“A kid? Are you talking about another cat again, Sho?”
“No, ‘Zashi, I found a real life child! I found a cat as well, but that’s not the point! He’s been left to starve and freeze to death. Can you just… please, get the bathtub going and fix instant ramen or something? I’m taking him home.”
“You’re taking him home? But Sho, what about his parents-”
“He doesn’t fucking have parents! He was abandoned! Just do as I say!”
I hang up and pick up the cat as well, I can’t just leave it here. And then I start running. The boy rests his cheek against my shoulder. What if I’m too late? What if he dies on our way home? I shake my head. I can’t think like that, I have to save him. I hold the cat against my chest. I’m not letting this one die either. I try warming it up with my hands, but I’m freezing as well. All I can do is run and hope that I’m fast enough.
It smells of chicken flavoured noodles when I open the door.
“‘Zashi! Come help me!”
I sit down and start releasing the child from my scarf. He needs to be heated up, quickly. Hizashi comes running from the bathroom and helps me. As soon as he’s free, he picks him up and goes to the bathroom. I’m still holding the cat. How do you clean a cat in a bathtub? I walk into the bathroom, where Hizashi is undressing the child. He looks up at me.
“Oh god you brought the cat as well?”
“Yes, I couldn’t just leave it! And what if it’s the kid’s friend?”
“His name is Tamotsu.”
I turn back to the child. Did he just speak? His voice was rough, like he hadn’t spoken for a long time. I look back at the cat. Tamotsu. Meaning protector, or keeper. Hizashi lifts the child and carefully puts him in the half-full bathtub. He lies down, submerging his entire body in the warm water. Hizashi’s always been a lot better with kids, so I’ll take the cat. I lift him up and put him in the tub. He doesn’t seem to mind, I guess he’s just happy to get rid of the dirt. The water gets muddy quickly from the dirt from both the cat and the boy. I take the showerhead and start showering the cat. I don’t have any cat shampoo, so I guess normal soap will do. The cat starts purring loudly. I’ll have to make sure to fill another cat bowl later. It takes a lot less time for me to clean the cat than it takes for Hizashi to clean the boy. I dry off the cat with one of our towels, and then let him out in the house. He’ll probably find the other cats soon enough. I make my way to the kitchen and get the noodles Hizashi prepared. I just add the flavour and walk right back to them. I crouch down next to the tub.
“Can you hold the bowl yourself, you think?”
Now that I can see his body, I notice how skinny he really is. I can see every single one of his ribs, and the bones in his shoulders are almost sticking out. His skin is practically hanging from his bones. He shakes his head. I nod and start feeding him the noodles, little by little, while Hizashi shampoos his hair. It doesn’t take much for him to get full. Of course, if he hasn’t been eating for a long time, his stomach will feel a lot smaller than it actually is.
“I’ll go look for some clothes you can wear…”
All of our clothes are way too large for him, but then, what did I expect? The only thing I have is cat clothes that Hizashi insisted we’d buy, for some reason. I’ll have to buy clothes for the boy tomorrow, but for now, a t-shirt of mine will do. I bring it back to the bathroom. Hizashi is talking to the boy. It seems like he got some energy from being heated up and getting some food. He turns to me.
“His name is Hitoshi Shinso, he’s five years old. He’s been out for two months.”
I get an uneasy feeling in my chest. He might as well be dead.
“Tamotsu got me food when I couldn’t leave… he stayed with me…”
So that’s why he named him Tamotsu. He was literally his protector. I did the right thing to bring him with me, then.
Once he’s clean and warm, Hizashi lifts him back up from the bathtub and starts drying him. Right, he’s gonna need underwear as well… and we don’t have time to clean the ones he wore. But a pair of mine or Hizashi’s would be too large…
“I’m gonna wash your clothes real quick…”
I bring the dirty clothes with me to the laundry room and fill the sink with water. I’ll prioritize his underwear, and take the rest of the clothes later. It’ll take too long to put them in the washer, so I’ll clean them by hand. They’re small and have trucks on them, but they look too large for the skinny boy’s hips. Like they’d fall off. I’ll buy some more pairs tomorrow. I wash them as quick as possible and dry them with a hairdryer. They are still slightly damp when I walk back to the bathroom. Hitoshi has a towel wrapped around him, and Hizashi is drying his unruly hair with another one. They both look tired. I hand them my shirt and the clean underwear. The shirt falls like a dress over him, and reaches him to his knees. It’ll do for now.
“We have to go back to bed. Especially you.”
I point to Hitoshi.
“You could either sleep on the couch…” I look at Hizashi, who nods. “...or with us, in our bed. It’s your choice, kid.”
His body trembles. He’s crying.
“I-I wanna… wanna sleep with…”
Hizashi really is a lot better with children than I am. His voice is soft and comforting. The boy nods and wipes his cheeks. He’s probably not have any human contact since he was left in the streets. I get it. Hizashi nods again and picks him up.
“I’m coming in a minute, I’ll just feed the cats.”
They walk to the bedroom and I walk back to the kitchen, where the bowls for cat food and water are. I take another bowl and fill it with the dry food they eat. Hopefully Tamotsu likes it. I don’t have to worry about him liking the other cats, though. As soon as I leave the kitchen, I find all three of them on the sofa, all cuddled up together. I can’t help but smile as I walk insidr the bedroom. Hitoshi is already asleep, curled up next to Hizashi. He would be a great dad. I however… I don’t really like children. Or adults for that matter. I prefer cats. I don’t know what to do with the poor boy. Do we adopt him? Do we hand him over to a foster home, or an orphanage? I don’t know. I remove my hero costume and leave it on the floor. I put on a large, black t-shirt and crawl down in the bed, on the opposite side of Hitoshi. How can he trust us, when he’s just met us? I look at Hizashi. He’s looking back at me.
“What do we do, Sho?”
I sigh deeply and look at the small boy between us.
“I don’t know.”