Her name was Lucy: She grew up wild, but she was a fine representative of feline grace. She was white with brown spots on her fur on her side and over her ears, and her lips were a bright pink. She had a two left front teeth which emerged from her mouth at a rakish angle and gave her a look of a pirate with broken front teeth. She was more intelligent than all the cats in the neighborhood, four legged, or two.
I had just had a triple bypass heart procedure, and I was confined home with a moderate exercise regime, which kept me walking around the grounds of our rather large condo. Of course my wife Pat made sure I followed diet and exercise relentlessly. So Lucy was often visible in my walks, and we became friends. I would feed her scraps, and she would occasionally follow me around, and she sat near me whenever I took a rest break on one of the benches.
One day I noticed she was increasing in size, obviously pregnant, and I guessed that it was caused by the male cats that were around. There were about ten cats on the grounds, mostly black and tabby; there was one beautiful orange cat, and Lucy was the only white cat. Yes, there were visitors, often suitors, from adjacent premises.
I was more than surprised when I noticed that the pregnant of this animal species behaved in much the same way to the ones I was more accustomed. I often gave her scrap food, but during her pregnancy she was sniffing at it in a disdainful way, looking at me as if to say: “Don’t you know I’m pregnant; so why do you feed me this trash?”
On my next visit to the supermarket, I had to visit the pet food section and ending up paying a small fortune on cat food. There was canned meat, cat food in coated grains, all in a variety of flavors, and a small feeding trough. I took them home anxious to use them, and received strange looks from my wife, as this was quite out of the ordinary: I did not bring her special food, so why am I feeding cats with special diet?
Strangely, in retrospect, I realize that it was Lucy that helped me through a depression. Caring for her, trying to win her friendship was a body of work that adsorbed my attention. She got bigger, and one day she disappeared. I kept feeding the other cats with grain food, on a regular daily, early morning schedule, wondering where Lucy might have delivered her offspring, and whether she was all-right. One morning, I noticed that she had returned: Looking haggard, dirty with bush and bramble, she hungrily ate at the grain food I was feeding the other cats. I called “Lucy” in a soft voice and she looked at me with recognition. Then she quickly left. I suppose all mothers have to attend to their children as a matter of priority, but I was glad she seemed fine. By this time I had returned to work, just being able to come home in the late evening, and I rarely saw her except at feeding time, early in the morning at around six-thirty.
Then one morning, I noticed she was more attentive to me. I called her, and she looked at me though refusing to take my fondling. Then a strange thing happened: She turned away looking back at me as if to say “Are you coming?” Acting on impulse I went with her cautiously, and she kept looking back at me to see that I was following. She led me to a section of the property where the ground was heavily thicketed, went under some bristles where I could see that she emerged near a corner of a fence wall, and she looked back at me. I walked carefully into the brushes and looked over and saw two little kittens, slowly moving around, and I could hear them softly mewing as they called to their mother. She stood beside them and mewed, so I could see, and I said “How cute they are Lucy, my, my,” and other words in that vein. She looked proud, and pleased that I admired her kittens.
But can a cat be proud?
Can it exhibit that kind of emotion that we associate with human behavior? Can it love and be caring? This cat’s behavior so seemed. I immediately went for a can of cat food, and brought it back to her while she sat over her kittens feeding them. She sniffed, got up and ate. I think from that moment on, our relationship moved to a higher level; but then matters further developed.
Those two kittens grew with about as much motherly affection and care than I would possibly expect. Lucy was constantly cleaning them with her tongue; I was feeding Lucy with as nutritious a diet as I good find, including fresh creamy milk. Then the rains came.
It rained in downpours for hours, and I would sit on my balcony to get a glimpse of Lucy when I could, but in the rain and mist, she seemed to have disappeared. Finally after a full two days I decided to find her, because the bush she lived in would have by this time been inundated. Dressed in my raincoat, with an umbrella I went out into the thicket by the fence to find her. She was gone, and so were her kittens. I cursed myself for taking so long to find them.
