There was once a cat who loved a woman.
Actually there are often cats who love women, but it’s usually just a passing fancy quickly outgrown with kittenhood. This was a special case.
First, there was the matter of his name. She didn’t give him one right away, as so many humans do, based only on the color of his fur, or his propensity toward (or away from) play. Gathering him into her lap like a sleek, black puddle, she said, “You already have a name. All cats do. I just have to guess it.”
For days after bringing him into her small, tidy apartment, she’d periodically toss out a candidate and watch for his reaction. He wasn’t sure if he already had a name or not but he reveled in the power of choosing, and in her attention. “Winston?” she asked, and he went on purring, looking impassively up at her. A few hours later, “Henry?” as he chased paper balls around the room; he didn’t react. The next day she tried again, lifting his chin up so she could look directly into the giant, golden marbles of his eyes. “Horus?” “Apollo?” “Anansi?” “Caspar?” “Merlin?” Stately, regal names all, but none resonated with the cat.
In the morning she announced, “I have it! I know your name.” He hopped up onto a barstool expectantly. “Rama.” The cat felt a strange, ticklish sensation in his chest. He raised himself on his hind legs, lifted a forepaw and gently placed it on her cheek. “I knew it!” She exclaimed, scooping him up in her arms. “Rama was a prince of India, and you are a prince of cats!”
He knew he wasn’t really a prince of cats; cat government is parliamentary and there hasn’t been a feline ruling class since the days of ancient Egypt. But he did know he loved her then. He reached out to bat at a strand that had escaped from the long, gray braid draped over her shoulder, and she indulged him, bouncing the strand in front of him as if it were a bit of string, smiling, her eyes sparkling. He didn’t notice the many lines in her soft, translucent skin, or the brown spots on her hands and face. He saw only beauty, joy and love in her.
Eventually Rama learned her name, when another woman came to visit. The other woman called her “Sarah”, and Sarah called the other woman “Hope”. By listening carefully when they talked, Rama learned Hope was Sarah’s younger sister. Hope came to visit Sarah every week on Friday afternoons, and she liked Rama just as much as her sister did. For Rama’s part, he liked Hope well enough, but it was a feeble sentiment compared to his love for Sarah. As Rama grew he came to understand things about Sarah, and her routines. Except for her weekly trip to the corner market and her increasingly frequent doctor visits, Sarah and Rama were together all the time. She was a quiet, stay at home sort of person, and that suited Rama very well.
He learned to read as most housecats do, by waiting until Sarah had a book, magazine or newspaper open and unceremoniously plopping himself into her lap to look on. Humans think cats do this as a gambit for attention, and that’s just how cats like it since humans can be such a nervous, unpredictable lot when it comes to things they can’t explain. Sarah would continue reading, absently stroking his back and scratching his ears, periodically turning to him to discuss whatever it was they were reading.
“Can you believe that Angelina Jolie is pregnant again?!” Rama didn’t understand what was so shocking about this, since Cinnamon, the female cat down the street, had had two litters a year for the past three years running, and wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. But he humored Sarah and kept his opinions to himself.
One afternoon, Rama woke to a piercing, mechanical wail. It seemed to be coming from the necklace Sarah always wore. The pendant had a little red dot in the center, and now it was flashing. Sarah lay there, her eyes open, but still. He rubbed his head as hard as he could against her face to rouse her, but she didn’t react. She didn’t reach out to run a finger along his jaw, or rub under his chin like she usually did, but he didn’t give up. Soon a pair of large men dragging a bed on wheels burst through the front door. One of them grabbed Rama and tossed him aside like a sack of flour, and when Rama tried to get back to Sarah the other man shut him up in the bathroom. Rama screamed himself hoarse, until finally the door opened. He raced out to Sarah, but she was gone.
He dashed around the apartment, crying out for her, inconsolable. He was standing on the bed he’d shared with Sarah, keening in a scratchy whisper that was all that was left of his voice when Hope found him. “Rama?” she asked, tentatively.
He fell silent and his head whipped around. It was definitely Hope, but something was different about her. Her eyes were red, and her face was puffy and pale. She threw herself on the bed and did something Rama had never seen Sarah do, didn’t even know humans could do: she wailed the death wail, and then he knew Sarah was never coming back. Hope reached for him and hugged him close. He didn’t want to be hugged by anyone but Sarah, but as much as it shamed him, he abandoned himself to the comforting feeling.
And so he went to live with Hope, who was married, and had children and grandchildren who often came to visit. They would all fawn over Rama, petting him and scratching his head for as long as he would allow, but he seemed indifferent to their attention. Hope’s husband would often complain about Rama’s standoffish nature, but Hope knew Rama’s nature all too well. His heart was broken by Sarah, and he would never love another.