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The magical Babalu.

Edmundo Serrano was a gentleman, a doer of good deeds who was always looking for the opportunity to do another one. He was, for the most part, satisfied with life, and had learned to cope with its ups and downs, sad and happy moments, discouragements, setbacks, and regrets. He found out that to forgive and forget was the best way to cope with these problems. But there was one regret that continued to haunt him years after it happened. A regret, he thought, needed redemption and forgiveness before he could have peace of mind.

It, the reason for his good deed and the cause of his regret, had appeared one night as casually as a new snowfall. The memory gave Edmundo such great sorrow that he would try not to think about it. When he did, his eyes would fill with tears of remorse. He sometimes thought he was to blame, bur then at other times wasn't sure if he was to blame at all.

It was a bitter, cold snowy night with rows of icicles hanging from the gutters and gables of houses. A plume of frosted vapor from a rooftop vent floated up into the crystal cloudless sky, where a gorgeous white winter moon rested in the stars. It was late in the evening and the streets were empty when he returned from dinner. When he opened the front door he felt a little push against the bottom. He looked down and saw a big gray Manx cat with no tail trying to push his head through the crack of the slightly opened front door. He wanted to get out of the cold, so Edmundo opened the door and let the cat in.

It was obvious from the cat's handsome, well-kept appearance, that it came from a good home where it was well fed and loved. Edmundo wondered what kind of strange circumstances had brought, by happenstance, this unusual cat to his door. Edmundo named him Babalu, a word from a Desi Arnaz Cuban song. "Babalu aye Babalu ..." is a line he remembered from the song.

Babalu gracefully walked around the house, purring and rubbing against Edmundo's legs, and the furniture, thanking them for bringing him out of the bitter cold. It was the loudest purr Edmundo had ever heard. It was the purr of a contented cat. Years later, through the mist of rime, it occurred to him that Babalu was a mystical cat, and perhaps a messenger from other portals.

When Edmundo returned from work, the moment he set foot in the door there would be Babalu, in the same place every day, across the living room purring and rubbing against the couch. Edmundo guessed Babalu watched for his return from a window and then would come to greet him. He was perfectly content and peaceful, and as Edmundo recalled later, had a sacred and artistic nature.

One evening Edmundo sat in the cozy warmth of his house reading and listening to the song "The Impossible Dream" from the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. Babalu was purring loudly and rubbing against Edmundo's legs. But on this evening Babalu's loud purring and unconditional love annoyed Edmundo for some strange reason, and the innocent Babalu became the recipient of that discontent. Edmundo (on the way to his regret) picked Babalu up, and forty years later he still remembered the words he said, "Okay, okay, that's enough," and put him out into the bitter cold night. And alas, alas, the innocent Babalu did not know why he was put out of the warm, comfortable house.

Edmundo didn't put Babalu out because of cruelty but, he realized later, it was just a way to get rid of the purring and ... perhaps ... (part of the dreadful regret) the unconditional love that it represented. Babalu became the victim of a spontaneous reaction that Edmundo could not control because it came from a deep-seated punitive emotion established long ago. This left Edmundo confused and full of regret because he wasn't a mean man and was, in a sense, as innocent as Babalu.

Edmundo had, without knowing why, renounced Babalu's love. The night Edmundo carried the purring Babalu (he thought Edmundo's touch was affectionate) to the door and put him out, it was fifteen degrees below zero. Edmundo had mistakenly thought Babalu would be okay because his fur would keep him warm. Years later Babalu's warm fur and purring would haunt Edmundo.

Babalu disappeared for a couple of days and then one morning Edmundo's father told him Babalu was by the side of the house. Edmundo went to look and found Babalu sitting in the bitter cold in a patch of bright winter sunshine, leaning against the house, too sick to move, but the moment Babalu saw Edmundo, his friend, he started to purr. When Edmundo remembered that moment later (and the glorious winter day) it broke his heart and he was grief-stricken and wept. Edmundo took Babalu to a veterinarian, where he learned Babalu had an advanced case of pneumonia and couldn't be saved. So the beloved (Edmundo discovered his love for Babalu that fateful day) Babalu was put to sleep. "Babalu aye Babalu. "It was a tragic end for the mystical, innocent Babalu. But Edmundo was as innocent as Babalu because he was the helpless victim of a conditioned reaction and did not know that a simple thoughtless action would have fatal consequences for Babalu.

Years later on a cold winter evening a neighbor knocked on Edmundo's door and told him she had seen a mother carrying a kitten go under his porch. He looked under the porch and in the flashlight beam a cute white kitten was looking over a pile of rags. Edmundo knew that when the real cold weather arrived the kitten would freeze to death. Maybe he thought of that because of Babalu. So he crawled under the porch and got the kitten and took it in the house. He put the kitten, who could barely walk, by the open kitchen door and braced open the screen door.

It wasn't long before the kitten's mother looked in the door, then cautiously went to her kitten, and that is when Edmundo closed the door, trapping her inside. Edmundo named the kitten Bucky Linn. Finding them homes would be another of his good deeds. And then he remembered what a recipient of one of his good deeds had said in a letter to him, "... the giver becomes part of something vast and beautiful ..."

Edmundo gave the little kitten Bucky Linn and her mother a lot of kindness that might have been to make up for what he didn't give the mystical Babalu. They slept in a comfortable box next to the stove until Bucky Linn was weaned. Then Edmundo and a friend, Kimi Jackson, found Bucky Linn a home with a lawyer and his mother went to live with a couple on a farm. It was a happy ending for all. And the mystical sacred and artistic Babalu, watching from the memories of Edmundo's mind, was proud of him and started to purr and Edmundo's regret vanished. Ai "Babalu aye Babalu ..."

Orlando Martinez was born in Old San Acacio in El Valle de San Luis a number of decades ago. He received his education in libraries and by observing people. He has been published in the Urban Spectrum, the Montelibre Monthly, La Herencia, the Main Street Rag, and numerous other publications and is a member of the International Writers Association.
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Author:Martinez, Orlando
Publication:Bilingual Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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