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When There's No One Left to Love, Love Cats
"I should really have left when Josephine died. Nothing left to love here anymore." - Mona Lisa Smile
Five or six weeks ago, a kitten entered our store. It was unapologetically curious, unafraid of us (humans it had just met), and very lively. With gray fur on its back flowing to its tail, which slowly faded to snow white on its front and hind legs, it resembled a snow leopard. It kept circling around my legs, as though ritualistically trying to form the infinity symbol.
It must have been a quarter of a year old. It was too young to be alone, or be this friendly to strangers. I guessed it must have had a good home and been in constant contact with people. We guessed that its incessant meowing meant it wanted to be fed. This kitten locked its eyes on me. I could tell it had demanded food from people before. "I'm hungry, human. Please feed me." Despite our problems with the store, my man (my lovely store assistant) and I immediately reached for the top shelf where the canned goods were displayed. It was instinct. There was a little guy who needed our help. We had the means to help.
A big sadness is looming for us storeowners in the Philippines. There are two reasons for this: the Inflation and the Sugar Crisis. For us humble small business owners, it means two direct things: a forced escalation of the items we sell and a very low, almost nonexistent, supply of soft drinks.
A cultural norm— perhaps toxic?— we have here is to neither expect nor demand, but rather to hope for the best that a customer will repay their debts. Like in the case of Grandma Soora, one of our beloved customers, who always brings the exact amount of money whenever she purchases items from our store. We don’t recall ever giving her change. She was surprised to learn that the price of her favorite chocolate-powdered drink had risen by P2.00. We told her we could, of course, put this increase on her tab. That she would, of course, pay it back when she came back. We know she will prepare the new amount on her next visit. At the same time, we’re fairly certain she won’t pay that debt anymore. We sweep it under the rug. It’s how we help each other. It’s how we stay poor.
A Coke “swakto,” only 200 ml in weight, which before retailed for P10.00, now sells for P25.00 at other stores. And though we still see truckloads of soft drinks, they almost never reach the dregs of the Philippine business scene: street vendors and us small store owners.
As my man and I checked each can to see which was most appropriate to give a kitten (in an emergency), I sensed we were subconsciously choosing the cheapest one. We knew, in the back of our minds, how heavy a toll this one canned good would have on us. But the agreement was as strong as it was silent: we’ll manage, we’ll think of something. For now, let’s just feed this kitten.
We watched as the kitten munched with quiet but crazed fervor, and my man and I felt immensely rewarded. Almost immediately, it chose the small corner of the store, circled around, curled into a ball and fell asleep. It slept for two hours. By late afternoon, it had vanished.
Since then, the kitten has visited us from 11 a.m. until around 2 p.m., as though that was part of its schedule. It comes in, meows/demands, eats, sleeps, and leaves. We took a basket from the store and placed a clean piece of cloth on it, which it deemed its new bed. By the third day, we felt we needed to name it. So we named it in the same way that we name unknown entities, such as God and the Angels, in stereotypical, patriarchal fashion. We named the kitten Sergeant. Of course, when we noticed Sergeant’s bum, we discovered it was a little girl kitten. After a week of visiting, it didn’t come back and hasn't returned since. She must have felt insulted to be given a militant, male name. We imagine she returned to her original owners, satisfied with the food and lodging she receives there.
MM and PP
When Sergeant didn't come back, we started asking the motorbike boys who like to frequent the store and our other usual customers. None saw the kitten. Kittens were so rarely seen in our streets that it felt stupid to ask. But we kept asking anyway and hoped it would return for its usual visit.
One day, I was away. When I returned to the store, my man told me there was a kitten hiding in between the cabinets. Apparently, when my man asked Grandma Soora about Sergeant, she returned home and brought a kitten. Not Sergeant; a different kitten entirely. It was a beautiful tricolor—orange, gray, and white—that kept meowing in anxiety. I’m sure anyone would if a giant hand ripped them from their usual environment and dropped them in a new one. People later told me that Grandma Soora had litters of kittens and was in the habit of gifting them to people who expressed the smallest interest in owning a cat. So people were wary of talking to her about getting pets. My innocent and sweet man, unable to say no to an elder, accepted it without question or thought about the consequences.
