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Your first inspiration came from a French holiday back in the early 1990s. You’ll remember that I had been on an exchange programme for a couple of weeks and that whilst staying in Montpelier, I’d been introduced to a beautiful and affectionate little thing called Minou. For some reason, both my mother and myself fell in love with the name, and when we decided to buy ourselves a new cat, we knew straight away that we wanted to call him or her - Minou. (I was (and still am) blissfully ignorant of what the word Minou means, but it always sounded rather nice.)
And so it transpired that via a secret network of tea room conversations, my father discovered that a colleague had a kitten going spare. Dad went along to see the kitten and instantly knew that my mother would adore it. Of course, that kitten was you and after exchanging the pricely sum of £15, you were carefully placed in a pet carrier and brought home to us.
Do you remember that first day? I do. I remember opening the carrier at one end and standing back as though something exciting should happen, but being rather surprised when nothing did. Then, after just a few seconds, a little figure appeared at the front of the carrier and peered round the corner. I wonder what you were thinking when you peered out into that cavernous lounge, with three big pairs of eyes all staring at you. You were certainly frightened when three voices squealed their delight, so much so that you legged it straight back in. But, with some gentle coercing and eventually perhaps a little force (Dad tipped the box up) you came out to meet us. I remember how small and delicate you were. It terrified me. I remarked that if I didn’t look where I was going I would literally squash you and we at once discussed plans for keeping an eye on you. The floor was cleared of everything but the essentials and I adopted a new light-footed way of walking, which even now I seem to have perfected when there are animals around.
You were full of mischief from the outset. A clean, organised, tidy room could be converted to chaos within minutes and you were the only kitten I had ever met that could scale walls with her bare claws. You chased everything, from the cords that held up my brothers tracksuit trousers to the light cast on the carpet from my father’s reading glasses. You really were a family cat, loved by all of us and we were loved in return. You would turf my mother out of bed in the morning to get your breakfast far more successfully than I ever did. You would sit on my Dad’s lap for hours of an evening, contentedly purring and stretching as he read the newspaper or watched television. You would play with my brother for hours, chasing him, grabbing him and pawing him in a such a gentle way and you seemed as happy as any animal could be.
You grew up quickly as well – your kitten phase didn’t last long! Within a year, you had grown into a sleek, beautiful, feminine cat who could move as gracefully as she could quickly. The neighbours (all cat owners) agreed how beautiful you were and soon you found yourself welcome in three or four consecutive houses, where you could always find milk or snacks. Of all the cats we’d ever owned, you never seemed to bring in dead mice or other such treats and you became absolutely set in your routines. You would sleep in the house over night and would then have breakfast and go outside for most of the day. When I returned home from school at four, you would be waiting outside the patio doors and as I let you in, you would chirrup and purr around my legs in anticipation of your forthcoming meal. I wasn’t allowed to do anything else before I set your dinner out – you wouldn’t let me. Having eaten, you would come and sit in the lounge for a clean-up and a doze before everyone else came home. You always went out to “do ladies’ things” at around eight in the evening but you came back in before nine and settled down for the night.
Unfortunately, it’s why we knew something was wrong that night. Dad had gone away to see my Nan and so it was just my Mum and I. You came in for your dinner as normal, and went out as normal at eight but then you didn’t come back. By nine thirty, we were quite worried, but despite continued calling at the door there was still no sign. At 10:30, I had to go to bed, but I couldn’t get much sleep, because I didn’t know where you were. Throughout the night, I was woken by the sound of my Mum calling your name, but the despondency in her voice repeatedly pointed out that you hadn’t shown up. As I went to sleep that night, I reassured myself that everything would be okay, because everything always was okay. It was the first time in my life when I knew that wasn’t the case.
The next morning, you still hadn’t shown up. We were very worried now. This really wasn’t like you. It was still dark when we got up at 06:30, but at 07:30 I had to leave for school. You’ll recall that I always said goodbye to you at 07:30 because I had to catch a train to school. My Mum was going to give me a lift to the station, so we went out to the driveway and whilst my Mum started the car and reversed it up the driveway, I went to the top and casually looked out into the road whilst I was waiting.
It was then that I saw it. A pitiful little black bundle on the pavement lay some two hundred yards from the house. I stopped, stared and frowned, not initially aware of what the shape was. As I walked towards it, I felt my heart literally drop into my stomach because I realised that it was you. It was a cold, frosty morning and lying there on the pavement was your poor, broken little body. A car had obviously hit you on the road, and with your dying movements you appeared to have crawled onto the pavement, where you finally passed away. The frosty temperature had almost frozen your poor little body, and you were bloodied and dirty, but I had to move you at once. You’d already suffered far too much indignity. Goodness knows how many people had walked past you and just looked or commented. I gathered you up in my arms, and slowly, sombrely made my back to the driveway where my mother was now standing, having wondered where I’d gone.
We were devastated. You’d only been in our lives eighteen months and suddenly you’d been whisked away. Alone and cold, you had died by the roadside and whilst we slept in our warm beds, you’d been outside, completely on your own. We rationalised that it had been your natural curiosity that took you across the road but also that your beautiful deep black coat had made you difficult to see. I still wonder what you were doing that night. Did you have a secret rendezvous with a male friend or were you just off out exploring? I guess I’ll never know.
Everyone wept for you. The whole family was terribly upset. The neighbours acted as though they had lost their own cats and even the vet was quite upset when she heard the news. It was a long day, because we had to wait for Dad to come home and I shall never forget the sight of my mum weeping into his arms when he finally came in. He buried you that night, in the back garden, under the apple trees where you had dozed in the sun only a few months before.
So within just a few hours, you’d gone from our lives completely. I’m sitting here writing this with tears rolling down my cheeks, but I try not to feel sad about you. My whole family’s lives were enriched by your presence, even if it was only for eighteen months and we know that you know how much we loved you. And we believe that you loved us too.
So wherever you are little ‘un, I just want you to know that I loved you, and I miss you and you were so very special.