A few weeks ago, I was walking back to my house when the distant “meow” of a cat in pain snapped my mind from musings of winning an award for which my recent publication had been nominated.
I stopped short, discerning the direction of this incessant mewling of a cat in distress, forgetting my haste to get home and feed my own pets of varying species.
I found the poor creature in a corner of the garbage dumpster, close to the apartment building where I live. Its eyes were tightly shut with pain and the sound was made from the effort to shift from a puddle of blood forming around its wounded legs.
Certainly a beast of cat, male, with an unusually thick coat of patchy fur for a stray, stained and soiled with a life of fighting and surviving, he lay there with little sign of life. He opened his eyes to my sudden presence, panicking and trying to move but failing and giving up. His legs were not moving and his breath rattled as he let out a plea to be left unharmed.
My heart melted as I turned to run for some water, managing to convince the nearest house for a small dish I could use for the purpose, and brought it back to him. I placed it near his mouth and he lapped at it for a few seconds before looking at me, grunting a thank you in cat language as he put his head down again.
I touched him this time, but he didn’t panic and slowly I gained his trust, caressing and crooning till he purred just a bit. His legs looked out of their natural shape and it looked like he had gone through a horrific accident.
I scooped him up in my arms carefully and carried him back to my house, calling a close friend who happened to be a veterinary professional, to come over immediately with his medical kit. I described the predicament of the poor creature as best as I could diagnose for him to bring the necessary equipment.
Once inside my apartment, I carried him to my bedroom and made him as comfortable as possible, offering him kitty treats which he was curious about, but not strong enough to eat.
He kept reminding me of ‘Fat-cat’, a feline I had known and lovingly adopted years ago, when I had my heart and eyes opened to empathy towards all living beings, including human beings.
As I caressed behind his ear, he gave my hand a lick and buried his face in my palm, even in his pain and suffering he felt my compassion and was looking for comfort. Tears rolled down my cheeks as the years spooled back to the memories of a time that changed my life, and the lives of every other resident of my building.
It was 35 years ago I had moved into Building block D, apartment 32, Princely Avenue. My hunger for success in the advertising world as a creative consultant was already in motion, and my dreams to become an author off to a promising start.
I was an arrogant, handsome young rascal …with a slew of women fawning to my charm and vying for my attention. A thirst for style and social stature, I shirked from the weak and destitute and kept my distance from animals as I found them dirty and pathetic. Time and life lessons taught me otherwise and I am happy to say I started growing up and matured quickly.
Within that year the building Superintendent’s wife died, giving birth to a baby boy, a blessing for the man despite the abnormal proportions of his head and body, a freak of nature as we called him. The whole building collectively send him an envelope of money to put away for the child’s education and other special needs he might be in need of, the first time any of us ever bothered to knock on our neighbour’s door and get acquainted with them for a worthy cause.
Frank; named after Sinatra, or ‘Frankenstein’ as he was casually referred amongst the residents, grew up to be a kind and harmless young lad, reasonably proportioned in appearance but slow in learning.
Impervious to any form of education, he was always trying to help around the building, carrying people’s shopping bags and such, till his 15th birthday. That day, his father died of an electric shock from a faulty light fixture.
After that Frank grew quiet and subdued, he lived alone and not one of us bothered to call any authority or service for his removal to a caring facility, or pay any attention for his future. We just let him live there, fix whatever he could and go about his hobby of adopting animals that strayed their way to our apartment block.
Once the new Superintendent was in place, Frank quietly shifted to the basement, out of sight and out of mind, but still protected from being thrown out by the lot of us. The New Superintendent was a kind man, and let him be once he proved to be harmless and gentle.
I lost track of him as I was now newly wed to a wonderful woman, who gave birth to our lovely baby girl Brooke a year later. That year brought quite a number of children to Building block D as new-borns graced our lives with something more than just forced or formal interaction, or the monotony of work and routine as well as the privacy and demand of our fast-paced lives.
The year also brought a cheery and helpful Frank back to the ground floor. Happiness prevailed and we all helped him and ourselves where we could. Frank still brought the people together with a vague sense of a cause and some form of unity, evident by the increased interaction and genuine well wishes that resurged amongst the residents.
He spent his nights and days looking out for people and making friends with animals. He certainly had a way with them for all forms of wildlife instantly became attached with him, be it a bird, a dog or cat.
