One morning, mum and I saw my black maman relaxing in the garden alley. No one had seen her for several weeks. She’d disappeared after realising that mum wanted to trap her and take her to the vet to “neuter” her. My maman didn’t want to be neutered, especially since she’d just found a new boyfriend (as we later came to understand).
It was such delight to see her again! I started to run all around the garden like a crazy kitty, jumping over the flower beds, climbing the big maple tree and scaring our two blackbirds, just for a laugh. But I didn’t dare get too close to maman! If you remember, the last time I did, she asked me not to follow her in a . . . well . . . in a bit scary way. But just to see her again, to know that she was in the garden, was such a joy!
However, I was a bit worried about her. She had an enormous belly.
“Mum, look, my maman has eaten too many kibbles! Is she going to get sick?”
Mum laughed, but I saw that she too was worried.
“Freddy, her belly is full of little kitties,” she said. “Your sisters and brothers!”
I loved that! Of course, I had plenty of brothers and sisters in the house in the form of the Maine Coons. But only uncle Panda was allowed to come into the garden, and besides, he wasn’t very playful. Now just imagine! Brothers and sisters running all over the lawn, playing hide and seek, climbing on the wisteria and the trees, exploring the huge bamboo hedge or just resting in the shade on the terrace. . . . I hoped that there would be at least a hundred of them! And I wanted them all to be black like my maman. Isn’t it the most beautiful colour?
That same day, mum started to explore the garden. “Freddy,” she said, “where would your mum like to get her new house? She needs one for the new kitties. We don’t have a fir tree like your first home in the waste garden, and the bamboo hedge is too dark and humid. The same for the cypress hedge. And if it rains, she will not be safe anywhere. Do you think your maman would like to go into the garage?”
I had no idea, but mum said it would need to be a very private place that was not easy to find. Once, when she was little, mum had had a wildcat from the forest, and she’d learned from her how protective untamed cats are of their babies. She knew my maman wouldn’t want to show her little ones to anyone until she felt they were old enough to face the world.
Mum kept searching in the garden for the perfect spot. As for me, I suddenly remembered our little house under the fir tree, and it made me so happy! I dashed from one hedge to another, from the flower beds in the front to the ones in the back garden, before rolling around on the lawn, humming a little song of my own. You know, the “mrrr, mrrr, myak” one. You’ve probably heard it on the waves. It was such a big hit!
Mum laughed. “No, you aren’t helpful, Freddy! You know what? I think we’ll prepare a few cosy baskets here and there, then it will be up to your maman to choose one. Do you agree?”
Together, we went into the cellar, collected a few crates and plastic baskets (you can’t leave a tissue box outside, said mum). Then we went to mum’s wardrobe and picked out several old pullovers to make the baskets cosy. I wanted to get a beautiful pink one, but mum said it was a brand-new cashmere from M&S, and she loved it.
We went to find the most likeable spots in the garden (I sniffed them to check they were good enough before giving my approval). By the end of the day, there were three baskets hidden in the hedges, each protected with branches and lined with a soft pullover. My favourite had an umbrella roof! We also put one on the terrace, where it was sheltered from the rain and the wind. I hoped so much that maman would fall for this one! The fifth one was in the garage. Maman could always sneak inside through a half-opened window. Of course, I tested them all and can confirm that they were pretty comfortable!
In the week that followed, maman kept coming into the garden for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Usually she stayed a bit, resting close to the house and basking in the sun before leaving. She was never interested in our breeding basket installations although I did all I could to draw her attention to them. I wonder if she even saw them.
Then she disappeared again for several days, and I got worried. Mum said, “The big day is coming, Freddy!” and went to inspect all the baskets. They were empty, except for the one with the umbrella roof. A hedgehog mum had found it to her liking and moved in with her baby.
Mum let her stay. “The rent is free, and dinner is included,” she said and went to fetch a plate of kibbles as a welcome present.
It was maybe four or five days later that I saw maman again. She seemed very tired yet in a great hurry to get away. She quickly swallowed the dinner that had been set out for her. Mum said it was extra rich – roast chicken, tuna and cat milk with cream. As she was leaving, maman grabbed a piece of chicken to take with her for later.
I was disappointed that she hadn’t brought any babies! Not even one of them, just to show me. Wasn’t I their big brother? I hoped she’d do it the next time she visited.
Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long. Or so mum says. If you ask me, it took forever before we saw the kittens. But mum said it was only four weeks later.
In the meantime, mum had kept looking. Where was her home for these new babies? Where had maman found shelter this time? Mum would have liked to have helped her, to take food to her home, to avoid the dangers – dangers on the road, the danger of leaving the little ones alone. Who knew what could happen? But all mum’s investigations, including enquiries in the neighbourhood, were in vain. However, mum wasn’t too worried this time. And soon, maman started coming to fetch food several times a day to feed the babies.
