In 2013, a colleague of mine in SK Serendah, Hulu Selangor, gave me a pair of cats. I took them in without knowing that having cats is not just for fun, to play with and take their cute pictures, but rather, an expensive responsibility equivalent to taking care of your own child.
I named them Oscar and Duchess, but I don’t think they ever responded to those names whenever I called them.
When I did my Master’s Degree and now PhD in UPM while working full-time as a teacher, I didn’t have much time left to dedicate to the cats as my schedule is tight. Hence, my parents took the initiative to take these cats with them back to Jitra, Kedah – and so Oscar and Duchess became their pets.
Unfortunately, we lost Oscar in Jitra and it was suspected (still, not confirmed) that he was one of the many cats in the neighbourhood rumoured to be thrown to the markets by a man known as a “cat hater”.
Duchess is an orange-coloured feline I named after a character in Disney’s The Aristocats. When she was first given to me in Serendah, she gave birth to three kittens but all of them died when they reached the age of four or five months.
As a mother, she prioritised her kittens and let them savour the meat or cat kibble first but now, as the only cat in the family, she is leading an indolent life in Jitra as my parents really pamper her.
I recall an incident in 2015 when my father called me and said that he had lost Duchess two weeks earlier in a place that was about 8km away from my parents’ house in Taman Suria. Apparently, Duchess had leaped into the car and, as soon as my father reached the Darulaman Golf and Country Club (DGCC), she disappeared into some bushes and was nowhere to be found!
Coincidentally, I was planning to fly back to Kedah that week with my nephew, Rifqi, so my father picked us up from the airport and we then headed to DGCC to try our luck. My father took me to the very same spot where he had lost Duchess.
I had developed a certain pitch of my voice that I would use to call my cats and they actually recognise it as a sign that I am calling them to come home. So standing there, facing the bushes without any hint of Duchess, I tried my luck. I meowed, using that ear-piercing decibel several times.
On my sixth attempt, suddenly we saw a familiar feline face among the bushes. She was a bit hesitant although drawn to my voice maybe because she had already been in the "wilderness" for two weeks; that natural instinct of a feline to be cautious was intact.
I then tried to coax her by changing the intonation of my voice and, like in a Hollywood movie, she came to me slowly although still a bit timid. Finally, we managed to get a hold of her – and, oh boy, she was shivering! I kept patting and hugging her like a baby so that she would feel the warmth of a human.
My grandmother lived with my parents until she breathed her last in May this year. My mother told me that whenever she or my father entered my grandmother’s room to help her with the meals and the sanitary aspects, Duchess would follow them.
When my grandmother became too weak to even get up from the mattress, Duchess would sit beside her and observe my parents’ filial piety towards my late grandmother.
I guess with the pandemic and both my sister and I now residing in the Klang Valley, Duchess has become the darling to both my parents. In a way, she compensates for the void of not having a child to pamper at home. It is also amazing to see how my mother, who loathed cats when my sister and I were young, has now becoming very attached to Duchess; her face lights up whenever we talk about Duchess via video calls.
I once read a story about an elderly ailurophile (someone who loves cats) who passed away – and the cat visited his grave every day. I visualised my father with Duchess who simply loves him. Every night, she sleeps beside his feet, and she would run to the door whenever she hears my father’s voice getting nearer. It is both magical and heart-warming to see that.
I miss my parents and Duchess very much. Hopefully, we can flatten the curve of the Covid-19 infections and be reunited with our loved ones.