I passed the word round to the various gardeners on the property, that I had lost a pet cat, and finally one of them, Peter, called me to come with him. There on the ground floor balcony of an apartment near the fence was my cat and two kittens. They were resting on a flattened corrugated-board box, amid pools of water. I quickly brought food to a grateful mother, and held up and gently caressed one of the kittens, but at that age they are not responsive to human beings.
Then the human children on the property saw I was up to something and one child followed me to the patio where the kittens were slowly moving up and about. That was the end.
Much against my warnings the children came by often to visit, making a lot of noise as children are wont to do, and to my horror, one evening I saw the children take up the kittens in their hands passing the kittens around. They meant no harm I guess, but Lucy was quite upset her eyes darting from one to another of her precious possessions. I admonished the children, and taking the kittens away I handed them back to their mother who looked quite relieved. I decided to look for a home for them, and searched all over the property finding an outer open room. In there was one of the huge transformers serving the property, which was very nearly silent; there was a deep service pit to the side of the device.
I had concerns that if I brought the kittens there, they might crawl into the pit, and hurt themselves. I needn’t have been concerned then. I found a straw basket, and I packed with old cloth, taking it over to where the kittens were: They were gone! I feared the worst.
I alerted the gardeners and we searched the entire property and could not find them. Sick of heart, because by this time they had become dear to me, I worried and fretted for days. Then, I saw Lucy again one morning hunting food, fed her, and then asked her softly “Lucy where have you put the babies?” With much reluctance that cat went away, looking back at me to come, and I followed her. There on the same balcony, in an area walled off with a low wall, was an old air-conditioning circular evaporator. Inside the machine, mewed the kittens.
The first thing I did was hurry back to get a small tin of Friskies meat, and popping the tin open, reached my hand down and placed it near to Lucy, who made short and satisfying work of it. I then did something unprecedented. I reached down and groped around ‘til I found one of the kittens, and carefully brought it up to look at it, expecting resistance from the mother. But though she looked at me intently, she did not object; and said with her eyes “Be careful with the baby now.” I patted the softly mewing kitten with gentle strokes, and returned her to her mother.
For a week or two thereafter, I fed them in that cramped space, and the kittens became fully mobile crawling all over the porch. But they were growing and the space was cramped. Lucy had to climb the small wall and then work her way down into the unit, between sharp fan blades to the very bottom of the evaporator. Any food I wanted to give Lucy I had to reach it down and drop it at the bottom of the unit.
I got tired of this after my hand got scraped a few times, and I would leave the food on the balcony floor, and she would eat when she took a break from nursing her kittens. Then the inevitable happened: The apartment owner came back for his apartment, and moved in one night.
I got the tall straw basket and rushed out there in the early morning. Reaching into the air conditioning unit with my naked hands, I groped around and found one kitten. I gently took her up and placed her in the basket. Slowly I searched for the second one, who was avoiding my grasp each time I tried to hold her. I could not see what I was doing, because my hand was down in the unit and the kitten was quickly moving round: Worse Lucy was mewing frantically, “What are you doing”? Finally I felt the kitten’s back legs, grasped them and pulled it out. Lucy gave a terrible scream, her sharp fangs exposed, but I finally got the second kitten into the basket, and I covered it.
Lucy jumped out, and started looking all around for her kittens. “Here Lucy,” I called lowering the basket so she could see the kittens through the strands of straw. Then I quickly ran away shouting: “Come, Lucy, come;” until I reached the transformer room some three hundred yards away. Lucy was right beside me, making sure her valuable possessions were in order. We reached the safety of the room; and I parked mother and children in a quiet cozy corner. By the following morning Lucy had moved them to the bottom of the pit and there they were just crawling around and mewing softly. When she saw me, with one leap she reached the top and looked at me as if to say: “You did good yesterday”. Her eyes were squinting softly.
I brought them some rich cream milk and potted meat which both mother and kittens enjoyed. Then I put together a step of concrete blocks with the help of a grounds-man, so that access may be enjoyed by all. I should end by saying; we lived happily ever after, which may be close to the truth. But kittens become cats, and cats have more kittens, and that is the story that we are still living.
Ramesh K. Sujanani