September 26, 2023 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:37:15+01:00May 24th, 2009|Area 51|
Missing minutes...

n injured cat is camped under the entertainment section of a Rome newspaper. It sits like a lump under a wet tepee. When the paper shifts it’s really the cat scuttling underneath its unintentional hat. Cars fly by. The hurt cat won’t come out. I am not an animal man but this is an exception.

I finally decide to enlist help. I see four people, pedestrians, two middle-aged women, a young man, a teenaged girl. The two middle-aged women pass first and I wave. They ignore me. They are both on their phones. “Why do I have to do that,” shouts one woman into the phone. “No one can make me.”

I let them pass and look at the young man, probably a banker. “Hello,” I say. “Can you help me?” I’m about to tell him about the cat under the newspaper when he shouts, “Don’t you see it can’t be done that way…” He is BlueToothed. “I’ll see you at 3,” he continues, and he’s gone.

I look at the cat-lump and imagine the scene. A car hit the cat and it ran for shelter.

The teenaged girl actually sees the cat. I wave her closer. “Is it dead?” she asks. No. Not dead. Alive still. I sound like an old telegram. “Poor cat,” she says. Then her phone buzzes. The injured cat, startled, shuffles closer to the curb and hisses.

“How can we help the cat?” I ask the girl.

But she’s on the phone now. “I’d like that very much,” she says, moving away. The phone cradled between shoulder and head she makes a sour grin. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “Poor cat.” She walks away.

The cat is breathing hard. I try to lift the newspaper from the cat’s back but it moans and hisses louder.

I see two more people nearby. They are both on the phone. Reality has been shifted on end. It is their conversations that are real. The hurt cat is the unwanted interloper. I see another young woman but she has an iPod. “Excuse me! Excuse me!” I shout. Nothing happens. I put up my palms, fingers splayed open. “Over here!” She doesn’t see or hear.

Ten minutes have passed since I found the cat. It now begins to shuffle slowly, trying to find a place further under the parked car. The sun is hot. The street is noisy. Unshaved and accidental, I look like a beggar. Finally, the cat retreats to where I can’t see it any more.

I stand up and walk to a bench nearby, near a traffic light. Three people sit on the bench. All are also on the phone. One speaks Russian. Another talks about her paycheck; it was late again this month.

Last week I came home in a cab. The driver turned up the wrong street. “Not this one,” I told him. “It’s the next one!” He continued. He then drove past my home. “Here. It’s here!” I tapped his shoulder and, startled, he nearly lost control of the car. He’d been listening to music.

Leap wholesale into talk’s distracting pleasures and you miss things, even simple ones. Incoming and outgoing block unwanted minutes. Focus means dissipating the electric thrall. Connectivity comes with risk, obvious but unacknowledged.

I looked for the cat the next day. All that was left was a bloody newspaper.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.