I knew one kitten in an unknown place would only wreak havoc. We had goods and supplies to take care of. There were sacks of rice and salt that needed to be constantly dusted. Needless to say, they needed to be free of urine. The only solution to a single, frightened cat if not to rehome it—and to me, this was a good idea at the time—was to get another kitten from Grandma Soora. Sure enough, that evening, when I asked her, Grandma S blessed us with a beautiful gray-colored tabby. The first time I touched her, she peed herself with fear.
We named the light fur MM and the dark fur PP.
The following weeks were rough. MM became familiar with the store within a day. PP remained somber. It was easy to conclude MM was a dominant feline, often roughly playing with a thinning PP, who at first refused to play or eat.
Eventually, we reached the honeymoon phase when my two store boys and their brothers, the two motor parts shop boys (with their shop attached to the store), came to play with the little cats. The two kittens eventually fattened up and became energetic. If there are two things in the store that are in abundance, they’re boxes and strings. With food, attention, and constant petting, I’d like to believe MM and PP were in kitten heaven.
PP the Store Cat
The honeymoon phase ended when MM grew too rambunctious for the store. Records were ruined by wet paws, cans kept falling, sacks were getting clawed and torn. At one point, for two consecutive days, she would pee and poop whenever caged (as we needed to jail them when we cleaned). When one early morning after the Fajr prayer I discovered PP covered in MM's poop and MM becoming more feral when touched, I knew she had gone too far. The store wouldn't be able to handle the cost if the rice, salt, and sugar were destroyed. We had to let MM go. We cleaned and bathed both kittens—a stressful moment for both species—and decided that morning to give MM back. With some convincing, we returned her to Grandma Soora, who stoically agreed to take her back.
PP, despite being constantly harassed by her sibling, was anxious the first couple of days. She got over it and bloomed into a proper store cat. The quiet ones we see in movies, resting on top shelves, minding her own business, gleefully playing without bothering anyone or anything, being curious without tearing things, and approaching to be petted properly.
When there's no one left to love, love cats
My not posting here for a month now is mainly because of the cats. I’ve been feeding them (and now just PP), cleaning its litter box (we use cheap soil and sand as opposed to the expensive cat litter), combing, petting, and washing her. And in turn, she has brought me care, calm, good responsibility, and quiet, sacred fun. My LGBTQIA rights are still out of reach in my country. In spite or because of this, I’m constantly training, constantly accepting, whether this be blessing or curse, that I might end up living in solitude. In this little nugget of a chapter in my life, I'm happy I get to give and receive love with the cats.
What do you picture when you think about the gay app Grindr? You may think "metropolitan." You could imagine busy cities teeming with LGBTQIA people scrolling through the app, looking for others who “share their values.” You may surmise that they are getting together for true but quick love, even for an hour, or in the hopes that they might find a lifelong partner. Big cities are where we queer people flock for chances at love and success. Let me enlighten you about rural Grindr.
Here, the next gay person is several dozen miles away. Or in the Visayas region, where my friend lives, on an entirely different island. "Do I have to swim to another island for romance?" he once joked. And terms like "trans," "queer," "non-binary," and "aromantic" are rare to a virtually mythical level. Because I live in such a conservative, insular area, that if I see someone on Grindr who lives in my district, I will have to block them for fear that word will spread. Chatting with someone is hard enough. But sharing photos is like playing a casino game rigged against you, with either party absolutely refusing to take the initiative and blocking immediately the moment they discover that the person on the other end doesn't look like Brad Pitt.
The love between a cat and a human is insufficient. Taking care of a cat for more than a month now, I can also conclude that human love alone is not enough toIt needs to be both and/or more. Though for now, and in the years to come, I might not have human love, I have cat love, just as powerful and just as raw. With both species, constant learning is needed, and wisdom is always ready to be absorbed if one has the right eye and mind. This will have to do.
The wisdom I have gotten from spending time with cats is profound and enlightening, deserving of a post of its own.
November 9 update: PP is barely eating. She’s been like this for two days now. We’re taking her to the vet tomorrow. The costs 😢 Good Lord 😭