Except I didn't feed him. I left some food where he could find it. And later it was gone.
He isn't really my cat either. He's just another member of a wandering tribe of feral cats in the neighborhood.
Cats like him don't last very long around here. I'd like to think that putting pans of fresh water and occasional food make life a little easier. In truth, I might just be prolonging their misery.
It's really about all I can do for them, with economic times getting as tough as they are. Even a cheap bag of cat food, isn't.
I never chose him at all, which is so often the way that cats become "ours." The cats choose us. If we decline this invitation to a very strange and often tenuous relationship, we will feel guilty, not of a crime committed, but simply not doing anything.
He is, or was, a handsome little guy, average-sized, short hair, spots more than stripes, big yellow-green eyes. I wonder where he is now, or if I will ever see him again. I wonder how many other people think he belongs to them. Something about how he acted told me that once he had been a house cat. I wonder what happened to change that.
When he stopped coming, I started thinking what it must be like to be a cat. Knowing what I do about these small, well-armed, superbly athletic, silent (mostly) creatures, I am even wondering if he is one of earth's normal inhabitants. There are things about an ordinary felis catus that don't seem to fit.
I am a sane, rational skeptic. Yet I believe that the life of a cat is, as a poet wrote, "in this world, but not of it." Cats are psychic. If you are a cat lover as I am, you will probably understand.
Somehow, I knew it when this cat chose me. I knew he was hungry. Ignoring the maxim that if you feed any cat once, he's yours forever, I bought a small bag of cat food. His “dish” was an old, plastic lid. Later, the lid was empty and he was gone.
But I never gave him a name. That would make him too official. Besides, he already knew who he was.
When the cat returned some days later, I knew it before I saw him. I sensed where to look for him, under the edge of the house. We looked at each other and blinked a greeting, as cats do, showing peaceful motives. I left food. Later, I could watch him eat, but always from a distance, knowing that this was as far as the friendship would go. Blinking doesn't constitute friendship. We were only sharing a low voltage, temporary bonding.
Cats must have come from some bleak, lonely place. I found myself thinking about dark, silent, desolate landscapes with a full moon, a chilly wind, and a nagging thirst. Danger in every shadow. A fine sand in my fur. Fur? Somewhere behind, the wreckage of what brought us. And the certainty that returning home has been lost forever.
This could be an overactive imagination, but for a moment I sensed what life might be like for a cat. They really are originally desert animals. Before that?
A cat's plaintive cry touches us intimately, a single syllable of loneliness and abandonment. Cats know this. It comes from practice over so many generations that it's in the genes. And we respond.
Will I ever feed him again? I don't know. If he comes around, blinking at me from a safe place, I will know it. Then I will blink back at him, tell him mentally to wait while I get the food.
And if he doesn't return, some day another cat will be there, waiting to blink at me and to be “my” cat for a while. Then I will feed him, in the same old plastic lid. I have some food left.