I don’t know what the universe is trying to tell me, give me pain or pleasure, but as of the past few days I have been delivered two kittens.
The first was when I came home in darkness to see an Egyptian man come out of the apartments close to where I live, holding a screaming kitten at arms’ length. I was still in shadow so he couldn’t see me as I watched to see what he was going to do. The negative thought “OMG! He is going to kill it! What should I do?” The positive thought, “Maybe the mother is over there. He is just taking it back for her.” As is often the case in this world, neither was correct. He just unceremoniously deposited it into the darkness near to another house.
From the shadows I barked loudly in Arabic, “Where’s its mother?” I could feel his shock rather than see it as I am sure he nearly crapped himself/had a heart attack from surprise. His reply was irrelevant but it was obvious he didn’t want the kitten inside the apartment gates that he returned through.
The kitten was at that point silent so I steeled myself and marched straight up the stairs to my apartment. I reminded myself that I already have 4 cats, all of them rescues in some way. I reminded myself that sometimes I have not even had enough money here for a cup of coffee and feeding cats here is ridiculously expensive. I rationalized that if I choose this one, what about the hundreds of others?
Over the course of the next 8 hours I learnt that that small kitten had extraordinary powers of persistence and what could be one of the best set of feline lungs on the planet, because it yowled and howled the entire night somewhere outside my bedroom window. I slept fitfully but stupidly in that delirious state where you are uncomfortable but not awake enough to do anything about it; I knew I should go find the earplugs I had hidden somewhere so “safe” but that probably required searching for them the entire night.
At first light about 4.30am, I gave up, threw an inside out T-shirt over my baggy dress-come-sleep-attire and went out to find the, by this time, intermittently quiet kitten. Unsuccessful, I trudged back up the stairs and back to bed to see I could get a few more hours sleep. Then He (I decided by then it had to be a “he”) started up crying out again. Still ‘dressed’, I went out again.
I found one very determined kitten trying to break into the apartment below by clawing his way up the mosquito net door screen. Maybe the previous tenants had fed the kitten for a few days before departing unexpectedly with their dog and kid and it was now the apartment of the guy attempting to dump him the previous evening.
Big sigh! What to do? I take the kitten off the door put him on the ground and say to him, “OK, decision time. If you want to live with us you have to follow me.” With absolutely no hesitation he immediately walked behind me around the wall, up the 22 steps to announce himself to the other resident cats.
They were mortified. “Not again!” they cried. “You know we hate it when you bring strangers in, let alone cat strangers, let alone young cat strangers!!!”
He (I had by now ascertained that he was indeed a male) was absolutely immediately at home, strutting the impeccable stray cat strut and announcing, “Hi guys! Thank you for inviting me.” The other cats were so not amused – complaining, spitting and growling, all to no avail; He was here to stay. They have essentially vacated the premises, only slinking inside in the middle of the night to eat what He has left. They even spit more at each other and I am being ignored completely. If you want to get rid of all your older cats, just get one noisy kitten. Not like I kicked them out though; it was their decision and the window is always open (now that it has police proof bars – another story).
What to name the noisy black male kitten? Ruffian came to mind and it remained Ruffian for about a day until I realised this kitten has lungs on him like Pavarotti on steroids so his name is now Rowdy – by name and nature. Rowdy is one of the most confident cats I have ever met. Nothing fazes him, not being tossed away 5,10,15 times when I am trying to sleep/write/drink/smoke/talk to myself. Nothing! 11111111111111111111111111111111!11111112222222222222222222222221 is an example of his “help” as I write. He is like a bad penny, always turning up. (Isn’t that an odd expression, as if money could be bad. Actually, someone said I was like that the other day, then thought better of the insult and said she didn’t mean it like that. Is there any other way to take it?)
He absolutely loves me. Tries to give me cat kisses on the lips, sits gazing adoringly at me, sleeps as close as possible, usually on my face or around my neck which I can only stand for about 2 seconds in this heat. He is at this moment lying right next to me. The other cats still hate him. I haven’t seen Batman or Ameira this morning at all, Mushkella and Filfil only briefly.
Not two days after the arrival of Rowdy I came home to find another small kitten under the tree at the foot of my steps. Rowdy was maybe 8 weeks, this one maybe a week younger and much weaker, with a scabby snuffly nose and eye infection, tottering where Rowdy scampered.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so ended up doing both. How could I say “Yes” to one obviously healthy kitten and two days later refuse a struggling one? For me not possible, I will cope, the other cats will cope. But I couldn’t bring myself to name him immediately, to give permanence in my memory.
He seemed interested in life, the other cats, in food but had no energy for dealing with anything himself. I offered him egg yolk and milk. He would come when the other cats eat, sit by his feed bowl, dip his poor little scabby nose in for a taste, lick his lips then take no more. Fat kitten would then gorge himself if he got the opportunity even thought his stomach was almost bursting. I oscillated between pity and frustration at Skinny kitten.
I put the egg milk mixture in a syringe and forced a few mls down his throat. On the really hot days I also give Skinny kitten electrolytes with glucose. He fights and claws ineffectually at me so I hold him firmly in a towel. His eyes are much better for antibiotic eye cream but his little nose is still rough and scabby despite my efforts to clean it with saline. I feel the dilemma of why am I force feeding a cat who does not know if he wants to live or die? I keep thinking, if I can just get him strong enough to eat by himself he will choose life.
After eating Skinny kitten finds a place in the sun to nod his head and snooze but I can see he is shrinking as fast as Fat kitten (my comparison name for Rowdy) is ballooning. One day Fat kitten ate so much food left by Skinny kitten, he suffered major diarrhea – enough of the details.
Skinny is not playful, not cuddly but he deserves love too so I stroke and cuddle him on my lap when he lets me. Fat cat is far too cute, playful, confident, purring, trying to kiss me, staring into my eyes, demanding to sleep beside me; everything to worm my way into my heart. He has even toilet trained himself to use the bathroom drain.
I ask myself,” What is the difference between Fat kitten’s zest for life and why does Skinny cat not grab the opportunity?” Child development psychologists have been asking that question for years. Too little too late, inadequate mothering, illness, lack of opportunity, intelligence, social ineptitude, family issues, abandonment, depression, cruel society … there but for fortune…
Yesterday I decided I will no longer force feed Skinny kitten. He is offered food and drink often but takes very little. This morning he is very weak. When Fat kitten cries out he answers in a pathetic squeak; his head is nodding and he can hardly walk. I have found and old cushion cover, royally red and placed him on it and left him in peace.
Fat kitten in the meanwhile has his playtime completely oblivious to the Skinny kitten’s immobile drama. Fat kitten is actually very annoying with his persistent energy and demands. He even tries to play with Skinny kitten so I have to improvise a makeshift cage out of a palm vegetable basket. I don’t find Fat kitten’s exuberance or cuteness comforting and have to remind myself not to be angry at him.
I feel terrible and keep wanting to force feed Skinny kitten again, more for my sake than his. I don’t really think he is feeling suffering in a physical way, drifting into a coma. He squeaks occasionally, tugging my heart. This brings tears as when I allow grief even in small amounts, it opens me up. I remember watching my father in hospital realising that death is not really one moment, it is a process we are living all the time. Most of the time the balance is in favour of life but there comes a time when the balance tips and death is closer. Skinny kitten has tipped over the edge towards death.
The circle of life is so much smaller for some of us.