Special Soups Soup
They called him soups. Soups used to live in an unused basement that was accessible via a small window on street level. It was only a few corners away from Soup’s favorite restaurant. Many people ate there but not all finished their plates. A very nice chef worked in the kitchen there. Soups liked him because every night after closing time, he would make him chicken soup. Hence the name: Soups. He’d throw some leftover meat – he knew chicken was Soup’s favorite – in leftover soup, along with some leftover pasta, rice or bread, and put it outside in a plastic box. Soups loved the leftover chicken soups. It always tasted delicious, but none tasted like the other.
Some days, Soups knew he could afford to wait until evening for his main dish, the soup, to be served, sometimes along with a short pat on the head from the chef’s tired hand. But some days, the chef didn’t work, so Soups walked between the tables on the terrace looking for guests accidentally dropping things. They always dropped things when he was watching. It was really strange. Were they doing it on purpose? No, who drops their delicious food on purpose so some scruffy, mangy stray could pick it up? It was funny indeed; they only accidentally dropped things when Soups was watching and staff was not. This allowed for only one conclusion, Soups realized: he had magical powers! He loved it. All he had to do, was touch people with his tail or his nose, and the waiters would turn away and food would drop to the ground one table at a time! His magical powers were so strong that sometimes he couldn’t possibly finish his entire loot, so there were days when he carried some back through the alleys that he had come through on his way to the restaurant, and share it with orphaned kittens and elderly cats who had a hard time fending for themselves. Of course Soups never told any other cat of his powers. He was raised better than to brag about something amazing that only he had and others didn’t. The other cats loved him, and Soups loved knowing he had an amazing secret that made him their hero.
One day, the restaurant suddenly closed. Soups went around back, only to find his plastic box of stale chicken soup there. Drip. Drip. Drop. Soups looked up. It was starting to rain. Hurriedly he gulped down as much soup as he could before the rain would ruin it. Soups could find some leftovers elsewhere, but none as good as the leftover soup that his chef so lovingly prepared for him, fresh and one of a kind, every night. Even when he was full, Soups always made sure his chef knew his oeuvre was appreciated.
He could not carry such a heavy thing back to the other cats and he didn’t want to leave it to go and get them either, because in the meantime someone might knock it over, or a car might drive by and splash mud on it. Sometimes, when Soups was too late, people would actually throw it away as if it were trash. Once Soups had walked in on such a scene, he had been looking forward to his special soup all day, when he saw a man fling it into a dumpster. That had made Soups very sad. There had been love in the making of that soup, and he would have loved to taste it as each soup was unique. Sadly, he had tried to lick some off the trash bags but the act of destruction had pained him too much that night and Soups had gone home hungry.
November rain. Soups was not very good at keeping track of time, but his restaurant had been deserted, and no soup had been put out for him, for longer than he cared to remember. He’d stopped by daily, and every time something about the place had been changed. Soups couldn’t read but the name was different now. The waiters were dressed differently and some of them were unfamiliar to Soups. And tonight, there were finally people. Many of them were regulars from before and Soups was happy to see them. He could play his magic trick on them. They never seemed to mind when he made them drop their food. They were actually quite smitten, gasping with delight and joy for him when he’d wolf down the harvest of his magic.
