There are a lot of ‘13’s in today’s date, I realise now, as I write it. I am not a believer in superstition so this coincidence convinces me more than ever that she will come back – won’t she?
The little piece of white paper tacked onto one of our windows announces more forlornly than any other words can, what today has heralded. We have lost Behemoth. The sign reads: ‘Missing cat! If you have seen a grey tabby cat with a yellow collar please call this number’. I have drawn a little picture of a cat’s face to attract the attention of passers-by, but I’m not sure if anyone has noticed it yet. The people I really need to alert are the boaters – if they all know, the chances of getting her back are increased ten-fold.
The trouble started last night.
We had recently moved the boat from Hackney Wick to the beginning of the tow-path stretch that leads towards Stoke Newington. It is an ideal location for a cat, and not at all a bad one for human beings either. The lovely larch and ash trees sprinkle yellow and orange leaves onto our boat roof each morning. The marshes themselves – a huge, unpopulated stretch of common land on the border between Hackney and Leyton was given to the people of this area, I believe, historically, in compensation for the construction of the M25. Now the marshes along with the Lea River which meanders beside it, has become a fundamental source of life and nourishment for the area. Scores of crows and birds of all descriptions circle above Wick wood. Gaggles of Canadian Geese and wild swans swim up and down the river. It is a haven for foxes, birds, rabbits, squirrels and woodland beasts of all descriptions.
Though it is only ten minutes boating down from Hackney Wick it feels as natural and rural and Hackney Wick felt affirmatively urban. In any case, as a new club had opened across the water from Hawisia in Hackney Wick, the peace of Hackney Marshes was a welcome change.
We knew that moving would disorientate the cat, but it is part of the itinerant boater’s lifestyle and we knew she would have to get used to it. The first two days by Hackney Marsh Behemoth was very tentative about going outside. She would pad forward slightly and sniff about – balancing on the gunnels of the boat.
One evening as we were sitting by the fire she found that one of the windows had been left slightly open, and jumped through it. We saw the end of her foxey tail disappear beyond the glass but were powerless to stop her. It was nine o’ clock.
Midnight struck and we were falling asleep beside the fire. She still hadn’t returned but it was time for us to go to bed. We were both prepared to hop out of bed as soon as we heard the imploring purr she sounds when she wants to be let back inside the boat.
My night’s sleep was fitful. I kept on waking up, imagining that I could hear the distant tinkle of her bell. Several times I got out of bed and opened the latch. My upper torso was exposed to the freezing air. I saw the river in all the states of its amorphous glory that evening – at night, frosted and silvered by the clear sky above, at dawn, covered with a thin layer of mist. Each time I stuck my body out of the hatch I cooed and called out “Behemoth, Behemoth”, but she did not come.
In the morning Gideon and I got on with some boat tasks: flooing the chimney, clearing the solar panels, doing the washing up. But fear and anxiety made it hard to talk or focus on anything else. I had already cycled up and down the tow-path several times, all the way to Hackney Wick. I called out her name but she never came, I spoke to other boaters about her, and even a friendly park ranger. She had not been seen by anyone.
I had a new torment that morning – joggers. What is the one thing that joggers carry with them in the autumn? House keys. Every time I heard a distant tinkling and expected Behemoth to come bounding up to the boat, I looked outside only to see another ear-muffed jogger puffing past. No cat at all.
Morning matured into afternoon. Gideon and I decided to do some work in Stoke Newington library. We came back. It was getting dark and there was still no sight of the cat. Gideon went out for one more cycle-search before night. He returned empty handed. At that point we decided that we needed to eat, so out Gideon went again to buy some food from the shops in Clapton. I had made a missing cat sign that morning, but no-one had called. It was almost twenty-four hours since Behemoth had disappeared.
Then, suddenly, while I was ruminating bleakly on her absence –
She’s back!! My god she’s back!!! I am the happiest soul in the world!!! I heard a distant tinkle, then a miaow, then I snatched her into my arms. She absolutely gobbled down her dinner, and I smothered her with kisses and hugs, I’m sure to the point of irritation. I couldn’t take my hands or eyes off the dear thing. When I heard Gideon putting his bike on top of the boat, I stood with the cat in my arms so that when he opened the hatch, her dreamy green eyes were the first things that he would see.