Despite forecasting from the weather service that it would “feel like” 120°F in Dubai earlier this week, we were assured the actual temperature was only 109°F. Today, we are actually at 112°F. It’s “indoor-to-indoor” living around here, as my brother-in-law put it, and it’s a ghost town outside at midday.
Pepper, the aptly-named marble-grey cat, is napping under the couch on the ground floor, where the Herculean air conditioning apparatus maintains a refreshing 80°F, keeping us sane and keeping the couch from disintegrating in the heat. Pepper is not our cat. Well, he wasn’t our cat; now he’s our regular daytime shade-seeking orphan guest. He arrived to the neighboring house from Abu Dhabi with two other cats and a rowdy Dutch family. Like many others, they were relative short-termers in Dubai, and returned last week to Amsterdam. In the almost two years since we’ve lived in the UAE (in the center of a row of five townhouses), the neighborly turnover has been high. The Brazilian family (with two refrigerators, a nanny, and a yappy dog) at the end of the row was replaced by a low-profile Russian couple and their son; the Italian family (with two broody teenage boys and a similar penchant for feeding semi-stray cats) in the next unit was replaced by the aforementioned Dutch; after the Swiss-Romanian family fled abruptly overnight, a very friendly mid-aged British couple moved in, did a tremendous amount of golfing in coordinated outfits, and was later replaced by a near-silent Greek family whose matriarch sweeps the relentless dust off the front porch with impressive regularity; a British gentleman and his delightful, wild, mostly barefoot sons occupy the lavish corner unit replete with nanny, gardener, and every toy imaginable, and are the only group to predate us.
Anyway, the Dutch family’s cats, plus three furry offspring, more or less overtook our front porch, spending their days lazing about the cushions or batting at the bougainvillea between exploratory sessions in the park that fronts our house. They took the whole feline brood with them when they departed, but for an undisclosed reason they couldn’t (wouldn’t?) bring Pepper. So now he’s downstairs in a new tie-dye collar turning his nose up at his bowl of cat food, awaiting scraps of chicken or fish from the fridge (he jumps right in when we open the door, which is as much a testament to the ambient temperature as it is to his intelligence).
The funny thing is, current heat wave notwithstanding, Pepper usually spends the days (and nights) out in the world. He pops in for breakfast, cools himself on the floor for a while, and then meows at the front door until someone opens it. I can’t imagine how he bears the heat, and I wonder where he goes – a cool corner of the parking garage? The shaded yard of one of the giant villas in the gated community next door? Maybe Pepper has charmed a sous-chef or dish washer at one of the nearby restaurants and waits for meaty scraps during cigarette breaks outside the backdoor.
I’ve started imagining that Pepper has many lives and many homes, and people who greet him with joy when he stalks across their thresholds. I imagine that we are a silent community of caretakers, filling bowls with cat food and fresh water with an ice cube for good measure, washing the spices from dinner scraps and saving them for him, stuffing rags into canvas bags to make a little bed in a cool corner, cracking open the front door to cluck our tongues into the bracing heat in case he’s nearby and hungry or hot. It’s satisfying to feel a part of this group with shared values (happy cats) and practices (feeding cats) and worries (absent cats). Sometimes the imagination is more fulfilling than reality. Sometimes I miss my dog, whose loyalties are less fickle, although I suppose equally food-oriented.
There is a lot of wrong, these days, a lot of hurt and despair and anger in the world, or maybe just as much as there always was but now it bounces around the billions of screens that confront us every day, shining in our faces and leeching our brain cells. And that’s just the out-there wrong, on top of the in-here wrongs that everyone deals with–the internal struggles, the friends-and-family worries, the broken bank accounts, and all the rest. All that wrong feels like a whole lot of need to be attended to, repaired, bandaged, sewn up, chucked in a timeout or fed a healthy meal or negotiated at shiny tables with a lot of chairs and nameplates or whatever it takes. It’s too much, it’s overwhelming. Taking care of Pepper is an easy slice of control. That is to say, it’s as much for me as for him.
So, in addition to making donations to fund causes I believe in, and seeking out work contracts that (I hope) make a difference to the people and ecosystems they’re meant to support, and sending poignant and thoughtful articles to loved ones, and refraining from sending poignant and thoughtful articles to loved ones on the hardest days… I buy an extra can of tuna fish for Pepper. I wrap chicken scraps in a paper towel for the next morning, when he comes ambling expectantly up the porch steps. I bought him a ridiculous collar. I look out for him. Let’s look out, in the smallest ways.
**For the record I’m not, formally, a cat person.