Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Introducing Pi

It came to me in a box. Kevin's coworker found it by the roadside yesterday morning and gave it to him, and he took it to me later that day underneath the folds of cardboard.

"Do you want a cat?" was the question I heard over the phone.

"What?" I replied, groggy, seeing white swirls in the corner of my eyes, still dazed from a nap.

"Do you want a cat?"

He said it was a month old, but looking at it that evening, a month is probably overestimating. It was beyond diminutive, misshapen -- soft and fragile, its only saving grace those two yellow eyes between a thin rim of blue peeking out of a charcoal-and-white coat of ruffled, dirt-specked hair, meekly calling for mercy from a roadside and receiving it from a most strange biped.

It jumped out of its cradle under its own volition, false starting a few times by getting tangled in the flaps of the box. Then, in the anteroom, it crawled into the first safe nook it could find, which was under a bed. There it reposed, gathering dust, squealing in that abstruse tongue of cats that finds consort in the wailing of all younglings. I reached in and brought it out, had it sniff some niblet of Whiskas which was too hard for its underdeveloped teeth.

"Maybe it'll drink milk," I said.

We ventured out and bought two packets of pure milk, some puppy/kitten chow and cat litter, and when we returned it was back under the bed, trying to navigate a crossbeam that blocked its path from a suitcase to the floor below.

It took to the milk and the gruel, then bounded about on the tiles in kitty-dash, its four uncoordinated legs blurring in movement. The furball wiped out on stool legs and its own legs alike, but it ventured forth unfazed. The pitter-patter of its feet suggested a headstrong determination to learn the world, to walk all its steps and claim all its domain. Or at least that which was my apartment.

But it was still a needy creature, even if it didn't know what it wanted. It mewed and squealed, calling out to a lost mother or something more primordial.

Later that night, returned from Frisbee, I spied it again underneath the bed. It emerged from that insalubrious resting place and shuddered, stretched -- or at least tried to, insofar as a Furby can extend its pygmy limbs -- and took another meal. It hopped about, entertained itself with an earphone dangling from the edge of a sofa (what is it with cats and strings?) and skated around some more.

As I left its side to shower, the crying began anew. Soft, short mews at first that grew more desperate, more invocative. A frightened sort of call to a protector who could guarantee comfort, tell it it was not alone, the world was not so big and dark and dusty. I took it in my hands and placed it on my bed, water still dripping off my hair, and there it settled, its small yellow eyes wide and bewildered still.

And then something incredible happened, something so small and occurring so quickly that it only took me one glance at my comptuer to miss it: it fell asleep. Just like that.

When I woke at 3 a.m. it was beside my head, its belly exposed to high heaven, its head buried under covers. For one quick, stabbing moment I thought it had suffocated. I closed my eyes and tried returning to the land of Nod, only to feel a tiny scratch on my arm. It was swiping at me. Not just at me, of course -- at everything around it. It rolled relentlessly, reaching for my blanket, my pillow. It gnawed, it scratched, it grasped the edges of my comforter and kicked at it, biting. It skittered behind my pillow, resting against the headboard. Like a thing under the throes of dementia praecox it would not rest, shifting from one corner to another. An hour later I got up and filled its plate with milk. It followed, and I closed the door behind me when I returned to bed. It mewed a bit but I was too tired to get back up.

The day after, it is different. I have heard its purr, felt it emanating from somewhere deep inside its tiny chest. It has learned on its own how to jump onto my bed -- standing on its hind legs, its foreclaws pulling it up. It can hop onto the floor and land on its feet, though with a thud. It munches on hard food, tilting its head under the strain of effort.

It is a ball of flitting energy, which sometimes recoils unto itself: the denting sound made by its head bumping into a table leg causes me to gasp, though it doesn't seem to notice, its spirit growing stronger under the aegis of youth. There is something wonderful about kittens at play, tumbling head over heels, then regaining their balance with one majestic sweep of the tail. It's learned how to pounce, its head low to the ground, eyes flashing, its rear slightly raised and twittering with anticipatory delight. It grabs my toes in each of its four paws and draws it near, my skin itching under its claws, and bites -- then in a gesture that, even if I'm misinterpreting, endears me to no end, licks. I hope it doesn't grow up too fast.

Its favorite spot is still under that bed in the anteroom, on the black suitcase covered with dust. Every time I walk to the bathroom it calls out, whether because I'm its guardian or because there is no one else I do not know. But it calls all the same, throwing its shaky and mistuned voice into nature's measureless cacophony. I'm not certain what it asks, but knowing what we know about all creatures, I'll answer all the same:

It's like this, cat. You will grow big and strong, fast and nimble. You will know pain, first by learning to inflict it. You will know death, a line every living thing understands by walking to the very edge, straining their eyes for just a glimpse of the great beyond. You will know life and maybe even love, your form of it, anyway, and all that accompanies it: disappointment and heartbreak, disgruntlement and earth-moving sorrow. You will survive, conquer, move on -- keep moving on, into sunsets and out of sunrises.

Our paths will diverge. You will leave me, and I will leave you. You will grow old and gray, and that is when you will return to me. I will take care of you then as I am now, all our hardships, all misgivings forgotten.

I baptize you in the name of cats and all that is holy. Take good care of this world, Pi, for there is only one -- and it is yours.

UPDATE: Kevin has more pictures, etc., here.

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