for our beloved friend Christine Stewart
and our beautiful sister Ekeim Teeuwisse
Until a few months ago, I would still be asking how it feels to have a sister. I was born first and the only female out of four siblings, and I always think how nice it should have been to have someone to share a lot of commons.
Of course, I have heard about the sibling rivalry, and it can went really messy with girls, but still, I guess, even though I would occasionally fight with my sister, if I ever have one, it would still be great to have one. I imagine what we would talk about to each other, what we would share, what we would fight over, and how would we make up with the other.
Ten minutes walk from our new sanctuary, you will meet a valley. A huge green bowl spotted with little orange dots where the houses’ rooftop stand.
I found that place when I was looking for a house, and I went there again a few days after we finished building the water tower for the sanctuary, as a little reward for our accomplishment. I took the above picture while standing on top of a big rock at the edge of the hills, when I heard some noise from the bushes below me, and moved away as soon as possible fearing that I might step onto some animal’s nest.
A few minutes later, the ruler of the land poked out from the bushes, probably thinking that it chases away the intruder.
My adventure began at that point. I wonder why a cat would want to live at the edge of a ravine, and I am interested in offering her a better place in the sanctuary, so every morning after that sunny Sunday I went out earlier to leave cat food by the rock before I left for the office.
After a week I learned that the bushes – growing on the erect wall of the valley – is home to a small colony of cats. Five kittens and a calico teenager, or so I thought.
They always run away when I tried to get nearer, so I am trying to be as still as I can because I am afraid that one of them can trip and fall all the way down and kill himself. I am happy enough that they finally begin to trust me, because looking from their filthy condition, they lived there long enough – alone.
So I want to at least offer them some kindness. I know my sanctuary is much too full for another six cats, much less ideal for a batch of kinderkittengarten. I want to gain enough of their trust to be able to spay and neuter them when they are old enough, and release them back where they are, because they seems to be more familiar with the ravine, and more adept to climbing it than me.
But that was before I realize that something is weird about the teenage cat. She is a beautiful tabby-calico, and sometimes she moves real fast I thought she was the daughter of Spiderman and Catwoman. At other time, however, she was totally a different cat. She stares at me with a round, fearful eyes, and her stand was so wobbly I thought she can fall down any moment. Some other time she was walking with a tremor, and at other time she seems to always trip when walking. Then, all of a sudden, when I see her again, she is completely fine.
I thought she was probably epileptic, but the possibility just make me more curious about know how she survived in such steep terrain. I praise God for His grace and protection, and – needless to say – change my mind about letting them stay feral, at least the teenage cat.
Then all of a sudden, the kitten stop coming. One day, three days, a week; and my concern becomes worry. I continue to come, in the hope that the kittens’ mother, who never appeared, will take her children back to the hillside if she finds food, or if the kittens are on their own, they will decide to come back if they know there’s plenty of food, and no threat.
My hope diminish as days past and only small amount of food were eaten, maybe by other cat. I thought I lost them forever, when one Sunday, a lady called out to me as I turned back home empty handed.
She hurled a huge plastic bag full of traditional Indonesian snacks when I turned around.
“Thank you for feeding my cats when I wasn’t around”, she said, “I went to a hajj journey and was worried that the cats would die without me but thank Allah He sent you. My neighbour told me about you”
It is I who thank God, actually. At least I now I know that those little babies were save after all.
Then I learned that she is the owner of a big house across the street, overlooking the rock, and that she always left food on her large terrace for the stray cats around the area, and also that all five kittens and their mother were always there as soon as she came home from the hajj.
I asked her immediately if she knows a teenage calico cat that walk with a limp, and before she answered, I saw that cat sitting on the sofa inside her house.
“I thought you were fooled too”, the lady laughed, “It wasn’t her, it’s her twin”
Hmmm…..A twin cat? Is that even possible?
“That’s the one with the limp”, she pointed behind me.
I looked around, and saw the exact same cat, limping quietly trying to go pass me into the lady’s living room where her sister was sitting.
Heck, no wonder sometimes she is a cliffhanger, the other time a heart breaker. It’s not a teenage cat that I saw, it was two.
It made me feels like reading Jekyll and Hyde, cat version.
Since the lady is nice, it takes only a short time before we know each other better. She was a midwife, a daughter of a farmer in a village a few hours from Bandung, and her father like cats and keep many of them in his barn. It’s how she came to like cats, because her father’s barn gang done a great job exterminating rats and keep their rice safe. She thinks cats are a gift from God that contribute to her present prosperity.
And then, for some unknown reason, we talked about birth control one day. We just drifted there I think, because we chit chat about whatever while feeding the feral cats. I took the opportunity to start campaigning about spaying or neutering her cats.
