When we moved to Singapore, we got rid of Jenny cat. My parents decided that she was too old to weather the trip, and they gave her to my oldest sister, Lisa. I think she was somewhere in between fifteen and eighteen years old at the time, and would’ve had to spend six weeks in quarantine at our destination, so I think that this was the right decision.
After we had gotten settled in at our seventh floor flat in Singapore, my parents decided to get me a cat. We went to a woman’s house, and she had a litter of little kittens. She said that she had found them in one of the island nation’s many flood drains, great open channels carved into the earth to allow the water from rain storms to drain into the ocean without flooding the city away. She said that they were found without their mother.
All of the four little kittens were boys, which seemed unusual. They were called “Singapore drain cats,” but in other parts of the world they were a breed of their own; the Singapura. The Tourism Board in Singapore also advertised its strays as a facet of the city’s culture, calling them “the Singapore love cat,” from the malay name Kucinta, an amalgam of the words for “cat” and “love.” Singapura kittens can sell for hundreds of dollars in the US and the UK. In Singapore, they’re just strays. I remember looking down at the kittens; they were all white with spots, but three of them had grey spots and only one had spots the ticked brown color usual for the breed. He had enormous blue-green eyes. We took him home.
I remember he took to me immediately. There was no fear or hesitation; no aloofness. He was a Singapore love cat, after all… this was what he was supposed to do. His destiny. We set up the litter box and some food and water in my bedroom. The goal was to make sure that he was comfortable with me before letting him get lost in the house, but there was no need to worry about that. The first night he didn’t even have a name, and he was too little to jump up on the bed. At bedtime, I put a soft blanket in the beanbag chair in the corner of my room and set him on it, and went to bed. I was worried that if I let him sleep in the bed with me, that I would crush him… he was so small. But after I went to bed, he sat on the floor at my bedside and meowed and meowed. I picked him up and put him on the bed, and went to go sleep on the beanbag chair. When I woke up in the morning, he was curled up on the chair next to me.
It was a few days before he had a name. The naming of a cat is a complicated thing; you don’t want to get stuck calling the cat a name that doesn’t fit, and so I had waited and watched him. I named him Lou, because it fit, and also after one of the Eight Immortals from Chinese and Taoist mythology, Lu Yan, a scholar and poet who had a way with women and a taste for alcohol.
On his first vet visit, he was so small that he hid on the back of my neck under my long hair, with only his tail and his ears peeking out. In fact, for the first few months it seemed as though he was only tail and ears and two big, luminous eyes. The sitting and riding on my shoulders would become a firm habit. In fact, he used to climb up my clothing on his own to get there, and then settle on my shoulder. Even full grown, I think he only ever got a little over six pounds.
He used to chase little geckos around the apartment, getting distracted by their detached and twitching tails just as nature had intended. He was so small that he would climb up inside the reclining armchairs in the living room, meowing and frightening us whenever we sat down. We, being Alaskan, air conditioned the apartment down to around fifty five degrees and I think he was cold. He was long and lean and beautiful, with thin strong legs and a tail even longer than the length of his body. He was so sure-footed, I once caught him walking along the top edge of an open door. I used to let him out onto the stone balcony off my bedroom, and he would roll on the sun-warmed stones and gaze out over the jungle below.
When we moved back to the US, Lou came with us. When I was twenty years old, I left home after a particularly bad fight, and came back up after I had my own place to collect him. My mother told me I couldn’t take him, and sent my cousin out to take him from me even as we were in the car ready to go back to Seattle. I was so upset, that my boyfriend at the time got me a kitten; a little tortoiseshell that I named Cassie.
Less than a year after that, my mother called me and told me that they were moving, and I would need to come get the cat. This still makes me angry to think about.
I couldn’t have both Lou and Cassie, and I had gotten quite attached to the kitten. Fortunately, my younger brother, Michael, stepped up and adopted Lou for me. I am still grateful to this day that he went to someone who would really appreciate him. Michael and Lou became fast friends, and have taken excellent care of one another. Lou was soon climbing up Michael’s clothes to reach his shoulder. As Lou has gotten older, he has slowed down. His favorite hobby now is sleeping on Michael’s shoulder. He still recognizes me when I visit, and though he is too old now to climb up my clothes, he does beg to be picked up. I don’t think that he has missed me; I think Michael has eclipsed me in the little cat’s landscape. But I also don’t think that he ever once forgot me, regardless of what my mother would have liked me to believe.
I was fifteen when I adopted that little stray kitten in Singapore, and I’m thirty-five now. That makes Lou twenty years old. This is very old for a cat; the human equivalent would be close to a hundred years old. He’s very thin and lazy, and he has good days and bad days. He is usually happy to sleep on Michael’s shoulder, or sit on the windowsill and look out the window of the apartment. He seems to be mostly blind, but I think he still sees light and dark shapes, and he can navigate the apartment just fine.
We had a little bit of a scare with him on Sunday night; I went over to Michael’s apartment and gave Lou an inexpert exam, and fed him some flakes of leftover salmon. It looks like he’s okay right now, but I wanted to write something down about him before it ends up being a eulogy. Because despite our intent, we speak differently of the living than we do of the dead, and this is what I want to remember… not a funereal speech.