“You know, Freddy,” mum said, “I don’t think your maman is far away.”
I thought so myself because sometimes, only a few minutes after she had left with some food in her mouth for the little ones, she would come back for another load. I would have followed her, but mum said that if I found out where her new home was, she might carry the babies further away. And that of course I didn’t want! All I wanted was to have them here around me, to see them trotting around the garden, to start playing with them. I was so impatient to show them my hiding places, my secret spots, to teach them to climb on the wisteria and to spot bugs in the hedges!
One morning, I woke up from a slightly longer sleep than usual to the sound of mum calling me.
“Freddy, Freddy! They are here! They’re coming!”
I dashed out, expecting to see a full procession of black kittens following my maman into the garden. But what I saw was only one. Playful and fearful at the same time, he followed maman, hiding behind one azalea bush and then the next, jumping over the small ones, dancing around them.
I was just about to exclaim, “Only one!” when I saw maman stop, look behind her and call as she had called us when she’d wanted us to follow her. I knew then that there were others.
Soon another little head appeared and then another, even more shy. It took a lot of patience and soft calling for maman to bring in the fourth and last kitten, the shyest of them all.
Maman led them to the terrace to introduce them. Mum quickly ran into the kitchen to fetch special kibbles for kittens.
Well, they weren’t the hundred that I’d hoped for, but four is a nice number, isn’t it? And they were all black! I greeted each of them with a nose kiss and a head rub. After snacking, maman led them to a sunny spot near the bamboo hedge and instructed them to wait there. I heard her talking to them: “Stay here, darlings, your big brother Freddy will look after you. Your maman has some shopping to do.” And then she ran away.
Can you imagine how proud I was? So happy! It was the first time since forever that my maman needed me! And although she didn’t speak to me directly, it was the same. I was in charge! I was needed! I was given the opportunity to help my maman!
At first, my black siblings were so alike that mum couldn’t tell the difference between them. So she called them the four Daltons. A few days later, we learned their names: Joey and Lulu for the two boys and Fifi and Maeva for the girls. Joey had almond-shaped eyes and a tiny white spot under his chin. Lulu was the biggest one, with a large round head, and being a serious gourmand, was a bit fat. Maeva was the cutest kitten ever, and Fifi was the smallest. Every morning my maman would bring them into the garden, install them in a sunny spot and leave them under my guard. She would then go about her duties, whatever they were. She usually came back at the end of the afternoon to collect her babies.
She was probably happy to be free again during the day. Poor maman, she was so young, not more than a year old according to mum, and she’d already had two litters! Mum said it was urgent to act soon as the Daltons would grow up. I didn’t know specifically what that meant, but I understood that whatever it was, it would be too much for my maman.
When my black brothers and sisters arrived, I started having the best time ever! They were wonderful playmates! Joey instantly became my best pal; he was like me, a great explorer and an intrepid adventurer. Often, we’d leave the “little ones” (as we called the others) and escape from the garden for a few hours. Once, we went away for a whole night, and both mum and maman were very worried. But we came back, only too happy to be home again.
Mum didn’t tell me that she’d put out an advertisement. She thought it would make me sad. And she was right. She was trying to find new homes for the Daltons.
She took several photos of the four kittens. Then she went around the shops in our shopping street and asked them to post her advert: “Four little goblins, the cutest kittens in the world, are looking for loving homes to take them in.” Of course, the colour photos were beautiful, so she had several phone calls.
“Bonjour, madame, what colour are the kittens?” Mum found this kind of question a bit silly. The four kittens were obviously black – this was clear from the photos.
“Oh, black? Oh no! And you don’t have any other colour?” Just as if they were in a shop, choosing a handbag and not a living being with feelings. After the fifth such call, mum, very annoyed, went round to the shops a second time – this time to remove her ads.
“We like black kitties,” she said when she got home. “My little ones, you’ll be staying here, with Freddy.”
Thus, to my greatest joy, Fifi, Lulu and Joey stayed with us. As for Maeva, one of the neighbours fell in love with her, and she went to live with them, not far from our house. We often get news about her. She is living a happy life, watching the hedges in her garden and talking to the birdies, spoilt as only a cat can be.
After a month, maman stopped coming round to collect her babies in the evening, and they were allowed to stay with us. My black siblings didn’t mind. They like being with me and feel at home. But they aren’t like me. They come inside only on very cold days or when the Yellow Monster from the sky strikes as they don’t like it either. It’s clearly in the genes! At first, Fifi did spend some time in the house, but after a few weeks, she changed her mind and moved back to her basket on the terrace next to her brother Lulu. Joey is different; he is seldom home. He’s always patrolling the area, coming home only to get food or play with me. Mum worries about him nonstop and sometimes calls him until late into the night. But he is so cute! Whenever he comes home, we kiss and rub heads and jump over one another. We’re always just so happy to be together again!
