From the moment we arrive, we notice the presence of cats. They seem well fed, and they stroll and lounge everywhere. We even saw one sleeping in the vines above our doorway, enjoying a little tropical cat hammock. I am reminded of the Colosseum in Rome where cats peek out from every ancient crevice.
There are dogs, too–wild dogs that roam in the evenings. We see glimpses of them as they purposefully stride along the paths at night. Sometimes a machete man, doing nighttime chores will yell at one and make an aggressive lunge toward it to discourage its prowl. “Get out dog!” The dogs have a distant, feral look to them. Their appearance triggers more fear than a feeling of companionship. I don’t know what breed any of them are, since they look like what I would call simply dog–a sort of generic distant relative of the breed we let lay in our beds, the missing link between wolf and collie, Caribbean dingoes.
We prefer the cats.
So everywhere we go, we chat with the cats along the way. Well, L talks to them and I listen to her do so. In my head, I say hello kitty as much as she does. I just prefer telepathic communication with advanced species such as they are.
None of cats here like to be petted much. They keep a cautious distance. Food and not affection can draw them in. Even with an outstretched hand with tasty morsels, they resist getting closer than begging distance, coaxing us to toss the food in their direction. After a few treats, though, they come closer.
We wonder if the cats have any food sources other than an occasional lizard and table scraps. Just as we do, an employee walks by shaking a bag of cat food. Cats appear from every direction, leaving their slumber under bushes to follow the universal catcall–kibbles hitting cardboard. Apparently there is an official feeding time to augment the begging schedule. That makes us happy.
At breakfast one morning a small, young cat comes to court us. He is a little less standoffish than the rest. “The other bigger ones must take his food from him,” I say, trying to give a practical reason for his behavior.
“He like us,” L says as counter-argument. And the cat eats an unhealthy amount of breakfast fish from L’s hand.
In the tired evening, we are visited by the same cat we had fed under the table at breakfast. It runs in our room as we open the door. It wants to sit on our chair. It gets a little excited when L opens the fridge, but we have nothing a cat would like. At attempt to feed it a granola bar proves that. It doesn’t care. It really just wants the chair.
“Poor thing,” L says. I can tell she wants the cat to move in with us. “He just wants to sit inside for awhile.”
“He can sit there until we go to bed,” I say–as if I have a choice in the matter. So, we sit on our patio with the door ajar, while the cat sits inside.
Eventually we remove it from its throne and put it outside in the patio chair so we can go to bed. “I don’t need a cat peeing all over,” I say.
“I didn’t say the cat could stay in with us all night,” L says. We go to sleep feeling like good Samaritans, befriender of the cats. Who else lets them in to sit on their chairs? Plans of letting the cat in tomorrow and maybe bringing it breakfast from the buffet fill our sleepy heads.
About 4:30 in the morning all good thoughts we may have been dreaming are jolted out of our systems. We are awoken by loud barking, the wild guttural barks that accompany attack. Then cutting through that evil noise comes the piercing scream of a cat. There are sounds that cannot be mistaken, even without direct experience with them. They hit a primal chord. These were the sounds as old as animal life on earth, the sounds of predator and prey, of intense blood lust and terror.
L runs out the door. I hear her yell “stop that” and then I hear a loud slap. She would never hit an animal, but I am certain she just did.
I don’t want to follow her out the door. Later, of course, I think a little less of myself for not accompanying her on what was obviously a fight with wild dogs. When she re-enters the room, just seconds later, she is expressionless. Her face is drained. I know she had just witnessed something that cannot and should not be processed. As she sits on the side of the bed, facing away from me, she shakes. She had walked out just as two wild dogs were ripping our new friend the cat apart on our patio.
Our new companion was gone. It came to us peacefully, more trusting than the others. It left in the most violent way imaginable.
It is a long night. Paradise is purchased in blood.