Mao Tse Tung was a scrawny, battered, stray Devon Rex cat who appeared one day on the roof of the carport while Robbie was washing his red van. We had never seen her before, in the six months or so since we had moved into Onslow Street – behind the Zoo in South Perth.
She had soft, dusky pink fur – that looked like she had had a bad perm. Curly and disheveled, she hung her head over the edge of the carport and meowed at Robbie. “Help, I can’t get down,” she said in a most plaintive voice, rubbing her chin against the edge of the guttering. “Well,” said Robbie, “and where did you come from, young lady?” He put down his chamois and moved the short ladder over towards the roof, stepping up to pick up the stray. She did not move away in that infuriating way that cats always do, when they ask for rescue, only to retreat backwards and out of reach. Robbie picked her up, stroked the back of her head and placed her on the ground by the ladder. “Off you go, then” he said. “Go home, wherever that is.” The scruffy little cat wandered off.
About ten minutes later, her cry came again from the roof of the carport. “Help, I can’t get down.” Robbie looked up, laughed and again reached to bring her back down to ground level. She rubbed herself against his boot and then walked away behind the fence, her tail aloft and stiff. We had no idea where she lived or whose cat she might be, but she certainly had a way of making her presence felt.
As he was finishing drying off the red van and putting away his cleaning bucket, a face appeared on the roof of the carport. “Help, I can’t get down,” the little cat called. “No way, Jose!” said Robbie. “If you can get up there, you can get down as well.” He finished up in the carport and came inside, leaving the back door open just a crack. In a few minutes, a little pinky brown face appeared peering through the opening he had left, but after a minute or so, she decided not to enter and wandered away.
At that time, we had Pepper 1 (our first Dalmation), Muggins, Colin’s cat who caught river rats and brought them home, and Burt, the pink and grey galah whose cage was on the patio, living with us in our ground floor apartment. We really did not need any more pets and we assumed that the little curly cat lived in one of the other units in the complex of eight. I laughed as Robbie told me how she had conned him twice but not the third time, into being lifted down from the roof.
Through the summer and autumn months, she wandered by every now and then, and I took to putting some dry cat food and milk out for her. She was very thin and unkempt and did not look at all well cared for. She kept her distance from me and she would not let me stroke her nor could I lure her inside with food or milk. Soft words would not bring her to my door. Yet, for Robbie, she would appear unbidden and she would sit and watch him working on his van anytime he was home from his country work. He would give her a rough rub on the back of the head and she would climb on the roof, hoping to be “rescued” again.
Winter came and one night, a fierce storm broke around us. The rain came down in sheets, lashing wildly against the windows. The front patio was awash and a river of leaves and debris ran under the side gate and down the driveway. The carport gutters overflowed and the back door rattled in the wind. When I opened it to check to see if it was likely that the water would overflow into the kitchen, a sodden little creature flew in the door and right past me, into the unit. I was so surprised I lost my grip on the door handle and the back door blew right open, letting the rain and wind drive me back into the kitchen. I quickly grabbed the door and shut it again, putting on the deadlock to secure it. I was wet from head to toe and the kitchen floor was a mess. Somewhere, there was a small, scruffy, sodden cat – hiding from the storm in our unit.
After I cleaned myself up, and the kitchen, I went looking for her. I suspected she would be under a bed or in a corner somewhere, perhaps behind the lounge or the TV. It took quite a while to find her, secreted away in the bottom of the walk-in wardrobe in the spare bedroom. We had always thought that she lived in one of the nearby units and the way that she had bolted straight to the spare bedroom and into the wardrobe made it clear that she knew her way about the units. She was busy cleaning herself, drying off her drenched fur and took no notice of me at all. I left her to her own devices, quietly smiling to myself and thinking that I finally had my new cat. I put food and milk in the room for her and let her be. I closed the bedroom door behind me. “Tomorrow,” I told myself, “she will be so happy to stay here.” Whether she, Muggins, and Pepper would get on together was not a consideration, because they had become very aware of each other over the past six months or more and had shown no signs of not accommodating one another in a very small territory.
The morning dawned fine and dry – the storm well past. The back door was hooked open on its latch and the rubbish bins retrieved. When I had swept up the small amount of rubbish lying about, I went to the bedroom, opened the door and looked into the wardrobe. The scruffy little cat, dry but still looking much disheveled, looked up at me. I started to crouch down, speaking softly to her, only to have her launch herself between my feet, bolt for the door and disappear out of view. She literally hit the floor running and did not stop until she was through the lounge room, down the length of the galley kitchen and out the back door. She had eaten well during the night and she had no intention of being caught inside. I had simply been “any port in a storm” and she didn’t give a fig that I wanted to adopt her.
When Robbie next came home, I told him the story and we started to make enquiries amongst the other people who lived in our complex. Gradually we pieced together a tale of an oriental lady (maybe Chinese) who had lived alone with her cat; who had moved; who had returned many times to try and find her cat; who no longer came looking. Our rough and ready lady was indeed a stray. One who seemed to have decided that she definitely liked life on the streets, apart from the occasional winter storm.
By the end of the winter and into spring, we came to terms with each other: she and I. My job was to leave food out for her and to stop trying to catch her or lure her inside. Her job was to turn up when she felt like it and when Robbie was home, to keep him company in the carport.
So it went, until we had to move. We were going to live in a caravan, to save money to build our own home. We packed up our belongings, put most of them into the railway wagons on the block on which we were to build our house and took the rest to the caravan. We had already moved Burt’s cage and put him in it. Pepper and Muggins were in the van. It was the very last day.
“Robbie,” I said. “I don’t want to go without the cat. She is a stray and no one is caring for her. But, what can I do? She will not come to me. She will not let me cuddle her or stroke her. What can I do?”
“Go and stand by the divider at the end of the kitchen and don’t move,” he said. “And be quiet!” I did.
He squatted down on his hunkers, about one third of the way up the kitchen. He waited. Within a minute or so, the little cat appeared at the back door. He clicked his fingers. She walked in. “My missus wants you, you know that,” he said. “So come on here and stop messing us about.” I watched her walk up to him and lie down at his feet. He picked her up, ruffled the fur on the back of her head and stood up as he turned around. “Here is your cat,” he said. I took her from him and she settled against my shoulder, purring into my neck. He lifted his hand from the back of her neck and smiled at us. “Can we go now?” he said.
She stayed with us for many years and gave me great joy. That was The Getting of Mao Tse Tung.
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