I’m stumbling across rocky ploughed earth in the middle of the night banging a can of cat food with a metal spoon. Worse than the middle of the night actually – it’s pre-dawn; the misery hour. A crescent moon is sinking in the distance, the grass glistens with frost, the cockerels are already cock-a-doodling. The air is not the thick and woolly air of day but clean and brittle so dogs in a 10 mile radius bark when I shout ‘Bob’. I’m done with discreet shouting although not keen to be spotted. I know I look insane, wandering the fields in pyjamas and bobble hat, shouting and clanking my can.
When Ismael drove an old wreck of a car he wanted to sell to the farm and opened the door to reveal kittens in the seat well, I saw Bob and loved him at once. He lay on his back in the crook of my arms, soft and fat and trusting. I could have him, said Ismael, if I also took the twisting, hissing, biting skinny runt with red flashing eyes and thin white fur – the hideous thing that became Joan.
Bob understood he was my cat and enjoyed the tasks and privileges that were part and parcel of the position. He was a good companion, not weaving between my legs demanding stuff but padding alongside me, making short detours as the fancy took him. He’d flop down wherever I stopped as if that was what he had planned to do. He was a bon vivant, a chatty cat, with feline idiosyncrasies – only drinking from an old tin, hating tuna, a keen interest in flora. And he had a good look: green-eyed, if boss-eyed, with the bushy tail and black velvet socks of a fox.
His daily activity was rigidly fixed: a brief hunting excursion at 6am, food, companionship until midday (going ahead on the downhill trek, riding on my shoulder for trip back up). His afternoons were for sleeping, followed by grooming although he always seemed charmingly, carelessly unkempt. It was understood his dinner would be provided at dusk, after which he disappeared into the undergrowth in search of dessert. He tolerated being put on a lap, but preferred to lie at my feet, his head on my shoe, where he would stare at me until he fell asleep. All day I am achingly aware of where he is not.
He was not bright but he could read minds. I’d no sooner think think, ‘where’s . . .?’ and he’d appear. I’m not a cat person, or particularly sentimental, or prone to anthropomorphism and I know feline affection is largely predicated on being fed, but we had a form of friendship. We found each other reassuring in some way.
So I’m out here again in the dark, setting the dogs off and waiting to see Bob appear. Come on Bob. Come home.