Saturday, March 14, 2015


One of the fiercest quarrels I had with my brother was over, come to think of it, a single hypothetical.

(In fairness, that was years ago. I'm wiser now - why quarrel with someone who, in times of medical emergency, will then be both fully justified and thoroughly motivated to open you up and stick all manner of pointy bits in you?)

And the hypothetical was, would we ever adopt a dog again?

A spot (a-ha, ha-ha) of context first. Years ago, my family adopted a Dalmatian from the SPCA. There we were, waiting in an open area as puppy after puppy were led out for the meet-and-greet. There was the little black dog I would have named Shadow (too hard to see at night, my mum said, we would step on him), the long thin dog which was a smidge too aggressive (what an unfriendly bugger, my mum said, so ugly still so fierce) and then, finally, Fido.

There weren’t any digital cameras in those days, so all we have left today are a couple of yellowing photographs and a vault full of memories. His endearing fear of thunder, the way his spots darkened when his fur got wet, that time he intervened when my neighbour’s dogs attacked me, even how he ate a plastic bag once and my brother and I had to toss a coin to determine who got to pull it out of his bottom (I won).

Fido even featured in one of my Chinese compositions, and so inspiring were my adventures with him that I scored the sole “A” I ever wrung out of Huang Lao Shi – proving also that it was important to know and cater to your audience (she loved dogs, so naturally Fido had to die saving me from a fire).

My point to my brother was simple – we didn’t have enough time or energy to properly care for another pet. Yet neither of us budged. As the incumbent heir I refused to even discuss the subject. Meanwhile my brother chipped away at us patiently, one day showing us cute pictures of puppies, and the other claiming that Fido had appeared in a dream and given his blessings for us to move on and adopt another.

This standoff was broken, temporarily, by an unassuming orange cat named Waldo.

I can't account with precision how Waldo came to be a permanent guest in our house. That's the nature of cats, I guess, quietly yet insistently slinking their way into those crevices of our lives which can accommodate them. If dogs are like pimples, loudly and unabashedly announcing their presence or arrival, then cats are far more wily, stealthy, eluding detection till such time as they deigned to let you know... just like a receding hairline (sob).

Waldo's charm lay in his discretion - he knew just when to stay out of your way, and when to purr and curl up next to you. Unlike most cats, he was also comfortably affectionate around humans, even allowing my brother at one point to simultaneously yodel and thrust him up in the sky a la The Lion King. I do believe pictures of this exist.

What then was the peak of my friendship with Waldo, you may ask? Unquestionably, it was that singular stormy night when I was roused out of deep sleep by a slightly damp pussy cat, all balled up and gently-snoring on the pillow next to my face.

At first, I freaked. Deeply-embedded instincts flared, muscles tensed. Back then, I was unused to waking so close to such a potentially charged primal force of nature, serene and graceful in its restive state, yet capable of reaching fireball levels of fury if disturbed or awoken too early.

But as my night vision rallied, I saw that it was only Waldo, just plain old Waldo, taking shelter from the rain outside, choosing to seek refuge next to me. To me!

My heart burst with joy. I fetched towels to gingerly mop up the worst of the rain from his fur, then fluffed the pillow, then laid an old hanky over him. As I drifted back off to sleep, I remembered wondering if he would still be there in the morning, or if a cat-shaped indent in my pillow would be all that remained of our encounter.

(Interestingly, the overwhelming response to this story seems to be one of disgust. Friends and family ask how I could let a stray cat onto my bed, much less my pillow. I point out that he’s not a stray, that cats are very clean animals, and that I would have been heartless to shoo him away. I also try to ignore the many occasions since where I witness Waldo nonchalantly prowling in the drains around the neighbourhood.)

Waldo left, never to return, the day my brother adopted a shih-tzu named Soda (another story for another day). I moved out shortly after, but found myself dwelling on him from time to time, especially on cold rainy nights. My fears compounded when I learned from my parents that Waldo’s owners had moved away and apparently abandoned him, going so far as to remove his collar before tossing him out.

There’s a happy ending, not to worry. I visited my parents recently, and they spoke of how the neighbourhood had adopted Waldo, such that he spent his days wandering from house to house, peddling nothing but his company in return for warmth and hospitality.

And I saw this was true, for when I left that evening, I caught a flash of orange as he strutted into my neighbour’s house, heeding calls for dinner. He was a bit more bony, a bit more stringy than when I last cared for him, but it was unmistakably the very same Waldo.

Now, if only Huang Lao Shi still accepted compositions.

No comments: