Sheila bobbed her head to the old-school 90s playlist blasting from her portable speaker. She was painting her toenails and had been stuck on her left foot for about half an hour. She kept getting distracted by the music, stopping to holler into her makeshift microphone aka the wooden stick she used to pound ginger and garlic. She didn’t mind, though. This was Self-care Saturday. Even if it took the whole day to do her fingers and toes, it would be fine as long as she was having fun. She had nowhere else to be.
Was that a knock? She decreased the volume and listened for it again. Sure enough, there was a follow-up knock. She sighed; it was the kids. She could hear them mumbling as they waited for her to open the door. She considered ignoring them, then dragged herself up. It was the first time they’d come in weeks. She’d told them not to come, and they’d stayed away. At least for a while, longer than she anticipated, if she was honest. She should reward that by hearing them out.
Sheila cracked the door open, then remembered she had no reason to do that and opened it wider. She forced a smile, fighting the old pain’s resurgence.
“There’s this kitten…”
“We have a sick cat…”
“We found it in the drainage…”
“Wait. Wait. One at a time.” She said, narrowing her eyes when she saw the box one of the older boys was holding.
She pointed at him. “What’s that? I thought I told you guys no more cats.”
They had this habit of bringing her rescues.
“It’s a sick kitten. We found it and it’s sick and it’s not getting better. We tried to feed it, but now it’s not eating.”
Sheila reached for the box with a mixture of reluctance and curiosity. She did not want to see it. She didn’t want to go down that path again.
The taller boy put the box at her feet and pulled back the red jumper covering the tiny kitten. The smell of sour milk and urine wafted up to her. She leaned down to see a thin kitten with matted fur lying on its side. It didn’t so much as twitch. It must really be sick.
Sheila stepped back with a heavy sigh and told the boy to bring it into the house. The rest of the kids, about seven, all under twelve, followed him in, all peering into the box, a mixture of concerned and excited. She reached for the kitten and fought the shudder as she felt its wet fur and bony frame. There was no way it was going to survive. She’d never seen a cat this badly off. She could not handle having a cat die in her house. No way she could handle that. She couldn’t kick the kids out with a kitten this sick, though.
She took a deep breath. She was going to have to do this. She reached for the coins on her stool.
“Go and buy a packet of milk and glucose.” She instructed the elder boy.
They all ran off.
Sheila looked at the little black and white kitten, worry gripping her heart. She smiled when she saw the red jumper and thought of the parent out there who didn’t know the jacket they’d bought for their child was being used to nurse a kitten back to health. She’d get it washed and returned, hoping this turned out well.
She spent the next few days feeding the kitten through a syringe multiple times a day and worrying that it wasn’t working. She spoke to multiple vets for reassurance. About three days later, the kitten was lifting its head and looking around. By the end of the week, it was moving about, though with a small swagger. She also suspected it was deaf because it didn’t appear to respond to sounds. Finally, she called one vet for a home visit. The vet gave her a clean bill of health but said the deafness and mobility issues would remain.
Two weeks later, Sheila and the kitten, temporarily named Lola, had a working grove. Sheila used one of her old basins as a litter box and disposable plastic packaging as plates for Lola. She couldn’t bring herself to use the self-cleaning litter box and labelled plates she had in storage.
Sheila posted pictures and videos of Lola on her social media pages, looking for someone to adopt her. She did not want to go down this cat-person road again. By the third week, there had been zero interest in taking her in. Disabled kittens who couldn’t walk a straight line were apparently not in high demand. Despite her greatest efforts, Sheila was beginning to love having the kitten around. The house had become too quiet. She was coming around to the fact that she would have to keep Lola.
Lola couldn’t live outside because her disability also prevented her from jumping, so if she fell into anything like a ditch, she wouldn’t be able to jump out. Plus, a deaf cat outside in a neighbourhood with cars was a bad idea.
She’d sworn off having pets after the last time, but here she was. The universe had conspired to laugh in the face of her plans. What was new? She was accustomed to the ways of the universe.
Mark checked the text message again, comparing the house number on the text to the one on the door where he stood. He took a deep breath and rang the bell. A dark-skinned plus-size woman with a wild purple afro cracked the door open, then looked behind around and pulled it slightly further open.
“Hey, my name is Mark. I think you have my cat. A black and white kitten.”
A scowl replaced the tentative smile.
He held out his phone with a screenshot of the video she’d been circulating, asking people to adopt the cute kitten. “This is her. She got lost last month and I’ve been looking everywhere for her.” He softened his voice and tried to communicate he was there in peace. “Are you the one who shared this video? Sheila?”
