On my walks home from the bus stop after my evening yoga classes, I encounter the street cats. There must be eight of them now, or nine or ten. They lurk and play around behind the wrought iron fences that line my street, and I always stop to say hello to them or give them food when I have it. A month or so ago I bought a bag of cat food at the market on the corner and spent the weekend afternoons visiting the cats and giving them food that didn’t come out of other people’s garbage bags piled on the street. Dennis warned me not to make my actions a habit, otherwise the cats might be dependent upon me and not seek out food for themselves, so I have been very careful not to get into any kind of routine. But it’s made me nervous, too. Who will take care of them after I’m gone? Who will bother to give them food that’s made for cats so they wouldn’t choke or get stuck in garbage bags?
Recently, however, on one of my walks down the hill from the bus I saw an older woman reaching into a bag she carried and scatter something on the ground, after which a whole bunch of cats came out of their hiding places and began eating. I watched her for a moment and soon realized she was feeding them cat food. So I stopped her and told her I did the same thing for the cats on the weekends. She told me that there were kittens around somewhere and that each kitten was more beautiful than the next. She said she feeds them every afternoon on her walk up the hill from her bus to her home. She has definitely made it a routine to give them food and so it’s because of her that I get to see the cats each evening. She’s the reason I look forward to walking home so much, and she wasn’t even aware. Neither was I, actually. Knowing she’s there to look after the cats makes me feel better about leaving. It makes me glad in my heart that there is a person who sees the cats as important and deserving of good treatment. We both know we can’t take the cats home, but we do what we can to care for them in the ways we can. When we met on the street that night, she told me, “Keep giving. Keep doing what you’re doing, and God will help you.” Whether or not I believe that, it was nice to hear and it’s something I believe a little bit. Helping the little cats makes me feel like a better person.
One of the cats follows me home to my apartment. She’s a calico little thing that runs ahead of me, rubs against my leg and then rubs against the stone walls as we walk. When she sees me walk up the hill, she meows to me or comes running towards me. She’ll jump up on a wall and purr, waiting for me to dole out the goods. Sometimes I have the food, other times I don’t. But whatever the case, for a few moments, I’m with good company. Our reasons might be different, but we both want to be with each other.
As much as this makes me sound like I have more than enough potential to be one of those Cat Ladies I am afraid of becoming, it also makes me think about leaving, how often it is that we form attachments to a place or to a person just before it’s time to go. I search for this little calico cat on all of my walks on my street and I know I will remember her when I go away. Maybe it’s unnatural to think about this, to form a little friendship with a street cat. I wonder if she’ll notice that I’m gone? I think about this in the same way I wonder if the streets will feel my absence. If the padaria where I eat breakfast will somehow change or if the apartment will have saudade for me. They’re silly thoughts, I know. But if I miss them, won’t they miss me?