If your roommate goes to Europe for a week, and leaves you in charge of her three cats, and if you are not, strictly speaking, a cat person, you may have a few misgivings about caring for them. After all, if you’re like me, during your first night in the house you had a massive nightmare that all three escaped through the door you accidentally left open, while you, dream paralyzed, could only watch in horror. But when RM tells you she can have her friend check in on them, that will seem like such a pussy move. I mean, they’re cats. Minimum requirements are: feed, water, scoop poop, and don’t kick. If you spend an hour a day cuddling and petting, you’re a damned hero in their eyes. You can handle that.
It might happen that in the early morning hours the night before RM comes home, you will wake up to hear one of them humping (or something) the trash bag you left by the door. You will groan, roll out of bed, deposit the trash in the corridor, (have I mentioned lately how lovely it is that everyone, not just rich folks, just leaves their trash outside their door, and someone comes and picks it up?) and return for a couple more hours of sleep.
When you wake up it will be almost sunny outside, you’ll feel refreshed and well rested, and the day will seem full of possibility. You’ll stretch and wonder where to start. You’ll get out of bed, pad down the hall, and fill up the food bowls. No one will come running. That is very, very strange. You’ll pad back down the hall and see, to your horror, that the door, which has a persnickety latch, is cracked open.
At this point you will feel like panicking, but don’t quite yet. First gallop up and down the apartment, looking for any signs of cat anywhere, muttering “stupid, stupid, stupid” under your breath. Then pour more cat food into a bowl. When they still don’t appear, put on JUST enough clothing to avoid arrest, wrap up in a shawl and run out of the apartment with a suitably crazed look on your face. Look everywhere as you make your way down the staircase.
As you approach the first floor you’ll notice the air getting colder and when you hit the floor your worst fears will be confirmed: because of the construction in the first floor apartment, the front door is wide open.
Before panic sets in you’ll want to formulate this scenario- mischievous cats go exploring in the stairwell, get frightened by buzz saws, run outside, too scared to come back in building because of previously mentioned buzz saws and also big scary men running in and out, they go… god knows where.
Ask the nearest construction worker, in your best turkish,
“Three cats are there?”
Be sure to sound like you’re about to cry.
“You speak English?” he’ll say.
“Yes,” say gratefully.
“No cats. What do they look like?”
“Gray. Much hair.” Make gestures to indicate their various sizes.
“No cats,” he’ll say. He’ll follow you outside as you start poking around the garden.
“There’s a cat, signora!” He’ll point to a tabby under the car across the street. “And there- the cats are black?”
“No, gray,” you should say. “One is like that-” gesture to a cat on the hood of a car, “but much, much bigger.”
“Bigger,”he’ll muse. “What about that one?”
Say “hayir,” and try not to get impatient.
Look everywhere in the garden,
You’ll see cats everywhere. On cars, under cars, in windowsills, on top of sheds, walking in the streets, eating from the bowls the neighbor set out, under the stairs. None of them will be the cats you’re looking for.
At this point, you might want to start envisioning RM’s face when you tell her you lost her cats, and how she’ll probably cry. To do this properly you should feel shittier than you have in a whole winter of feeling very shitty. Run upstairs, grab a bowl of kibble, and come back outside. The helpful construction worker will ask you if you found them. Suppress the urge to hit him, and the equally strong urges to cry and run away. Walk down the street, seawards, because that feels luckier, shaking the bowl and crooning the cats’ names. You’ll soon be followed by half a dozen strays, looking at you expectantly. When you get to where the street ends, by the staircase down to the park, look at the dogs lounging in the sunshine, and try not to envision them eating RM’s cats. On the way back, peer into every garden you pass. Walk the other way up the street, to the corner with the tekel shop. Try not to dwell on the moment you screwed up, really screwed up, this morning when you were half asleep and didn’t give the door an extra tap.
Sit on the front steps and shake the bowl of kibble feebly. The construction worker will come out and say,
“In Turkish you call cats like this. Psss psss psss psss. Just do that. They will come. Psss psss psss..” Try not to throttle him for assuming you don’t know universal calling a cat language. Look at the strays circling you and feel hopeless. A cat in the garden at this moment will probably chase another off from a chicken bone with much howling and hissing. You should probably at this point dwell on the helplessness of indoor cats in the complicated hierarchies and kingdoms the strays have set up out here, which you’ve never fully appreciated before. As you watch them you’ll realize they have codes and rules, territories and seniorities you can’t decifer. You will also realize there’s a whole daytime people street culture you were unaware of. Old men wander by and shout to invisible people through apartment windows. Women come out with bowls of food for the animals. The simit man comes by and a woman on an upper floor lowers a bucket with money in it. He takes the money and deposits a number of simit. She hauls it up. Down the street a woman with a broom pauses her work to talk to a next door neighbor who’s come out with a box of old clothes for the gypsies.
But don’t let this distract you from what clearly happened: the cats got out of the apartment because of your carelessness, got scared by the construction noise, ran outside, got beaten up for trespassing on some tabby’s square of garden, and if they didn’t then get eaten by a dog, ran off.. where? Where would you run if you were an apartment cat on the mean streets of Moda?
You will have no fucking clue.
Go back to the apartment. You’re doing no good on the steps, you’re just making the strays angry, teasing them with kibble. Go to the sun porch and look out to see if you can see them, while you formulate a plan. You won’t see the cats, and you won’t think of anything good. Consider googling the French Foreign Legion, but since you won’t be able to remember if they take women or not, decide that they don’t and go stand in the kitchen for no reason whatsoever and stare into the middle distance.
In a moment a sound will catch your ear. Through the construction noise and street noise and the noise of the birds and the distant barking dog you’ll hear a bowl clinking against tile. Your ears will perk, but don’t move. Listen hard. The sound will come again.
Move stealthily down the hall. There won’t, of course be any cats by the cat bowls, but if you turn your head fast enough you’ll see a tail disappearing beneath the dustruffle on RM’s bed.
Lift the dust ruffle.
See six eyes looking at you, all in a row.
Congratulations! You have successfully not lost three cats.