This blog post will be as long as a cat’s tail…
(and it has taken its sweet time getting to you, just like a cat)
We’ve been in Granada for a couple of months, and Jewels the cat is eager to get out and about.
Really, it’s not fair that we get to explore and she doesn’t. We’re careful to keep the doors shut, but one day after sundown, we notice she’s gone. When I hurry out onto the terrace, I think I hear the faint tinkle of her bell. Am I only imagining it? Scanning the roofs around me, I catch sight of a cat on a neighboring terrace, peering down a dark stairwell. Her silhouette is just like Jewels’ and she looks eager to explore. In just a moment, she’ll disappear down the steps into someone else’s home. Whose home, I have no idea.
In the photos here, you can see, on the one hand, the landscape of terraces behind our house, and on the other, our front door, set in a long white-washed wall. It is impossible to see both at once, and as you walk along the narrow streets, you have no idea what lies behind each door. It might be the entry to a living room. It might be the courtyard of a carmen, a home with fountains and fruit trees. Carmen comes from the Arab word carm meaning grape arbor or garden, one that is both ornamental and useful. Water is often at its center, because of its symbolic resonance for a culture with its roots in the desert….
But more on carmens later. To return to Jewels, I left her poised on the threshold to a dark stairwell. Needless to say, I did not wait for her to make up her mind. I began straddling walls, stepping delicately over clay shingles till I finally felt her soft belly in the palm of my hand.
Which reminds me of another moment in the life of Jewels, the escape artist. Her adventures began before we even landed. Just thinking about it, I find myself transported–back to the plane that took us across the Atlantic from Washington to Madrid. Some moments are forever. Moments of communion and friendship. Moments of revelation…
“Mamma, Jewel’s is gone!!” Dahlia stares at me in shock. We’re side by side on our flight to Madrid. I lean over her legs, rummaging around in the carrier stowed beneath the seat in front of her, but there’s no doubt it’s empty, as light as air. Part of me wants to applaud, like I’ve just witnessed a feat of magic. It seems so much more likely–that I’m in some theater watching a show, rather than seated in a Boeing 757 with a cat on the loose. It’s what I would prefer.
Moments later, I’m moving down the aisle, hunched over, scanning the floor, right, left… A man three rows in front lets me know he sighted a cat moving forward. Thirty rows later, two Spanish kids, a tall, slender girl and her much younger brother, step into the aisle and tell me in hushed but excited tones (almost everyone is asleep in the darkened cabin) that a cat slunk between their legs and continued onward.
Together we prowl the plane, up and down the length of the craft, our cell phone flashlights illuminating Jewel’s new territory. I keep my beam low, but I feel like a voyeur moving among passengers who lie sound asleep, unaware of the searchlight raking their ankles and feet, their purses and backpacks. A mother, who has finally got her baby to sleep, shields its face with her hands.
I’ve been postponing telling the stewards but can’t delay any longer. “It happens all the time,” says the most matronly one. “Please, don’t apologize.” “Those wily cats,” says another. “What does she look like? How big is she?” I describe her—a tabby, with tan and black stripes, on the small side—I indicate with my hands. Now, there’s a posse of us moving about the cabin.
But no Jewels.
It’s suggested that we return to our seats. Once the cabin lights are switched on and the passengers wake, we’ll continue our search. All the stewards except for one are calm and reassuring. “God forbid someone is allergic!” she says. Later, she lets me know that the pilot has contacted the station master in Madrid and when we land, he will come aboard to search the plane. She says that a cat could get through the vents along the floor and get stuck in the walls of the plane. When I shine my light on them, I see holes the size of rice grains–it doesn’t make sense, but I spend the rest of the flight rigid in my seat, imagining various scenarios. Suppose Jewels, desperate to find a passage to our house back in Seattle, pries a vent loose? What will the station-master do? Ground the plane? Dismantle it? Or will the company insist on continuing with all flights? The cat languishes… Eventually, the plane flies about with Jewels’ skeleton rattling inside its walls….
