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The Expatriate Siamese
 

By Pamela Legge  

Illustrated by Sally Holmes

 

 

This is a charming story, based largely on fact, which is suitable for all cat lovers - the beautifully executed line drawings by Sally Holmes have attracted much favourable comment.

Here is the first chapter of The Expatriate Siamese:-

 

1. Mitzi

 

Earlier that morning, a thin layer of mist had obscured the coastal strip, leaving hillocks standing out like islands in a grey sea, but it had cleared quickly to reveal a calm blue Mediterranean and a cloudless sky.

The white buildings lining the southwest shore of Mallorca, highlighted by the brilliant sunshine, contrasted sharply with the green patchwork of almond orchards and olive groves covering the lower slopes of the mountains, while thousands of pines clung tenaciously to crevices between rocks above.

However, the perfect day was marred for me because Graham was preparing for a trip to the UK. I lay on the bed, scrutinising his every movement while he filled a suitcase, and I moaned involuntarily whenever I thought of his impending departure—although I was unable to fully express my feelings, he was aware of my absolute devotion.

By eavesdropping on a telephone conversation I already knew that Graham had booked a return flight from Palma to Gatwick, but the reason for his hastily arranged journey was wrapped in mystery. I had followed him into the bedroom in order to be near him for as long as possible before he left for the airport.

Instead of his casual summer garb, Graham was wearing a long-sleeved cream shirt, a pale blue silk tie, and grey trousers with knife-edged creases—the matching jacket was draped casually over the king-size bed that dominated the room. Colourful rugs, some attractive watercolours, and a crystal chandelier relieved the stark white walls and plain tiled floor, typical of a mallorquin house. As there were no curtains, the slatted persianas were closed against the midday sun but the wood-framed windows were wide open, allowing a pleasantly cool breeze to waft over my body.

I lay on the soft quilt, resting my head on a sleeve of Graham’s jacket and nuzzling the material to savour the familiar scent of his cologne. When he leaned over to place two clean shirts into his suitcase, I stretched out sensuously and lightly touched his arm.

He turned and looked at me sympathetically: ‘I know darling—I’ll miss you too, but I’ll be back soon and I hope to bring you an exciting present,’ he said, slipping on his jacket and clicking the case shut.

Still moaning intermittently, I followed him down the stairs to the hall where his wife, Pam, was waiting to escort him to the car.

‘Good-bye Tia, cheer up—I’ll be home in two days,’ he said, as he gently stroked my head.

I watched as he kissed Pam tenderly, promising to telephone that evening. Then he was gone, the tyres of the car sending up clouds of dust from the gravelled drive that had not seen rain for many weeks.

   It was July and the heat would be intense for the next two months. In our eyrie in the mountains above Calviá the temperature was at least five degrees lower than on the plain, but even so I had to move quickly to avoid burning my feet on the hot tiles as I walked round to the shady terrace in search of a comfortable lounger.

My full name is Tia Maria but it is usually shortened to Tia. I am a chocolate-point Siamese with the perfect bone structure specified for my breed—an elegantly domed head, well-formed chin, lithe leopard-like body with high-set shoulder blades, and a long tail. The unusually soft fur of my body is predominantly cream, merging into café-au-lait on my lower legs and paws and a deeper brown on my mask, ears, and tail. My slightly pointed face features an imperious nose, large pricked ears—separated by a striped brow, long white whiskers and luminous blue eyes set in slanted lids, which give me an oriental appearance.

I know precisely how to exploit feline mystique so that no one really knows what lies behind my inscrutable stare. My manner may sometimes seem a little haughty and condescending, but in reality I am very affectionate and loyal to people I like—although I frequently find that they lack my intelligence. Some would say that I am pampered by Pam and Graham but the truth is that our lives have become so interwoven that they treat me as one of the family—indeed there are times when I feel more human than feline. I have recently started to worry when they stay out late and am incapable of settling for the night until they return—unlike a few years ago when they were the ones who stayed awake until the early hours listening anxiously for my call to be let in after one of my nocturnal outings.

I had just settled myself on the lounger when Pam appeared in the doorway of the dining room, which opened on to the terrace.