Mum learnt through the grapevine that our maman comes from a generation of stray, half-wild black cats who live in the surrounding area, all refusing to live in a proper home like me.
I’ll let mum tell you what happened next with my maman as she was deeply touched by these events.
Free as a bird
While she used to come back every evening to pick up her kittens and take them with her, I noticed over the previous two days that the black kitty had changed her habits. By the way, I called her Crunchy because unlike with softer food, she seemed to take time with kibbles, chewing them very slowly, sometime for hours. Anyhow, Crunchy had started coming to dinner and eating quickly before running off again without bothering to check on the kittens. In fact, she didn’t even give them a glance. Only little Fifi would try to follow her but would give up as soon as her maman jumped over the hedge and disappeared into the next yard. The boys didn’t care; they were just too happy in the garden!
I thought it would be a good time to take Crunchy to the vet before she started expecting another litter. But how? She never allowed me to cuddle or even touch her. At my slightest move, she would pretend she wanted to claw me and then run away quickly. I asked for help at the local cat association – they know how to trap street cats. They came, gave me a thousand pieces of advice and lent me a trap/carrier.
Over the course of the next month, I managed to trap: several hedgehogs, my two usual garden guests Griset and Big Head, a young fox, the neighbour’s beautiful Chartreux, a fierce Norwegian cat and two street cats that I didn’t know were coming to snack in the garden. The latter were taken to the cat association, which found them homes. At least my efforts were not in vain. But my little black maman, my Crunchy, never came back. I never saw her in the garden, and after a month, gave up and removed the trap/carrier.
And I knew it would happen. . . . The day before the cat association people came to see me, she arrived in the garden around noon. Seeing her through the window, I quickly went out with a plate containing a mixture of chicken and ham – her favourite foods. I had made them specially for her. Usually, she would gobble up everything on the plate within minutes, but this time, she took only a few tiny bites and walked away.
Astonished, I called out to her: “Crunchy, where are you going? What’s wrong?”
I can still see her as clearly as if it had happened just yesterday. She was walking on the small paved alley when she stopped, turned and looked at me for a very long time, without moving, as if she wanted to tell me something. Then she carried on walking. I knew it was a farewell, a goodbye and thank you for everything.
No matter how many times I waited for her, called her and looked for her in the area during the month that followed, I couldn’t find her. Later that year, I saw her not far from her very first home – the waste ground where Freddy and Caramel were born – although it was no longer a waste ground but a private property. She was crossing the street towards the park. I called to her, she stopped, gave me that same long look and then ran away as soon as I tried to approach her. This was our last encounter, and it touched me deeply. Crunchy, my little black maman, was in a way my kitty. I had saved her life; I had saved her first babies and given her two litters a home. I loved her so much!
But we had conflicting aspirations: I wanted to “save” her while she wanted to be as free as a bird, even if it meant starving and being cold from time to time. Nevertheless, by going away, she broke my heart. I will always be sorry that I lost her.
A cat behaviourist once told me that a cat never stays where she has put her kittens. It’s to give them room. Knowing that the kittens will be taken care of is enough for her, and she has surely set up another home for herself somewhere.
A year after I last saw her, the cat association informed me that they had managed to trap her and take her to the vet for neutering. She was sheltered by a family but had run away. This didn’t surprise me. But knowing that she was doing well was enough of a consolation.
I’ll let Freddy finish this story.
Well, even if mum doesn’t know where our maman is, I know. Do you remember our relative, auntie Rosalie, from my first story? She has a huge property right in the park. My maman moved in, and although they aren’t the best friends in the world, they get along well together, quarrelling from time to time and sharing tea and cakes sometimes. Whenever I can, I escape to the park and pop in to say hello. That said, I’m never welcome – all I get is a “Rascal, go back home immediately!”
But I’m sure maman is happy to see me again!
By the way, my sister Fifi also left our garden one day. She simply disappeared in the middle of a sunny day in August. For months, mum searched for her, put up adverts and placed phone calls to associations and the vets in the area – but no one had seen her.
Strangely enough – and I don’t know how – but mum always believed that Fifi would come back one day. She had been chipped; a cat cannot just vanish, mum kept saying. And you know what? Three and a half years later, a little before Christmas, mum got a call. It was a vet in a neighbouring city, a few miles away.
“We’ve found Fifi,” he said.
Mum jumped in the car and came back half an hour later with our sister, apparently in good health. She greeted us with head rubs and hearty purrs, entered the house and didn’t want to move into the garden again. Nowadays she prefers to stay inside with the Maine Coons. Nobody knows where she’d been or what she did during those three and a half years.
I know mum is sad that she couldn’t keep our maman with her, but she has all of us around her: Caramel, Joey, Lulu, Fifi, the Maine Coons and above all, me, Freddy! And we all love her! I’m sure that our maman loves mum very much too for taking so many of her babies in.