In Jamaica, we know about strays: stray dog, stray cat, stray goat, stray cow.
Stray doesn’t necessarily mean they’re lost. The animal may have decided, without its owner’s consent, to tour the neighbourhood, the town or the whole island and partake of its offerings.
As a child growing up in the 1970s, I remember cow sightings on Constant Spring Road.
For me, who did ‘fraid ah cow, it was very traumatic. Passing them meant the risk of being chased, bucked or both.
So, whenever I saw them, I stood outside of their line of sight, folder clutched to my chest, heavy knapsack hanging off my back, and waited. An’ you know how cow move slow already and love stop-stop and nibble pan every tups a grass dem si pon di roadside. But I was more than willing to put myself on pause for as long as it was necessary.
In our neighbourhood, I also remember lots of goats grazing on the sidewalk-grass or yuh yard-grass (if yuh did happen to leave di gate open like mi neighbour did do di other day).
Timing the garbage truck and hoisting your bags on the gate post was essential. You didn’t want goats gnawing on your used baby diapers, cheese-trix bags, mango skins and old Gleaner.
In exchange for your trash, they deposited little round gifts then moseyed down the road with the rest of the unruly herd.
When I moved to St. Ann, my first place was a short term rental on a hill in a sprawling gated community occupied by all sorts of people: shop owners, retirees, artists, tourists, Christian, Rastafarian, Jamaican, Indian and such di like.
Also occupying the property in abundance were cats: black; white; black and white; black, white and grey; grey and white; orange and white, et cetera.
To be fair to the dogs, there were also three, skinny, brown mongrels. You know the kind, my fellow Jamaicans and residents, they walk in a pack, barking at nothing or each other, fighting for whatever morsel of food is discovered in a bush and picking on the most malnourished among them.
Anyway, during the first week at home, I generated enough rubbish to warrant a trek up several flights of stairs to the garbage disposal area, which was a six-foot high, concrete building with metal doors.
I tossed the bag over the walls. Eleven cats flew out and scattered along on the asphalt.
My 40-plus year-old body slid out the way in the nick of time.
Paws frozen to the ground, the cats looked at me looking at them.
I backed away, turned and sauntered to the stairway, took mi own sweet time (ah mean, hello please, dem don’t pay rent, dem cyan tell me whey fi do?). I looked back. They were still staring. I skipped down the stairs. They reassembled and continued the business of dumpster diving.
Thereafter, sightings of cats continued. They traipsed across the property in absolute grandeur, strode along the walls like mountain lions, lounged in the roadways, foraged through the garbage and peeked through doorways if they smelled anything cooking.
I, personally, didn’t feed them, didn’t want to encourage begging. But, honestly, I was tempted. They were fuzzy and cute–endearing.
Speaking of endearing, you know seh we Jamaicans love give people pet names. If a man and woman have one son, they call him “One-Son”. If they have a fat cousin, they call him “Fatta”. If a baby girl looks cute, they call her “Cutie”. If the vendor up di road, who sell callaloo from him van-back, is slight in appearance, them call him “Mawga-Man”. If their friend loves to sing, they call him “Singy-Singy”.
Well, I started naming a couple cats. Simple names. No fuss.
On one occasion, I spotted an orange cat reclining on a stone wall right outside my apartment, eyes half-cast, neck and head tall. Brilliant photo opportunity!
The front door had a glass pane up top (great for pointing a camera through whilst concealing one’s body). I cut the flash, aimed my camera and clicked. His eyes flew open, focused squarely on me. Caught.
I ducked then emerged. He was still staring. So mi duck again, wait and come up back.
Him still a stare.
The hide-and-peep ting did a gwaan fi too long; so, mi walk whey and go sit down.
A little before dusk, I got up to close the plantation shutters to the back of the apartment, you know, before mosquitos slipped inside to hover around my legs during prime-time news and sing in my ears when mi a try sleep. Tell me who I see diving through the window as soon as mi buss di corner?
Him same one! Orange puss was in my apartment, scoping it out. I nicknamed him ‘Security Puss’.
Another time, I heard a big hullabaloo outside. I got up to investigate. Two cats were by a nearby pimento tree . . . quarrelling . . . pon a big, big Sunday mawning!
I named the aggressor “Patchy Puss” because of his black, white and grey fur. I could’ve just as well called him ‘Ghetto Puss’. One look at him face and you know seh him a warmonger. (No offense to di folks who live in the ghetto. We know nice an’ decent people live there. Is not you I talkin’ bout).
Patchy’s spine was hunched to the high heavens and him face did up in di other feline face.
A neighbour hurled two stones to shut them up. None a dem budge.
Now, people, mi was shocked at what mi si next. Patchy’s lips were moving vigorously, but no sound was coming out. He was muttering under his breath in the other cat’s face.
Which puss you know do dat?!
Anyway, the stone missiles continued to shake the bushes beside them until dem get di message and scatter, once and for all.
Days later, as I gazed through my window, admiring the abundance of natural flora and fauna, another cat made its way to the pimento tree–likkle from where Patchy an’ di odda puss did have it out. It looked around hesitantly, calculatedly, and after a few seconds, dug a hole, stooped, pooped, covered di hole and stepped away.
Take care of your beautiful selves. Catch yuh next week.
Love and peace.