I’m stumbling over rock hard ploughed earth in the middle of the night banging a can of cat food. Worse than the middle of the night: pre-dawn. A crescent of a moon is sinking in the distance, the grass is stiff with frost, the cockerels are already at it. The air is not the usual woolly wafting stuff we get around here but clear and brittle so when I shout BOB! dogs bark in a 10 mile radius. But I don’t care. Actually I do care. I’m on someone else’s land, the smell of cat food (liver) is making me feel sick, I haven’t had a coffee, and I look ridiculous in my pyjamas, thermals, bobble hat and rubber boots. I don’t want dogs to bark, the lights to go on, and for farmers to step out onto their porches and shake their heads someone who’s stupid enough to try and own a cat.
When Ismael drove up to the farm in his old van and opened the door to reveal him in the seat well, I loved that kitten cat. It was lock-down. I thought, you are Bob and I’m going to look after you, don’t you worry. His sister, a hissing, biting, thin, sinewy, psychotic, twisting thing with eyes that glowed red in the dark from unreachable spaces behind fridges and bookcases, I didn’t like the look of (although to be fair she has since developed a more pleasant, trusting personality).
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 feet making needy noises, but padding alongside, taking short detours as the fancy took him. He’d flop down when I stopped as if that were exactly what he had planned to do anyway. He was a bon vivant, a chatty cat, with various feline idiosyncrasies, like only drinking from an old tin or pint glass, hating tuna, an interest in flora. And he had a good look, being green-eyed, if boss-eyed, and possessing the bushy tail and black velvet stockings of a fox.
His day’s activities were rigidly fixed: a brief hunting excursion at 6am, food, going where I went until midday (leading on the downhill trek, sitting on my shoulder for trip back up). His afternoons were for sleeping – obviously – followed by grooming, although he always seemed unkempt, distracted. It was mutually understood that his dinner was provided at dusk, after which he disappeared into the undergrowth in search of dessert. (We never discussed the hunting, although sometimes I saw the results.) 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. So at regular points during the day I know where he should be and feel sad because he is not.
What made him special in my eyes was his ability to read minds. I’d think, ‘where’s . . .?’ and he’d appear. I’m not a cat person, or particularly sentimental, or prone to anthropomorphism, and I know the affection he felt for me was predicated on regular meals and a warm place to sleep, however I’ve convinced myself there was also something beyond that, a connection, a friendship if you like. We just seem to find each other reassuring in some way. Plus of course he was soft and furry.
So here I am again, out at pre-dawn. Just me and the cockerels and some far off dogs making calling into the empty dark, waiting for some kind of response. Come on Bob. Get yourself home for tea.