A Street Cat Named Bob
There’s a famous quote I read somewhere. It says we are all given second chances every day of our lives. They are there for the taking, it’s just that we don’t usually take them.
I spent a big chunk of my life proving that quote. I was given a lot of opportunities, sometimes on a daily basis. For a long time I failed to take any of them, but then, in the early spring of 2007, that finally began to change. It was then that I befriended Bob. Looking back on it, something tells me it might have been his second chance too.
I first encountered him on a gloomy, Thursday evening in March. London hadn’t quite shaken off the winter and it was still bitingly cold on the streets, especially when the winds blew in off the Thames. There had even been a hint of frost in the air that night, which was why I’d arrived back at my new, sheltered accommodation in Tottenham, north London, a little earlier than usual after a day busking around Covent Garden.
As normal, I had my black guitar case and rucksack slung over my shoulders but this evening I also had my closest friend, Belle, with me. We’d gone out together years ago but were just mates now. We were going to eat a cheap takeaway curry and watch a movie on the small black and white television set I’d managed to find in a charity shop round the corner.
As usual, the lift in the apartment block wasn’t working so we headed for the first flight of stairs, resigned to making the long trudge up to the fifth floor.
The strip lighting in the hallway was broken and part of the ground floor was swathed in darkness, but as we made our way to the stairwell I couldn’t help noticing a pair of glowing eyes in the gloom. When I heard a gentle, slightly plaintive meowing I realised what it was.
Edging closer, in the half-light I could see a ginger cat curled up on a doormat outside one of the ground-floor flats in the corridor that led off the hallway.
I’d grown up with cats and had always had a bit of a soft spot for them. As I moved in and got a good look I could tell he was a tom, a male.
I hadn’t seen him around the flats before, but even in the darkness I could tell there was something about him, I could already tell that he had something of a personality. He wasn’t in the slightest bit nervous, in fact, completely the opposite. There was a quiet, unflappable confidence about him. He looked like he was very much at home here in the shadows and to judge by the way he was fixing me with a steady, curious, intelligent stare, I was the one who was straying into his territory. It was as if he was saying: ‘So who are you and what brings you here?’
I couldn’t resist kneeling down and introducing myself.
‘Hello, mate. I’ve not seen you before, do you live here?’ I said.
He just looked at me with the same studious, slightly aloof expression, as if he was still weighing me up.
I decided to stroke his neck, partly to make friends but partly to see if he was wearing a collar or any form of identification. It was hard to tell in the dark, but I realised there was nothing, which immediately suggested to me that he was a stray. London had more than its fair share of those.
He seemed to be enjoying the affection, and began brushing himself lightly against me. As I petted him a little more, I could feel that his coat was in poor condition, with uneven bald patches here and there. He was clearly in need of a good meal. From the way he was rubbing against me, he was also in need of a bit of TLC.
‘Poor chap, I think he’s a stray. He’s not got a collar and he’s really thin,’ I said, looking up at Belle, who was waiting patiently by the foot of the stairs.
She knew I had a weakness for cats.
‘No, James, you can’t have him,’ she said, nodding towards the door of the flat that the cat was sitting outside. ‘He can’t have just wandered in here and settled on this spot, he must belong to whoever lives there. Probably waiting for them to come home and let him in.’
Reluctantly, I agreed with her. I couldn’t just pick up a cat and take him home with me, even if all the signs pointed to the fact it was homeless. I’d barely moved into this place myself and was still trying to sort out my flat. What if it did belong to the person living in that flat? They weren’t going to take too kindly to someone carrying off their pet, were they?
Besides, the last thing I needed right now was the extra responsibility of a cat. I was a failed musician and recovering drug addict living a hand-to-mouth existence in sheltered accommodation. Taking responsibility for myself was hard enough.
The following morning, Friday, I headed downstairs to find the ginger tom still sitting there. It was as if he hadn’t shifted from the same spot in the past twelve hours or so.
Once again I dropped down on one knee and stroked him. Once again it was obvious that he loved it. He was purring away, appreciating the attention he was getting. He hadn’t learned to trust me 100 per cent yet. But I could tell he thought I was OK.
In the daylight I could see that he was a gorgeous creature. He had a really striking face with amazingly piercing green eyes, although, looking closer, I could tell that he must have been in a fight or an accident because there were scratches on his face and legs. As I’d guessed the previous evening, his coat was in very poor condition. It was very thin and wiry in places with at least half a dozen bald patches where you could see the skin. I was now feeling genuinely concerned about him, but again I told myself that I had more than enough to worry about getting myself straightened out. So, more than a little reluctantly, I headed off to catch the bus from Tottenham to central London and Covent Garden where I was going to once more try and earn a few quid busking.
By the time I got back that night it was pretty late, almost ten o’clock. I immediately headed for the corridor where I’d seen the ginger tom but there was no sign of him. Part of me was disappointed. I’d taken a bit of a shine to him. But mostly I felt relieved. I assumed he must have been let in by his owner when they’d got back from wherever it was they had been.
My heart sank a bit when I went down again the next day and saw him back in the same position again. By now he was slightly more vulnerable and dishevelled than before. He looked cold and hungry and he was shaking a little.
‘Still here then,’ I said, stroking him. ‘Not looking so good today.’
I decided that this had gone on for long enough.
So I knocked on the door of the flat. I felt I had to say something. If this was their pet, it was no way to treat him. He needed something to eat and drink – and maybe even some medical attention.
A guy appeared at the door. He was unshaven, wearing a T-shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms and looked like he’d been sleeping even though it was the middle of the afternoon.
‘Sorry to bother you, mate. Is this your cat?’ I asked him.
For a second he looked at me as if I was slightly mad.
‘What cat?’ he said, before looking down and seeing the ginger tom curled up in a ball on the doormat.
‘Oh. No,’ he said, with a disinterested shrug. ‘Nothing to do with me, mate.’
‘He’s been there for days,’ I said, again drawing a blank look.
‘Has he? Must have smelled cooking or something. Well, as I say, nothing to do with me.’
He then slammed the door shut.
I made my mind up immediately.
‘OK, mate, you are coming with me,’ I said, digging into my rucksack for the box of biscuits I carried specifically to give treats to the cats and dogs that regularly approached me when I was busking.
I rattled it at him and he was immediately up on all fours, following me.
I could see he was a bit uneasy on his feet and was carrying one of his back legs in an awkward manner, so we took our time climbing the five flights of stairs. A few minutes later we were safely ensconced in my flat.