It might have spent many months, or perhaps years roaming around aimlessly along the pathway and feeding on scraps, nobody knows. Just slightly frail, this brown tortoiseshell cat was not the kind of animal that you would look at twice. Just another ”longkang” cat, the kind that you would call ”comot” and let it stroll past you to wander around the back of a coffeeshop to look for whatever food the humans would throw out.
There was a certain loneliness hanging over the feline as it observed me settling into the unit. It watched me from afar and meowed hello which I responded with a human ‘Hello’. I figured that since I was the new one in the neighborhood, I should buy some cat food for it as a friendly gesture.
I remember going to the provision shop to buy cat food for the first time in life, not knowing what I was buying. I opened the can of cat food (I think it was tuna) and simply placed it at the corridor where it was chilling, only to see the cat gobble it all up in seconds. I still remember making a mental note to myself about how hungry it looked.
Over the next few days, I saw the cat more often, always at the shade in front of the building, laying nonchalantly. But each time I stepped out and walked past it to either go to the shop or to clear the rubbish, she would perk up, meow, and walk with me to wherever I was going. It was like I was its’ friend, and looking back, I suppose the cat adopted me as her master.
Each time I walked past it, I would also call out “What’s up Jack?” with ‘Jack’ being a name that could have been as easily be ‘John Doe’ or ‘Kitty’ but the name somehow just rolled off my tongue and soon enough, the name stuck. This was before I realized that ‘Jack’ was a female feline upon which I quickly decided to rename it ‘Jac’ so as to respect the gender and not confuse the poor creature of its name. I imagined the cat going “Who? What? But I thought I’m Jack!” and figured that keeping the name that sounded like Jack would be an act of kindness to the creature. I also figured that cats can’t spell so it wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between *Jack* and *Jac* or even *Jaq*.
Soon, I was buying canned pet food for Jac once every few days and that changed to buying a big pack of cat food from the pet store so that I could feed her daily. Somehow along the way, I “trained” her to wait at the back door of the unit for her daily feeding and slowly, it started to feel as though I had a responsibility towards this animal.
I always left the window and door to my unit open for ventilation and Jac would always come visit. She would either hang around at the shaded area along the corridor or would climb up onto the window sill to sit and watch me work. And as I worked alone in the unit, Jac was the companion with whom I’ve had countless monologues with. Slowly, as she got comfortable with my presence and me with hers, Jac considered the unit part of her territory - climbing in, sitting under the desk and rubbing herself on me whenever she feels like it, taking naps on the sofa and also patrolling the rooms and kitchen. On some days, she considered the top of my laptop or my lap acceptable surfaces for her to rest and on some days when I’m not looking, would consider the bed hers too.
Each time I got back, she would sense my presence and run across 40-50 meters of pavement or come out from hiding at the carpark to come and greet me. On some days, she would wait at the door, meow and peek curiously till I let her in and she would follow me on short walks. Jac was also there when I was rushing for project submissions and always looked curiously at me when I was all stressed up.
Jac was adorable that way. She was always ready to roll over and ask for a tummy rub and almost always meowing asking for the warmth of a human hand to hold her or stroke her. She was friendly, almost promiscuous, and always preferred rubbing herself against males which led a friend of mine to jokingly call her a ‘slutty cat'. But really, all Jac ever wanted was attention and love. At one point, I noticed that although I’ve been there for a year, I’ve never seen any other tortoiseshell cats in the neighborhood and concluded that she must have either been lost, abandoned or perhaps have lost her family and it was then that I felt like I was her only family.
Before Jac, I’ve never had a pet before but there was a day when I decided that if I was spending so much time feeding, talking and playing with this cat, I should care for it too and treat it like one. I googled and asked my friends how to take care of a cat. I learned how to shower it, trim its nails, attempted to toilet train it, bought toys for it, tried to give it a small corner in the unit for itself and make it a little bit domesticated but Jac was always adventurous at heart. She still preferred the earth in the front yard as her toilet and was always climbing onto the roof to take a walk in the middle of the night rather than be comfortable in the unit.
Of course, Jac could also be difficult. She would meow relentlessly until she got the attention she wanted at the worst possible time and would decide to climb onto my laptop right when I needed to rush through a project. She didn’t understand why she had to be chased away when there were certain guests around the house. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t come into the house when I was not feeling well. She also didn’t understand why I screamed at her when she vomitted in the kitchen and why I was fuming when I got home one day to discover that she had taken a big dump on my bed (which I later discovered was because she couldn’t climb out the window to get to the front yard that day as a branch had fallen and obstructed her usual route). But while Jac did get on the wrong side of me, it never lasted long. She was always full of love, meowing innocently at you and rubbing herself on you to say hello.
Eventually, I had to move out from the unit and the place where I was moving to next would never accept a cat. Being the outdoor-loving cat, she would also be best staying at the unit and it meant, I had to leave her behind.
By this time, Jac was no longer just another stray cat. She was my pet stray cat. When I first moved into this unit, I was a man looking to have a fresh start and rebuild himself after the many recent disappointments in his life and in some strange way, through my time being in this unit, making friends with Jac and learning how to take care of her, I emerged a new man. It was like Jac have taught me how to love again. Perhaps it’s coincidence that the time in that unit coincided with a tremendous phase of growth in my life and where I met the love of my life, or perhaps it is not. Either way, my time in that unit with Jac as company was one of the best in my life. Jac was my best friend.
Since moving out, I’ve always had fond memories of my time at that unit. Every time I feel stressed, I would recall the good vibes of that unit. Every time I see someone with a pet, I remember the times where I was taking care of Jac. And every time I see a stray cat, especially a brown tortoiseshell ”longkang” cat, I feel my heart sending out a mental hello to Jac.
Earlier today, I found out that Jac was found dead in the bushes of the old unit. She was doing well over the past months and my neighbor thinks that one of the new residents in the neighborhood, whom many of the other neighbors suspect have been abusing cats, might have something to do with Jac’s death. If this is true, I hope karma bites him/her hard.
Today, I feel a painful loss that is often not reserved for stray cats. I’ve had to hold myself together under the surface throughout the day but in this dark cloak of the night, I write these words to remember Jac, the awesomest cat I know. Today, I remember the cat who only wanted to love and be loved. And Jac, I hope you left knowing that you were loved.