Every night Couscous could be found on the window sill staring up at the night sky with his tail hanging down over the radiator. His nose would be pressed against the glass as he counted stars.
Couscous liked counting stars. No matter how long he sat with his breath steaming up the glass he could never count them all before the sun came up or his eyes would close. Sometimes Ababa, Couscous' best friend, would pull up her chair so Couscous could curl up on her lap and together they would count the night lights as Ababa stroked his fur.
One evening upon counting the one hundred and third star a magical thing occurred. It was something Couscous had never seen before but his tail puffed up in excitement as he watched a star fall from the sky.
Meowing excitedly he hopped off the window sill, into the hall and out the cat flap. In the garden he searched the skies and saw the star flash across the rooftops and plummet to the ground just beyond the wall that separated Couscous' house from his neighbours. The little cat ran across the lawn, skipped through the flowerbed, leapt from the wheelbarrow to the wall and slipped into the neighbours garden.
The grass in the neighbours garden was long and the old woman that lived there rarely mowed her lawn. Despite this Couscous spotted the falling star easily. It had created a flattened trail in the long grass and was cradled in a small basin of charred stems.
When Couscous approached the star he heard a faint whimpering sound like a small animal crying. He flattened his body to the ground and crept slowly forward alert and excited. The grass parted before him and he saw the fallen star unmoving and glowing faintly in the darkness.
Bravely Couscous moved closer sniffing at the strange and wonderful object.
'What have I done?' the star cried out.
Couscous leapt back in fright his tail thick and bushy and his back arched ready for danger.
'How could I have been so stupid? the star wailed.
Couscous couldn't believe his ears. Was this star really speaking? He moved closer and sniffed at it again.
'Oh please help me Coucous,' the star said as the cat neared.
Couscous' ears flattened in suspicion. How did this star know his name?
'Don't be afraid,' the star told him. 'We stars know the names of all the children of Earth. Please sit with me so I can tell you my story. I am so alone and helpless and in need of aid.'
Couscous eyed the star for a moment then sat down keeping his distance.
The star began to speak.
'Little Couscous I've seen how you count the stars every night. I've looked down on you as you have looked up at me and in you I recognise a kindred spirit. Each and every night I count my brothers and sisters too. I could count the stars for eternity there seem so many. We are so beautiful Couscous, so utterly beautiful.'
Couscous whiskers twitched in agreement. The stars were indeed beautiful and even this fallen one before him which was slowly losing its sparkle was still a thing of exquisite splendour.
'There are so many of us,' the star continued. 'And some are more lovely than others but there is one type of star that I always look out for. They are rare yet so wonderful and easily the most beautiful of all the stars. They are the stars that are free to roam the heavens and explore the universe. Have you ever seen a shooting star Couscous?'
The cat nodded. He thought he had seen one once but as it caught his eyes it was gone.
'Then you will know how special they are,' the star said. 'I have fallen in love with the shooting stars and all I desire is to join them in their freedom of the universe. I long to explore the heavens and my heart would break whenever I saw a shooting star so I did a terribly foolish thing: I cut myself from the sky. I thought that if I cut myself free I would just fly away but instead I fell.'
'For hours I plummeted to Earth and my star shine burned as I fell through the atmosphere. I have so little left now. I am helpless here and soon my shine will leave me and I will die. Will you help me Couscous? Will you help me find my way back to the skies? I don't have long left and I am so alone without my brothers and sisters.'
Couscous needed no time to consider. The star's glow had slowly diminished as it told its story. Without hesitation Couscous leaned over the star and tentatively picked it up in his mouth. As carefully as a mother would carry her kittens Couscous retraced her steps back to her own house. The cat already had an idea as to how to help the star but he needed the assistance of his dearest friend Ababa. The problem was going to be how to tell Ababa what she was supposed to do.
'Couscous, it's so pretty!'
Ababa squealed in delight and cradled the cat's gift in her hands. The star's soft light bathed her face in a cool glow. Ababa sat on the floor cross legged to examine the curious gift that her clever little cat had brought her. The star was a perfect sphere, soft too as though it was made from fabric yet it weighed heavy in her hands. When she held it the hair on the back of her neck stood on end and gooseflesh tickled her arms.
'Such a clever kitty,' she said. 'You found a star. That's a much better present than the mice you usually bring home.' Ababa stroked behind the cat's ear just where he liked it. He purred and nudged her hand back to the star.
'Yes Couscous,' she said firmly, 'something must be done about this star. I wonder why it has fallen from the skies. This is no place for a star and it seems to be losing its shine. I think that we shall have to find a way to return this star to its home.'
Couscous meowed happily and rubbed his cheek affectionately against Ababa's leg.
'Now then,' Ababa said twirling a strand of hair in her fingers as she always seemed to do when she concentrated. 'How can we save this star. I don't think we can just throw it up in the air and hope it sticks can we?'
Couscous stared at her in that blank way that cats do so well and Ababa felt a little foolish.
'It was just my first idea you know. How about we build some sort of device to launch the star high into the sky?'
The cat blinked at her.
