My stomach tightened at her long mournful cries. Dark pools of desperation laced the hollow of her haunting yellow eyes. I looked away, afraid of what I saw. Fearful of what I was feeling. She crouched, pleading me to look for her kittens. Her breasts swollen with milk.
The cat, white with ginger and black rings on her tail, had been in my backyard for almost a fortnight. I saw it one morning as I feverishly multi-tasked: heating the milk from cold, struggling with a recalcitrant coffee machine whilst trying hard to concentrate on the conference call that was coming in from our US partner.
I followed the direction of constant meowing. The cat huddled in the middle of my husband’s prized Fangesia Robusta Campbell, a clumping bamboo with dark green foliage and checkerboard culms. It didn’t look injured. But it made low guttural sounds. I scribbled a note to the housekeeper to take a look at the cat, before rushing off to work.
I forgot all about the cat in the following days. I was out of the house before the housekeeper arrived and back after she was gone. Nobody reminded me about the cat.
Last Saturday, I heard the meowing again. It was different this time. A whirling melody of contentment and sunshine. I rushed to the back and spied through the metal door grille. Bibi, my housekeeper, had put a piece of old blanket at the far side of the covered porch. Three tiny kittens – all white with big black patches – were lolling around, their mouths firmly latched to their mother’s belly. I giggled.
“When did the kittens arrive?”’
“Two days ago. Sir said to give them away as soon as they are weaned.”
I turned to Bibi and made a face. My husband is terrified of cats. A stray bit him when he was a boy.
”Don’t name the cat,” she warned, ”or the kittens,” and walked away.
That was how I spent last weekend: seated on a low stool behind the door grille, reading a book, sipping cold ocha and looking up to watch the tiny kittens rolling around on the big blue blanket. I had read somewhere that we should not try to carry the kittens or go anywhere near a new nest lest the mama cat would run off and abandon her kittens.
Last night, I came home from work and rushed excitedly to the back porch. The nest was empty. I opened the door grille and walked out to take a closer look. Empty. I looked around. Nothing. I called out for the mama cat. No answer. Thinking that perhaps she had brought her kittens to someplace else, I went back into the house to have my dinner.
I was walking up the stairs when I heard a sharp primal cry. I rushed to the back porch and saw the mama cat. She hissed at me angrily. I backed away and called Nigel who had retired to his living quarters at the other wing of the main house.
“The kittens are dead, ma’am,” he said kindly. “We found them under the bamboo clumps this morning, all drenched from the storm last night.”
”Where are they now? The mama cat is outside, crying.”
“I wrapped them up in a thick bin bag and threw them in the garbage truck.”
”Why didn’t you bury them?”
He sighed heavily over the phone and said exasperatedly, “They are not our pets.”
I stabbed the intercom shut. Without another glance to the direction of the cat, I shut the door and stomped upstairs.
This morning, Bibi was in the kitchen when I came down for breakfast. I looked at my watch. I wasn’t late. She was super early.
”Nigel said that you had some trouble with the mama cat last night,” she said nonchalantly, pouring me a vege mix from the slow juicer.
”She was crying. I can’t believe Nigel threw the kittens like they were garbage.”
Bibi shot me a strange look. She put down my glass of fresh juice and opened a drawer. She took out a packet of wet cat food and walked briskly to the back porch.
I followed her.
She opened the back door grille and pushed the container of wet cat food with the wooden end of the broom to the middle of the porch.
“The kittens were killed. I think it’s the male cat, ma’am. Male cats like to kill kittens.”
“The father? or other male cats?”
”Sometimes the father. Sometimes other male cats.”
“But why? They are killing their own.”
”Male cats kill the kittens so that the mama cat will stop looking after kittens and go back in ‘heat’ again.” She sighed impatiently.
The cat ran to the corner and meowed loudly.
As she stared at me through the dark pools of grief, I nodded. Deep down, she and I — we are both hostages to our mercurial womb.