The year was also highlighted with the arrival of a celebrity couple who bought an apartment and moved into our building. An exciting time for the residents as the husband was a famed musician and the wife a songstress/actress, with a very prized, pedigree Persian cat.
This cat was pampered beyond any sense of the word. Imported fish for her meals, hand crafted scratching posts, silk and velvet outfits that looked ridiculous, and a strict indoor lifestyle.
Soon we started noticing a very ugly, ‘Fat-Cat’ prowling about our building. A ghastly sight with one ear and an eye missing, the only visible evidence of a tail left was a stump that was always moving vigorously, implying his aggressive temperament dedicated to a lifetime of fighting. This cat was the scourge of malice for every pet feline in the building and was shooed away with scorn, frequently caught harassing the pets and stalking the birds. He seemed especially enamoured by the haughty Persian and was seen near her house often.
The only people who ever took pity on him was I, just a few time when I threw him a bit of my sandwich out of pity, and Frank who was always keeping him away from other cats, and was kind to him. Quite often I would spot them sitting side by side on the pavement, a curious sight they would make.
Once Fat-cat was hurt badly and on the brink of death when Frank finally took him in, miraculously nursing him back to health with no medicine or formal procedure of treatment. We never asked how, as we were annoyed he had made it at all, and grew rather cold with Frank who had adopted and treated him.
Fat-cat added to his notoriety after managing to impregnate the pampered Persian of our blue eyed celebrity couple, much to the hysteria of her mistress, and an automatic resentment doubled against the outcasts. I saw Frank reducing in size and his larger than life presence diminished significantly in this time period. He grew ill and unkempt and people kept their distance.
A few years passed and a pack of rather vicious dogs started patrolling the blocks at night. A list of complaints started piling up about the animals as many a resident got bitten and children were in danger of getting mauled. Somehow, Frank managed to keep them away from our building and as we later learned, protected our children several times.
One day, I was returning home, and as I parked the car in the lot, I saw my 4 year old Brooke sitting by the curb, crying her eyes out. Her pants leg torn and face full of dirt I immediately rescued her, wondering how she had gotten out of the house and asked her what had happened. Mouthing the words Frank and Fat-cat, and dog, she couldn’t speak properly but was highly disturbed and wouldn’t stop crying. My wife was surprised and alarmed at finding out that Brooke had somehow gotten out by herself and had been in some kind of accident.
I kept a look-out for Frank but did not see him for days. Then one day, I saw Fat-cat, once again mauled and near death, on the same spot I had found this other cat. He saw me and called out to me; I ignored him and went about my way. Guiltily sneaking a peek from my window a bit later, I saw a very haggard and worn Frank rush to Fat-cat’s rescue. Knowing they were in the basement, I went to inquire, probably to atone for the guilt I felt for leaving the animal to die as I did.
Frank was crying, and Fat-Cat was nibbling and licking lovingly at his fingers, purring deeply. He got up and hugged me, blubbering “Fat-cat is dying” in his broken speech, and my heart melted. I sat with him for a few minutes, and despite the revulsion, I carefully petted Fat-cat as a consolation for Frank. The cat was overjoyed despite the pain it was in, not being able to move, he just pushed his forehead in my palm, rubbing his hideous face in my hand. Frank was overjoyed and smiled, he begged me to stay for Fat-cat, but I excused myself and escaped with a sigh of relief.
A few weeks passed and Fat-cat was seen once again, prowling the blocks and wreaking his usual menace.
It was a new-years night, and I had come home late from the office. My wife and child were away on a much deserved holiday and I was to join them in a day or two, and I had planned to party and relax with my friends till then.
I parked my car and walked down the path to the building, lost in thoughts of celebratory quips I would make with my friends when Fat-cat came running up to me, meowing ceaselessly and bumping into my legs. I ignored him and continued walking to my apartment, not surprised that the whole block was empty and quiet with not one other person around, it was the holidays after all.
Once changed and ready, I stepped out to find Fat-cat sitting outside my door, meowing and bumping against me, trying to get some sense of urgency across with his strange behaviour. I acknowledged him by name and asked him what he wanted. He actually tugged at my trousers and scampered down the stairs, coming back up again and meowing, striking me with an intense feeling of curiosity.
