Mikri or: How My Mother Learned to Like Cats

This post was originally published on my City Sampler blog.

Mikri or: How My Mother Learned to Like Cats

My mother never really liked cats. She would never have said that she hated them, but – being a dog person – she would turn her nose up at even the idea or mention of a feline. It was, sadly, a bone of contention between her and her friend, London flatmate, and often travel companion Sally whose love of cats extended to the intake of strays.

My mother spent most of her time abroad in London and Tolon – a tiny town on the coast of Greece – where, until she was sufficiently able to speak the language, she worked as a cleaner. After many of her own travels, Sally landed in Greece and, as mum was able to get her a job and offer her a spare room to stay in, she decided to stay for a while.

One day, my mother came home from work to find Sally looking – in her own words – ‘suspicious as fuck.’

“What did you do?” my mother demanded to know.

“It followed me home” was Sally’s rather ambiguous reply.

The ‘it’, as it transpired, was a tiny white kitten – near dead – that Sally had found meowing in a wet sack by the water, the other members of its litter – not as strong as the little fighter – lying dead around it.

My mother pointed out that the suggestion the tiny thing – only a few days old and near-drowned – had the strength to ‘follow’ Sally home was probably not quite truthful but, being a cat-disliker rather than an animal torturer, she allowed Sally to keep it and nurse it. She was pretty sure that without its mother and given its ordeal it would be dead by the end of the week. Clearly, she underestimated both the cat and Sally.

Although Mikri – as his naming foretold – was forever small, he became the fastest, and cheekiest, cat in town. Being the only cat within his known world to have a home to return to, his favourite activity was to head out of a morning, wind all the vicious disease-ridden strays up to peak bloodlust and then dash home – with them in fast pursuit – only to pop through the tiny make-shift cat flap in the window of the front door and leave them howling blue murder outside.

He and my mother had an uneasy relationship. Cats seem to have a knack for knowing who in a room wants them to keep their distance, and using that to decide exactly whom they want to sit right next to. He would spend his evenings fighting with mum to sit on her lap and though she invariably relented, she remained resentful.

One day, when only my mother was at home, Mikri came running through the streets with a group of strays in hot pursuit. Mum could hear them from about three blocks away. They got closer, the yowling cries became louder, and she heard Mikri make his jump to his aperture. But then there was a weird sound, followed by a new kind of scream. Mum realised that, in his latest growth spurt, Mikri had become too big for his hole. He had rebounded off the door and was now stuck out there with the big bad tabbies. And that scream was him taking his first hit.

Without really thinking about what she was doing, mum grabbed a broom and ran out to Mikri’s rescue. This is not as simple as it sounds. Tolon’s stray cats – at least those around in the 1970s – aren’t all that fussed by humans. Most humans give them a wide berth; most humans are kind of scared of them. So the tomcats stood their ground and hissed as mum brandished the broomstick at them. It must have been quite the sight – apparently a few neighbours stopped to watch. When the cats became emboldened enough to take a swipe at mum, she got fed up and gave each of them enough of a whack with the broom to show she meant business. Non-plussed by the turn of events, the toms decided to cut their losses and head off. Mikri and mum were left on the stoop observing each other. From then on, Mikri did not stir up the neighbourhood watch, and mum sometimes let him lie on her lap in the evenings. An uneasy truce had been met.

After a few years, mum and Sally found the time had come for them to leave Greece; mum for Australia, Sally for a few more years in Britain. They were worried about leaving Mikri – a domesticated cat in a city without pets or pet owners. Before they left, a friend came to visit with his mother. She was older, a widower whose children had all left home. Whilst they were all standing in the kitchen, Mikri – who had spent the day outside – climbed up to the window and banged on it, then walked around to the front door to be let in. The friend’s mother was astounded that a cat could be so clever. She was charmed. Mikri had a new home.

A few years later, my mother and Sally returned to Tolon. Curious, they asked after the cat. The old woman dissolved into sobs. They were strongly advised to ask no more questions.

Mikri had lived a charmed life, but even cats only get nine.

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