She said she knows that cats can have birth control, but she was made convinced that spay/neuter equals mutilation to a living being, and thus, a sin.
Don’t laugh. Some vets (and especially breeder vets) said so. I am sure those breeder vets are lying, though I am not sure about the sin. If it is then I myself will definitely go to hell, considering the very many street cats that I spay and neuter all these years. But then, since I won’t know for sure anyway, I just do what I can.
I told the lady that that at this moment, trap, neuter and returning feral cats is the most effective and humane way to handle overpopulation, avoid epidemic, and definitely curb the chance of street-tragedies.
Besides, since this lady seems to genuinely love cats, I might as well try to make the colony into a living example of how feral animals can live in harmony with humans.
A few visits and a couple afternoon tea convinced her that spay and neutering, when done correctly by a caring vet, will guarantee a better living for a cat, and of course, less burden for her (who provide food for the entire colony). I am still not sure whether or not it’s a sin, though.
So, we made a deal. I will pay for the spay and neutering for every one of the colony, and she will continue to feed them, with additional term that I will adopt the tremor-ing teenage cat.
She said, if I am to adopt the calico teen, I have to adopt both. She told me that she knows the twin at birth, and that the two cats have been inseparable, and she also told me that since I know more about cat care, I should try to cure the one with limps.
The lady named the two calicos Kunyit and Unyit (both means ‘tumeric’), but when you call one, the other tag along and vice versa, so I only need one name for both of them. They eat from the same bowl (refusing a second bowl), they drink together, play together, sleep together, at the same place, scratch together… They even go to toilet together! Imagine a pair of twin cat defecating side by side…
When I took them for spaying, they were spayed at the same time, by two vets who happened to share the same first name (One is vet Dewi Maria, the other is vet Dewi Sumaryatin).
God sure has a big sense of humor.
The Unyit who has a black spot near her whiskers is the limp one.
Between the two, Unyit who walks with a limp is the more courageous one, but her sister usually followed one step behind. When she sense danger, however, the healthy one hiss first, and the limp Unyit will back off. When they were given food, the limp Unyit will arrive first, but she won’t eat until her sister come and sniff, and if the food pass her test then the two will eat together, from one bowl, and no matter how little the portion, they never quarrel.
Healthy Unyit only plays with other cats with whom limp Unyit play with, and limp Unyit will avoid all other cats whom healthy Unyit avoids.
I don’t know how they communicate with each other, but the two always seems to understand each other, count on each other, and naturally drawn to each other.
One day, when watching them playing, I wondered if healthy Unyit ever felt burdened with her extra job as her sister’s keeper, if she ever have her own different mind from her sister.
My mother told me that, while I was at work, there were several time when healthy Tumeric managed to slip out of the house, and my mother was too slow to catch her. However, halfway to the stairs she always look back through the window, where limp Tumeric watched her sister in silence.
Then she said that healthy Tumeric always turn back into the house.
Now I know why the two Unyit never got out of the house again, even when the front door was opened in front of them.
When healthy Unyit fell severely sick last month, I saw the other Unyit tried hard to keep her comfortable. She sat by her sister, she comforted her by licking behind her sister’s ear, and she bit my hand when I tried to keep her away because she might catch the same cold. In turn, limp Unyit tested the food for her sister, hiss when other cats try to get into their basket, and refuse to play with other cats until her sister is back healthy again.
And then when I register limp Tumeric into physiotherapy and acupuncture classes to heal her wobbly stand, healthy Tumeric voluntarily jump into the basket, and join her sister’s session. Combined with my mother’s magical Chinese herbs, Limp Tumeric’s condition is getting better, albeit very slowly (I say this because she is fatter faster than she heals).
When Limp Tumeric can finally jump over a table and land on her legs (instead of her tummy) I can sense her sister’s happiness. When the limp Tumeric start to stand more steadily, has less tremor, and even run straight (without bumping or tripping), they start to be more lively. They play longer, and more mischievous, as if a whole new world – sans limitations – is opened for them to explore.
Last week when my friend wrote me to say how much she missed me, and how much she has been looking forward to my writings, I was looking at the twins as they work together trying to rip my floor mat apart.
Then I realize that, without I know it, I have been looking at the answer of my questions about how it feels to have a sister. All this time I have been living at the side of the greatest sisterhood that can be defined. A loving companionship, sheer loyalty, genuine trust, unconditional giving. Since the days when they lived at the lip of a ravine, to the days when they share a soft fleece bed in a warm home, they never change. All the good things about having a sister, has been taught to me, in real time, by a pair of a feral twin.
And then I remembered I once read that the most valuable treasure a girl can have is a sister.
Looking back at the twin, who chase each other back and forth around my refrigerator, I guess I don’t even need to wonder if it’s true.