Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A dedication to Orlando the Marmalade Cat

Orlando may be a city in the United States and the first name of a Hollywood actor, but most importantly, Orlando was the name of my marmalade and white cat. There was also a literary Orlando the Marmalade Cat in a series of children's picture books by Kathleen Hale. The Orlando of the books had a beautiful lady wife and three kittens and an old master who lived alone apart from his cats who Orlando protected proudly.

I got my Orlando for my tenth birthday from Dr. Morphet when we still lived in Durban. Dr. Morphet was (or perhaps still is) a famous veterinary surgeon on the Berea who was forever adopting animals. He is a large man who always dressed in the customary white shirt, white shorts and long white socks with braces to hold the whole ensemble up around his belly. He has a cloud of white hair, a gruff voice and a cockatoo that runs from one shoulder to the other across his wide back. There is also a big Rottweiler he had taken in after it was abused by its former owners who is so gentle I could easily believe he was the Buddha re-incarnated. There was also a permanently pregnant cat with all her kittens running around. I believe these were all quickly adopted by Dr. Morphet's army of loyal pet-owners.

Orlando was not one of the numerous progeny of the veterinary cat. He was a skittish half-grown kitten who Dr. Morphet had been called to rescue after he had been abandoned behind some hospital bins. I was so excited to hold him for the first time, and he must have been excited too because he was never one of those cats that would wriggle out of your grasp every time you picked him up.

He was a gorgeous cat to hold. He had fur that was not too fine but not too long either. He didn't have the squashed, confused-looking face of a Persian; his head was gracefully set on his shoulders and his mouth curled up in the perfect way to convey absolute contentment when he was sprawled across someone's lap or across my desk (on top of all my work!) in the sun. He was mainly ginger but had a white stomach and chin with a little island of ginger in the middle. His wide green eyes was incredibly expressive. When he was being taken to the vet, he would make his body limp and heavy and his eyes would shut off, or when he bit me too hard (he liked biting every now again like he was still a kitten playing with me) and I gave him a sharp tap to stop he would whirl away and then turn back to glare at me balefully.

He wasn't only the crouching aggressor(as many of my friends who became victims of his playful bites might have thought): one of his most moving communications was to come up close to me when I was standing next to him and he was on a table, press the top of his head against my side and hold it there. He would even occasionally - but only very occasionally - touch his nose to mine and look into my eyes, which is something that cats don't generally like doing.

He wasn't exclusively mine as he liked roaming from bed to bed in the house, sharing his patronage with all the family or people who stayed at our house for a while. On the day before I went back to University, however, he would always return to me and act particularly lovingly like he knew I was going away. I don't want to anthropomorphise him, for that would be a betrayal. I do think, however, that it is naive to suppose that animals cannot feel a strong bond with humans after so much time in the same company.

I'm not surprised he knew as he was a companion who was more faithful and constant than some of the friends I've made. He saw me grow up in Durban at Durban Girls' College, and then in Port Shepstone and finally over my holidays at my four years at Rhodes. He was there through all the different stages of my life, always nudging my book or journal away at night so I could pay attention to him, or coming in after I was asleep and creating a little nest of warmth at the foot of my bed. Many other things changed in my life, but he was a constant.

Until he began declining at the end of last year. We tried to feed him different food or put him on medication, but in the end he had throat cancer and several other problems and it was cruel to force him to live anymore. When he died I suddenly felt a real sympathy for cat ladies all over the world that everyone makes fun of. They lose friends when their cats die, and when my father buried Orlando in his large, South Coast garden, I lost one of my dearest, long-time friends.

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