He clearly wanted me to follow him though I had never heard or seen a cat act in such a peculiar manner. I trailed him, down the stairs and past the front door he led me down the pavement to the back of the building, and what I found shocked me to the core.
Frank lay sprawled on the ground covered in grime and dirt; his clothes were torn and tattered, the bare flesh beneath riddled with wounds, cuts and bite marks all over his neck and face, looking the sight of Fat-cat on his worst day.
I ran to him and calling out for someone to phone for an ambulance. He smiled as I took his hand and looked over him, telling him to stay calm and that help was on the way. Putting my coat under his head I ran for the telephone in the lobby, calling the police and requesting an ambulance to arrive as soon as possible.
Back again with Frank, I consoled and comforted him, talked to him and apologized for being so distant and inhuman to him. He responded a little bit and patted my hand as if he quite understood my position. Fat-cat came purring to him, rubbing his face on his chin. I assured him I would look after the cat till he got better and my heart broke, for he cried tears of joy and pushed his head on my lap in an effort to hug me. I held him there, talking nonsense, telling him I’d take him to the amusement park, and on a vacation, and get him some cool new clothes. He breathed deeply and smiled all the time, a twinkle in his eye for he knew it was not true, but he felt comfort and compassion and that was enough for him. He kissed my hand and thanked me for helping him and Fat-cat, and telling me quite seriously that Fat-cat would look after baby Brooke even if he wasn’t there.
I discovered later on what he meant by that.
Frank died by the time the medics and policemen arrived. The block was unusually empty and no one had witnessed anything to help with Frank’s case.
The security camera footage was reviewed, revealing a startling few facts.
The day I had seen Brooke crying outside was one of a miracle; a stray dog had wandered about the yard and somehow Brooke had gotten out of the house. She was playing on her tricycle and he started chasing her aggressively though his tail was wagging he scared the little girl and eventually grabbing her leg and pulling her off the seat, dragging her a few feet away. A fat blur came streaking from the side of the frame, launching itself head long into the animal’s mid-section and the dog went tumbling, immediately getting to its feet again, it took one look at the enraged cat standing between him and Brooke, and took flight with the cat bolting after him. It was Fat-cat who crashed into and chased the dog away, and then rounded up back to the crying Brooke, circling her to make sure she wasn’t attacked again. Brooke crawled to the curb and sat crying with Fat-cat trying to console her with his head bumps, he ran away as I came running into frame, scooping Brooke up in my arms.
Other reels showed Frank interjecting between dogs trying to attack a resident with a grocery bag or a child with a ball, even the building pets, and chasing the dogs away from the apartment block.
The last video I saw transformed me, for it was the final few hours of Frank. In a corner of the camera’s eye, Fat-cat was surrounded by the pack of dogs that caused so much trouble, one of them managed to grab him by the paw, and just when things looked the worst, Frank jumped in taking the pack head on. He fought bravely with five dogs, viciously attacking him from all sides and Fat-cat was also glimpsed in the farme every few minutes.
A confusing scramble ended suddenly, after which the dogs ran away leaving Frank kneeling on the ground with the cat still beside him. He fell down and lay for hours, the cat disappearing and reappearing from time to time, licking at his wounds and sitting next to him (we later discovered that he had tried to get the attention of numerous residents as he had gotten mine, but they had shooed him away). Again I came running into the frame, this time to kneel beside a dying Frank and as I watched myself in that television screen, I changed forever.
The autopsy report stated that Frank might have survived the attack but he was already quite sick and weak, malnutrition and untreated infections had taken their toll and the fight was the finality, he had lost a lot of blood as well.
The whole block and several others came to know about this and saw the footage with their own eyes, and to this day, we get together to celebrate Frank’s birthday and not one stray cat or dog goes hungry in our vicinity, most of them are adopted, and the remaining are treated with kindness and love.
I adopted Fat-cat, and found him to be one of the most loving creatures I had ever known. Indeed, I owed him for my daughter and kept him as pampered as that Persian feline he had impregnated years ago, the rascal. He died a few years later, of a lifetime of fighting and finally old age, a cat with a personality.
A loud knocking snapped me back to reality for the second time that day; my friend had arrived and we quickly set about patching up the poor helpless creature as best as we could. We had to take him to the Pets Hospital where he was treated properly and recovered quite well from his fatal injuries, though he lost quite a bit of his tail.
He lives with me now, and I call him Frank.