Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bagheera, Basement Cat - The Story

Category: Issue 21
Bagheera is thirteen. I first met her and sealed my doom some time in the Spring of 1997. I already had adopted a male orange tabby a few weeks earlier and was looking for an all black female cat to match him up with. In my young frivolous mind, they would mate and have calico kittens. It still isn't clear to me why on earth I would want calico kittens, or why mating an orange tabby and black alley cat would produce such a litter, but I had a plan and I was on a mission.

A friend that worked in the same mall as I did at the time told me his cat had had a litter of kittens and that one of them was black. I inquired as to how black the kitten was, and he told me it was as black as the night, the color of the darkest china ink, black as a chimney sweeper after a busy day. I told him that what I wanted to know was whether it was ALL black. I didn't want a cat with white patches, or one that wasn't TOTALLY black. He said that as far as he knew, it was truly all black (I would come to remember this later, as far as he knew, but at the time I thought nothing of it). Still, I wanted to see the kitten for myself before agreeing to adopting her, so I drove to his apartment armed with a box, a blanket and one of those little mouses with catnip inside for good measure. I didn't bring Hobbes, my orange tabby, thinking that if they didn't get along I would rather see them fight it out at home and not in the back of my Suzuki Swift, which at that time had two broken door handles, not really giving me a good chance at escaping a cat fight seeing as it only had two doors and no sunroof. (Getting out of the car was possible from the inside, but it took considerable concentration and skill if you ever hoped to extricate yourself from behind the wheel with all ten fingers intact, which is why I usually drove the car with the door just not quite closed. Bungee cords are an awesome invention.)

So, I made my way to my friend's apartment one day after work to have a gander at this supposedly all black cat. I didn't know yet whether the kitten was female, because unlike me, my friend did not work in a pet shop, but at Radio Shack, and sexing kittens is apparently very different than telling the difference between the male and female parts of an extension cord. I have to mention here that at this point, I was also going on my friend's assurance that the kittens weren't more than about two or three months old. How you can't say for certain, or at least within a few days or a week, how old kittens that were born in your own living room are I don't know. In any case, whether the black kitten was two or three months didn't really bother me. As long as it was weaned and wasn't more than six months, and providing it was ALL BLACK and a female, she was coming home with me to meet her mate.

I made my way up four flights of stairs and knocked on the door. I didn't have long to wait before my friend invited me in and was instantly overwhelmed by what I saw when I stepped into the apartment. My friend's apartment was an 'open-style' place, one of those places where the kitchen, dining area and living room are one big room separated by a counter, which means that I could basically see his whole place from the door. There were two other rooms with doors in the apartment, which I presumed were the bathroom and the bedroom. I would soon have the opportunity to confirm my presumption.

I at first wasn't really sure what I was looking at. As the shock subsided and I once again was capable of (somewhat) coherent thinking, I realized that I was being assaulted by what seemed to be a dozen cats. They were all over me, pawing my legs, purring, rolling all over my feet and doing that back arching leg rubbing please pet me thing that only cats know how to do in an annoying yet very convincing way. As I bend down to pet a few of them, I asked my friend which one of them was the one who had the litter. He gazed at me with a weird look on his face and said: "Uh, Chris, this IS the litter".

At first I didn't understand what he was telling me, so I asked him again. He looked at me, almost in disbelief I thought, and said: "These are the kittens. The mother is somewhere outside no doubt busy fabricating more of them."

In order for you to understand my confusion, I need to explain that these cats were BIG. I mean, there is no way these kittens were 'two or three months old', let alone kittens. Even if I considered that the mother or father or both were big cats by normal standards, these "kittens" had to be at least eight to ten months old. Looking at the cats at my feet a little closer, I realized there weren't as many as I had first thought. There were only about five or six of them there, but I guess their size made it look like there were more. And that's when I realized that all of them were brown striped tabbys. Not a one with even a speck of black on it.

I straightened up and was about to thank my friend for wasting my time when he said: "Yeah I know, it's weird, they're bigger than the black one, and the black one looks nothing like them or the mum. I guess the father must be black then."

Now working in a pet shop and knowing more about animals and genetics and biology than my position would ever require, I knew that it was possible for one of the kittens to come out completely different than the others, even if the father WASN'T black, although it's not all that common. I also know that the runt is usually smaller than the others. The one thing I knew for certain is that it wouldn't be any YOUNGER. Still, I had come all this way, and he confirmed there indeed was a black cat, so I asked if I could see it.

