This is the Woman.
Estorbo has graciously allowed me to write a post on his blog. Well, I had to knock him on the head first and tie him up with string...
My mom called me this morning to give me the sad but anticipated news that Andre Khamel, the last survivor of our at-one-time six cat family, was put to sleep today and buried in the garden.
Just one week ago my father took his cat, Wellington the Maine Coone, to the vet for the same purpose.
There are no more cats at Number 9, a state of affairs that none of us has ever known. These last endings have been especially hard, because four cats have been put to sleep since last October, all old, each special: Kehdi, Spook, Wellington and now Khamel.
Khamel and his sister Kehdi were the Stripeys: Asian Ticked Mackerel Tabbies. They came from Darling, famous for its flowers, wine, and Pieter Dirk Uys. Not in that order. My parents had gone to see a family who bred Maine Coones, but instead they found two stripey kittens, who made them fall head over heels in love, and they drove home with them on their laps.
I remember their arrival and their first months at Number 9 vividly. They drove me berserk. I was still living at home, had just come back from Johannesburg where I'd sung at the State Theatre in Pretoria (Debut met Mimi!), with orchestra (it was very exciting for me), and my parents had gone on from there to some game reserves up country for a holiday. That left me back alone in Cape Town with these two stripeys, as well as the unforgettable Simone and Garfunkle, the black-and-whites. Khamel was named after a French attorney on the opposing side in a case whose result ensured that my father could buy catfood in perpetuity for all future felines.
The kittens were underfoot constantly. If you sat down, they materialised beneath you, intent on being crushed to death; if you put a plate full of people food down, they were in it. They jumped onto the dining table in the middle of dinner, stole things, tripped you up.
Khamel grew into a squirrel hunter extraordinaire, laying them out neatly on the Afghan rug in the living room. But otherwise Khamel never bit, hit or spat. He was a pacifist, and hated all war. Except on squirrels. He loved laps and purred. He had a croaking roar rather than a miaow, and would rouse the house in the wee hours by roaring in the living room for no apparent reason.
Khamel, the purry furry, grew slowly crippled, over a course of years, by arthritis, until he could not move at all. His coat remained lush and soft to the end, and his purr constant. He still had a good appetite. He was a cat who always wanted to please, and who had no beef with any part of the world. Selina and my mother kept him clean and warm in this, his last Cape winter, and carried him from place to place so that he could still see the all the parts that made up his world.
My poor father took him to the vet today, and brought him back in a special empty wine box, his last resting place, where he lay as though asleep. He always liked boxes.
Exit Kammie boy. Friend and comfort to everyone.
Wellington was the loner. For years, it seemed, he sat in the gutter outside my parents' house and looked in. We called him Ma White, because he was white with tortoiseshell bits, and Selina decided he was a Ma, not a Ra. My father would come home from work and go and talk to him. After a while he took a cat brush out with him, and tried to brush the matted fur of Ma White's rump and long tail. The Maine Coone had long, unkempt hair full of burs, the result of his/her travels through the sewers in the street: If danger threatened Ma White would dive into the closest storm water drain and disappear.
One evening I was sitting in front of the TV late, on a visit to Cape Town, and was astonished to see this aloof cat jump through the open street-side sash window, walk to the couch and sit down next to me, staring straight ahead. There was something fierce and inscrutable about the lion-like eyes, and one wondered about one's jugular. Yet his presence was like a sort of big cat benediction.
Soon we learned that Ma White was in fact Wellington: The lady at the top of the cul de sac came looking for him, and asked us not to feed him. He is my cat, she said. By this time my mother and father were putting dishes of dry food and water outside for what they thought was a stray.
For a while my parents complied. No more feeding. But he would not go away. He sat in the gutter and looked at the house, and every evening my father, in his three piece suit and polished shoes, would sit in the gutter and brush him. Dishes of food were hidden behind the planted whiskey barrels on the front stoop so the neighbour would not spot them on one of her drive byes to check up on her errant cat.
Through the grapevine of housekeepers on the block we learned via Selina that Wellington had a brother, who beat him up at the house at the top of the cul de sac.
Soon, he started to come indoors. He would miaow insistently at the door to be let in. Slowly, through his persistent war of attrition, he was absorbed as part of the family.
Then the neighbour came back and said that we had stolen her cat. Bitterness ensued. My father offered to pay Wellington's purebred value for him and mailed a cheque. It was returned. He sent it back asking that it be donated to favourite charity. At last she capitulated: Wellington's papers arrived. It was official.
If you stroked Wellington you got the distinct, electrical impression that you might lose your arm. But he loved to be brushed, especially by my father. He took to lying on a special cushion on the long stinkwood dining table that my dad uses as a desk in the dining room, and they would both be there late at night, working. He hunted, and caught rats, and, very unpopularly, birds. Perversely, he would only drink water out of a deep bucket in one of the bathrooms, kept filled and fresh for just that purpose.
Last year he was diagnosed with probable liver cancer and my parents decided against operating. He lived with his disease, always alert and active, but growing thinner and thinner. Feeding him became an anxious challenge, as he had no appetite, but seemed perpetually hungry. Biltong, dry food, wet food, meat, chicken, everything was tried. He kept up his hunting until quite late, and then last week my dad knew it was time.
Exit Wellington, the inscrutable, the fiercely loyal to my father. The epitome of the cat who walked by himself. The outsider who came in. Daardie Kat.
I cannot imagine that house without cats. There have been cats there for twenty-seven years. Piet, Simone, Garfie, Minkey Mouse. And before that, 54 Paul Roux had Piettroos, and Miranda, and Pushtie...and before that, there were Ming and Ping, the Siamese. I don't believe my parents' married life has ever been without cats.
We are cat people, corgis and labrador notwithstandng, and I hope that, with time, cats will return to Number 9.
We need them, and there they find a very good life. And make ours very much better in return.