Watson and the Flying Birdcage
Sometimes an animal touches your life in an unforgetable manner, and within your life their memory takes on the status of legend.
When people say, “I’m a dog person,” or “I’m a cat person” I tend to remain silent. I’m a people person. It doesn’t matter terribly much if the person is wearing human skin, or wearing fur, feathers, scales or shell.
If reincarnation is true, then Watson’s last two lives were probably those of an Anglo-Indian colonel and a Royal Bengal Tiger and he wasn’t much impressed by his current body. It had limitations he wasn’t used to and it frustrated him enormously.
Arriving with us as a half-wild former stray, he was about five or six months old when the Cats’ Protection League decided we were suitable custodians, and he spent the first two days lurking under furniture, convinced the Fuzzy wuzzies were going to get him. His first interaction with me was to bite right through my hand when I attempted to move him from a bed I was trying to make. I think he was very surprised when he glanced back that my hand was not severed from my body.
After that I think he resigned himself to his new life. Initially we had to show him a lot of things we imagined were instinctive to cats, like climbing. We spent a drunken Sunday afternoon after church demonstrating the art of scrambling out of the walled yard at the back of our two-up, two-down in the back streets of Middlesbrough. He watched us intently for an hour and then had a go. He suddenly realised his current body has certain advantages over the one he was remembering, and effortlessly leaped to the top of the wall and stayed there, master of the back alley till sundown.
Our first Christmas presented a problem. Having only a motorbike meant that the journey from the north east of England to the home of my parents in East Anglia was going to be too long and cold and there’s nowhere on a Superdream for a cat basket. So we chose to take the train. As far as Watson was concerned, he really didn’t see why he had to be in a basket and he sulked with us the whole way, though he did choose to schmooze with anyone who came along and admired him perched in his basket on the table in the middle of the train. Us, he gave the cold shoulder to.
Arriving, we allowed him to explore my parent’s house just as soon as he felt like coming out from under the bed. Clearly this was an outpost of the Fuzzy wuzzies too, and he would leave such mundane matters to the troops(us). Emerging for some light tiffin, he sauntered down the stairs and his hunting instincts were alerted by a chirping sound. Damn, no gun. However, Watson had discovered that his current body needed no firearms to bag some rather impressive kills. He’d dragged in rats half his size before, so a mere budgie was not a concern.
The difficulty was the cage. Henry was suspended about six feet up, in his cage, from a bracket on the wall. Since I have seen Watson leap twelve or more feet in single jump, this wasn’t a problem.
The first we knew of this was a terrible crash, a yowling and a frantic(and triumphant) cheeping sound from Henry. As we made our way down the hall, Watson came streaking out of the living room and back up the stairs to his hideout. In the living room was a mess of bird seed, feathers and grit, but Henry was safe. The cage had separated from its base, as it fell , and much of it had clearly hit Watson. Henry was still on his perch, though the cage was upright and parted from the base, and he was clearly very pleased with himself.
The remainder of our visit Watson was very cautious. Every time he ventured outside and a bird flew overhead, he ducked, covering his head with paws, as if expecting it to come with cage descending. He did return to Henry’s room, sitting on the arm of a chair, calculating angles and velocity, but made no more moves. The following year, we returned, and the silent war of attrition continued, and he made no move. The third year we returned, this time complete with baby and a car, and he was ready. As soon as he was allowed from his basket, he headed straight down to the living room and stalked in.
We hadn’t had the heart to tell him that in the intervening year, his adversary Henry had passed on and had not been replaced. All his plotting was in vain.
By way of compensation, he went out the first night we were there and killed the robin my mum had been feeding. It was a hollow victory after so many years of planning.
I loved that cat, you know.
© Vivienne Tuffnell 28.1.09