‘Ah there you are, Tia. I won’t be long I’ll just get some tea and then we can have a snooze together.’

How lovely! I turned and smiled as I stretched full length and rolled over to create a space for her. I always delight in the close proximity of Pam or Graham but they are usually too busy to relax for long; however I knew that after the hurried preparations for Graham’s journey Pam would want to spend some time unwinding.

While I luxuriated on the soft cushion enjoying the warmth of Mallorca, I wondered whether the present that Graham had promised me could be a new hooded basket because mine had become somewhat dilapidated due to my habit of sharpening my claws on the cane every morning—but the tone of his voice had implied something rather more significant.

A sense of well-being overcame me and I drifted into a reverie as I basked in the tranquillity of the mountains, almost oblivious to the incessant chirping of the cicadas.

As I lay there, I contrasted my current lifestyle with the time before I was adopted by Pam and Graham; recalling the dreadful sameness of my early years when I lived in a small house in Surrey with a middle-aged woman, her two rumbustious children and a somewhat hostile old female Siamese. The aged cat regarded me as a rival for the affection of her owner, but her jealousy was unjustified because I had been acquired for breeding purposes and not as a pet.

My monotonous existence was only relieved by an occasional day at a cat show where I competed against other Siamese, eventually achieving championship status. At those events I was able to converse with friendly cats in adjacent cages, which made the day more interesting; although once, as I was being put into my pen, I smiled at a female chocolate-point alongside who responded by swearing at me and then continuing to growl for some time. Her hostility astounded me until I realised that it sprang from my having defeated her at a previous show.

My owner dressed smartly for the shows and looked quite elegant, but one woman always wore an extraordinary hat crowned with a cluster of pheasants’ feathers. She had an unfortunate habit of thrusting her face against our cages to scrutinise us—many a poor unsuspecting cat taking a short nap was rudely awakened by the prod of a feather penetrating the wire. My owner always stationed herself in front of my cage to protect me from any injury because a poke in the eye, even from a feather, could destroy the chance of a championship.

 The hideous hat could be seen from a considerable distance, its feathers waving as the woman walked towards us, so we were able to warn one another of her approach. We all smiled when one enterprising cat seized the opportunity to grab the feathers as they entered her cage and quick as a flash, severed them from the hat with her teeth. By the time the woman realised what had happened the loathsome hat, minus its feathers, lay on the ground in the dust and that was the last we saw of it.

In order to relieve the tedium of my life at the house, I spent many hours plotting how to escape and waited patiently for a suitable opportunity. My chance came unexpectedly one morning when my owner, thinking I was asleep, left the back door ajar while she went to find some money to pay the milkman. I leaped from my basket, darted out between his legs, and raced headlong through the gate into the street.

Alone and free at last, I realised that I had never considered my next move and could not decide which way to run. My name was being called so I knew that my flight had already been discovered.

‘Quick, hide over here gal!’ exclaimed a friendly feline voice.

‘Where are you? I can’t see you.’

‘Over here under the laurel hedge—hurry now before they spot you.’

A scruffy female tortoiseshell with a large nick out of her left ear was crouched at the base of the hedge—almost hidden by the lower branches. I quickly tucked myself beside her out of sight of any pursuers.

‘Thank you very much, that was kind of you; I was getting a trifle apprehensive.’

‘Don’t you talk posh! You certainly are one elegant lady and I’ve never seen a coat like yours. What’s your name and why are you on the run?’

‘My name is Tia Maria and I am Siamese. Normally I am shut in all day and only go out on a lead, but I have managed to escape.’

‘I’m not surprised you wanted to be free but you are fortunate to have a home. My name’s Mitzi and I have to fend for myself, but I get by. If you fancy a meal, I know all the best eating-places around here. Follow me and we’ll go to the back of Joe’s fish and chip shop; he likes cats and he’s always a pushover if you look hungry enough. You won’t have a problem—they must keep you on a starvation diet!’ she exclaimed eyeing my sleek figure.

‘I’m not very keen on fish.’

