“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” Don’t blame me, Charles Dickens said that. But I wholeheartedly agree with the great writer. I only smile when people say that cats are a modern social media sensation. Cats had won their place among people – or should I say, their throne – long before people had started thinking about inventing something more sophisticated than the wheel. True, there was a sad period when they were seen as accomplices of witches, but not only cats had suffered from human cruelty – during the Dark Ages, humans suffered even more.
According to Mark Twain: “If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow. But the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.” Again, I can’t but agree. I do love dogs. But those who have experienced an honour to communicate with a cat on a daily basis, know that Mark Twain was right. Cats don’t even have to be able to speak. They convey more with their eyes, body language – even with one stroke of a tail – than many a man is able to communicate with the most eloquent of speeches.
I grew up with cats. I won’t lie – at the time of my childhood, cats were treated somewhat like during the Dark Ages. Drowning newborn kittens was considered a norm. Once, my aunt and I were coming back home from her countryside house. As usual, we were travelling in a fluffy company of our domestic zoo. With us, turning the train ride into an adventure, were our collie Lord, our Persian cat Laura, and her four kittens. I think that the lovely picture of Lord – big coward – with his thin, long muzzle in my aunt’s pale green coat’s pocket will stay in my memory forever, and every time it pops up in my head, I smile.
All our animals were well-behaved, never running around the carriage, meowing, barking, or causing any trouble to our fellow passengers. But in any situation that steps out of the ordinary, there always happens to be someone around who knows better than you how things really are.
So, on that train ride, during a longer stop – in those times, trains had to wait to let another train pass before it could continue – a woman enters the carriage, and she knows better than my aunt how our animals should be treated. She starts scolding me, having not asked if her advice was welcome. She says that I’m torturing my grandmother by forcing her to drag all these useless animals with us. She sees the bags and buckets with apples, cabbages, and cucumbers under the benches we sit on, and it makes her even more passionate in expressing her indignation. She goes on by pointing out how thoughtless and uncaring I am. My aunt listens politely. But when the woman says that our kittens should have been drowned the moment they were born, my aunt makes a calm remark that some people deserve to be thus treated, not animals. She uses a break while the woman tries to pick her jaw from somewhere on the dusty carriage floor, and adds: “They are living beings. It’s not up to anyone to decide if they should live or die.”
My aunt was a simple woman. She hadn’t had a lot of chances in life. But somewhere along the winding path that was her life, she had learnt the most important things. And what’s more important, she had let those things into her heart. “The smallest feline is a masterpiece,” Leonardo da Vinci admitted without any fear of being ridiculed. And my aunt instinctively felt it too – that every living creature is a treasure in its own right.
“One cat just leads to another,” this piece of wisdom comes from Ernest Hemingway. And my life is clear proof that he was right. For as long as I remember, we always had cats. My mom told me that when I was sleeping in my pram outside in the garden, a neighbour’s cat often came, jumped in, and slept with me, not disturbing my baby sleep.
“I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.” These words belong to Jules Verne, and they resonate with me strongly. When I was growing up, the quirkiest collection of cats paraded through our home with extraordinary inevitability. It seemed that someone up there kept an eye on us so we would not be left without feline love and support. When one cat left for the rainbow, another one showed up. Sometimes, it happened routinely, but there were cases when it seemed that some kind of mysterious force was involved.
We found our one-eyed Nika in the basement, where we stored jars with jam, pickles, and other treasures from our garden. Or she found us. A tiny kitten, barely a month old, with her eyes still closed, stumbled from under the pipes and tubes and made us notice her by meowing with all her might. We later found out that our neighbour decided to get rid of his cat’s kittens and simply threw them into a dumpster and beat them to death. The cat mother took out the one that somehow survived the carnage and brought it to our basement. She could have chosen any other basement, but she had chosen the one from which her child was saved. Nika had lived a happy life with us, and the only thing that reminded her of her unhappy beginnings was a bulging purple orb instead of one eye.
Another cat was a gorgeously elegant, long-haired and green-eyed lady that casually walked into our kitchen, having sneaked in through the balcony. She padded through the living room straight to the bowls for food and water, left from Nika who’d recently passed away. We figured that she was left by the holiday-makers who rented a cottage for the summer. She spent a few months coming and going when she pleased and disappeared as suddenly as she arrived.
When I decided to live separately from my mom and aunt, I bought them a kitten. I knew that they’d feel lonely, even though I wasn’t going anywhere far and visited them every weekend. And what a blessing that cat turned out to be! Angie outlived my aunt, and she was a faithful companion for my mom, keeping her occupied with taking care of numerous feline needs.
Well, needless to say, I couldn’t live without a cat in the house for too long. The first years of my independent living were rather turbulent and involved a lot of travelling and even living abroad. But a person who’s been charmed by a cat once would fall into the trap again. Besides, cats have a unique ability to charm even those who claim to be immune to feline magic. Our seven-year-old cat Peach has proved that theory by winning over my husband completely and irrevocably. It’s a lovely story how that little – now eighteen-pound cat gentlemen – ginger ball of fluff and immeasurable cuteness made a grown-up man, absolutely indifferent to animals in general, take him home with him. But I’ll tell you that story some other time.