'Ok maybe not. We could go climb the big hill on the other side of town. That would get us closer to the sky.'
Couscous meowed at her. The strand of hair was now completely wound around Ababa's finger. She unravelled it and sighed.
Suddenly Couscous stood up and sped from the room. Ababa jumped in surprise as the cat fled and she heard the batting of the cat flap.
'It's just you and me now star,' Ababa said. The star in her palm was glowing ever more faint. Ababa felt a horrible loss in the pit of her stomach. There had to be something she could do to help the poor thing.
A moment later she heard the batting of the cat flap again. Couscous walked proudly into the room and dropped something at Ababa's knees.
'Another present?' Ababa asked picking up the small flower that Couscous had left for her. 'Why have you brought me a dandelion?'
With the star in one hand she held up the little flower. It's stem was a pale green and it's tiny white clock hairs clung to the head until Ababa blew gently and several grey hairs danced into the air and floated away. The cat meowed at her and nudged the star in her hand with his snout.
'It's very pretty Couscous but I'm not quite sure how this helps the star.' The cat sniffed the dandelion and another few clock hairs fell away. Ababa looked into the cat's green eyes knowing that he was trying to tell her something. 'I don't understand,' she told him.
The cat meowed at her and turned away, her tail flicking at her in annoyance.
'I think I upset him,' Ababa told the star.
The light from the star was fading fast and it felt lighter in her hands than it had before. It would not be long before the star was nothing but a simple stone.
Couscous appeared at her lap again holding something else in his mouth. He dropped it on the floor and meowed at her. Ababa picked up two birthday candles and peered at them.
'Birthday candles?' Ababa said. 'Why are you giving me birthday candles?' The cat stared at her through half closed lids. Ababa knew it was the little cat's way of telling her she was being stupid so she concentrated as hard as she could and tried to work out what it was Couscous wanted her to do.
How would a dandelion and some birthday candles help a star get back to the sky? Ababa could come up with nothing and glanced at Couscous sheepishly.
'I don't know what to do,' she told him reluctantly.
Couscous' tail flicked back and forth.
'I am trying!' Ababa cried, though she knew she was more angry at herself than the cat.
Couscous rubbed his cheek against Ababa's arm and they sat side by side watching the poor star die in her hands. Ababa felt utterly helpless. She knew there was a way to save the star, if only Couscous could tell her. She picked up the dandelion and the birthday candles. How could they possibly help?
Suddenly Couscous ears pricked up. He hopped over to the star, took it in his mouth and raced out of the room. Ababa ran after him as he sped out of the cat flap and into the garden. By the time Ababa got the door open Couscous was up and over the wall and speeding down the lane at the end of the garden. Ababa clambered over the wall and saw Couscous waiting for her at the end of the lane. She called after him but he ran on through the gate that led to the park. Couscous rarely went into the park at night as there were foxes there so Ababa ran after him worried as to what would make her little cat go somewhere he was usually afraid of.
The gate opened onto a winding path that led through the wood that skirted the park. Ababa wondered where Couscous got all his energy from as she kept spotting him ahead of her, waiting for her to catch up. Eventually she caught him at a clearing just before the woods ended. He was sitting on the edge an old stone well. The well had been there for many years and had recently been cleaned up and rebuilt as a feature in the park. It had a wooden roof over the top and a metal bucket hung from a thick rope.
Couscous held the star over the well. It looked like he was going to drop it in.
'Couscous no!' Ababa yelled, 'What are you doing?' She ran to the cat and quickly took the dying star from his mouth. The cat meowed at her and jumped down from the well. Ababa was about to scold him but caught herself short. He was trying to tell her something.
She looked at the well then opened her hand realising she still held the dandelion and birthday candles. Suddenly it all made sense.
'Couscous you are the cleverest cat in the world.'
The cat licked his paw nonchalantly.
Ababa placed the candles and the dandelion on the edge of the well and cupped the star in both her hands. It was a dull grey colour and had only the faintest of starlight left. It had but a few moments left to live.
'I'm sorry I didn't think of this sooner,' Ababa said and closed her eyes. For a few seconds she remained like that silent and still with Couscous looking up at her expectantly then finally she raised her hands to her mouth and whispered into them.
With a blinding flash the star exploded into life in Ababa's hands and she fell back covering her eyes from the bright light. She peered through a gap in her fingers as the star spun in glittering circles above their heads. It hovered there for a moment then dived down to where Couscous was sitting. The star touched Couscous' nose illuminating his whiskers in a delicate kiss before shooting upwards through the treetops sending sleeping birds squawking from their nests. Ababa watched the star streak across the sky back where it belonged.
'Well Couscous, aren't you the clever one today,' Ababa said stroking her best friend behind the ear. 'All the star needed was to be wished on just like dandelions, birthday candles and wishing wells.' Couscous purred gently as Ababa stroked his head. 'And do you know what I wished for little cat?' Couscous looked up at her. 'I wished that you and me could be friends forever.' Couscous purred in agreement and together they walked home staring up at the new shooting star that soared across the heavens.