— 9 —
Many were my hardships then, which I recall with an aching heart, though at the time, I was so busy trying to eat regularly that I barely felt anything other than hunger and fatigue. I was almost always obliged to share my meager meals with several other cats who remained unconvinced that they belonged to me.
Then, after my kittens were born, I had to struggle doubly hard to protect the little darlings from the savagery of life in the streets, so that I became thinner and thinner. One after another they disappeared I knew not where—I cannot tell this part of my story without feeling a stab of intense pain—until I had only one baby left to care for. This was the kitten I spoke of before, who had managed to grow into a fine youngster and who looked exactly like me, that is, elegantly tiger-striped with a delicate shade of honey-gold on her tummy, if I may indulge in a bit of bragging.
A bold little feline she was. She would follow me every day to the rooftops outside the upstairs window of my former home. From this vantage point we could look across the houses below to the monumental Cathedral with its Renaissance interior (as the guidebooks say) and the adjacent Royal Chapel, guarded by Gothic gargoyles, of feline aspect, with imposing spires reaching to the sky. The great bell in the Cathedral tower chimed the hours and always its presence soothed me and my little daughter. This Cathedral, with its vaulted baroque face, had borne witness to five hundred years of humans coming and going. Perhaps, after all, we would not be homeless forever. But fate was not to favor me quite yet. A succession of misfortunes followed, until I nearly lost all hope in humanity.
I have already related in what manner my little one and I were treated by Dolores. My poor kitten was never to know the joys of full-grown cathood, for one terrible day she appeared lying in the street, dead of mysterious causes, perhaps having fallen from a rooftop, or perhaps having perished by the hand of Curro, Milagros, or the dreaded Dolores. I was never to be certain.
— 10 —
This great sorrow was soon followed by my again being abandoned. That is to say, once again I saw everything being carried out of my house. Once again, I was given a cursory pet on the back and then they were gone.
The next part of my story I recall as a blur. What I came to call home was an ancient, now stationary motorcycle, which was chained to an iron grate two doors down. I could wedge myself behind it; and there in the window sill, behind the bars, I was safe from the German shepherd and other hazards larger than I.
Though I wished with all my heart to leave the area where Dolores lived with Milagros and Curro, I knew nowhere else to go. I dared not desert the place I knew for parts unknown that might be even worse.
So, once again, I lived the life of the jungle in the Albaicín streets, hunting when I could an occasional mouse or lizard and taking charity from humans when I couldn't.
— 11 —
One thing led to another and I found myself awaiting the birth of a new litter, at least one or two of which, I was sure, would be black and white like their father, who, by the way, bears evidence of this love-match in the form of a bite or two from me on the ear.
With this realization, I had another problem to face. How would I again be able to provide food and shelter for my babies, when I was now completely homeless and barely able to find nourishment for myself? I needed sustenance enough to be sure they would have plenty of mother's milk. The very thought of the appalling trials and tribulations my little ones and I would have to undergo made my fur stand on end.
Another worry, though less pressing, involved the possibility of a black kitten among my babies—a strong possibility indeed. Humans, you see, are prejudiced against them, for reasons I have never understood. Perhaps their bias is related to the universal fear of darkness which people share—a fear unknown to us cats, for we welcome the close of day. Be that as it may, humans are known to shy away from even the most charming black cat if it walks by in front of them. They consider this to be a sign of bad luck. Such superstitious creatures they are! I have also heard that, in some cultures, custom has it that owning a black cat will bring good fortune; but, alas, this is much less widely accepted than the previous belief. Thus, I rightly feared for the future of any black offspring I might give birth to, since, like it or not, he or she would have to depend to a large degree upon humans for continued survival. After all, we cats are accustomed to living in close proximity to their species.
— 12 —
If I remember correctly, it was just as a nip of autumn chill began to permeate the night air that there came to the house I still called mine a man and woman, who spoke a mixture of sounds which at that time rang foreign to my ear. I have since come to understand and appreciate their tender tones and phrases, which are now as familiar and dear to me as my native tongue. But more of that later.
They settled in, bag and baggage. Quite promising I thought was the friendly demeanor they exuded. The woman, especially, seemed bent on trying to communicate with me whenever I came near and the man, for his part, made the more usual overtures of 'Missy, missy, missy.'
I, however, am an inveterate skeptic whom it takes more than a few 'missys' to win over, besides which neither one of them appeared to be inviting me into the house. But all things in their good time.
I was encouraged by the empathic glances they threw my way, and I decided to make my presence felt by staying just outside the door, whenever possible, so as to make them aware that I was open to future possibilities, and also, so as to discourage potential rivals who might undertake similar strategic moves.
