In which a stray cat takes revenge on Anon for a past slight
“There are cats in this house,” my interim landlord told me one day soon after I moved into a boys’ quarter somewhere in Festac Town.
I had not stayed up to a week when I started seeing the felines everywhere in the compound, in a mélange of colours – black, brown, grey, yellow and white, and sometimes a mixture of three or four hues.
They were all stray cats because nobody claimed ownership of any, plus they were not permanently resident in any one compound but lived in almost all, bounding with feline grace from house to house, stepping gingerly over wired fences, slinking stealthily through gaps in gates or leaping several metres in the air to stampede and paw pigeons careless enough to trespass their territory.
Sometimes you spied one or two through broken beams in the roof, posing sphinx-like with their galvanising glare stopping you dead on your tracks, especially on dark and lonely nights.
No day passed without me coming across a dozen or so kitties, sometimes making me conclude that cats are quite as prolific as their staple – rats. But I have never for once chanced on a mother cat suckling her kittens soon after giving birth, or the birthplace for that matter. I have come across a dozen pink mice, eyes shut nibbling their mother’s nipples on kitchen shelves only minutes after birth.
I am not particularly fond of any pet (bad habit, you charge; received training, I counter) but I have become quite close to a regular in the compound. A combination of gold and black, with white rimming its lower jaw and beard like its more aggressive cousins in the wild, I have since named it Skip, Skip because it’s right front leg is broken. Skip limps around the compound, making its job of hunting particularly painful and difficult.
I don’t know how or when we became close. One day, I was cooking a pot of stew when I heard a mew sound near me. (If there is one thing my friends know me for, it is my famous palm oil stew. This is no boast, especially those who have sampled a recipe I learnt at my grandmother’s feet, a recipe she starts preparing from the grinding stone all of which will be deposited in clay pots.)
And there was Skip on the floor not far away, looking weak and hungry. It was panting through very visible ribs.
From that day, I started feeding Skip whatever I ate. I sometimes tried biscuit soaked in milk or just plain milk. Skip lapped the milk faster than he devoured the biscuit. I also collected fish head from a friend who has a cold room.
The beast turned out not to be discriminatory at all, coming ever more frequently and promptly, too, like Dr. Pavlov’s dogs. After consuming a peppery piece of chicken one day, I noticed Skip’s discomfort: he was opening and closing his mouth the way people do after eating a hot and peppery meal. I didn’t look to see if he had tears in his eyes, though.
One day, another cat accompanied Skip to dinner unasked. I was not amused. It was fat and healthy and didn’t look to be in any critical condition. It looked suspicious – like a thief.
Feeding two felines was out of the question for me. It had to be Skip, for obvious reasons. Yet, the rogue cat never stopped coming to share Skip’s chops, or even purloin them.
In the event of a cat fight, I reckoned, Skip will simply be overwhelmed. I chased the rogue away each time it came around so that Skip could eat undisturbed. It went on for some time, all the while it never occurred to me I was a marked man until early this week.
(Lest we forget, and sadly, too, Skip died one evening, apparently poisoned by someone in the neighbourhood and for whatever reason I can’t tell.)
I had prepared the same palm oil stew during the weekend. Needless to say that it was eh, eh, eh superb cooking, that kind of home-cooked stew you savour and begin to feel pleasurable sensations at the back of your head.
There is this thing about people saving the best for the last ala Christ’s example in turning water to wine. So did I. The last beefy piece was saved for dinner that evening. It had become browner, absorbing the remaining nutrients in the stew and ageing like old wine, so to speak.
It was in a covered pot on a 3kg gas cylinder just outside my door, the way tenants sometimes leave stoves by their doors in face-me-I face you buildings.
Around 3pm that day, a friend called me to say he was around my neighbourhood. We had not seen for some time. One time, I was off to see Sam, spent about an hour bantering and drinking. After he left, I came back home.
At first, I didn’t notice it. I was coming out of the room a second time when I saw, from a side-long glance, that the pot of stew was not on the gas. It had been upended on the floor, the stew splashed here and there. But the beef was nowhere near the pot.
It had to be a cat! To confirm my suspicion, I went around the corner of the house and saw it. It was Skip’s unloved dinner guest, lounging on its back, its paws caressing an empty space and passing its tongue over its upper lip the way lions do after a particularly satisfactory meal.
Do I charge the beast and club it on the head? Forget it. I thought of my fried, chunky beef swirling around in the digestive system of a domestic cat, denying me the pleasure of something I had saved for the last, and I began to seriously consider the possibility of assassinating the animal.
True talk! An irresistible and sizable head of fish, head of state, so we called it in boarding house, laced with otapiapia will finish off the rogue cat. It will be its last supper. But then, I decided against it.
The ultimate revenge, I reasoned, is to write about the cat and man incident and get paid for it.