This is Tango, my whiskered companion. He turned 5 this August, and I found him when he was a day or two old.
A bit more than 5 years ago, I was at my then-boyfriend’s (OK, I’m being honest here. Usually I tell people it’s just a friend) place one Friday afternoon when we heard a kitty cry. The cry came from the roof, or rather the space between the roof and the ceiling outside of his studio which was an apartment divided into 5 studios. We thought it was briefly separated from its mother and decided not to do anything about it, so that the mother wouldn’t come back, smell human on the kitty, and abandon it. By that night my source of information confirmed the kitty had not been taken away. I was supposed to work all day the next day (tutoring English back at the time) so I didn’t think there was anything I could do, but magically everybody canceled for one reason or another. I called to ask if he could still hear the kitty cry. “Yeah, I heard it again earlier.”
I went there, found a ladder lying around (or borrowed it from his landlord who ran an eatery around the block. Can’t remember exactly), poked my head through the foam board ceiling tile, and saw nothing. In the meantime the kitty was still crying on and off. I bought a can and put some water there with it, hoping the kitty would be lured out by the smell, thinking it was maybe a month or so old and could at least walk around and eat. It was HOT, and I got pretty dirty, but still the kitty was playing hide and seek a couple of hours later.
In early afternoon, I decided to go to the landlord for help. He was not happy about feral cats climbing through the transom to have their babies there, but just for his own peace and quiet he agreed to help. He climbed up the ladder from outside the studio with a pair of barbecue tongs and a huge flashlight. After poking around for a minute or so, he retrieved something tiny with the tongs, put it on top of the flashlight, and passed it down to me.
It was a kitty all right, one that was screaming at the top of his lungs. Whether because he was annoyed to be woken from his snooze or happy that he was no longer alone, I really couldn’t say. But seriously, it looked like a mouse. Its eyes were closed, ears flopped down, and the umbilical cord still attached — that’s right, it was probably born the day before when we heard him meow, and the only thing that kept it alive for a day without its mother was the heat on the roof.
I took it in my palms to a vet nearby. The vet told me how to feed it (all the while being a bit skeptical about us making it), gave me a syringe box layered with some kitchen towels, and sent me to a pet shop for formula milk and bottle. I had ALWAYS wanted a cat, but my mother had never let me, so the first thing I said when I opened the door was:”look, I have a kitty here that needs to be bottle-fed, and if I don’t it will die. I’m going to bring him up and then give it away, but you have to let me do this!” A bit reluctantly maybe my mother didn’t put up too much of a fight. I thought it was the most beautiful little thing in the world, though looking back I can understand why my mother didn’t even want to lay her eyes on it at all during the first days — it had almost no hair, and without a mother who instinctively knew what to do, it wasn’t looking its best.
After that, it was a gruesome month of sleep deprivation. I found an online forum with people who are experienced in bringing up motherless kitties, and they made it look so easy because they knew what to do. Kitties need regular feeding, like every 3-4 hours. Some of them told me to fill him to the brim during daytime, so that I could get my 8 hours at night. No, oh no, Mister Superstar (by then he had been identified to be a male, though I had an icking suspicion just because he was really demanding lol) refused to eat every two hours when I was awake, and since that plan didn’t work out I had to wake up twice every night to give him milk. My vet told me to make more formula milk in one go so that I only had to reheat it throughout the day, just to save some time. But again, no, I tried this couple of times but he just wouldn’t eat when the milk was reheated. To be fair it might have been because the temperature wasn’t what he was used to, but still. I also had to make him pee after every meal and poo every day. When the pooing didn’t happen for more than one day my whole world started to crumble, because I thought I would lose him (this is apparently fairly normal for kitties on formula milk, but I just am the panicky type). I couldn’t sleep, and as a result couldn’t eat. I was waking with a start every 15 minutes, reaching out to his little cage next to my bed, just to make sure he was still breathing. I lost 4 kilos at the end of that month, and despite the fact that I’ve always had a bit of extra weight, some people started commenting on my “protruding cheekbones.” Believe me, it’s not a compliment where I come from.
But we made it. The vet told me mamma cats can’t count. They would produce 4 kitties and think they only have 3, and as a result leaving one behind when they moved. Or they would produce 4 and think they have 5, and searching forever for the non-existent 5th. That or they knew a certain kitty was born with a defect. Instead of wasting resources, they would only take the healthy ones with them. There was some construction work going on across the street at that time, and the workers told the landlord that a mamma cat came back meowing miserably for quite a while the following Monday. We assumed she remembered the one left behind and came back for it. Too late, lady. If he was still there he would have been dead.
In the beginning I didn’t want to give it a name, just to avoid too much attachment (remember my promise to my mum?). But while I was waiting to cross the street to go home and feed him one night, the word Tango popped into my head. I went home, said it to him, and he meowed. Probably because he was hungry, but I liked the way it sounds and pretended he meowed because he liked the name. So that was that. When he was about a month old I was using the computer one night with him on my lap. My mum walked past my room and asked:”how are you ever going to give him away if you are so attached?” I started to cry, and to my amazement she said:”fine, keep him, but you are responsible for all the problems.” Actually she turned out to be his diehard fan, even though she was pretending otherwise.
Tango was 2 when I came to Europe. Since I thought I was only going to be here for a year, I left him behind for my mother and brothers to look after. When I started having plans to stay for much longer, I decided to take him. It’s another long story for another post, but fast forward to 2 years after he arrived at Charles de Gaule, he is now happily napping on my lap as I write this post, enjoying the blanket and autumn sunshine. For at least another 10 years to come, Tango. For at least another 10 years to come.