The day had that kind of heat that I didn’t imagine existed before I came to Thailand, and this was only October. That was the day when I found her, sleeping beneath a folding table where the old woman sold lottery tickets on the sidewalk by the market. She was skinny and colored white with tan brown spots. She had big pointy ears, long skinny legs, and big eyes. I saw her and squealed. She looked straight up at me with her big kitten eyes and meowed. I picked her up and she begin to purr. I was in love.
The old woman selling lottery tickets and the woman who made fresh waffles with bits of corn both laughed at my romance. My dad saw the expression on my face and knew that it was over. He used an electronic translator to try and find the words to ask if the kitten had an owner. They shook their hands and motioned for us to take the kitten away. They laughed when he bowed our thanks. Dad drove the motorcycle home and I clutched my kitten with one hand on her back and one hand on the seat handle. I bathed her in the bathroom sink and dried her with my own towel. She fell asleep on my lap, purring.
Every moment after this only confirmed that this kitten was the coolest kitten that the world ever made.
She ate whole fish from head to tail until her belly looked like a golf ball with legs. In the mornings she would climb up on Dad’s shoulder and sit there while we drank our coffee. When she showed a proclivity for climbing the curtains we quickly bought her a piece of string and tied a heavy tassel at the end. She would hide behind the arm of the sofa, watching, and then pounce.
When I came home from work she would be waiting for me on the front porch, meowing. Except, of course, for the one time she climbed the neighbor’s roof and then was too frightened to come down. I had to climb the tree in in his driveway and tug her while she clung to the roof slats with her tiny claws.
At first I would put her outside at night to avoid the possibility of her peeing on something. But after Dad went back to America I started letting her sleep in my bed. Every night we fell asleep together.
I would stretch my arm out and she would stretch her head or paw over my arm. In the morning she would meow and nibble at my face until I got up and dished out another fish.
It stopped bothering me that I had no friends in this town. I had a cat that was a hundred times better company than any of those douchey Brits.
Then more bad stuff happened.
Sam was my English speaking liaison for the school. Sam wasn’t a bad guy, but he wasn’t really any kind of official liaison. He just happened to speak English better than most of the Thais, and he was a friend of the head monk who was my reference for working there. Sam had good intentions, but was a terrible listener.
One day Sam told me that I had to move from the house where I was currently staying to a different one. This was only four weeks since the terrors of the first grade, and two weeks since a visa debacle that I’m not even going to get into.
“Can I bring my kitten?” I asked.
“I dunno, you know, I have to ask the owners. You know cause it’s their decision, you know.”
“Okay, well just let me know.”
I didn’t hear anything more about it until the night when Sam and his friend, whom I’ll call The Driver, came to pick me up and help move my things to the new house. Once the last bag was packed Sam said, “So you know you can’t bring the cat, right.”
“No, I didn’t know that. No one told me that.”
“Yeah, well you can’t bring the cat.”
I remember distinctly standing in the living room with the last bag in my hand, struck. I suck at dealing with conflicts. But this was one thing I did not want to duck out on. I said the next words slowly.
“Well if that’s the case than I don’t want to go.”
“Lauren, it’s not my decision you know. It’s the owner. The owner he allergic.”
“Why does it make a difference if the owner is allergic? The owner isn’t going to be in the apartment, and I can keep the cat outside of the house and feed her outside. She can be an outdoor cat.”
“I dunno but he says no cat so you can’t bring the cat.”
“Sam, do I have to leave this house?”
He paused. Something I would quickly learn about Thai culture is that if a person doesn’t know the answer, most of the time they won’t tell you that they don’t know; they’ll just make a guess and stick to it.
“Do I have to leave here tonight?”
“Yeah, you got to leave here tonight.”
“Well what about my cat? I can’t just leave her here!”
“You can bring her to the temple and can feed her there. We have many cat at the temple.”
For a second this seemed like a perfectly reasonable answer. I brightened up and agreed to carry out the last of my things. In my head I was already formulating a plan. If I couldn’t keep her at the new apartment, then I was making enough money that I could afford to rent my own place where I could bring my kitten and live as I damn well pleased. Until then I could keep coming to the temple every day to check up on her and bring her treats.
They wanted to throw my kitten in the back with the luggage. Appalled, I insisted that Sam hold her in his lap in the passenger’s seat. I handed the kitten over to him, then got on my motorcycle and followed the truck to the new house.
That was the last time I ever saw her.
Once all my bags were inside and went out to accompany my kitten to the temple. But when I came outside Sam was the only thing there. The Driver, the car, and my kitten were gone.
“Sam, where is my cat!?”
“I dunno. I call my friend and find out.”
“I have to see her! I wanted to hold her! I wanted to say goodby to her! Tell him to bring her back!”
“Yeah, okay, okay, okay.”
I watched him picked up his phone and then sat down outside the apartment and started sobbing furiously.
Now in America, when a girl sits down and cries, you ask her what’s wrong, you show concern, you try to fix the problem. The Thai approach to problems it usually try to make you feel better by making light of the situation. So when Sam explained the problem to the other people around, he laughed, then ignored me.
After half an hour of this I was starting to get really pissed. I realized that no one was going to get back to me about where the fuck my cat was. I stood up and found Sam, who was chatting away with some neighbors.
I asked him where the fuck my cat was.
“Oh,” he said, “my friend left him by the school.”
“Yeah, he put him outside by the school.”
“He didn’t even feed her!”
“Oh, you know, he can run around and find food.”
“So he just opened the door and threw my kitten out into the street!?”
I was fucking livid.
I went into the house, grabbed a can of tuna, then got on my motorbike and drove off in the direction of the school. When I got to the empty campus I popped open the tuna can and started walking around, crying out “meow.”
A scrawny black and orange cat smelled the tuna and followed me with a high pitched yowl. I walked around in the dark for the next two hours, calling out with less and less hope as the night went on. At midnight I sat down on the pavement of the basketball court with my head in my hands, and let the black and orange cat eat the rest of the tuna.