There my friend seemed to become a bit nervous, which didn't really help the situation any. I asked him if there was a problem and he said that there was one other thing that was different with the black cat. As much as the brown tabbys were affectionate and confident, the black cat was shy and skittish. The problem was that he wasn't really sure where it was at the moment. He told me he'd spent an hour trying to find it before I got there and had obviously failed in locating it. So I said ok, no sweat, let's look for it together.

Searching the apartment should have been a quick and fairly simple affair, seeing as it really wasn't that big, and only had the three rooms. The task was made considerably more difficult due to the fact that wherever we went, we had half a dozen cats following us around and meowing for attention. After looking in all the obvious and open places (one quick glance around the place took care of that), I suggested we look under the couch. Crouching down and lifting the skirt revealed only a very black under-couch, in which a very black cat would be invisible, so I asked him to lift up one side of the couch so I could see better.

As soon as that couch even so much as tilted an inch, a blur of flying black something on legs shot out from under it and ran in the bedroom. To be honest, I couldn't even tell it was a cat, and might have missed it entirely had I not been intently on the lookout for just such a thing. So into the bedroom we went (first making sure the couch was going back on the floor and not on some unsuspecting cat tail or paw) to hopefully see more of the black cat.

The bedroom proved to be more of a problem that I had anticipated. The closet door was open, there was a humongous bed with a skirt that went all the way to the floor in the middle of the room, and it was very cramped due to the various pieces of furniture and other stuff littered around the room. Still, I put my brave face on and we looked through the closet and on the floor. The only other realistic place she could be was under the bed, but there was no lifting that one, so my friend got a broom and swished it under the bed. And there went the black hole again, this time running back towards the common area. We could have been smart and closed the door to begin with, but we weren't, and so it was back to the couch to try to finally catch the elusive feline. This time we did close the door on our way out, and the door to the bathroom too, so at least we knew what room she was in.

I could go on forever telling you how we spent the best of an hour chasing her around the room, but I'll spare you, as I'm sure you get the point by now. We were finally able to catch her after tipping the couch over so she had nothing to hide under. My friend got a pillow case out of the bedroom (making sure she didn't get in there in the process) and we finally, well, let the cat IN the bag.

Panting, sweating, and sitting on the now back in its original position couch, I looked at the pillow case in my lap with something like amazement, trepidation and anxiety. What WAS this thing? And, more importantly, did I REALLY want to bring it home to my sweet, mischievous, loving orange kitten? It had, at least for the time being, stopped struggling, but I could feel its taut body tremble with fear. Not wanting to prolong its panic filled misery, I gently opened the pillow case and chanced a gentle stroke.

I could not believe what I was feeling. To this day, that first stroke is imprinted on my mind as the softest, most lush feel I have ever experienced. Encouraged by the beast not trying to flee, I gently pulled the sack back while firmly holding her by the skin of the neck and had my first real look at the cat that would from that day be known as Bagheera.

It was love at first sight. And dread. Love and dread at first sight.

This cat was BEAUTIFUL. I mean not only because it was all black (which indeed it was), but because of, well, all of her. She had huge (in her state of fear, I guess they might of appeared bigger than they usually are) green eyes and a petite build that evoked grace and agility. While short, her fur was of the deepest black. It was shiny and luscious, and so, so soft. The more I looked at her, the more I became convinced that this cat had not come from the same litter as the others. No way. She couldn't be a day over three months old, and petite as she was, this was no runt. This...this was...well, it was Bagheera.

I knew I was taking her home the minute her huge, terrified eyes peeked at me from under the edge of the pillow case. I still checked to see whether it was a female or a male before leaving the apartment, but I don't think it would have mattered. She was indeed a female, as I think has been made clear by now, so really I had found everything I had been looking for.

What I didn't know, what I know today, is that Bagheera was much, much more than what she appeared to be. Or maybe her initial behavior should have been enough for me to figure that there was more to her than met the eye (albeit a beautiful, green one). Did I even wonder WHERE this cat was from? If not from the same litter as the others, then what? And my friend seemed very eager to have her off his hands...This story isn't called Bagheera, Basement Cat for no reason, after all.

Bagheera is EVIL.

- End of part one -

This story is a true account of how I found and adopted Bagheera. I wrote it after a picture I took of her made me go back in time and remember the circumstances of our first meeting. You can see that picture by clicking on this link.

- Star

Posted by StarLizard on 01/26 at 02:00 PM | Permalink
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