If someone can come down here and take a full picture of Degas, whatever the state, I will give him (or her) one hundred bucks.
The first time I met him, seven years ago, his whole body fits in the palm of my hand. No one see him for days, though his desperate pleas soar high into the sky, day and night.
He was buried under grass as tall as adult’s knee. The stroke of luck needed that he was not stepped over was so great, it’s hard to believe.
Greater luck has it that it was me who found him, ten at night, without lamp, without any sort of lighting (come on, eight years ago, cellphone does not have reliable flashlight and definitely not water/dirt resistant), under the drizzle.
No luck for my branded office attire, a pair of shiny shoes and professional face make up, but my working hour was five hours over, and no one is out to see me and even if they do, who cares if a woman put mud mask on her face crawling in an abandoned field.
Back then, I didn’t have too much over my shoulder to turn to. The Whiskers’ Syndicate was only two years and we have just two hundred or less followers, less than ten fingers actively help us, while the rest, as we know it even now, go in, press like, and went off.
Back then, The Whiskers’ Syndicate was sixteen square meters boarding room with twelve cats and a single woman crammed together with food, litter boxes and everything else.
Back then, I named the kittens I took in batches. The first generation has the names of all the islands of Japan. The second generation has numbers in various languages. The third has the names of famous artists. Renoir, Picassa, Beethoven, Galileo, Michelangelo, Van Go (not typo, based on actual painter), Degas.
Back then, he can only take three drops of milk every three hours. First I smuggled him in my bag to office. One month later, I go back and forth from office and boarding, ten minutes walk to give him kitty milk custard.
Three months later, I still have to go back and forth, but this time, for finely minced meat.
Six months later, I only go boarding at lunch, and he has soft kibbles.
At one year he still eat kitten food. He was too weak to be vaccinated, and no one knows why is he so weak and his digestion so delicate.
The next year he made it out alive with Renoir, and we moved to another rent, a house so far at the edge of town that I can’t do much but hope he will survive with meal twice a day.
After a year he followed me to yet another rent: a small studio with one bedroom and thirty five cats and a mentally ill neighbor who managed to torture and kill some of our rescues.
After two years, he finally went to a permanent home by Bandung hillside, where we reside today.
Then he took off. His health improve, his digestion improve. Degas eats normally, Degas eat normal food, Degas stopped snotting, Degas stopped having diarrhea, Degas caught up to everyone and is now, 14 lbs (7 kgs) neutered gentleman.
It’s just that he is still invisible.
He won’t show up until everyone have their bowl and one left in the farthest corner of the room. He will crawl out from under the big cages and eat hastily, though I can still see the joy in his face as he munch whatever he wants now. Tuna, salmon, chicken, beef, duck, rabbit, venison.
Then he’ll disappear.
It takes a great luck to see him, drink from the bucket of water near my room, but I know his trick. If everyone is either sleeping or busy playing, I’ll spot him; alone, dipping his snout and soaking his whiskers to the cool mountain spring water.
Then he’ll disappear.
If catnip party is on the way, my clumsy self always accidentally drop a catnip anchovy near the water pump. And then when the whole cattery went high, I’ll hear bumps, scratches, sniffs, clapping chews, and sneezes from behind the machine.
I will find my barrel bodied friend hugging his tiny achovy with wide round eyes and snicker in the whiskers, looking straight at me.
When guest come, they will always say, “Fifty nine” when I said sixty or “seventy three” when I said seventy four. Nowadays, “It’s eighty nine” when I say ninety. They will look high and low, of course. Children especially enjoy the time when I challenge them to frozen yogurt or a cup of ice cream, or a soft toy they want from my collection, if they can find the one that is missing.
No one find Degas until I point them to under the cages, or under the counter, or inside the pump house, or behind the washer, or buried under smelly laundry in the bucket, or behind the row of seemingly undisturbed, neatly arranged baskets, or way up high on top of the hanging cabinet that they can only see his white and patches big butt.
In the summer when the sun is bright, I will put a basket on the big cages but I will keep the basket closed until everyone sleeps.
Then I will see him at the corner of my eyes, just for a second, crossing through the hallway, followed by cages that seemed to rattle on their own.
One of those day I came back in with my camera hidden.
The only photo I have of him.