‘Dead cat, bad scene man’
And there it was, lying by the side of the road in the grass and the weeds below the hedgerow that edged a very large field of summer wheat. It was black and stretched out, having probably been hit by a recent passing car as it hadn’t been there in the morning.
The school bus moved on having dropped off a kid who lived opposite the dead cat on this lonely stretch of road. Maybe it was his cat, we never knew.
The few of us left on the bus, the few that lived way out, laughed hard at John’s joke, strange use of street language which we were not used to; for us a dead cat was just that, a dead cat, and there was nothing bad scene about it at all.
Someone had told me that John hung out with biker gangs and the like; all I knew is that he wore a tatty old leather jacket with the word LUMPIT painted low on the back in a faded, cracked white paint. I guess it meant ‘like it or LUMPIT, I never asked. To me, he was an odd one – we were both 15 but as different as chalk and cheese. He lived in a children’s home in the same town as me, but his sister, who had now left school, lived somewhere else; I recall an aunt being mentioned. His sister was short with curly brown hair, carrying a basket which usually with some cigarettes lying on top. There were tales told at school - their mother some dysfunctional alcoholic, mentally ill, a prostitute; their father having gassed himself in the kitchen oven. Who knows if any of it was true, we were kids and nothing went as deep as another’s troubles – they just simply didn’t exist.
Returning from school the next day the bus slowed to make the usual drop off.
Suddenly, someone shouted:
‘The cat’s gone’
Owen, a younger kid, shrieked in excitement:
‘The gypsies must have eaten it!’
Boy did we laugh at that, but John was furious, walked straight down the bus to the front where Owen sat with his sister. All the older kids sat at the back for some mysterious reason thinking it was cool, but actually we all knew that it was uncomfortable and as bumpy as hell! Immediately he had Owen by the collar of his blazer and pushed him hard against the back of the seat.
‘The gypsies didn’t eat the cat – ok?’
Poor Owen was in tears. John wasn’t what we called a tough guy by any means, just rough and fairly tramp like for a kid of his age. Someone barked at him and he backed off to sit and sulk on his own with his secret memories or fantasies about gypsy cuisine, none of which he shared with us.
A few years later I bumped into John in the street. I was on my way to college and he walked past me without any acknowledgement or eye contact. Just as he passed, I turned and shouted out to him, and as he turned I saw an older man, still scruffy, but now almost vagrant, with a look that said he was into his own bad scene. We exchanged grunts.
I only saw him once again after that, on the seafront outside the entrance to the pier. In those days they still had rock concerts on the pier and perhaps he was going to one, or maybe buying a ticket. He was now a hippy, perhaps gypsy like in that traditional way; black curly hair and a hoop earring with some paisley shirt and an Afghan type coat. This time we spoke for a while. He was serene, had a soft look, was friendly but still somehow had that troubled aura about him. He was with a hippy girl, said he liked her but preferred someone else who he was seeing soon. The girl just smiled. He said he was travelling about from place to place, sleeping here and there and would soon be gone.
We were never friends, just two guys who, for a few years, travelled on the school bus home together.
I never saw him again, never thought about him; all the same, I never forgot those priceless few words:
‘Dead cat, bad scene man’
Ben Gilbert is a worldwide outdoor guide. Having set up and ran two Trekking and Expedition companies in Nepal, he now works freelance. He has written and published three books – The World Peace Journals, a biography of Himalayan Madness; No Place Like Home, fiction set in the raw landscape of Africa and the Pyrenees in the 1960s; Mumbo Jumbo, an anthology of true tales and complete lies. Based in Europe, you can find him at: thebluespace.com