Since deciding to move back to England, my husband and I arranged that he would go to the new house first and I would join him some weeks later, after tying up ends at our old house in Germany.
“There was a welcoming party when I got here today,” said my husband, telephoning me one evening in May. “Is it a good omen to find a black cat waiting on the doorstep of your new home?”
I groaned inwardly. The last thing I wanted at this point in my life was a feline affair. I’m a dog person now, following the painful demise of my own two cats some years earlier, and besides, must remain faithful to our two border collies, who were currently languishing in quarantine.
“Just ignore him,” I advised “and he’ll soon go away.”
This was sure to be effective – my husband can ignore for England.
However, when I joined my husband four weeks later, the cat was waiting for me on the front window ledge, as though he had known I would be along shortly. With a harsh, cackling ‘meow’, he yawned, stretched and surveyed me dispassionately.
“Ah, there you are at last,” he seemed to say.
The next few weeks were, quite literally a game of cat and mouse. Whenever I ventured out, the cat appeared from the bushes with that welcoming cackle that passed for a ‘meow’. Any attempt on my part to fondle him was swiftly evaded. I was as yet unworthy of a close encounter of the furry kind.
As the days grew warmer, the cat conducted his vigil from the front doormat, prompting the postman and other callers to glare indignantly at me, for apparently refusing entry to my poor abandoned pet. The cat smirked up at me as I denied ownership to their retreating, disapproving backs.
“Whatever we do, we mustn’t feed him,” I vowed, “or he’ll never go away.”
So we didn’t feed him. Undeterred he spent hours on the window ledge, fixing us with an unnerving stare as we slunk around with averted eyes. One day, whilst watering the hanging baskets, I felt a soft furry pressure on my bare toes. The black cat had emerged from his den in the bushes, and was rubbing his head along my foot.
“Now will you feed me?” he said, regarding me solemnly with those perfectly round yellow eyes.
“Absolutely not,” I responded, retiring to the kitchen to prepare lunch. After carefully cutting a first slice of beef, the second one came away a little unevenly and I decided to level up the joint before replacing it in the fridge. A few minutes later, the black cat burped unashamedly, and retreated into the bushes. I retrieved the saucer before my husband came home. It was just a one-off, never again.
During the next few weeks I acquainted myself with the gastronomic pecadilloes of my tormentor. Fresh salmon was perfectly acceptable, but not too much of the grey scaly stuff, and I had to be careful not to offer meat that had been cooked with onions. Pasta was a definite no-no, as was toast, and if I must offer long-life milk, it should be at least semi-skimmed milk. None of that nasty fat-free stuff for my little lodger.
“I thought you weren’t going to feed it,” muttered my husband from behind his newspaper.
“It’s not really feeding,” I protested, “it’s really more like waste disposal.”
The siege continued throughout the summer. On several occasions the cat supervised my letter-posting activities, following me to the same point before settling down to watch my further progress across the road to the post box, and rejoining me for the return journey.
On fine evenings he climbed into our back garden to lurk around our barbecues, and once he joined us briefly at the dinner table, after climbing through the open lounge window. My husband supervised his swift departure.
Oddly, the cat was reluctant to enter the house through the front door. That is, until the day of our landlord’s inspection, when in contravention of the strict rules of our lease, the cat gave a fair impersonation of being a regular household fixture as he sauntered in and stationed himself by the fridge door. Clearly the landlord did not believe my protestations of innocence.
I began to worry about the cat’s future well being, since at the expiry of our lease we would be moving on. I couldn’t be the only person feeding him, I reasoned, since we didn’t give him enough to support his obviously healthy physique. However the cat obviously slept out at nights, emerging from our hedge each morning, covered in dust and leaves, with the occasional slug trail picked out in silver across his black fur.
I needn’t have worried though. As autumn approached we went away for a ten day break. When we returned, there was no sign of the black cat. For almost a week we were free to venture out without feline harassment. Then late one Sunday afternoon whilst parking the car, I heard the familiar cackling greeting behind me.
The black cat sauntered towards me, belly swaying, fat jowls dangling round his neck. He dodged away as I reached to stroke him. He had no need to trade endearments now. Another family had moved into the avenue some weeks earlier, and during our absence the cat had laid more successful siege to their household. Not only was he fat, but his fur had the distinct appearance of regular brushing.
I saw him a couple of times after that as I went to the post box. His newly adopted family were offering bed as well as breakfast and he sat smugly in the window of his new home, his mouth moving in silent greeting as he saw me go by.
“No hard feelings?” I mouthed at him.
He flicked his tail a couple of times and yawned.
“Humans can be very silly” he said.