This is a true story. The illustrations are by my nephew Hari Gopinathan, a talented furniture designer and freelance illustrator Hari Gopinathan (Instagram handle).
I owe an apology to your cat. On my evening walk yesterday, I saw him halfway to Tesco, looking lost and forlorn. An elderly couple was engaged in conversation with him. He was instantly recognisable: a mix of tabby and white with tortoise shell grey, playful kitten approaching full cathood, no collar, and slight to moderate belly. It was Sonny and he was lost.
Sliding my headphones off, I said to the couple,
“It’s my neighbour’s cat”.The assertion must have come across mildly belligerent, for the couple quickly moved away.
“Sonny, what you doing here? Go home”, I chided him.
He responded by rubbing his head against my trousers. This was typical Sonny behaviour. The cat’s identity was confirmed without doubt.
I then uttered the magic words you had told me about when we last discussed Sonny: “Food, Food”. The hope was he would then follow me home. But he didn’t respond and, in fact, looked rather cross. He probably resented anyone other than his owners speaking the magic words. This was turning out more difficult than necessary. I made a couple of quick calls to both you and Doreen but they went straight to your voice mails.
The next step was brave and, in hindsight, foolishly Quixotic. Laying down an empty shopping bag on its side and holding it open like a cat flap, I pleaded with Sonny to get in. Passers-by looked on with amusement. Some even rolled their eyes but didn’t interfere. They probably thought it was a matter best left between a man and his cat. Sonny gave me a look like I have never had from anyone, let alone a cat. It was one of undisguised contempt and disdain, roughly translating to,
“Are you real?”
Thinking about it now, there was no way any cat would have willingly walked into a bag. But at the time it seemed a good idea. I inched the bag closer, mentally assessing the risk of my intended actions. Having been immunised against rabies after a dog bite last year, I was quite sanguine about a potential animal attack. Just then an approaching dog barked and Sonny, who (I thought) was nearly in the bag, bolted. I ran after him, bag in hand.
“Sonny, Sonny, stop. Please.”
Finding him behind a bush in Monk’s Brook, I walked on to the precarious looking bridge. Whipping out the phone, I called our mutual neighbour Angela and switched to video mode. She confirmed it was indeed Sonny. She agreed to knock on your door and alert you that your dear pet was hiding in the brook, half a mile away.
Meanwhile, I decided to hold Sonny’s attention and not let him out of sight. Whistling, meowing in several different tones ‘Meeeow’, ‘Meooow’, ‘Meowww’, and chanting the magic words ‘Food Food’ in the exact intonation you had demonstrated. I balanced dangerously on the bridge. Sonny wasn’t having any of it and stayed well away. This continued for a few minutes as I stood there waiting for someone to call me and resolve the situation. There we were, man and animal, locked in an endless stare-down. The benevolent rescuer of a lost pet and a cat minding his own business until I came along.
The playlist on the phone started playing Jimi Hendrix and almost instinctively I repositioned my headphones over my ears without losing eye contact with Sonny. I continued my meowing and cajoling not realising that I was compensating for the volume of Jimi’s guitar. I was shouting. A small crowd began to gather, seeing this man with a black hoodie and an unruly beard imitating a cat at full throttle while balanced on a dodgy bridge. It didn’t help they couldn’t see the cat.
The expected phone call never came. Sonny, bored with the staring game, leapt across and disappeared into the industrial estate on the other side of the brook. After some feeble attempts to follow him, I gave up on the rescue mission. I felt for you and Doreen while continuing the evening walk, burdened with guilt and disappointment. In my mind, I was already helping you post notices about your missing cat.
Looking at the phone on reaching home, I saw two missed calls and a message from Angela, “Paul’s cat’s at home. Enjoy your walk!”
Please warn Sonny – there is an imposter about.