 

 

 

‘Get you! I think I’m lucky if I find some scraps at the bottom of an old sardine tin, but if you prefer meat we can try the Paradise Café—they do steak and chips and we can have a look in their garbage!’

The thought of rummaging through someone’s rubbish bins struck me as revolting but I was anxious not to offend her and reluctantly agreed to go so as not to be left alone.

‘How long have you been on your own?’ I asked as we strolled side-by-side wending our way to the café.

‘For a few years now; the girl I lived with fell in love with a young man and they got married. Unfortunately, he became quite ill whenever I was in the room and they discovered that he was allergic to cats. For the sake of her husband she found me another home but within a week I realised that the people didn’t really like cats, so I took to the streets and was soon picked up by a good-looking tom. I thought my luck had changed but he turned out to be a bully and treated me very badly. I left him after he bit off half my ear and I soon learned how to look after myself—it’s not so bad living rough if you know the ropes.’

‘I have been shut in since I was a kitten and only know one other cat, but she is bad-tempered and resents my being in the house,’ I replied.

‘You will find the perfect mate one day, they’re not all like the ones I fall for,’ said my shabby friend.

She knew all the short cuts and led me in a complex path through gardens separated by fences. Where the trellis on top was blocked, because roses and other shrubs had gained a stranglehold, we used hollows scuffed out by other animals to squeeze ourselves underneath.

At the end of the gardens, we crossed a street and found ourselves in a gloomy alley. Piles of filthy rubbish were scattered everywhere and weeds filled the cracks in the broken paving of the dismal pathway. I was overcome with fear when I looked up and saw high concrete fences on either side covered with slimy green lichen, making them impossible to scale.

I became desperate to get out of the sinister place and increased my pace, forcing Mitzi to do the same. We soon burst out into a wide road and headed towards a smart parade of shops. A track at the side led to a rutted yard serving the rear entrances; it was dotted with potholes containing murky water and the litter-strewn area contrasted sharply with the stylish appearance of the frontages. My guide walked purposefully towards some foul-smelling bins lined against a crumbling brick wall and selected one which was overflowing with the remains of several hundred meals.

   I was both flattered and revolted when Mitzi returned carrying an almost naked bone and deposited it at my feet with the pride of a chef presenting a médaillon de boeuf. Ugh, how could she! Instinctively I began to wash myself furiously in the hope that the dreadful smell would not adhere to my fur.

‘Thank you, but I’m still not hungry—you have it—you must be starving.’

Even though I was beginning to feel a few pangs of hunger, there was no way that I could have touched it—let alone eat it—and I sat a little distance away watching disgustedly as she gnawed the few remaining scraps from the bone with obvious enjoyment; she then went back for another. It was heartbreaking for me to see someone who had known a comfortable life forced to scavenge to exist, even though she made light of her misfortune.

The day was bitterly cold and my fur was already becoming damp from intermittent drops of rain that threatened to turn to a steady downpour at any moment. As I sat in the middle of the dirty yard, I realised that I could never adapt to this primitive existence. What I had imagined would be an exciting experience had turned into an awareness of life in the raw and I started to tremble with fear.

My name was again being called and, as the sound came nearer, I realised that the time had come to surrender and return to my dull but hygienic lifestyle; so I called to my friend who was still enjoying her meal:

‘Mitzi, my owner is getting frantic; I must go to her. It has been nice meeting you but I have to leave you now.’

Mitzi, who was endeavouring to strip the last traces of meat from her latest bone, was so absorbed in her feast that she could only spare enough time to give me a brief nod of farewell. I trotted off in the direction of the voice and soon came face to face with my owner.

‘Tia, where have you been and what have you been doing?’ she said, picking me up and clipping a lead to my collar. ‘You are a naughty girl to give me so much worry; half the neighbourhood is searching for you and now I must let everyone know that you are safe.’

I was happy to see her and rested in her arms as she carried me back to the house. The warmth of her body was soon transmitted to mine and I could sense that she was relieved to have captured me relatively quickly. Thereafter escape was no longer uppermost in my thoughts and I resigned myself to my dull life—although sometimes I wondered how my tattered friend was faring and admired her ability to make the most of her harsh existence.

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