“Yeah, it was me.” She replied voice clipped.
“Do you still have her?” He asked, worried. He hadn’t considered the possibility that someone had adopted Miss Clawford.
She shook her head.
“Did somebody adopt her?” He asked when she made no effort to explain, his frustration slowly rising.
“Look, she found someone to take care of her. Clearly, you can’t.”
“She was lost for weeks. I’ve had her for four weeks. That means she’s been missing for much longer and when I found her, she was proper sick, like dying sick. Maybe just let her be taken care of by someone who cares.”
“She got lost. Cats do that.” He said defensively.
“She’s deaf and she can’t jump.”
“You don’t think I know that. Listen, thanks for taking care of her, I’m here now. Just give me my cat back.”
“What do you mean, no? She’s my cat. This doesn’t need to become ugly. Just give me my cat.”
“Is that a threat?” She asked.
“Only if you consider a lawsuit a threat.”
“Fine. Just a minute.” She said, stepping back into the house and closing the door.
He exhaled with relief; glad she was finally being reasonable. All that relief drained out of him when he heard the door lock.
He should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. He stood outside the door for a minute contemplating pounding on it then reconsidered. A strange man angrily pounding on a woman’s door was not who he wanted to be. The world had enough men scaring women. He had no intention of being one of them.
He took out his phone, grabbed a business card from the casing, and wrote her a note on the back of it before slipping it under her door.
Mark stomped back to his house. They lived in the same estate, though in different courts. Their courts were next to each other, separated by a wall. Likely, Miss Clawford had slipped into the next court through the connecting gutters.
That woman had seriously refused to give him the cat, his cat! At least Miss Clawford was okay, he consoled himself. If she hadn’t been okay, she’d have made that clear. She already all but called him careless, irresponsible, and unworthy of having a pet.
Mark collapsed on the couch, weak with relief. He’d been worrying nonstop about Miss Clawford ever since he’d noticed she was missing. He’d been having repairs done in his bathroom and had locked her in his bedroom. One of the fundis, though both vehemently denied it, had opened his door even though he’d told them not to go in there and Miss Clawford kitten had run out. She usually didn’t go out, so she must have gotten lost and confused when she found herself in the unfamiliar outdoors.
He’d seen from the post she shared that she had been found in a ditch. That meant she’d likely fallen in and been unable to pull herself out. He shuddered thinking about how scared she must have been, how hungry and cold, especially considering how it had been pouring for days. Fuck, he’d been so irresponsible.
He’d posted it on his court group chat, but no one had taken it seriously. In fact, people found it either laughable or gravely concerning that a grown man with no wife or children was looking for a kitten on the group chat.
His phone beeped. He reached for it.
Do you have any other pictures or videos that prove she’s yours?
He exhaled with relief.
He scrolled through his gallery and forwarded the most recent pictures and videos he had.
I didn’t ask you to flood my phone.
Sorry. Just been missing my girl. (*smile emoji*)
Mark sat there waiting for a reply that didn’t look like it was coming. He took to walking around with his phone, constantly checking it as he prepared his dinner that evening.
Sheila petted Lola while playing the videos Mark had sent. They were so damn cute. It was like he documented everything: Lola sleeping, eating, walking like a cute little drunk. There were some selfie videos with him nuzzling Lola and touching noses in a way that would repulse non-pet people but only made him more endearing to her. He was a somewhat muscular man of average height, playing with a tiny kitten, letting it tug at his full beard as he winced playfully.
Every man Sheila knew was a dog guy and proud of it, so meeting this unabashedly open cat guy was a welcome change of pace. She’d looked at those videos more times than she could justify and if she was honest, it wasn’t just Lola she was looking at. That ark was beautiful to look at.
She fingered the card he’d left her, rereading the message and told herself she’d made the right choice.
It was an accident. The first time it ever happened. She’s safe and happy with me. Promise. Please.
She’d spent the morning taking copious amounts of pictures of Lola, of her and Lola. Mark was coming to pick her up. The day after he’d come looking, she’d sent him a message telling him to come pick up the cat the following day. Any minute now he would be here and she’d go back to the overly quiet house she had before. It wasn’t even that Lola made any noise, just that she was there, everywhere Sheila was, and she liked that. She’d missed that far more than she realized.
The doorbell rang, and her heart sank.
This was it.
Sheila picked up Lola and hugged her before peppering kisses all over her little face. She put her on the floor, then opened the door. Lola immediately ran to Mark and started rubbing herself on his legs, running in her characteristic unbalanced way. Lola was his cat, for sure.
