To some, he was just a cat. To my neighbours, he was a holy terror bent on world dominance. To me, he was pure love.
Painfully thin when we found him fifteen years ago, it was clear the young black tomcat was either lost or abandoned. The size of a half-grown kitten, the vet said plaque on his teeth indicated he was older than that. Though scruffy, his golden eyes shone bright as he settled into my arms and purred deeply, as though he belonged there. I was a pushover for stray animals, but I had to convince my husband.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
“I’ll put notices up,” I said.
I knew no one would claim him. He, however, claimed our hearts. He grew sleek and solid with muscle, his coat glossy with good health. We tried to keep him indoors, but his wild nature asserted itself. One day he escaped and did the cat equivalent of handsprings on the lawn. He was an outdoor cat again, whether or not we approved.
We named him Boris, a decision that was to haunt us as he gained a reputation as a bully, which was a bum rap because he was not aggressive, merely stubborn.
He believed the house across the street was his second home and spent afternoons curled up on its window ledge. The two resident indoor cats would hurl themselves at the glass in furious impotence while Boris yawned and licked his foot. He seemed puzzled when the owner threw buckets of water at him but he learned to sidestep quickly and return to his post.
A notorious gossip on our street gravely reported that Boris hissed at her whenever she approached him. I nodded and tried to stifle a smile. He was, as I suspected, a cat with unusual insight into people’s souls.
We put Boris on a diet once but he supplemented his meals with squirrels. His record was nine in as many days. He ate them, well, most of them. The leftovers were deposited on the front step as a gift, although once I opened the door to a mound of regurgitated bird, with a beak and yellow feet sticking out like a nightmarish vision of robin tartare. So it was back to regular kibble.
He lived by the motto “life is hard, then you nap.” He chirped more than meowed, and when really chatty, sounded more like a duck. Even my husband succumbed to his charms.
Outdoors, Boris was all business; the most attention you could hope for was an over-the-shoulder glance. Inside the house, he fawned like a devoted servant. Sitting like a furry Buddha, he let me rub his belly like a dog. When I clipped his nails, he’d forget every time and would slide down the chair like it was a fireman’s pole, landing with a humiliating thud. Sometimes he’d snuggle on my chest, tucking his massive head under my chin, but he preferred to stretch out beside me, upside-down, front paws curled up over his chest like an otter. A creature of habit, he followed me upstairs every night and sprawled on the bathmat as I brushed my teeth, waiting for me to finish. Then he’d hop up, twist his head sideways and drink from the faucet. I’ve had a few cats in my life, but I’ve never met one so fascinated by water.
As he grew old and slightly deaf, he began to stare at the running faucet, as though he forgot what he was supposed to do. He scratched at the water bowl sending water spraying in all directions, but didn’t drink. As time went on, it took more effort to wake him from his increasingly deep slumbers. He stopped eating and grew thinner, his muscle replaced with long flaps of skin that swung from his belly when he walked. His black coat became peppered with grey, his left ear tipped with white. Eventually he refused all food including salmon – a treat I could always tempt him with – and then water as well. When he lay down by the door, I knew it was time. His eyes told me he’d had enough. He was close to twenty years old. My job had always been to look after him, and so I did what my head, not my heart, told me I must.
I miss his solid, reassuring presence in the house, mostly in the evenings. My gentle lion is no longer posted as our self-appointed sentry at the top of the stairs every night. There’s a piece of our family missing now. To some, he was just a cat. But to me, he was pure love.