(A Buddhist Tale)
Once upon a time, a skinny old woman lived in a tumbledown house with her beloved cat. Her cat was as skinny as she was. The cat had never tasted cream, never eaten a morsel of bread. The cat hadn’t even eaten a mouse! They were so poor that they had no crumbs, so the mice never visited.
One morning, the cat was sitting in the window when she saw another cat walking outside along the rooftop. She noticed this cat was sleek and fat. He looked so happy with his long tail that stood straight up and his yellow eyes shining in the summer sunshine.
“Neighbor,” the skinny cat called, “you look like the happiest cat I’ve ever seen. Where do you find food that makes your coat so sleek and your handsome body so fat?”
The fat cat smiled and ran over to visit. “Well, hello. You’re right. I am a happy cat. You see, I eat at the king’s table.”
“The king? How do you know the king?” the skinny cat asked.
“Oh, we don’t know each other, not at all,” the fat cat said. “But whenever the king has a feast spread out for guests, I go to the palace and steal my share.”
The skinny cat could not believe her ears. The palace sounded delightful. A feast — and a share of that feast!
“Oh,” she sighed. “I wish you’d take me with you to the palace one day.”
“Happy to,” the fat cat said. “Let’s go tomorrow! I’ll come fetch you at dawn.”
The skinny cat was overjoyed and hurried to tell her mistress. But when the old woman heard of her cat’s plans, she was terribly upset.
“Please stay home with me,” the woman said. “We’ll eat our broth. It’s honest food. If you begin to steal, you’re only asking for sorrow.”
But the skinny cat had stopped listening. She was dreaming already of the delicacies the fat cat had described. She could almost see the banquet table spread with roast beef and toast, cheese fondue and cherry pies, chestnuts and salmon. Her mouth was watering as she dreamed.
At dawn the next morning, she leaped out of the window and hurried across to the roof to join the fat cat.
It so happened that that very morning, the king woke in a terrible mood. “I’m tired of all these cats lurking around the palace,” he told his servants. “People are always tripping over them, and everywhere I look there’s another cat. I am going to issue a decree.”
“Of course, your majesty,” the servants said. “Issue away!”
And so the king wrote out his decree.
“The palace will hang any intruding cats,” the decree declared.
The fat cat and the skinny cat were making their way toward the palace. “Watch me,” the fat cat said. “Follow my lead,” and he began to approach stealthily and quietly. He carefully ducked around corners and waited, watching to make sure no one noticed his presence. After all, as he had tried to explain to the skinny cat, no one likes a thief.
Just as he began to creep through the palace gate, one of his fellow street cats stopped him. “The king has issued a decree,” the cat whispered. “They’re going to hang intruders.”
The moment the fat cat heard this, he turned to his skinny friend. “We have to run away,” he said. “We aren’t safe today. Follow me.” And he took off, racing away from that palace as fast as he could.
But the skinny cat could smell the feast from where she stood. She sniffed the air and her body quivered. “Oh, just a taste,” she thought. “A single taste of nice, juicy salmon would be so nice, or a slender slice of meat …”
She looked to her left. She looked to her right. No one was around. She leaped right through the window into the banquet hall, and she was just about to snatch a piece of venison from the table when she felt a hand grab her neck. “You’ll be hanged!” someone said.
That evening when her cat did not return home, the old woman wept. “If only my skinny cat had been content with honest food, she’d be here by my side.”