A huge smile split his face as he bent down and hugged her, then peppered kisses all over her face just like Sheila had done not one minute ago.
“Thank you,” he said, looking at her, a twinkle in his brown eyes. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome,” she said.
Her throat closed up. “She was great. Take care of her.”
“I will. I’m getting one of those collars with the location thing. She’ll hate the collar but…”
They stood in awkward silence.
“Okay,” she finally said, then closed the door and leaned on it as her heart raced. She sat on the floor just like she had that day.
“So did she finally give you the cat?” Jerry, one of Mark’s oldest friends asked reaching for his plate. They were having a late lunch.
“Yes, but I swear for a moment there, I thought we were going to have to fight it out, get lawyers involved or something,” Mark replied.
“And she’d have done it too. Heard she took her vet to court and won when her cat died.”
“Yeah, her cat was getting some kind of procedure done and the vet messed up somehow. The cat died. She sued him and won. I think she got him disbarred too if there’s such a thing for vets.”
“Where’d you even hear that?” Mark asked.
“It was going around on the court group chat a few months back. Everyone was talking about how crazy it was, hiring a lawyer and going to court over a cat.”
Mark exhaled sharply. “Fuck.”
“She looked really torn up when I got there to take Miss Clawford back. That must have just taken her back to losing her cat.”
“Dude, if you want to see her, just go see her. You don’t need to make up some trauma.”
Mark rolled his eyes and dug into his rice and beef stew.
Sheila was smack dab in the middle of another self-care Saturday, curled up on the couch as she caught up on the TV shows people were always recommending. She’d spent the better part of the week moping and crying about Olivia Pope, her dead cat and Lola who’d scratched open the scab losing her had formed.
Her doorbell rang, and she fought the scream that rose in her throat. A doorbell was the last thing you wanted while watching a thriller. She paused the show and then went to her door. She pulled the door open, cautiously. She wasn’t expecting anyone.
“Woah,” Mark said, face registering his surprise. “Sorry. Hey.”
Sheila was puzzled at his reaction then closed her eyes and groaned when she remembered she had a charcoal mask on her face.
“It looks not shocking once you get past the initial shock.”
“Thank you,” Sheila said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “So?”
Mark pointed at the box he was holding and, as if on cue, Lola stood up. Sheila couldn’t help the smile as she reached out to pat her. She touched the new collar with a dangling name charm.
“Miss Clawford, so that’s her name.”
“Not that she knows it,” Mark said with a chuckle.
“I cannot believe you would joke about that,” she said with a laugh.
“I try to find joy where I can,” He said seriously.
Sheila stepped back. “What’s up? Do you not want her back?”
“No, not that. I have a proposal for you.”
Sheila narrowed her eyes at him.
He rushed through his explanation. “I was thinking we could share her. I travel a lot, not long trips but frequent, two days here, three there. I was wondering if you could keep her when I travel. I’ll bring her with food, litter and everything.”
“Only if it’s no inconvenience. I just thought you looked like you liked her and liked her having her around.” His eyes were so soft as he looked into her eyes.
She shook her head. “Someone told you about my cat.”
“Yeah, sorry. But that’s not what this is about. You took care of her and you like her and I can share. Plus, I could use a sitter.”
“So, how would this work? I get weekends, you get weekdays and if you introduce her to strange women without telling me, you catch hell?”
“I guess. If I’m travelling I’ll let you know in advance and if you’re around, you get her. If you’re not around, my sister will check on her. Also, I promise you to vet any women before they are introduced to the baby just to keep everything on the up and up.”
“I like having things on the up and up,” Sheila said, nodding.
“Noted.” He said with a serious look. “What else do you like?”
Sheila smiled. “Stick around and you’ll find out.”
“So do I get Lola now?”
“If you want her, yes. If not, we can start next weekend.”
“I’m good now,” she said, reaching for the box. Mark handed the box over to her, then reached in and petted the kitten who was playing with some toy in the box. “I’ll pick her up Sunday evening. We can iron out a time later. That work for you?”
“Yes. See you Sunday, Mark.”
“See you then, Sheila.”
He flashed her a huge smile before going down the stairs, and she had to fight the impulse to giggle.
“Well, damn Lola!” she said, closing the door behind her. “Welcome back.“
Nicki Imara is a big believer in the power of stories, especially those of romantic persuasion. She's been a voracious reader from day one and her inner child could not be more stoked and more petrified about the opportunity to pen her own stories. She'd love to hear from you, so the floor's officially open, grab the mic and share your thoughts. Do it. :)