One day as I was coming down the stairs into the lounge, a black cat leapt from the room and dashed outside. It startled me out of my skin. I love animals a lot, but certainly did not like cats. The creepy way they just sit there and watch you, like they know your deepest, darkest secrets (and I have a few) made my skin crawl. It didn’t help that there are many superstitious beliefs around cats, especially black ones, where I come from. I’m more of a dog person.
When I was young(er) we did, however, have a cat called Pussy (back then minds were cleaner and that was the most popular name for cats). I used to share a bedroom with my sisters, and if one of them went out and left the door ajar, I would wake up to the purring of the cat as it rubbed itself on my head. Regardless of the years we spent with Pussy, I never really got used to it.
As days went by, I realised the black cat I saw in the house had become a permanent resident in our garden. It would just spend the whole day sitting there. We tried to shoo it away and it would just hiss at us. That’s when I realised we had a feral cat in our midst. I called Randburg SPCA to come and get it, because I was afraid it would hurt us one day as there was very little chance of it being vaccinated, and since it didn’t come into the house, it could die from exposure to the elements. The SPCA demanded an outrageous amount of money for the cat trap, which they would repossess after capturing the cat. I questioned why I had to pay to save a cat’s life. I actually assumed they would go out of their way to get the cat off my hands since they are in the business of taking care of unwanted animals. The person I spoke to actually arrogantly said they would be doing me a favour if they came to get that cat because I was the one who needed help getting rid of the problem. I wasn’t prepared to part with any money, so I let the matter rest. But the cat was still there, and when my son tried to play with it or when I got too close to it, it just continued to hiss and growl menacingly. I couldn’t let it starve, so I started feeding it our leftovers. Even enemies need to eat. My son decided to call it Trixie from a puppet show on TV. We never got close enough to the cat to see if it was male or female, but I will refer to Trixie as a boy. No girl would have been that hostile. He and I would play a cat and mouse game when it came to feeding. I would peep to see if he was anywhere near the place I placed the food before venturing out. I was terrified of that cat. If Trixie wasn’t there, I’d quickly dash out, drop the bowl of food, and dash back into the house. We would always find the dish empty without ever seeing Trixie eat. I eventually discovered that Trixie used to watch me as I delivered food. No sooner had I closed the door than he would emerge from the undergrowth in the garden, with the stealthiness of a cat, and quickly devour the food. I felt a bit stupid knowing that he had always been watching as I darted in and out of the house with his food, thinking “Human, what the hell?”. With time, Trixie started coming to sit by the French door when hungry. We would immediately sort his food out. Just as we approached the door with the food, Trixie would sprint to a safe distance and would only run to the food bowl after the door was closed. One day as I was hanging the clothes on the washing line, Trixie came and sat next to my bucket, very close to me. I was heavily pregnant and afraid at first, wondering how I’d make my getaway if Trixie lost his cool. I considered leaving the hanging for later, but! realised Trixie meant no harm. He was just holding out an olive branch, in his own catty way. Sometimes we would buy takeaways, like pizza, and there would be no leftovers for Trixie. I started buying cat food from the supermarket. Who would have thought! And when we went out to eat, we would never throw away our leftovers. We always asked for a doggy bag. Trixie was now like a child that I was responsible for. At first my husband wasn’t very receptive to the idea of feeding the cat, let alone buy food for it. He would always say, “Let that wild cat go and hunt for rats”. I was pleasantly surprised one day when I came home late from work to find he had already fed him. During the course of my pregnancy, he continued feeding it. I also found it hilarious that when my father visited, he also announced he had fed Trixie in my absence, even as he insisted there was nothing domestic about the cat. “I saw it in its eyes,” he said.
One day Trixie didn’t emerge from the bushes to eat. I only noticed it the next day. I put fresher food in the bowl. Still Trixie didn’t come to eat. I was really worried and knew something had happened. My husband said maybe he was now eating somewhere else. I was afraid Trixie had been hit by a car or mauled by dogs. Then he crawled home one afternoon and sat behind a tree in the garden. His coat was dull and eyes were sunken and gooey. That broke my heart. The cat was sick as a dog. I put some water and more food for him, and he didn’t even move. He just seemed to have come home to die. I kept monitoring him, and he just stayed in the same place. Against my better judgment, I called SPCA again to let them know that cat I’d called about before was sick. They said I should take it to the vet. I had no way of taking it to the vet, because even though we had become friends of sorts, catching him was out of the question. He was still wild. So the SPCA said if they came to get him and got him treated by their own vet, then I would never get him back. They would give him up for adoption. They added that he was my responsibility if I had spent more than a month feeding him; I was now his owner. With a lump in my throat I asked them to come and get Trixie so he could be treated. I could not believe myself when I felt tears streaming down my face when I was telling my helper that we were losing the cat.
Two men came from SPCA, armed to the teeth in combat boots and a cat trap. Trixie was still lying in the same place, almost half dead, or so I thought. Upon seeing those men, he sprung and dashed out of the yard like a bat out of hell. “I thought you said the cat wasn’t moving?” said one of the men. I explained that he really hadn’t moved for days. The men waited for his return for about an hour, but eventually gave up and left. We didn’t see Trixie for about three days after that. I resigned myself to the thought that he had gone somewhere else to die, and it made me sad that he would be all alone, far from family. One morning as I drew the curtains, there he was sitting by the French door waiting for his food like he had never left. He looked fresh as a daisy. What elation I felt!! So we resumed our routine. Shortly after that, we had to move to Swaziland. Apart from fear of the unknown and getting a good school for my son, my biggest worry was Trixie. Taking a feral cat with us on such a long road trip would never work, not to mention the paperwork that would be required even if he had been domesticated. I had sleepless nights wondering what would happen to him, who would feed him? My heart bled thinking of Trixie coming to stand by the French door to wait for food, only to find hostile new residents who would chase him away. Then he would probably come a few more times expecting to see us, only to discover we would never be back. Then he would eventually slink away to die of hunger somewhere. Fortunately, the family that took over the house, a young couple with two daughters, were cat lovers. I explained the situation to them and they said they would gladly feed him. The mom occasionally called to tell me the father was always the first to check if he had been fed. At some point they suspected Trixie was pregnant, implying Trixie was actually a girl, but later noted that he had just gained weight. I slept easy knowing Trixie was just fine.