Mango the cat

Mango seems to know melancholy well. She goes out through the cat flap whenever she likes. But sometimes she just stands by the window sill or the glass door, looking wistfully into the garden. I think it is necessary that I open that door.

Mango lives in the kitchen. Whenever she and I meet, I am either chopping or eating. She probably thinks that’s all I do. Things have changed for her lately: last week she managed to escape. I found her in my room, under my bed. Now she would have realised something for the first time that she had not known before. She saw the books, she knows I read them. Yet the fact that I come down every night aimlessly searching about the kitchen, despite the stack of Ritz crackers in my room, has become a mystery to her.

We’ve developed something of a co-habitation ‘narrative’ only known to us. Sometimes, when no one is around, I ask her questions, imitating the way others in the house do. Questions that are really statements that end with ‘question tags’—a grammatical idiosyncrasy that I’ve grown more and more used to since I came to this country nine months ago. Mango is not a kitten anymore, and I don’t talk to her as if she is one either.

Mango knows that I linger in the kitchen at night. I lean on the radiator while waiting for the water to boil, or stand by the counter top, stuck in a moment of thickening dullness. The luxury of the kitchen’s particular silence at night should not be underestimated. Get lost in it. Go blank. Wake up to the refrigerator’s gentle humming, or the heat emanating from the radiator, and its ability to make your skin sting.

Mango knows this well. She knows I come down at night and scoop directly from within the fridge when no one else is around. When I turn around, she’s minding her own business. Mango knows that each time a chili con carne is cooling on the burner, I dip my finger in. We are all familiar with that passing sting of an unintentional blame, however slight our slip.

But Mango is not innocent either. She loves milk. I caught her twice when she managed to get onto the counter top and dip her tongue in someone’s mug. The first time was soon after I moved in. I left a note, addressed to the milk’s owner: “Mango drank it”. The second time it happened, I wondered if by then we had built a bond through our shared secrets. Harmless mischief. She nimbly bounded off out of sight before our eyes could meet.

I recently learned that Mango is scared of men. The narrow gap behind the washing machine is where Mango dashes to hide when she hears a man ring the doorbell. How exactly Mango can tell it's a man at the door, we'll never know. But she always knows. Gardeners came over the other day. Mango, as usual, dashed as soon as she heard the bell ring. I followed her to the utility room. This time she stopped in front of the washing machine and glanced at me, while I waited by the door. Two months into quarantine, Mango knows no men would come inside the house. Hesitantly, she wondered whether hiding was still necessary. Or could the hesitation be about the fear itself—is it still that much of a fear after all? Could it have become but a habit, a position to hold?

We drift in and out of our patterns; we reinvent our stories, or at least the stories we tell ourselves. The reasonings behind past decisions collapse, or are entirely forgotten, or even transmute into something else. And sometimes, you know, we are such ordinary people that we cultivate eccentricities. Whatever it was that happened in that moment of reckoning, Mango did not hide behind the washing machine. Maybe she decided she’d fear no more.