But this time there were also more new people than usual. The place was cleaner and shinier than usual. Was this also some kind of magic, to make the restaurant new? Curious and thrilled to see what would happen next – aside from his routine – Soups positioned himself at the hindmost corner of the terrace which was now closed off with transparent plastic screens and a roll-down roof overhead to shield the guests from the rain. Heaters were positioned just right to warm all the people and Soups curled up beside one. It felt great! Soups had never felt such warmth in winter before. The summer sun had been the warmest thing he’d known. His soups were never that hot because his chef had always made sure it would cool off first so he wouldn’t burn his tongue. But he did usually serve it kind of warm, pleasantly warm. Warm. Very warm. With a squeak of pain, Soups bolted away from the heater. The strange shaky-looking air had scorched his tail! That was mean. Soups settled down a safe distance from the heater and started to gather his magic forces. He guessed this was done by closing his eyes and sitting still, only moved by a barely visible rocking motion and his purrs. When he was ready, he got up and walked to the first table. He knew the people there and they seemed happy to see him, too. But what was that? Their eyes fell on a waiter standing a few steps away, glaring at them from the corner of his eyes. Why wasn’t he looking away? The people at the table looked down at Soups, back at the waiter who was still looking at them disapprovingly, and – nothing. Nothing happened! Had the rain broken his magic? The people looked a bit disappointed, an expression mirrored by Soup’s own little black face and felt deeply within his tightening chest.
But the night was still young and he had lots of time to try his magic at other tables, and if that didn’t work, he would just wait for his chef to serve him today’s Special Soups Soup. Soups looked at the waiter once more and guessed the waiter must have magic powers of his own and was probably interfering with Soups’. Or maybe this table was broken. Or the people. Soups moved on to the next table. He didn’t know the people but he knew the waiter standing in the corner closest to it. Soups cast his magic by sitting down and staring at the guests with round, amber eyes. It took a little while and the waiter did sometimes look back at him, but at last a hand, delicately holding a shred of fish, moved towards Soups. He saw the fingers flex to release the treat and stood on his hindlegs so he could catch it before it hit the ground.
Soups rolled over backwards, the hand flinched back on to the table, and the fish landed ungracefully between two bricks where ants immediately came streaming all over it. Soups and the people turned around to find the waiter scowling at them. He made some kind of scolding gesture at the people who gave Soups one more sad look, and then ignored him. Soups was sad. He was used to his magic not working on everyone, but now it seemed to have worn off on the waiters.
Soups tried a few more tables, but his magic seemed to wear off quickly as not only waiters, but even guests started to shoo him. Disappointed in how his first evening at his favorite restaurant in a long time had turned out, Soups trudged back to the heater that had previously burned his tail. The warmth was comforting and so was the thought of his soup of the day later on when he closed his eyes. The salty-sweet scent of chicken soup with noodles and onions filled his nostrils and his mouth began to water. The shiny plastic box was slowly, gingerly, lowered to the ground and over it, towered the nice chef, smiling with delight that his favorite regular was gracing him with his presence again.
Soup’s eyes flew open and he leaped out of the way just in time to avoid a waiter’s foot. What was happening? Who was he bothering, curled up by the heater he had only just discovered? The waiter was welcome to share it with him, Soups didn’t understand what his problem was. Or anyone’s for that matter. Everyone was acting strange, in an unpleasant way. And his magic was broken. Soups was sad. Avoiding another swipe from the waiter, and seeing some disapproving glares from familiar faces directed at the waiter, Soups squeezed through a gap in the plastic screen and ran around the corner to the back door of the restaurant to wait for his chef. He needed his Special Soups Soup tonight more than ever. Everything had gone wrong and he was even begrudged his nice, cozy spot by the heater. He needed his soup, and maybe a petting. Maybe he’d even finally find the courage to follow his chef home. He had always secretly fantasized about that. Come to think of it, Soups didn’t know why he’d never tried it before. The man clearly liked him, so why would he mind taking him home?
One rain had stopped and another one was pouring down even harder than the last. Everywhere around Soups, lights were going out. At long last, the terrace was completely deserted and the first lights were going out in the restaurant. Soups perked his ears. He could hear steps approaching the back door. Finally! There was his special chef with his Special Soups Soup! The door swung open. Soups’s tail stuck right up with anticipation and he could feel his eyes shine. Thrilled, his paws kneaded the dirty ground. His throat rumbled with purrs.
