You don’t notice them until they’re gone.
Who’s ‘us’? We. The un-battered ones. The insensitive ones. The never-TALK-to-me-anymore ones. Sounds familiar?
I have this pet theory. (Yes, how very surprising, a real THEORY? Well, not quite a theory, more of an analogy. Now listen up)
Across the main road from where I grew up (down a narrow brick-walled lane that opened into a sudden garden with rose-bushes and bougainvillea, in a little square house with a wrought-iron-railinged verandah - three steps led up to it - a house with polished red cement floors and thick cool walls that smelt of damp, and two glass-fronted cupboards full of books, I remember my favourite was one about Davy Crockett and I read it every time I visited) there lived a cousin of my grandfather’s. She doted on me. (I was very dote-able in those days, all chubby cheeks and big grin.) She also doted on her cats. I hated the creatures, right from the time I was playing hide-and-seek behind her wicker-backed sofa and landed splat in a puddle of cat poop. My great-aunt was a trifle apologetic (just a trifle, mind you) but was really more concerned about the possibility of Mr. Poop-wherever having an upset stomach.
Yes, well, whatever.
Given that there were about 3 million and 24 thousand cats all over that house, I had ample opportunity to observe them. Only for brief periods, of course, I had to step outside every few seconds. To breathe. Have you ever been in an old house with a surging sea of cats? (In hindsight, there may actually have been only 4 cats, but I was 5 years old and couldn’t count too well).
So I observed these cats. They owned the damn place, my great-aunt and her family lived there on sufferance. And of course, they also had absolute rights over all chattels and appurtenances. I swear I’ve seen my great-uncle sense a dowager-like glare right through 12 pages of newspaper, look over his half-moon glasses to find Cat # 2,345,673 staring at him in icy disapproval, sigh resignedly and heave himself to his feet (newspaper and all) just so that damned cat could curl up in his favourite chair.
And a nice chair it was, too. Old “Burma teak”, wide enough for Adnan Sami, big carved lion’s-paw feet and a lotus on the end of each arm. The lotuses were badly carved; for many years I thought each one looked like a cow’s anus. (Well, seriously, how was I to know? I grew up with a khataal – tabela, urban dairy, call it what you will - taking up half our yard and thanks to the neighbourhood ladies turning up to collect loads of a certain bovine by-product, I knew what a cow’s rear end looked like.) Anyway, it was this nice chair that I would have loved to loll in if it hadn’t been full of cat hairs.
And this cat, this particular smoky grey cat with white socks, treated it like dirt. She’d claw on the legs, she’d rip up the cushions, she’d pee on the seat, on that lovely wide deep soft-cushioned seat that was large enough to accommodate two small children playing at airplanes. She’d rub herself against the wicker back and then jump back and look at it as if it was leprous. Then she’d sniff disdainfully and stalk off, her entire attitude saying “I don’t know WHY I waste my time on trying to improve that thing, it’s not as if my efforts are appreciated anyway”. Weirdly enough, for all that she pretended to look down upon that chair, she didn’t let any of the other cats lounge in it. When a cat with definite opinions does not like what you or another cat is doing, you know. There is no scope for misinterpretation, not unless you have an economy pack of iodine at hand.
Then one week the chair was packed off to the little garage next door to get the wicker back re-done and the wood-work polished. And you should have seen how that cat moped. She went sidling round the house looking for that chair. She sat in the empty space where it usually stood and she yowled for it. She clawed at anybody who tried to walk into that space. She was totally blooming lost without that chair. I couldn’t for the life of me make out why she made such a fuss.
Now, with years of experience to help me work it out, I know what the problem was. You’ve figured it out too, haven’t you?
That cat thought she was married to that chair.