The black cat from Valle Talloria

I got to him before he could be dismembered all over the road, the poor thing. In my distress I couldn’t bring myself to touch him, but I guessed he was still warm.

I had been driving down the road on my way home when I passed something on the other side. Something dark, it could have been a jacket, lying. A jacket in the middle of the road in Valle Talloria on a Tuesday evening? Unlikely. Suspicion, doubt, dread and anger made me turn the car around. Go back and see.

Distress and responsibility. The need to communicate, or share sorrow with the owner. Where did he come from? Possibly this house with the lights on, television going, behind the lace curtains, neat dining room with an old kettle on the stove. It looked like the kind of window that belonged to a cat.

There was no bell. I thudded on the door with a gloved hand. Nothing. So I rapped on the window. My car was in the middle of the road, hazard lights on, shielding the beautiful black body from damage.

I had no idea what I would do if this house belonged to the cat. Or if it was someone else. Who was his keeper? In my mind’s eye I stole away from what I would have to do were I not to find his home.

I would have to touch him, I knew. And it frightened me that maybe he was damaged, that he would be terribly maimed in this death. And yet he lay there perfectly, beautiful black-padded paws visible, head lying as though he were catching the sun in a cat dream. Peaceful.

I hoped he was in heaven. In fact I hoped, despite the evidence in front of me, that this was not happening. I felt a great weight, leaden dread crawling into my head. And I felt great tragedy, as though this cat’s life was somehow representative of something bigger.

Me and my story. My own cat’s life (was she safe at home waiting for me?), felines big and small around the world. Representative of what us humans are capable of in this world – whether it be mowing down a person’s pet and driving on through the night with no care or sense of sadness, or sawing off a rhinoceros horn in an evil trade giving hope where there is none to give (I had just been to the World Wildlife Photographer exhibition so these things were on my mind).

I was thinking that maybe he would wake up, stretch his majestic body – he did look quite magnificent – and trot off to sit in whichever safe window spot he normally did, yellow eyes blinking, when an elderly lady opened the door. I thought this was quite brave as it was now 8:30 in the evening, dark and cold outside.

I did my best Italian pronunciation, why it was important to me that I not come across as a foreigner I know not, thought of nothing tactful to say and launched into ‘madam do you have a black cat because someone has just run over it’.

She looked to the street, immediately brought her hands to her mouth….”oh my cat….oh how sorry I am”. I try to explain how I came across him, as the lady goes into the road, into the night and picks him up. Despite his limpness, dead weight, she gathers him and I see how beautiful and perfect he is.

I start to cry. “Madam I’m so sorry. I have a cat too,” and I start to cry even harder. “Can I call someone for you?” And in her old-age, practical wisdom the lady replied “why? He is dead. How sorry I am”.

She tells me it’s not the first time he has been run over. I stop crying long enough for her to say that people drive through here at 70km when it’s supposed to be 50. One van, impatient with this scene of my car with the hazard lights and two women bringing a dead cat off the road… this gesture of grief is interrupted by the van who overtakes and roars into the night.

I start to cry again, and say to the woman it’s a crime to run over a pet and not provide assistance. But it means nothing. She half cradles and half drags the soft, black body, into her home, warm and restful, shutting the door to the night, the stars and moon now the only witnesses to what has happened. Rest in peace, feline friend, you will be remembered.

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