Growing up, our house was kinda like a breeding ground for quite a lot of stray cats. Could have been the heap of old magazines and warm newspapers that made a cozy bed or the fact that we’d smuggle in new born kittens to cuddle them, away from Mom’s hawk like eyes. I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have a cat, or even a dog as a pseudo pet to our family. For many years we had a steady pet cat that we’d discovered as a kitten even before he could open his eyes. We’d named him “Mew” (very original, I know) and most of my childhood years are filled with stories of this strange cat who would run away from milk and snobbishly slap our pet Labrador Leo while showing off his superior jumping skills. Mew had also loved to adamantly doze off right on top of papers Mamma would be grading even though his ultimate favorite place to nap was under the folds of my sister’s sweater as she ratted off Social Studies answers, purring in content all the while. The cat, I mean. Not my sister.
But this is not about Mew. I guess the purpose of this whole prelude was to drive home the point that I always considered myself a very cat-friendly person. So when one of my friends offered me a whole weekend of cat-sitting while she went holidaying to Cambodia, I said yes without thinking twice. I even decided to ignore that small voice inside my head wondering what the husband would have to say about it. I imagined myself lying down on my hammock in my balcony, reading a book, with a purring cat settled nice and warm on my tummy. I imagined four days of pure bliss.
The first thing I realized when my friend dropped Claude the cat home was that there was no way I could even open the balcony door. As curious as cats come, and maybe even more, Claude would shoot for anything that was new to him, and I was really concerned he would want to know what lay beyond those low railings in my balcony. They don’t say curiosity kills the cat for nothing after all. The first evening, I set out a bowl of his kitty chow, and left him under the care of my in-laws who were visiting us. When we returned from dinner late at night I found him curled under our bed, meowing his head off as we lit the lights and checked on him. He’d follow me everywhere I went, and roll over on his tummy every now and then, which I later learnt was his plea to pet him. The moment we turned off the lights and hit the bed though, he jumped up on the bed and settled right between us, plonking himself on top of the blanket. As though accusing us of abandoning him for the night, he started yowling really loudly, and I instinctively shushed him. To my surprise though, he actually shushed up! I heard not a peep from him for the whole night unless one of us got up in the middle of the night, and then he’d meow for a little while until the person went back to bed again.
Things were quite uneventful for the next day, except that I learned to recognize his cue for me to go scoop out poop from his litter box after he was done with his business. He’d sit in front of the toilet and yowl loudly until I went to check on him. My in-laws and I spent a marvelous half hour trying to hold him still long enough to take a picture, and taking turns to pet him now and then. The next day however, after my in-laws left, Claude was all silent and almost forlorn, and I kind of let him be after many attempts at trying to make him snuggle up next to me. He’d also started sneezing cute little kitty sneezes, and I started feeling like a worried mother wondering if he’d caught a cold and making sure he was drinking enough water. After about an hour of hiding under the table though, he sneaked closer one step at a time and finally decided to let me pet him. We snuggled together and watched a movie. Well, at least I did, while he took a long nap turning on his sides from time to time.
That evening however, I realized he was eating less and he hadn’t touched his bowl of water. After doing some research on cat colds, I was even more concerned. I’d take him near to the bowl, and dip my fingers in water and take it close to his mouth just in case he couldn’t smell it, but he refused. Come bedtime I was really worried that he’d get dehydrated and fall sick. Even as we tucked ourselves in bed and waited for him to join us, he vehemently sat under the bed. Here’s how I know my husband had been “transformed”, because his first question was, “Is the floor clean?”. And here’s how I know I was obsessed, because instead of pointing out the fact that he was, after all, a cat, all I said was “Yeah, but it is so cold! He might get all cold!”. So we got up from bed, and I picked Claude up in my arms, and carried him to the living room. The husband followed me, and I asked him to get a towel. Wrapping Claude up in a towel to stop his wheezing, I stayed in the living room for a while, waiting to see if Claude would settle somewhere. My husband, the same man who was indifferent to cats until a few days before, asked me if I needed a pillow so I could sleep next to Claude. I nodded my head and he brought me my pillow and then sat next to me despite my asking him to go to bed. Fifteen minutes later, the husband got up to go to bed, leaving me to take care of Claude. So there we were, sleeping separately to make sure the cat was comfortable wherever he wanted to sleep, and it was only when Claude decided to go to the bedroom did I pick up my pillow and blanket and go to bed. At two o’clock in the dead of the night.
Overnight, we had changed from responsible cat-sitters to doting caring and concerned pseudo parents. And the next night, when Claude suddenly decided that bedtime was more appropriate as playtime, we stayed up until he was done chasing his cotton mouse all over the house and playing hide and seek with the curtains. But the most amazing thing that happened was the following conversation. That evening, I had gone out for a few hours leaving Claude with the husband, and when I called up the first thing I did was ask about Claude.
Me: So what’s he doing?
The Hub: He’s been naughty. He tried clawing me while I was setting up the Apple TV so I yelled at him and made him go sit in a corner to think about what he’s done.
Me: Awww, but he was just playing with you!
The Hub: He wouldn’t even watch the Youtube video of the cat that I was showing him! And he hurt me! Now come home soon and give him some love.
Which I did. Because the husband, the self-professed cat hater, made me. Just because I spent an hour in the balcony talking on the phone while Claude stared at me through the glass door from inside, and according to my husband, felt “neglected”. And just before my friend came over to take him back, I swear he spent a whole hour sleeping on my chest on purpose. Just to make me love him a little more.
Claude the cat. Named after none other than Monet. The King of this household for four days. Who decided when we did what we did and how we did what we did. Who made us his slaves and demanded love we never knew we were capable of giving.