Luckily, Dahlia did not hear the stewardess’s fears and falls asleep, stretched across my lap. I try to keep her comfortable; I draw the blanket over her, adjust the air coming from overhead, and wait. Eventually, it’s time for breakfast. It’s about three in the morning east coast time and we’re in the middle of nowhere, but suddenly, all the cabin lights pop on, and stewards are bustling down the aisle with their carts. An announcement is made about our arrival time, and then it is noted that a passenger has been lost. “It is a cat. Please everyone, could you take a moment to look around your feet and baggage?”
Finally, now she will be found. Someone will call out, “Here!” or the little red light above their seat will pop on. I scan the plane eagerly.
Nada. How is it possible? This disappearing act is too good.
I have an idea. As elegantly as I can, I step up onto the armrest of my seat, rise to the tips of my toes and stretch. I don’t want to worry the other passengers, so I balance gracefully, hoping they’ll see I have the poise and control of a ballerina and won’t come flopping down on them like a flightless bird. I hover for the time it takes to scan the small space above the overhead bins—front to back, the length of the plane–no longer than the time it takes to do a pirouette, and I’m down in my seat again, harmless passenger that I am, enjoying my beverage.
More announcements. Now, we’re close to landing. We’re told about the temperature in Madrid and given varous instructions. Please be careful as baggage may have shifted in the compartments, please scan the area and make sure not to leave any of your belongings, and then: “Please check your bags and make sure a cat hasn’t crawled into them.” This possibility had occurred to me too, so I’m grateful for the announcement. Unfortunately, it is not repeated in Spanish. Most of the passengers are Spaniards, so I start imagining Jewels being lugged off in some oversized handbag. At what point do the unsuspecting travelers discover her? Will she make her presence known, struggling to escape? Or will she just relax and then step out elegantly onto the kitchen floor of some downtown Madrid high-rise?
It comes to me that I should just call to her to come. What could have prevented me before? She’s remarkably responsive for a cat, almost like a dog. I guess it just didn’t seem right to roam through a shadowy cabin packed with comatose, slack-jawed passengers, calling out “Jew-els… Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Jewwww-els….”
I formulate my plan. As soon as the fasten seat-belt sign turns off, causing all the passengers to jump to their feet and start rummaging through the overhead bins, I will race (calmly) towards the front of the plane and start calling to her to come out from whatever den she has found for herself in the wilds of this cabin.
Until now, I have not entered first class. Now I part the curtains and cross over. I begin to call softly, and immediately, a young man tells me he heard miauwing from the corner. He points to a spot behind the last of the first-class seats. Sure enough, as soon as I crouch and call softly, our little cat emerges and takes her mincing steps towards me. “Miauw,” she says.
Everyone applauds when the announcement is made.
Now, the aisles are crowded with passengers eager to disembark. I can’t get back to Dahlia so I stand with one of the stewardesses in the galley across from the plane door. The young Spanish boy cradles Jewels in his arms. Passengers file past, smiling at the stowaway in his arms. Several stop to take photos.
What I find most interesting is that so many people sighted her or heard her and yet said nothing. They seem to live in a magical world, where a cat meandering through a flight cabin is perfectly natural. Or perhaps there are reasons for keeping mum that I have yet to learn about. Either way, our adventures have begun. Jewels made sure of that. Sweet, innocent Jewels. She’s a live bit of baggage.
Once we get spit out of the airport in Madrid, suitcases and animals in tow, we pile into a rental car, find a spot on the floor for the litter box and water dish, then drive four hours south to Andalucia. Since I didn’t sleep a wink, I’m happy to discover that every gas station along the way stashes cans of espresso in its fridge. Caffeine fuels me as I navigate the Spanish freeways, passing through an arid land with a stark beauty and a monumental, two-dimensional steel bull every 60 km or so.
Now here we are, enconsced in a labyrinth of narrow streets and jumbled houses in the old Moorish quarter of Granada. If you don’t hear from us in a while, send someone out onto the rooftops. Jewels will be out there, and we won’t be far behind…