A tiny scrap of life


On a November morning of confusing sun, we walked along the windswept corniche, with the sea, sand and rows of bright umbrellas painting summer scenery to our right. In the warm air, groups of people drifted, wandering only for wandering’s sake as the day got itself into gear. Three women approached us, chatting, and he followed them, pale fur almost the same colour as the pavement beneath his desperate, hurrying feet. We slowed, then stopped, and the women passed us by, crossing the road and leaving him behind. We looked down at him, this tiny scrap of life, and he walked towards my feet. He sat there, squinting into light too strong for his eyes, and we knew he would follow us home, now. We walked on and he walked with us, falling behind as his legs got tired. I picked him up, then, expecting resistance or fear, but he only sat and purred; a deep, pulsing engine in the smallest of fragile bodies.

At home, he drank water, a little bit, and then scrambled back onto my legs as I crouched on the floor. We tried to feed him, and tried again, but he wouldn’t take it, and his ears, when we touched them, were cold. He still just sat and purred, and stayed as close to my skin as he could. I sat with him and he slept, deeper than I thought possible; breathing only sometimes, and not deep enough. I thought he was leaving us then, and the sharpness of it hit me, blurring him into a small smear of colour across my lap as I looked down at his little form. I steeled myself, stern inside my head. Suddenly, he woke up and stretched, and finally, sitting on my shoulder, he ate. We hadn’t expected him at all, but suddenly he was the centre of things, and we smiled, and talked about him, and smiled again, already fond of his too-large ears and outsize snore.

Later, we took him out with us, because he’d followed us that morning, so we didn’t want to leave him alone. When we tried to carry him, he wanted to walk, trotting bravely on his thin baby legs, going as fast as he could despite our slow, steady pace. Finally he relented, and sank, again, into sleep, oblivious to the sunset and the birds gliding by, and the smell of smoke weighing on the air. That night, scared to crush him during sleep, we made him a nest on the floor. In the hours before dawn, the silence roared around the flat, telling me he’d gone after all; that he wasn’t strong enough for darkness and quiet and for minutes upon minutes ticking painfully by. Then I heard him, letting us know he was awake and hungry and alive, and I smiled to myself in my bed; a smile that came from somewhere deep and unstoppable, dragging tears and laughter behind it. That day, knowing he was safe, his character seemed to grow, and his name seemed to fit, and we made plans for him and the cat he was going to become.

We know him now, and we know his funny, infuriating, endearing habits. He was dirty when we found him, and his fur felt like dust and grease in our hands. Underneath, he was all bones; horrifyingly fragile with nothing to protect them but skin. We washed him one day, and he squeaked in indignation, but he didn’t bite or scratch, and afterwards, dry and warm, he still purred. He is demanding, and he wants the food he wants, and the rustling of plastic packaging animates him out of sleep. He follows us, and gets underfoot, and almost trips us over, and he likes to sit around necks and shoulders, or sometimes, for a change, on laptop keyboards, and he never wants both hands to be free to type. We shake our heads and complain about him, but we hold him for hours, and kiss his fur where it now lies soft and clean, and even when we’re out, we talk about him. He purrs when he hears our voices, after all.

I have known him only six days, this tiny scrap of life. He has fascinated me endlessly, doing nothing much at all, and I find myself loving him fiercely, even as his games go too far and his claws rip at my hair, or his teeth catch my ear. Tonight I said goodnight to him for the last time, because I’m going home tomorrow, and I kissed his warm, fluffy back; his whole body neatly in my hands. I told him to be good, and to stay out of trouble, and to grow big and strong. I think, months and months from now, he will.




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