IN PRAISE OF CATS

A friend of mine has given me a Cat Calendar, a cat a day for the year. Every day I have a different picture, cats black or white, ginger, cuddly, bold, sensual or tigerish. My image for today is a white cat with ginger markings, the face mainly ginger with green, green eyes, and a caption from Virginia Woolf “Up here my eyes are green leaves, unseeing.”

I have always loved cats from early childhood, not mine to begin with, other people’s cats. It was not until I was in my fifties that I acquired a cat of my own. It happened in this way. I was living in Brussels, in a flat, and so never thought of acquiring a cat. An Italian lady I knew, who was very fond of cats, heard of this little kitten who had been found, abandoned, in a barn in the country. She adopted it but was then unable to cope, so I suggested a friend of mine who was willing to take it, and she too found it was too much for her. So in the end I offered to take the kittten.

I was lucky because by then the bulk of the training work had already been done. Only once did she leave a little stool in the bath, and after that she used the litter tray. I called her Prittiwi, which is a Sanskrit word meaning gift from God, I was studying Sanskrit at the time.

She was a very pretty cat, she was a Chartreuse, which is a Continental breed, well loved by Colette, the writer. How she had come to be abandoned remained a mystery. Her fur was smokey grey, with chocolate undertones, which gave it a richness and a lustre, thick and velvety, her eyes grey green and large, her little paws off white. Quite thin and scrawny at first, she developed into a beautiful, rounded, plump animal.

By nature, due to her early trauma, she remained always very nervous and timid. I developed a special bond with her and because of her vulnerability. I nurtured her with great care. Unfortunately, she was never able to relate to anybody except myself, as I discovered to my cost when I tried to leave her with a neighbour, and she became a raging, wild creature.

Prittiwi

My time in Brussels came to an end, and I returned to England to retire. I decided to bring her back with me, which would mean quarantining her for a few months. We traveled back together on the same plane. I was worried about leaving her all alone when we arrived, as she would be picked up by someone from the cattery where she would be kept, so as we were leaving the plane I asked the steward if it would be possible for me to see her one last time. “Come with me” he said, and led me to another exit, especially for members of the staff. As we were descending the stairs we met a senior officer coming up them. The steward saluted smartly and said “Just taking this lady to see her cat, sir.” The officer nodded and smiled. “This is England” I thought, smiling to myself, as we went on our way.

For a few months Prittiwi had to stay in the cattery. I visited her every week, driving there with a friend, which made a pleasant outing. She seemed happy enough, though it was alway a wrench to leave her. At last I was able to bring her home. She now had the liberty of a garden, where she would roam, though I don’t think she ever wandered very far, and she had a whole house to explore. These were very happy years together, though always she would disappear under the bed whenever I had visitors, to my disappointment, so no-one ever saw her.

She died very suddenly when she was sixteen. I was already aware that she was becoming arthritic and having difficulty jumping up onto the bed. I had been to my art class, where I had done numerous drawings of her, and my art teacher had commented that I looked rather like her, which I considered a compliment. On my return I first of all found that she had left a small stool at the top of the stairs, which was unusual. Downstairs I found her curled up in a corner of the room. I went over to stroke her and as I did so I noticed that her face was a little awry. I felt her face, it was cold. She had died whilst I was out.

I burst into tears, I felt devastated. It was so unexpected. I remember walking down into the village in a state of grief. I saw a shining light coming out of everybody I met, young children, old men, women out shopping, a tramp, they were all transformed. For a brief moment I was transported into another realm.

I buried her in the garden – a kind neighbour dug a hole for me – in a cardboard box lined with my old jumper, a card of remembrance and a sprig of rosemary.

Some time afterwards I had a dream, she was sitting on a table in a Brussels cafe I used to frequent, sleek and shining, about six years old, her age when she came to England, and I knew she was all right.

Some say cats are not as affectionate as dogs. I had a friend who was ill and her cat would not leave her side. When the doctor came and put him off the bed, not to be deterred, he would immediately jump up again. .Another friend died of cancer at home. Again, her cat lay beside her and would not be removed till she was gone. These are touching examples of their fidelity.

I had another cat, Michou, I have written about him elsewhere. I loved him in a very different way, but Pritttiwi has always had a very special place in my heart.

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