Nevertheless, I did have a distinct advantage over my companions. Although the cats who lived in these streets were too numerous to be counted, very few had had even the slightest physical contact of a pleasing nature with humans.
I, you will remember, had been stroked on occasion, and, what is more, I had liked it.
— 13 —
While I am on the subject of what I like, let me here interpolate a few guidelines of conduct, as regards what type of treatment I prefer from humans. These predilections of mine I believe I share with almost or perhaps all others of my kind.
First of all, I am not a plaything nor is my tail, except when I see fit to use it for the amusement and distraction of my kittens, which utilitarian form of recreation spares me countless headaches in the rearing of my babies. Other than this, however, my tail and I should not be considered toys. This is probably the major reason I keep as far away as I can from children, who have no respect for my point of view in this matter.
Secondly, I deplore being laughed at, nor do I take kindly to being stared at either. In this regard, I am probably quite similar to people, though they usually don't appear to realize it.
Moreover, I respond in a very negative manner to being treated condescendingly. I would venture to state that, while I don't always show it, I am able to comprehend even the most complex patterns of conduct exhibited by humans. It is, in fact, my capabilities that are often beyond their grasp, for instance, my telepathic powers, which some humans envy and wish to emulate.
Furthermore, I am highly sensitive to criticism and feel that it is unnecessary to be scolded. I am, after all, extremely loyal; but I only give loyalty where it is due.
Above all, I am inordinately curious, so I prize my independence. Others may feel that they own me, but, in reality, though I may accede to a discretionary limitation or two, I am my own master (or mistress in my case). I require the freedom to fully explore my surroundings unhindered by human sentiments to the contrary which cramp my style. My sensory world is all-encompassing. No smells, no sights, no sounds are too lowly to be investigated. I delight in my liberty, albeit subject to certain dictates of circumstance, whats, wheres, and whens.
— 14 —
Notwithstanding the above inclinations and predispositions, I was inwardly yearning to share the abode of sympathetic humans, and this couple seemed as likely candidates as any, especially given that they were already living in what I considered my house.
Still I vacillated in a dizzying manner between the extremes of the desire for comfort and attacks of trepidation. What terrors might lie in wait for me within those walls? Beneath those benign exteriors, could they be cruel, heartless ogres? On the other hand, I would certainly welcome the warmth of a cozy room, where I could curl up on a sofa once again. Besides, it would not be long before my babies arrived, and I wanted a better life for them than to be born in a deserted house.
The lady was in the habit of putting leftover food from her table plus a steady supply of bones—I considered chicken bones a delicacy back then—next to the wall of the house. We cats anticipated her and the man's arrivals, always with the dread that we would have to relinquish these treats to the diverse dogs who sometimes stormed the scene.
— 15 —
One particularly luminous night, when chicken bones were on the menu, and a large moon shone enchantingly in the cold sky, I succumbed to the sudden urge to let myself be petted by the lady. Many cats were hovering about the spot, helping themselves, but all the others shunned a human's touch, except me. The sensation of having my back repeatedly stroked, of being rubbed behind my ears and under my chin struck me as more delicious than the chicken bone I was gnawing.
This experience is indelibly imprinted in my memory, for it marked the moment of my surrender. I wanted the balm of belonging, not being a lowly street cat anymore, and I was willing to risk taking the leap of entering through that portal, if the opportunity were offered me. I liked this lady and I felt that my feelings might be reciprocated. Overall, I craved more creature comforts.
Initially, we were circumspect in our advances. I often sauntered onto the step to bathe there in the sun, meanwhile peering through the front door to see what lay inside, and she, for her part, often left it open so I could. Both the man and the woman talked to me more and more, though I was afraid to let the man touch me. The three of us watched and waited.
— 16 —
It was lentils that first led me into the house. The lady put a container of them on the doorstep and I came to sample the dish. I no longer eat legumes, but I still have a sentimental fondness for lentils, because they were my first meal in my real home.
After I had taken a few voracious bites, she moved the dish through the doorway, down the stairs. (Many houses in the Albaicín are built in this unusual way.) I dared to make the move inside with the lentils, in order to continue eating. We had done it! She had beckoned; I had followed.
This signaled the historic beginning of our association and of my new life as a full-fledged house-cat. From now on, I would belong to someone. My head would be held high, my tail erect. No more skulking behind the old motorcycle to shiver in the night chill, except in the direst emergencies. From this day forward, I would be known as Mama-cat.