be as loud as we wanted and for as long as we wanted.
In a moment when we weren’t screaming and there was a break in our noise, we heard a scream that was beyond anything experienced in our young lives. It was piercing and full of real fear; horror even.
While everyone looked at one another and around to try to pinpoint where the scream was coming from, I was looking up at our apartment door because I knew: It was mom’s scream.
And in that instant as I looked up, mom came running out of the apartment. She was running at full speed. I don’t think I’d ever seen her run up to that point in my life. She was fast.
She ran the length of the balcony and then down the stairs. She may have even skipped a stair or two and I fixated on that small miracle for a moment. Mom skipped stairs as she ran from something. Who knew she could run fast and skip stairs?
Then mom was in front of us, panting and, finally, after my and our repeated questions about what was the matter, mom said, through heavy breathing: a cat ran in the apartment.
How big was the cat? Did the cat attack you? Was it chasing a rat? Did you hit the cat?
Questions were flowing and mom just looked around, incredulous until she finally said, a little quieter now as she’d calmed more after listening to all the questions: No to all your questions. I’m afraid of cats.
Mom was afraid of cats.
Then she said, louder now as she regained her strength in the face of an evil cat: I’m not going back in there until one of you gets it out. Now go get it out right now, she demanded.
And we all started running toward the apartment, then up the stairs, then into the apartment where we stopped. And looked around.
No words were said but I was thinking the cat must be the size of a tiger, or lion, and perhaps everyone else thought that, too, since we all moved slowly into and then around the apartment looking for the cat.
Finally someone yelled: It’s in the kitchen! And we all ran to the kitchen and as we did, the cat took off, running between us and out the door as we all screamed and chased after it, hoping we wouldn’t catch it.
And we didn’t. The cat happily got away.
Then I yelled down to mom that the apartment was clear and the cat was gone.
Mom ran back up the stairs and into the apartment, but not before thanking all of us and planting a kiss on my forehead, before slamming the door and retiring safely to the apartment and away from the evil cat who wasn’t evil at all, but probably just curious and hungry, like we all were.
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