Before Soups could even process his shock, a trash back hit him and almost buried him underneath itself. The door flew shut and Soups was left gaping with hurt and betrayal. Once he regrouped, he realized that had not been the voice of his chef. The scent of leftovers rose from a tear in the trash bag. Was that… wasn’t that… wasn’t that what should have been his Special Soups Soup? Tail and shoulders drooping, Soups sniffed the bag and the food stuff oozing from the tear.
He felt very sad when he trudged off.
It was way past Special Soups Soup time.
There was no more point in waiting.
There was not even a point in trying again another day, Soups thought. All was different now. His magic was broken, people didn’t like him, and his chef had gone. His soup had gone. His Special Soups Soup. His daily delight.
The rain was pouring heavier and heavier as Soups dragged his paws through the now muddy alleyways. The icy water was starting to soak his coat and penetrate to his skin. It stung, the cold hurt Soups. He had never been out in such weather before. He tried to walk faster to get back to his basement. His nose started to clog up and his head hurt. The wind blew sharp and tugged at his whiskers and bent his ears.
A passing car sprayed Soups with more icy brown water. Shaking himself, he made for his basement window, only to find it blocked by a parked motorcycle. But he was cold! And soaking wet! What..? Why..? Soups sat on his haunches and tried to push the vehicle out of the way, but it wouldn’t budge. Taking a deep, rasping breath that he almost coughed back up, he made himself calm down to gather his magic. If he could make people’s hands move, he could move this thing. But nothing helped. Soups was starting to feel more than just sad and disappointed; Soups was starting to feel hopeless and lonely. He wasn’t just tired. He was… tired. Life on the street had never been easy for him, and his restaurant, his chef, his soup, and his basement room, were all he had, not just for survival, but to feel a little of the happiness everyone was pursuing so frantically. Where was Soups going to go now? What about his Special Soups Soups? Soups was heartbroken.
The rain unrelenting, Soups trudged through the streets until he walked into a dead end. It was nothing he could climb. A smooth concrete wall, and lots of broken glass that lined the bottom made it dangerous to risk a leap. Only stinking trash cans on either side, rain above and no point in going back. Where to? Soups was sad. So very, very, endlessly sad. A sigh escaped him but halfway out, it turned into a wail that was in its turn cut off by a rattling cough. Soups gagged and tried to clear his throat but when he inhaled, he coughed again. This was no good. Weary and hurting, he hung his head and let the rain beat down on him. He was stuck between a wall, garbage, rain and unfriendly people. His magic was gone and he was denied his little leftover slop. Why was he being punished so? Had he been asking for too much?
It didn’t matter when the cold finally started to numb his skin and the icy wind stopped bothering him through the thick layer of gooey fur. He found it was easier to take short, shallow breaths. The sight of all the dirt and the brick and the concrete and the rain began to blur and become less harsh. Soups felt his belly-fur touch the ground as he slowly sank into the mud. The pain in his paws and in his head started to subside. Everything started to subside. Would the other cats miss him? Soups kind of hoped so. And how he would have loved one last Special Soups Soup, and maybe to be picked up and held for a little while. The sweet-salty scent of leftover chicken soup, and the gentle squeeze of human hands lifting him up. A short, weak purr rose in his throat as his fantasy started to feel real. At least one last time…
The scent lasted, as did the touch and the feeling of being pressed against a beating heart. Soups let his head sink into the bend of the arm that held him, and let himself be carried. The voice was soothingly familiar. So was the hand that carried him. The other hand was carrying something smelling salty-sweet.
Warmth. And a salty-sweet scent, like chicken soup, that made his mouth water. Soups lifted a heavy head. He was wrapped in something soft. He was inside a house; a box with noisy images was flickering in the corner of his sight. A heater was warming his fur from a safe distance and he felt a familiar hand rub his head as though to dry it. The other hand reached across a low table to pick up a colorful ceramic dish that had a cat and a fish painted on it. And from it rose a cloud that smelled salty-sweet.
Soups was happy.