Please excuse this story; it’s a little sad.
Towards the end of our first summer here, I was loitering with intent outside my neighbour’s gate. There was a small Bay tree growing out their wall and I was too lazy to go out to our garden to pick leaves.
I spotted a tabby kitten trotting up the lane towards me, tail in the air. He was quite small and had not a fear in the world – rare for village cats, who are not quite feral and yet, not friendly either.
I stroked his little head and he purred, very loudly indeed, so I picked him up and he snuggled into the crook of my arm and I was his.
I put him down on the ground again and he trotted off down the lane, tail up and disappeared.
I asked around those of my neighbours who could understand my awful Spanish, whose cat he was, but no one knew where he had come from.
I’d encounter him in various people’s gardens and then he came visiting. He’d sleep on top of our woodpile and purr loudly at us when we walked past.
One evening, we were entertaining a couple of friends with the kitten trotting around the courtyard and generally being cute and delightful, when our old cat appeared and approached with great suspicion.
The kitten disappeared under the table and we waited for the hostilities to begin.
Our old cat reached the bottom step and stopped and then we heard an enormous deep growl.
Our cat, Lucky sat there, looking puzzled and it dawned on us all that the tiny little kitten was the one growling.
Lucky decided that this was enough and headed off upstairs again.
A few days later, an old lady appeared at the door, asking if we’d seen her kitten. ‘A grey tabby?’ I asked and shouted for my husband to bring the kitten ¿Esto gatito? I asked and indeed he was.
His name was Yoli (pronounced Jolly) and he was amazingly, only six weeks old. We all agreed on how cariñoso (sweet) he was and we promised that we wouldn’t feed him and that we’d bring him home, if he strayed again.
The problem was, that we had fed him (he was thin) and he’d even been in the house several times and he had a bit of a cough and a hundred other reasons for not encouraging Yoli to stay…
Winter arrived and although I’d carry little Yoli home each night, I wasn’t sure if he was sleeping inside. I’d worry that he was out in the cold (although he wasn’t) and one morning we found him sleeping outside our bedroom. That was it. He could stay here if he wanted to.
At the beginning of February, I was hanging out the washing on a brilliant sunny day, Yoli trying to trip me up, when my neighbour walked past.
‘Oh, that’s Yoli – we thought he’d died!’
Oh dear, the embarrassment. Los Ingleses, cat robbers….
Life indoors with Yoli had been interesting. His flatulence was so eye-watering, that he was also known as ‘Fragrant Cloud’.
His penchant for lying in front of the gas heater, also spawned the name ‘Roadkill’ and his habit of climbing into bed with us, earned him the other name of ‘The Gritty Kitty’.
One morning, when my husband had a nasty cold, he was dozing in bed and lying there next to him, cute little face on his cheek, was Yoli and had I taken a picture it would have made its way onto that greatest repository of cat images, http://www.icanhascheezburger.com .
He loved warmth and really enjoyed sleeping under the duvet with us. He’d end up sleeping in the crook of my knees and I was convinced that he was in risk of asphyxiation, but no, each morning I’d lift up the duvet and a sleepy pair of green eyes would open and he’d be up and off.
He was too cute. We’d try to prepare ourselves for heartbreak by actually saying it out loud, ‘he’s too sweet for this world’ and he was.
One day, I had the strangest feeling that he wanted to go for a walk with me. So I climbed over a wall into the field in front of our house and encouraged him to come with me. He loved it. As long as he was with me, he was fearless. If I got too far ahead, he’d squeak at me, like a tiny kitten and I’d wait.
We had a nice little circular route, which managed to avoid dogs and other cats and Yoli was in cat heaven. There were trees to climb (not too high) and grass to jump on and walls to explore.
One day, we decided to walk to our favourite piece of woodland, which involved passing through the village, down the approach road and off along an old track. As we walked briskly along the lane, I spotted a familiar small grey form behind us. This was bad news – we were a good long way out of his territory, but he followed us stealthily, running along open spaces and hugging the walls and hedgerows until we all reached the old lane.
This was new and quite surprising. We never dreamed that he’d follow us so far and in the end, he was with us all the way – some three kilometres. At one point, when we were resting on a large rock in small patch of woodland, he sat in front of us and meowed at us as if to say, ‘come on then, let’s go home now’.
The next day though, he lay in his bed in front of the fire and barely moved.
We thought that perhaps he’d just overdone things, as he was never a particularly strong cat.
He continued to sleep in our bed and the purr grew more varied as a form of communication.
One day, I opened the fridge and heard the familiar purr. Yoli was next to the fridge, on a shelf, sitting there, staring at a nice piece of jamon that was on the table. He was just letting me know that he could have taken it, but didn’t. ‘See?’ he was saying, ‘I’m a good little cat!’
I knew that something wasn’t right with him. We’d go for short walks and he’d suddenly lie down, or make ‘wait for me!’ squeaks and so I’d happily carry him. He was my cat and I’d lost my heart to him.
Our last long walk was in May 2009. My husband had gone to his nephew’s wedding in the UK and so I was happily alone with the cats and the hens. We went off to the woods and as usual of late, I’d end up carrying him, but we both enjoyed this.
We wandered around a water meadow and stopped to sit by a stream that was covered with a blanket of white flowers.
On the way back, we had to cross the stream and Yoli decided that he was going do stay a while and watch the stream rushing under a tiny bridge. I wanted to get home, so as Yoli was in my path, I had to hop across the stream from stone to stone.
I walked on slowly, looking back and thinking, ‘well, he’ll be here soon’ but no, after a few more metres I could hear the squeak, so back I went, picked him up and we made our way home.
A few days later he was weak again and didn’t want to eat. He didn’t make it upstairs to bed and was still lying on a cushion the next morning.
We took him off to the expensive small animal veterinary practice in Monforte de Lemos. They x-rayed him, told us his heart was enlarged, and then took some blood. A while later, the vet returned and she told us that it was feline leukaemia. There was no cure and having read the labels on the euthanasia bottles, I said that it would be best with put him to sleep.
I thought it would be like falling asleep, but it wasn’t.
There was the indignity of having his paw shaved and a canula put in. She injected the liquid; he went stiff, fighting the drug and then his heart stopped.
I wanted to have been holding him, looking at him to tell me to come back and find me again one day. But I was stroking his back and wasn’t there to look into his eyes.
We paid 100 euros. Most of which for useless tests and brought him back in a bag. Then my husband took him up to the woods, placed him on a rock, curled up as though he was sleeping and left him to be recycled.
We had gone into the supermarket and bought a bottle of gin. We made martinis and got well and truly drunk.
It took weeks for me to be able to go for a walk again. Every path was a reminder of what we’d lost.
We learned some time later that most of the village cats die of leukaemia. Next door’s ancient tomcat seemed to be the exception, as he was fourteen. His daughter has moved in with us now and just as soon as we can, we’ll have her vaccinated. I hope it isn’t already too late. She is also sweet and loving. Her father is also probably her grandfather, great grandfather and so on through who knows how many incestual couplings. Her crooked tail is a sign of this and I do hope that she isn’t infected with leukaemia.
Yoli taught me so much. I’d had several very stressful years, due to various disasters and had lost contact with my heart. I wanted so much to feel in contact with my emotions and they felt as though they were somehow remote and compartmentalised, but this little cat, with the heart of a lion had put me back together again.