Today last year, after the whole week of persuasion and late night visits, I brought home a carrier full of skeleton family: a mother and her five children. The mother only weight 2 kilograms (4 lbs), and her children, eating on their own at six weeks, weighed less than 300 grams (3 ounces).
The whole family has Upper Respiratory Infection, from living inside a crack of a roadside. The mother hang around a tiny community hall where I first met her. In that neighborhood, people boasted about their good and sophisticated job: lecturer of Indonesian Ivy League university, entrepreneur, Imam, merchant. They spent a lot for themselves, yet so little to their community. No money, they said. For others, everyone there is poor.
As such it’s not surprising, that the stray mother would only live off dried and minuscule chicken bone, rotten rice, or whatever left of private excesses that I personally and privately called hypocrisy.
How would they feel, I wonder, if they see their mother, walk herself to dry so they, her children, would live?
I have no child on my own and never plan to, but I saw my own mother struggle from one dawn to the next, in silence, so that my brothers and I survived after the passing of our father.
Because I don’t need to wonder how it must be like to watch your children waning and perish, one after another. Well, that’s more of my thought.
So I pick them up. Laying flat on my front so I can reach them in the depth of that crack on the roadside. A job poorly done, a blessing for innocent kittens.
Our friend Kim, the greatest with cat names, suggested the mother be called Maeve; and the day I gave the mother her name, I took her away from her children; because all of them were undernourished, and each would bring the other down if they stay together.
Every morning, she would wait by the kitchen door. She would enter the house and straight to her children’s cage; well padded and heated, that she cannot enter.
She would eat when they eat, she would drink when they drink, she silently abide my order to go back to the cattery when the children sleep, or when I need to go out of the house.
When I come, all the same. Every day.
And the viral infection, yes. The one that Maeve survived, but none of her children did.
And the heat that require her to scream her lungs out as she helplessly yet fruitlessly tried to court any men in our small yet crowded shelter.
But not yet. Though she gradually gain weight and color as soon as she is off her babies, she was still mere 3 kilograms bone and loose skin that waved left and right if she walks. She is still a solemn hermit who literally slept all day all night long.
After the spay came, it’s all different.
She no longer wanted to stay at the back. She looked for her children every now and then, but a few minutes and she’s on something else. She enjoys the comfort of my living room, and when it’s time to let her choose, she choose our front yard.
Maeve will be everywhere. On my only pair of shoes between the shelves of the shoerack, or sleeping on the array of gardening tools. Following the curl of the planter on our tiny garden, inside the bucket, reserved for plastics as they pile for eventual recycle, but never again on the road. Ever. She is happy watching the world pass by her sitting behind the bars of our fence, just like the the world pass her by in the cracks on the roadside then.
Every morning she will sit by the front door. She would enter the house and straight to the kitchen; with bowl well filled and water fresh from the tap, the one she always love.
She would eat when we eat, she would drink when we drink, she would silently follow me out when the day starts wearing and I need to go out of the house.
All the same, yet the whole world apart.
Once in a while, when I am ran over by bunch of kittens, she’d show her authority. A deep, almost inaudible growl will put everyone to place. From the tiny babies, to the gigantic toms. For example, Holstein, three times her weight, and Rufus, twice her age.
Once in a while, when one or two went out of the line after the growl, her lean, velvety paw will tap on their heads, and those too, will soon put everyone on their places.
Once in a while, or often, I will call her Queen Mother, because no one else exercise her authority like Maeve does.
Once, been a while, a man popped casually in front of our door and ignorantly said he would love it if he can come whenever our vet come and get treatment for his cats, free of charge. So give him schedules.
She watched him from the top of the stair, with eyes I imagine would be my own to the visitor’s indecent proposal.
She watched him when he said he sells cat food, all sort of them and that he had powerful connection to the distributors of every brand in town.
We looked at each other. He didn’t need to know we’re dealing straight with the importer and that all the brands he offered were junk food.
She watched him when he asked me if she is for sale, or ask my fee to mate her with one of his own.
She watched him when I told him I am not interested and that backyard breeders are more disgusting than roaches in my eyes. Yes, very bluntly.
She watched him when he asked where did I got her.
She watched him when I told him I picked her up roaming on the same street where his house is.
He was surprised. I was not. I can bet he will scurry the road in front of his house after this, looking for look alike.
When night fall and I come home, she would be waiting at the top of the stairs, her blue coat blend her well to our gray wall, except for little specks of cream that made her unique tortoiseshell. Blue Tortie is more than rare in this town.
Then she would follow me in and call it the day.
Once in a while watching me seeping a cup of warm tea. Once in a while staying out of her way when I carry a bucket of hot water for bath, once in a while sits on the fridge sniffing what I drink. Once in a while she would agree, other time, not so much, which she showed by patting the rim of my glass and look at me, putting me in my place.
Queen Mother, kale juice is of bad taste to you, but it’s good one for me.
She looks at me, probably saying, “I would rather sipping the cranberries”
Happy Mother’s day Maeve.
Happy day to the cat mothers everywhere