Friday, 19 April 2013

Tribute to an old friend

This is Brando.


Not long after I moved into my old place in Bundy, I noticed a black shape streaking through the yard, under the fence and into the stormwater drain outside.  Later, I was gardening when I accidentally cornered the black shape.  It was a small cat, which was so terrified of me that he tried to scale a six foot colourbond fence.  Even fuelled by panic he couldn't - it was a sheer surface with no footholds, not even for a tiny paw - so it was basically leaping into the air and flailing madly at the fence as it slid down to the ground again.  I moved back, and it shot past me into the bushes and away.

I started leaving some food and water out for the cat. It didn't touch it.  It did occasionally catch one of the neighbourhood magpies, which were overfed by the locals and subsequently congregated in ridiculous numbers, and I'd find the drain full of feathers the next day.

One autumn, I started seeing more and more of the cat.  It was moving more slowly - by which I mean it was now visible as more than just a blur of motion - and I could see that it moved awkwardly, as if its back legs were injured or crippled.

I started leaving food out again.  This time, it ate it.

As autumn turned to winter, the cat hung around more and more.  Eventually I would find it sleeping in the sun just outside the fence.  Its long hair was matted and tangled with leaves and grass, it was skinny, its eyes were gunky; it was obviously sick.

One afternoon, I was sitting on the back steps having a cup of tea when the stray cat staggered up to me and rubbed against my knee.  I reached out to pat it, and when it didn't shy away I scooped it up and put it in a box with a blanket, and took it to the vet.  The poor thing was suffering.  It was the kindest thing to do.

When they asked for the cat's name to put on the paperwork, I told them "Brando".  Because he was a wild one.

I expected the vet would put Brando to sleep, but instead she shot him full of fluid and antibiotics, estimated his age as being somewhere north of nine, and gave him back to me.

He slept all afternoon and evening.  The next morning he was still lounging on the beanbag in the lounge room.  He looked up and purred when I approached.

I had apparently acquired a cat.

I didn't want a cat.  I didn't want any pet.  They were a responsibility I didn't need.  I didn't want a cat in particular because of their affect on the native wildlife.  I was more a dog person, anyway.  And while I was working full time and living alone, it wasn't realistic to have a dog.  So I was petless, and I thought I was happy with that.

But Brando purred and kneaded his way into my heart.  He was good company, and coming home to a house with a warm, living body in it was very different from coming home to a house that didn't.  As he recovered he revealed his true nature, as the gentlest, most good natured cat I've ever known.  You could pick him up, pat him anywhere, rub your face in his belly, and he never complained.  With brushing, his matted, dull fur was replaced by a glossy cloud of black and white fluff.  While his hindquarters were never quite right, his staggering limp faded to a faint swing of his hips as he walked.

While I'll never know Brando's story prior to meeting me, he had obviously not always been a stray.  He had already been neutered, and once he recovered from his initial fear he was obviously comfortable with being handled and loved.

He was profoundly deaf.  I had a noisy old washing machine that made a bang as it started the spin cycle, so loud that even from the other end of the house it sounded like a car backfiring.  But Brando could sleep peacefully on top of the machine and not even flinch when the spin cycle started.

Time passed.  By now, judging by the vet's estimate, he was more than 13 years old.  He developed kidney problems and incontinence.  He started randomly hissing and growling at Fry, the second ex-stray cat that had followed him into my life and my heart, and the vet said his personality changes were a sign of dementia.

When I moved to Orange, I asked my parents to look after him.  I was worried about how he'd cope with the cold, and how my carpeted rental house would cope with an elderly, incontinent cat.  Fry's presence seemed to annoy him more and more, and it seemed prudent to separate them.

When I went to visit my parents in August last year, Brando was huffy with me.  Perhaps he felt I abandoned him, even though my parents looked after him even better than I did.  Perhaps he didn't recognise me after the better part of a year.  Perhaps it was the behavioural changes that come with dementia.  Whatever it was, I got several hisses and an attempted scratch before I finally got a proper cuddle the night before I left to go home.

Brando's health's been on the decline for a while now, but about a fortnight ago it hit critical.  He stopped eating.  His kidneys gave up completely.  His chest no longer rumbled with his deep, sonorous purr.

This morning, Brando went to the bridge, to a land of warm sunshine and soft beanbags, free of pain and the ravages and indignities of age.

I love you and will never forget you, my darling old soldier.