Her name was Pupu. She was a tabby cat, or what we Indonesian cat lovers refer to as oyen, (a cutesy pronunciation of orange), who spent the evening sleeping on my grandma’s flowery pink couch. In the morning until mid-day she would roam around the outside to God knows where, probably to the fish market nearby to steal some freshly caught fish. But I like to think of her as Alice’s Cheshire cat who went down the rabbit hole. Even though her fur was obviously not purple, and she could not flash a happy grin.
I remember Pupu as a calm but adventurous kitty. She would do her business at the school yard next door and catch mice at my grandma’s rodent infected house. Pupu kickstarted my never ending – often time one sided – love with the universe's most ‘vile’ creature: cats.
The earliest memory I had of her is when I was around six years old. She would accompany me when my parents were at work and my older siblings went to school. At the time we lived with Grandma because my parents couldn't afford a house of our own. I would wear hand-me-downs t-shirts and shorts from my sister and brother, and carry Pupu around the house like a baby.
Even though I put her in such an uncomfortable position she would stay put. She didn’t lose her temper and scratch me, which was amazing because cats have always been painted as planning our demise when we put them in an embarrassing state. But Pupu was just there in my arms looking at me with adoration, or so I thought. But one thing for sure, my love for her grew so much.
Pupu was found by my uncle behind the unkept bushes near the city’s beach. She was just a few weeks old. The moment my grandma laid eyes on her, she fell in love with her and treated Pupu like her own daughter. I guess that’s why Pupu was never aggressive as she was showered with my grandmother’s affection.
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When Pupu died, I was nine years old. She was ten, or 60 years old in human years. My grandmother told me that the day Pupu died, she just looked up at her intensely before she went outside the house and never came back. My grandmother said it was like Pupu was saying, “It’s time for me to go now. See you on the other side in a few years.”
It was the first time that I ever experienced loss and grief. I was in deep sadness. I no longer had something to look forward to or to play with after school. Pupu was my best friend, and her embrace filled the void for the little child that was deprived of affection.
My parents just shrugged off, saying that her death was just part of life. But if it was just a small occurrence, how come I was so devastated? The sadness even lingered long after that, worsened by school bullies, fake friendship and academic hardship.
The Cats Are Preying on My Eyeballs
For several years, I never deliberately took care of cats at home because my parents are not fond of cats. But after Pupu’s death, I noticed how my happiness level is measured by the presence of cats. When my sister adopted a cat, my usual emo state of being brightened up.
I finally had the courage to adopt my own cat when I moved to another city for university. Her name is Zelda, a majestic name for a majestic cat. She was the apple of my eye, the light of my life, especially during stressful times. Zelda might be a bit sloppy – peeing on my bed and running to her boyfriend when I did not notice – but despite the constant fighting, chasing and cleaning, I had never felt more alive.
But a diva like Zelda needed a bigger space than my tiny rented one bedroom. I then decided to leave her with my family back in Makassar. But Zelda did not get along with my sister’s cat, and her constantly peeing on my mother’s bed pushed her to the edge. Fearing my mother’s wrath, I gave Zelda to another family, who thankfully loves her so much and treats her like the princess she is.
I have graduated now and found a job. I tried to make the best out of this Zelda-less life but it has rather spun out of control during this pandemic, with endless family drama as the cherry on top. There is not a moment that I think how this whole shebang would be better if Zelda was here with me. But the place I live now does not allow me to keep a cat.
Sometimes I think the gods are punishing me. It might be true because in the old days cats were considered as gods or their feline companion. In ancient Egypt, cats were believed as the protector or vessels for gods, such as Bastet, the goddess of domesticity and childbirth. Ancient China has the goddess Li Shou and her fellow feline to protect the earth. Even our Prophet Muhammad was said to love cats and every Muslims should love them too.
I often think that the lingering sadness and depression are a punishment for not taking better care of Zelda. If I paid more attention, she wouldn’t have peed on my mother’s bed and everything would be dandy and she would have still lived with us. This guilt is eating me alive everyday, I feel like a parent who has failed her daughter. I even think that one day, if I finally adopt another cat, they would eat my eyeballs.
The fear of cats eating eyeballs started a few years back, when my fellow cat lover's friend saw an online discussion about whether cats eat their owners. Out of curiosity I googled it and yes, cats do it to their owners. A shocking revelation that left me wary in the presence of cats for a few days. Research done in the US in 1992 said, it happened to people who died unexpectedly in their home and left the cat’s bowl empty. It takes about one to two days for a cat to eat their owner, it’s called post-mortem predation.
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Whether cats eat our eyeballs is answered by an American mortician, Caitlin Doughty in her book Will My Cats Eat My Eyeballs. She wrote, no your cat will not eat your eyeballs and preferred to eat other softer parts, such as lips, tongue, and eyelids. Curiosity killed the cat and that cat is me. Sure, cats are cute with their little ears, whiskers, and toe beans, but at the end of the day they are still a predator that shares 95 percent of their DNA with tigers.
Even so, I still love them and feel guilty if I don't provide them with a good life. For me, cats have always been a teacher, best friend, and a family. Pupu taught me friendship and the facts of life, while Zelda taught me patience, joy, and not to take everything for granted. If the gods said I must repay my sins by being eaten, then let them eat my eyeballs.