The Melville Cat normally speaks for himself on this blog. But today, for some reason, I feel like speaking for the two of us.

Smokey on the kitchen floor
Smokey, the Melville Cat, in his favorite morning sun spot on the kitchen floor.

I didn’t choose Smokey as a pet — he chose me. He had a perfectly good home already, with a wonderful lady who has become a dear friend. But for some reason Smokey decided his place was with me, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Because Smokey is an unconventional cat and came to me in an unconventional way (read this post, and the two posts linked at the bottom of that post, for a bit of the backstory), we’ve never had a conventional human-cat relationship. I definitely do not feel like Smokey’s “owner”. And even though we’ve been together for nearly a decade, Smokey is “my cat” only for as long as he cares to be. He is free to go at any time. And go he often does.

Smokey in the kitchen
Smokey in a sunbeam.

Not many people have “indoor cats” in South Africa; it’s hard to keep cats inside because of the way our houses are designed, and most people would never consider doing so anyway. Keeping Smokey indoors, even for short periods, is damn near impossible. I’ve tried keeping him in at night, to no avail. I’ve tried bribing him with food and catnip and showers of love.

But over the years I’ve had to accept that the Melville Cat likes to be out and he likes to roam. He won’t wear a collar and he stays out as long as he wants. He often disappears for a day or two. Once he ran away for three weeks and turned up nearly two miles away.

Smokey came into my life around the same time I realized I have a problem with co-dependancy. I’m certain this was no coincidence. In my relationship with Smokey, I must constantly practice letting go. I must accept that I’m powerless over the actions of others — especially those I love most.

Letting go is especially hard with Smokey, because he is a special cat. My relationship with him is different from the relationships I’ve had with other pets.

Heather and Smokey photoshoot 3
This picture says it all.

Last week, Smokey disappeared. He was on my bed at some point during the night on Tuesday. I didn’t see him on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.

On Friday night I finally broke down and posted about his disappearance on the I Love Melville Facebook group. A lady responded right away and said she was 95% sure she saw him about seven blocks away, walking across a neighbor’s roof.

On Saturday I spent half the day driving around that area, inspecting every tree and bush, calling Smokey’s name through the car window. I spoke to the lady at the house where Smokey might have been spotted. She checked her surveillance camera footage — no luck.

As a pet-owner (or in a my case, as a cat’s devoted human), there’s nothing worse than the feeling of “not knowing”. It’s terrible — especially during a global pandemic, when every bad feeling feels 1000 times worse — to sit inside on a cold winter night and wonder if your beloved is out there suffering somewhere. Did he get hit by a car? Injured by another animal? Lost? Or…Did he find a new human?

I’ll never know.

The only thing I do know if that on Saturday night, around 9:00 p.m., I was standing in the kitchen boiling water to put in my hot water bottle. I poured the water into the bottle, screwed the cap on, turned around, and there was Smokey. Just standing there looking up at me, as though he’d never left. He had been gone for four full days.

“Smokey?” I asked, tentatively, not trusting my eyes. “Smokey?…Smokey!”

I scooped him up and squeezed him, laughing and crying. He allowed it. Trixie, Smokey’s devoted little sister, scampered around my feet.

Smokey’s fur felt soft and not particularly cold. His breath smelled like an unfamiliar brand of cat food. When I put him down, he went straight to his bowl and ate heartily for several minutes.

It’s not easy being the Melville Cat’s human. But I’ll be here for him, as long as he’ll have me.

He’s sitting with his back to me as I type this.
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