Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Cat Story

In 1971 I was living in Lama Yeshe’s center in Kopan. Zina, the one who had started the center, had two young cats, Njima (Sun) and Dawa (Moon) who were brother and sister. At night she kept them in a cage. I thought that was cruel, for cats like to roam at night. When I mentioned it to her, she said that I could take care of them, and so they moved in with me.
Njima, the black boy-cat, followed me around, always running across my path right in front of me. He tried to make out with his sister, but she did not allow him; she had a boyfriend, a big red tomcat that was only glimpsed now and then around the house. One night I was sitting very stoned in my room with Frances, an English girl, and the two cats began their erotic play in front of us, or rather: Njima approached Dawa who was in my lap and tried to subdue her by biting her neck but when he almost had got hold of her she wrenched herself lose and clawed at him, and he jumped aside and sat, quiet and dignified, as if he had never even thought of doing anything. It was a spectacle, and it went on for a long time.
The red tomcat got Dawa pregnant. One night when I was asleep she came and laid on top of me. I tried to shake her off but she was persistent and suddenly I heard a bleat. I lit a candle and saw that she was giving birth on top of me. I arranged a pillow for her in the corner next to my own pillow where she could feel safe without bothering me. The first couple of weeks this was her nest and whenever I laid in my bed I became a member of the little family. It was totally clean; as long as the kittens drank mother’s milk she would take care of all their excretions.
Njima disappeared and for a month his fate was a mystery, but then something dropped from the roof in the room of the Buddhist monk, Zengo, and hit him in the face. A worm! A search in the attic turned up the source of the worm: Njima's corpse.
Dawa had three kittens and when they grew up and began to shit in my room I closed the cat door and denied them admission. One night there was a commotion in the attic where Njima had found his death. This was not the building that I lived in, but we all heard it. Later that night Dawa came by and begged to be let in, but I would not let her because of the kittens. Finally she gave up and left and she didn’t show herself for a couple of days. When the attic was investigated next day two of the three kittens were found dead. We realized that a bobcat hung out in the attic and had killed them and had also killed Njima. When I understood what had happened, I felt so bad that I had denied Dawa refuge in my room.
She was now alone with one kitten and this one was promised to Kelsang, the cook, who was a boy of thirteen. When he claimed it and the kitten was old enough I had to give it to him. After the kitten was gone Dawa was looking around for him, and then it happened that someone brought a kitten of similar size and looks a few days later. This kitten was in my room when Dawa came in and she obviously thought that she had found her lost son. She went up to him and they sniffed noses and she realized her mistake. She hissed and left, and since that day she would not be in the same room with the kitten; if he came in she would get up and leave. I felt terribly guilty, but before long both Dawa and the kitten disappeared and the bobcat had his territory to himself.
No more cats at Kopan.

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