The cat who may not have survived a day in Persia

The cat who may not have survived a day in Persia ... 26/03/2017 Nature

Keywords:#Africa, #African, #Algeria, #American, #Baltimore, #Caspian, #Caspian_Sea, #England, #Facebook, #France, #French, #Instagram, #Italian, #Italy, #Mauritania, #Middle_East, #Near_East, #Persia, #Persian, #Turkey, #Twitter

Published March 26, 2017, 12:05 AM
By AA Patawaran
Illustration by Pinggot Zulueta
Wallis the golden-haired cat somehow finds her way to the street. It’s dark and there is hardly anybody, except those who snore noisily from behind the dark windows. Overhead, the moon hovers and it smolders in Wallis’s eyes, giving her a savage look, although it is not aggression but trepidation that is reflected in her
The street sign, though she cannot read it, spells L-I-G-H-T, but along the street with such a buoyant name, the only thing light is her footfalls. Not that she is heavy-hearted, either. It’s just that her silent footsteps are in her nature designed from thousands of years of evolution from the wild.
“What wild?” beeps a voice from behind the flowering shrub, a bolt from the blue.
Wallis takes a step back, but she is quick enough to hide her astonishment, embarrassed that her cat senses have failed her. She blinks unaffectedly and sits on her paws, feigning indifference.
“What wild?” repeats the source of the insolent voice, a cat the color of a dark shadow slinking into the moonlight.
Wallis fakes a yawn, but fails and does yawn. She finds it unglamorous to open her mouth wide in public, but a little inelegance serves her at the moment. “We all come from the wild, for your elucidation,” she purrs. “I hate to admit it but you and I, we both have descended from the African wildcat.”
The other cat catches moonshine on her fur and Wallis notices she isn’t as black as she first thought, seeing her creep out of the shadows, not nearly as black as the homeless feline, “the poor slob without a name,” that the pretty girl in her human’s favorite black-and-white film Breakfast at Tiffany’s simply called “Cat.” This one has a dirty white streak across her body.
Rather fancy, thinks Wallis, but then the stranger laughs a coarse laugh. “From the African wildcat, did you say?” she says, rolling on the grass on the side of the street. “If they can see you right now, those forecats of yours must be twisting so much the pyramids are shaking.”
“And what is your problem?” retorts Wallis. “Come to think of it, if you go further back to eons before the first cats were domesticated in the Middle East, all cats, like all humans, come from Africa.”
More laughter from the strange cat that isn’t as black as she first appeared in the shadows. “Not you! Are you kidding me?” she hisses. “Judging from the way you are, I doubt you even came from those rugged, mountainous rims enclosing basins in what used to be Persia, after which your pathetic subspecies has been named. You could not have survived a day in Persia with its cruel winters and crueler summers and neither could your foremeow!”
Wallis mentally closes her eyes, but for the benefit of her detractor, she keeps them open, deadpan, except that they do throw back the moonlight. “I’m a Persian cat,” she meows, keeping her tone impassive. “You can’t argue with that.”
“Yes, I can,” the stranger cries. “The truth is your origins are without any real historic value. You are an abomination of nature, purely manmade, a manipulation of our otherwise feral species. You could not have come from Persia, much less from Northern Africa, the Near East, or the Arabian Peninsula where it meets the coast of the Caspian Sea. Your history dates no farther back than the 17th century, when some Italian explorer named Pietro della Valle brought a cat just like you from the Middle East to Italy. Either that or when, around the same time, the French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc brought the same from Turkey to France. Nobody knows for sure and nobody cares, as long as you are purring like a spoiled princess.”
Wallis cannot help it. For the first time, she turns to look at her belittler. In her head, she says, “For a streetcat, you seem to know a lot, a lot more than I do,” but to the cat that isn’t quite as black as the spots on Chiquita, the diamond-collared pet cheetah of Missouri-born French supervedette Josephine Baker, “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw,” according to Ernest Hemingway, as well as to Wallis’s human, she simply says, “I don’t care, either, because whatever you say, I am as much a cat as you, only less rough on the edges.”
The stranger growls, “You are so right, Wallis.”
Despite herself, she drops her jaw, “And how do you know my name?”
“Oh everybody knows your name, which is as fake as yourself. You are named after the American duchess, who didn’t have a drop of blue blood in her veins, an American, from Baltimore! But she dressed like the duchess, behaved like the duchess, married the king, and almost became queen of England.”
Here, Wallis recovers and purrs, moistening her shoulders, “A duchess, nonetheless.”
And she glides away, in her graceful gait that from birth, except for the many occasions of childhood playfulness, seems to come naturally to her. Behind her, she hears the stranger chattering, yowling, wailing, but she pays no heed. She cannot chatter, yowl, or wail back with the same abandon. It is not in her nature to be so barbaric, so bestial.
A long promenade in the moonlight and she reaches the gate to her human’s house, the biggest on the block, and the most stylish, done in white and wood. She can hear her human gently calling her name, asking where she is. She is forbidden to go out, but she is in no trouble at all. The worst she is likely to get, if at all, is a gentle admonition, more like a counseling to remind her of the dangers of the outdoors.
She is overcome with emotion, but a part of her looks out on the street, in whose shadows she senses the presence of so many stray cats, their eyes glittering in the dark. Just like her, they have none of the traits of the African wildcats anymore, none of those traits with which all cats had been designed. They have all become far removed from their original nature, tamed, trained, turned into pets, only now, unlike her, the lucky one, so blessed, they are homeless and abandoned, forced to scavenge and steal and behave like such lowly creatures.
Wallis considers how charmed her life has been. Curling up in her soft organic cotton cat bed. The leather collar that has her name embroidered in silk on it. Her canned meals that give her a daily feast of herring, deboned chicken, deboned turkey, boneless salmon, chicken liver, or ground flaxseed. The hugs and the cuddles.
What a charmed life! But Wallis looks up at the moon, and it glows in her eyes, and it feels like she is looking through the eyes of a wild cat, whose fur is sandy gray or pale yellow or red like a fox’s, over which, along the back, runs a dark stripe, the same dark stripe that lines its face, like that of an African tribesman. Under the same moon that shone thousands of years ago, as lovely as the way it shines tonight, her forecats would only come alive at night to hunt in the savannas of Mauritania or the highlands of Algeria or the Great Rift Valley, those places so far away from Light Street.
Her human calls her name yet again, longingly, affectionately, and with a tinge of worry, but Wallis gives the house one last look and with all the elegance that is in her nature, now that time has changed her completely, she saunters down the street, into the wild unknown.
The author is also on Twitter and Instagram as @aapatawaran and Facebook as Arnel Patawaran.
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