This blog post is a short little write-up about some random memory I have, which I thought was worth sharing.
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THREE CATS ON-THE-GO
For over two weeks I had been staying at a well-known hostel off of the central square in Granada, Nicaragua. It was around 2005, or so. I had gotten to know some of the other people staying there, at least anyone who was there for more than a couple days, and I had also gotten to know the guy who owned the place. The owner had glasses and cut his blondish hair into a crew cut, like some army dude. He was from Las Vegas, and he swore that despite what people might think about Vegas, with all of its glitz and glamour and decadence, it was a great place to grow up and a great place to raise a family. In addition to the owner and some the regulars, I had also gotten to know all of the cats that lived at the hostel, of which there were many, and of all types. There were long hairs, short hairs, tabbies, calicoes, and many mixes of all of those and more. The cats would mill about, at their own speed, as if they owned the place. In some ways I guess they did. Backpackers, for the most part, ignored them.
One particular cat struck a chord with me. She was a tortoiseshell, which means she was covered in orange and black patches, in case you don't know your cats. She was smallish, and cute, with yellow eyes. What I noticed early on was that she had a strange way of moving. She walked very gingerly and with great care. After a few measured steps she would pause and twist her head a little, and hold it for a bit, like she was pondering something. At some point the owner told me that this cute, little tortoiseshell cat, that he called Missy, or Lil' Miss, was completely blind. I already had a soft spot for this small cat, but when I found out the poor thing was blind, I really fell for her. She had such big, beautiful yellow eyes I was surprised to hear she couldn't see, but being blind did explain her unusual way of moving.
Growing up, we always had cats. At this stage of life, when I was backpacking through Central America, I was a cat person, not a dog person. Dogs smelled and were rambunctious, and needed too much attention. I liked cats' take-it-or-leave-it demeanor, and their independence. The cats my family had acted like they didn't need us, and they would dole out little snatches of affection on their own terms. All of the cats we had were Siamese, and this may have played a role in their personalities; Siamese cats are known for being highly intelligent, yet aloof. Contrary to my Siamese experiences, the felines that ran amok at Hospedaje Central, which was the name of the hostel where I was staying, weren't aloof at all. They craved attention, for the most part. Probably because the hostel had so many people coming and going, none of the cats could count on any "sure things" when it came to grooming and attention. So when they found a "live one," like me, willing to interact and scratch behind their ears and rub their bellies, they ate it up.
One night I was chilling out in a little sitting area off of the courtyard, not too far from where my room was. This part of the hostel had a bunch of books that other backpackers had left behind, and some very well worn chairs and one dusty sofa. I was on the sofa, and at the moment there was no one else around. I had a book with me, but I didn't feel like reading just yet, so I just relaxed and took the odd sip from my trusty stainless-steel water bottle, alone in my thoughts.
Eventually the little blind cat, Missy, came by, and hopped on my lap. I petted her, and she purred. She especially liked it when I cupped my hand and petted her firmly from the bridge of her little cat nose to the top of her head; she would push against my hand when I did so. I don't know if other cats could hear her purr -- though they probably could, because her purr was awfully loud -- but eventually two more cats came by, and sat on either side of me, like bookends. These other two cats were longing for me to pet them, too, but I felt a bit self-conscious about petting three cats at the same time. I mean, what if someone passed by? Did I really want to be the weird backpacker, sitting alone on a dusty sofa, furiously petting three cats all around him like he was playing the bongos? Did I really want to have three cats on-the-go? Maybe if I was in my 60s or something, and wasn't so self-conscious, but in my 30s? I was young, and fit, and had a well-groomed beard. I had a certain image I wanted to keep up! But still... I couldn't help myself. And these cats were very demanding.
I had been regularly grooming and interacting with Lil' Miss for days now. But I don't think these two other cats had received much attention from anyone for a very long time. When I stroked them plumes of fur came off and floated away in the air. But they loved the attention, and clamored for more. Cat hair was flying everywhere. As I continued my furious petting, the two latecomers started to climb onto my lap, too, and used their heads to intercept pats that were intended for Missy. In no time they had squeezed her out, and she scooted from my lap, abruptly. When this happened, I had had enough, too. These new cats were greedy interlopers, and I didn't want Missy to feel like she was getting left out. So I got up, and wiped fur from my clothes, and headed for a nearby restroom to wash my hands, thankful that this bizarre little affair had gone unwitnessed.
Later that night, I was in the courtyard of the hostel, relaxing, under the stars. A Norwegian man with a handlebar moustache was on his way to bed. He was a wiry fella in his 40s, and had been at the hostel for awhile now, like me, so I knew him, though I can't remember his name anymore. But I do remember his energy, and what his job was back in Norway, and snatches of conversations that we had shared, as well as some of his odd habits.
One habit of his was to begin having beers at dinner, which he enjoyed in the restaurant at the front of the hostel, and to keep drinking said beers, one after another, until he went to bed. Beers were like 50 cents American for a bottle of Toña, or something like that, at least if you were having them at Hospedaje Central. No doubt the Norwegian was half in the bag by this time, as he walked by me en route to his room. Without turning my way, he lifted a hand towards me, casually, and said softly, in a sing-songy voice: "Good night, Matthew. Enjoy your cats."
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