It’s time to get up for breakfast.
Mine is a two-tribe household of indoor and outdoor cats, and they are ravenously hungry. A pair yowl at the foot of my bed while the feral ones on the lanai excitedly knock over patio chairs. I’m certain I’d still be asleep without my feline alarm clocks. It’s just 5 a.m.
Now that I’m retired, the once necessary morning rush has slowed to almost a standstill. Except for the cats, it wouldn’t really matter if I slept ’til noon. I lift my body, swing my feet to the floor, swallow. In the absence of a workday routine, their daybreak demands give me substitute satisfaction—a ritual of caring.
Bare feet walk me to the bathroom. My two indoor fluff queens follow, their mews ricocheting down the hall. I raise my T-shirt, sit my bottom on the stool and look through the open door into the next room. On the far wall of the family room, on the other side of its sliding glass doors, the ferals are lined up, staring in at me with marble eyes. There are eight of them—an alpha male and his two consorts, four kittens and a brazen Tortie refugee who arrived one day and never left.
After I pee, I wash my face, brush my teeth, swish mouthwash and look in the mirror. It’s another makeup-free day. I tame my grey frizz with a scrunchy and observe the woman looking back at me. I never planned on becoming a cat lady in my last act, yet I claim the stereotype without shame. The reflection in the mirror smiles. I may no longer be a leader in my chosen profession, but every morning, I am definitely the leader of the pack.
Lai-lai. Lai-lai. It’s the special singing language I use to call the kitties. Lai-lai. Lai-lai. My voice has an electrifying effect that sends invisible waves into the atmosphere.
Tikka, a 20-year-old whose beige coat has turned silver, launches down the hallway first. Picatso, an immunocompromised Calico named for her half-and-half face, carefully follows on tiptoe. They park in the family room, waiting for me. Their eyes follow my hands as I unlatch the lanai door and slide it open.
Outside, the ferals jitter in anticipation, pushing shoulders, jockeying for the best position. Pilot, a nickel-coloured kitten, hangs spread-eagle on the screen door.
“Are you that hungry?”
The sound of my voice triggers a tumultuous commotion. Honeyboy, the Lion King of the lanai, has dethroned Pilot from the screen with a furry swat. A chorus of hungry howls reaches a crescendo.
“All right. All right. I’m getting it for you.” My barefoot pace quickens, and my actions go on automatic pilot, a ritual that begins every day.
From the pantry, I take out the cans of wet food, then fill the bowls, forming an assembly line on the counter. The fishy smell stinks up the kitchen and I rinse the oily residue down the drain. Aroused by the odour, Picatso and Tikka bracelet my ankles, motorboat hum and plaintively mew.
I set their bowls on a placemat. There is satisfaction in feeding hungry mouths, even those of aged indoor cats and rambling outdoor strays. But I feel something else, too. Tikka and Picatso dip their heads, flagpole their tails, lap up the sauce. I feel grateful for these furry alarm clocks who give me 10 good reasons to get out of bed since I no longer need to dash to the office.
When I go to slide open the screen, all eight of the furballs rush the door and block me in, and I can barely make it onto the lanai. I wobble on unsteady feet for a moment, and then gently move Honeyboy and Mama with my toes. Only Smokey, the blind one, refuses to give way, looking up at me with her vacant, rheumy eyes. The kittens, pushed back by their elders, have rolled themselves into a collective ball of fur. The outlier Tortie paces on an end table she’s claimed for herself.
“Come and get it! “
I lower the food in two recycled plastic tubs. An urgent, furry pandemonium explodes and then separates, encircling both bowls. I am no longer the focus of their undivided feline attention. Their faint slurping and purring are thanks enough.
The last one to be fed is the Tortie I call Hedley, who waits, pacing in circles on top of her table. I place her personal bowl in front of her and she gives my arm a lingering, appreciative rub before launching her mouth into the food.
A feeling of gratitude wraps around me like a shawl, as I listen to the chorus of indoor and outdoor slurping. Even without a nine-to-five job, I’m content. I pour a cup of coffee, slice a pear. Then I take my seat in the family room, where I watch both tribes eat, knowing that for a moment, I was the most important person in the world.
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image 1 Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay 2 Image by Aline Dassel from Pixabay