It was a bitterly cold winter’s morning. Dull and grey, like lead; not the sparkling mornings that glimmer like crystal, instead the flat grey cold of snow and ice that has melted and re-frozen. Consequently, there was a layer of ice on the ground, covered by an inch of frozen slime.
My son and I were returning from the shops through the park, me holding on to him, afraid of slipping and falling. If that happened, I was determined not to go down alone, hence my grip on his arm. We approached the cut through, only to find an old lady with two small dogs peering anxiously into the hedge. She looked at us hopefully and said:
“The dogs think there’s a rat in there and they won’t come away!”
I replied somewhat blankly: “Oh, right, well, that man next door has chickens, maybe it’s come for the food…” I bent down to have a look, unsure really of what she wanted me to do. Rescue the rat? Drag it out from the hedge by the tail and send it on its way? Cautiously, I bent down to have a look…
Peering back at me, was a small black face, lit by yellow eyes, as round as an owl’s. It was a kitten. I relayed this fact to the old lady and she said:
“Oo, I’ll go home and get it some cat food…” She left, towed along by her two small dogs who had obviously given up hope of finding a rat to play with, so I sent my son ahead to our house to fetch some cat treats. (Usually I carry some in my handbag, but a white cat, begging for donations, had already had them at the bus stop…)
In the meantime, I knelt down and “Brrrp”-ed encouragingly at the kitten. It gazed back at me, resigned, cold and comfortless. There was a feeble movement next to it and a flash of white fur.
“Oh no,” I thought, “two of the poor little things.” My son returned with treats and we set to persuading the kitten to leave its temporary nest of dead twigs and rubbish. It was very timid. Finally, after much “Brrrp”-ing and my best imitation of a mother cat call, a little black cat slid into the open. Hesitant but hungry, the kitten grabbed a mouthful of treats and I said to my son:
“Quick, grab it now and tuck it firmly against you…” I sent him back to the house to alert his father and turned my attention back to the dirty, frozen hedge.
Roused perhaps, by the absence of its sibling, the flash of white fur came nearer to the gap. To my great surprise, I saw blue eyes and a little dark face, along with white fur as the second kitten revealed itself to be a Siamese. It was cold and hopeless. I stuck my arm into the hedge and grabbed it by the scruff; it went limp in my grasp, tail curled between its legs, very cold and very frightened.
Having had a quick check to ensure there was no mother cat who might object to the removal of her babies, I returned to the house. My partner was not best pleased, but unsurprised by my return with another kitten, as he is quite used to me returning with odd things. (I found my son’s budgie in a similar way…)
We got our first proper look at the kittens, who were delighted to be reunited with one another and set to working their way through a bowl of catfood, watched with disgust by the two bigger girls:
“Look at that! Don’t they know it’s vulgar to gobble your food like that? Peasants…”
That was four years ago. Tooty’s continued presence in our household was debated at one point (“Really Samantha? Don’t you think three cats is enough…) but her sweet nature and endearing personality ensured her position. It’s a joy to watch the two sisters as they play, groom and sleep together, but their traumatic early start in life has left them both with a couple of personality quirks. (I later heard that a cat had been run over and killed on the road not far from where we found them.) They are both food orientated. Ting hates to be cold. And despite her early bravery in approaching us, Tooty remains timid and scared of strangers.
However, they are now valued members of my household, the ‘Little Girls’. Wonder if one day I’ll find a goat, or a llama… or a unicorn…The possibilities are endless!
All photographs Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe