Miško was cowering inside the house a few days ago. Was he sick? Was he hurt? The cat wouldn’t let me touch him, except on the top of the head. He was cut below the eye and across the nose, but not bleeding much. His fur was ruffled and clumps were hanging out. He crouched as tightly as possible beside the back door, not curled up, but cowering as if in fright. He refused food and drink. I thought I’d leave him be for a while and then see if I could examine him.

Later in the evening Miško was tempted by some fresh fish. He moved out of his corner and walked as if in pain across to the fish. I could see there were clumps of fur hanging below his neck and from the side that had previously been hidden. But I couldn’t see any more traces of cuts and his paws looked ok. “If you’re still in the same state tomorrow evening, we’ll go to the vet,” I told him, as he looked at me with his hurt eyes.

The next morning he had moved to beside the front door – a currently favoured position, at least until the post lands on him – but he seemed a little less cowered. In the evening when I returned, I saw all the food had been eaten, but that could have been his brother Gombik’s work. However, Miško seemed more alert and allowed me to stroke him a bit. The cut under his eye seemed fairly superficial, and he had cleaned himself up a bit. But he wouldn’t go outside. “OK, you’re not so bad, no trip to the vet then,” and I assume he understood. He was now hungry, and ate several small portions. But he wouldn’t go out until the third day, and then remaining close to the back of the house.

Now I understood. He had been thoroughly beaten up by some enemy cat, and the humiliation was too much to take. It wasn’t the cuts, the scars or the fur tearing – he probably gets as much from Gombik. It was the fact that he had lost a fight, and probably lost territory, and maybe public prestige in the feline world. What humiliation!

Reflecting on his humiliation brought to mind one similar humiliation I had experienced. I must have been about 11 or 12 and was travelling on a crowded bus with a schoolfriend. We were constantly being hit in the back and neck by a rowdy group of 8-10-year-olds who were tormenting all the other passengers, and no-one, not even the conductor, was doing or saying anything about it. Eventually I turned round and told the kids to cut it out. “Make me,” sneered a small kid about two-thirds of my size. “You wouldn’t dare,” he added, taunting me, and the others joined in urging me on.

I gave in to the taunts and got up to face the mite, but now from behind the small heads appeared one that was built like a tank. He was still smaller than me, but I could immediately see much tougher. “I’m fighting you, not him,” I said to the two-thirds kid. “You fight him,” the mites yelled, and the tank thumped me hard on the nose, and then pummeled a blistering array of left and right jabs at my head. I was down in no time, and had no way of defending myself. I wasn’t used to this kind of street fighting: this was a future Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Patterson combined, raining power blows and jumping on top of me. At some point the tank must have taken pity, for he stopped. The mites continued taunting me and praising their champion. I was completely and utterly humiliated. In the middle of a crowded bus, in front of my friend. It was a one-to-one fight, as one-sided as you could get. I never got a single punch in. No one on the bus said a thing, no one intervened, the conductor ignored the whole episode, and what’s more I couldn’t get off the bus for quite some time, having to bear both the taunts of the mites and disapproving stares of the other passengers.

I don’t recall ever experiencing quite such a public humiliation again, abject humiliation for not being able to stand up for myself, and guilt for getting into the situation in the first place. Yeah, I could understand what Miško must have felt.

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