On the communication of cats.
My story starts, I would think, in about the late '70's or early '80's, in the southern suburbs of Johannesburg. My mother, a stay-at-home mom and chronic cleaner, got it into her head to start herself a small cat-breeding business. Whether she was simply bored, or expected that it may somehow turn into a viable concern, is lost to me. The initial stock (if we can call it that) was brought in, large caging areas were built, various sundries and whatnots purchased, and the whole show hit the road. The mechanics of this operation is not really important.
She started small, a few kittens here, a few kittens there, specialising in Persians. It got so that a house full of little fur balls was the norm; it was nothing to have five sleeping on your bed, another four finishing your breakfast before you got to the table, six more staring at you from the top of the curtain rail. And the house never smelled, as you'd be expecting. All credit to my mom, the chronic cleaner.
This story revolves around one cat in particular. I don't remember her pedigreed, registered name. She was referred to, simply, as Mops. I think my sister coined that one. This was a cat with a perpetual bad-hair day. There was no brush or product known to man that could tame that particular fall-out zone. She was small, a black-and-cream bi-colour, becoming a Champion at some stage in life (yes, I had to tag along to cat shows, a sad and depressing subject for another day). Being a Champion breed, you'd expect that her kittens would fetch a decent sum but alas; this was not to be.
This little thing had a couple of peculiarities. For one, she refused to be mated. Any and all attempts ended in disaster. As soon as she was shoved into a cage with some or other virile and ready male, she would lie on her side and open the throat of anything that dared approach her. We never did figure out why. Perhaps Mops didn't fancy men? Whatever her own reasons for that she was, however, an excellent midwife. Any breeder will testify to a cat n labour gleefully eating anything that approaches her; not so with any of ours, where Mops was involved. She would saunter on in to the birthing area (yes, we had a birthing area) and climb into the box. During the labour stage she would purr at the expectant mother, wash her down, comfort her. At the birth itself she would assist by cleaning the new-borns and cutting cords. She has even been seen to dry-suckle the little newbies, allowing the exhausted mother to rest for a while. I have never seen the like of Mops since.
But, all told, I think that the single biggest reason Mops never did have kittens is because of her personality. She seems like a nice little kitty; she wasn’t. Outside of her few-times-a-year role as midwife she was (with no questions asked and no excuses given) a rampant, bad-tempered, stuck-up bitch. Dogs will say: "they feed me and care for me: they must be gods." Cats, on the other hand, think; "they feed me and care for me: I must be a god." That was Mops. The lord of all she surveyed, she swayed and flicked her way through the house, passing out whatever justice she deemed deserved for whatever slight on her person, whether real or imagined, with a flash of a claw or a click of a tooth. More often than not, it was simply the cold shoulder. Mops would simply turn her back on anything that approached to say hi, be it human or feline. She ate first, without question, the other cats sitting back from their bowls until Mops had finished. Any snacks or treats would go to her first; this was not disputed. It was only in the birthing room that she was even tolerated.
Sometime around '86 or '87, I was sitting at the dining room table. Whether I was eating or doing homework matters not. I do recall that the house, that day, was unnaturally quiet. I believe that there must have been, all told, around six or seven cats still in residence, my mother having been winding down her operation over a period (I think she ceased breeding somewhere towards the end of '89). There were no cats to be seen. All was calm and quiet. Like a grave, or a morgue. Or, more correctly as it turned out, that special kind of quiet in the air just before the mortar shell lands, spreading debris everywhere in one single and shocking bang.
I don't rightly know how cats communicate with each other, even though I had the opportunity to live with and observe them for the better part of a decade. I know that they meow only in conversation with humans. That day, those remaining cats in the house must have gotten together, conferred in secret, and reached a decision.
It was time.
From where I was sitting I could stare directly up the first flight of steps, leading to the upstairs bedrooms. Calmly and confidently down the stairs came Mops. Her tail swished gently from side to side, her bad mood at a relaxed DEFCON 2. Completely and utterly oblivious to the lightning-charged friction in the air, she reached the bottom of the stairs. I must have somehow picked up on the subconscious menace that clogged the day, because I watched, quiet and still, barely breathing. Mops hopped down from the final step.
And was attacked.
From under furniture and from around corners, from behind doors and from under curtains, came a flashing, yowling, fur-bristling knot of fury, hell-bent on murder and mayhem. Cats from all angles crashed into Mops. She went down under a storm of multi-coloured, standing-on-end destruction. Fur went everywhere. The screams and hisses, the challenges and the pleas, rang out through the house. The mortar shell had landed. The horde of cats crashed one way and then the next, bashing into furniture and walls, rolling on the carpet and sending up fur and spittle, blood and shouts. It seemed like minutes, though it must have been a few seconds before I went wading in, hitting, pushing and kicking from one side to another, scattering cats left, right and centre. Mops was a wreck. That's the best we could say. Bloody and torn, missing fur and flesh, she lay panting, eyes glazed over and little body quivering. Of the other cats, there were none to be seen. Job done, they had crawled back to where they came from, only appearing again later in the day, tails perhaps a little straighter, when Mops returned from the vet.
It doesn't matter what you think about the communication of cats, what animal behaviourists and enthusiasts will tell you. On that day at the end of the '80's, six or seven cats got together and decided that enough was enough. They conspired, they planned, and they acted. They violently and concisely, with precision that was military-perfect, ambushed another cat, and beat it to a pulp. They sought their revenge, and they got it.
And Mops, the ruler, the judge, the jury and the executioner…was now only Mops the cat who sat quietly on her couch, Mops the one that ate last at mealtimes. Mops who gave way when other cats walked past.
For the rest of her life.
Karma, unlike Mops, might not be such a bitch after all.