By Vakare Sliumpaite and Sophia Nacua
Theodora the Cat
2 year-old female cat
Black and white fur
Blind, with an injured left hindleg
Has a red collar with her name on it
Her slightly faded silver hair is gently twisted in a messy bun, her red lips remind you of those old French movies. She is dashing through the crowded streets of the city with her scooter, disturbing the bystanders with an unexpected blow of the most vibrant world’s colors and a fragrance of divine niche perfume. Who is she? Felis Kehler, 50 years old. Lives in her small but tidy flat with 100 disabled cats. Oh, forgot to mention – she also studies anthropology at the university and loves to read some analytical history before going to bed. What is she in search of? Answers may vary – some say that she’s a crazy cat lady living alone in her 50s, avoiding all of the usual life responsibilities, thus going crazy about a single blind cat, Theodora, who went missing some time ago from her flat. Others contemplate that on the abandoned corners of the town, Felis is looking for her dignity and respect as a woman and as an individual, who grew sick and tired of the fact that her life was supposed to belong to everyone, except herself. Oh no – she is fearlessly glancing forward – will she find what was is hers?
Inhaling sharply, Felis Kehler types the last few lines:
Last seen: 221 Pigeon Road on October 15, 2023
If found, please contact 789-442.
The printer whirrs. Humming a lullaby, she puts on her Dior rouge and kisses each of her remaining 99 cats goodbye.
“Don’t worry, my loves. I will find your sister. She will be back home in no time.”
221 Pigeon Road is a pleasant street, but on that day, the peace was broken by the zip of her motorbike down the street. Hair bun unraveling with the wind, she had no time to lose. The moment she discovered that Theodora was missing, she flipped every cupboard, every corner, every crevice of her house with the discerning eye of a mother, looking into any space possible until she was certain that the poor soul was not there. By the time she had printed those missing posters, she had already knocked on the doors of the neighbors, who kindly obliged her, but convinced that her head was screwed a little loose.
Said the old lady right across her door:
“Don’t get so worked up about it, my dear. After all, you have 99 other cats to waste your time with. “
Said the mother three doors down:
“I understand you. My son ran off from the park once, and of course my desperation was incomparable to yours.”
Said her friend over the phone:
“I’ll call you if I find her, but promise me you’ll go to that blind date I’m setting you up for! Only old ladies live with a gazillion cats.”
After three rounds of fruitless searching around the neighborhood, she decided to hunt through social media as well as print out some posters. She felt her mind swirl, her vision condensing only to the image of the poor cat, lost and kicked around the sidewalks of the big city. She feared she would be run over by some car or chased by rabid dogs with gnashing teeth and soulless eyes. She feared she would go hungry, that she would be drenched in the rain with her tail cut off and bleeding. Like any worried parent, she thought the worst.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a confused voice.
“Why are you looking for a crippled cat?”
Felis turns to see a child, schoolbag in hand. His perplexed eyes are fixed on the posters she had been tacking on the lamp posts.
“Because he’s mine. I love him. I want him home,” she answers gently.
“I have a cat at home too. His name is Buttons,” replies the boy.
Felis smoothens the tape holding the poster.
“Well, if Buttons were to go missing, would you go look for him?”
“Yes,” the child said.
“Do you want to help me look for my cat Theodora?”
The boy considers it, his brows nearly meeting each other.
“No,” he concluded. “It’s no good. It’s crippled. Papa would say it is a waste of time.”
Before Felis could respond, the school bus arrives and the boy disappears.
Despite having 100 cats, Felis could tell them apart as a mother distinguishes her own children. She knew each one by name, and they followed her voice like turtle hatchlings to the sea. It all started with one cat with a limp, shivering on the stairs. Coming home from a night shift in the midst of a thunderstorm, 42-year-old Felis could not look away. After putting her things in her flat, she hurried down the wooden stairs and, with a wool blanket, scooped up the poor kitty. She named him Erik, and from that moment on Erik became the first member of the Kehler cat household.
And every cat was different. Lily had a broken tooth. Matthias had multiple patches of fur-less skin from boiling water burns. Caroline is scared of loud noises, and Bowie licks her paws from right to left. Four years later, a family photograph hangs proudly on the wall: Felis smiling with her dark hair in a messy bun, her svelte figure obscured by an endless row of fur under the roof of her spotless apartment. Now a 50-year-old university student, Felis has a hundred of them under the roof of her spotless apartment, cared for as luxuriously as Lagerfeld’s Choupette.
Surrounded by her cats, she didn’t need children, or men, or a chocolate-colored chihuahua in a handbag. Owning these cuties under her own roof and giving a piece of herself to ameliorate the hardships of their health made her simply feel good about herself, and this simplicity didn’t require any kind of rational justification. She just simply could not have it any other way. So what if a 50-year-old person lives alone and studies anthropology? What if they have a mini-version of a zoo in their house? Nothing. Through their lives, they prove that an individual can exceed the limits incarnated by Richard Stevenson, who we all admire for working from 8 to 5, retiring and, thus, laying in his deathbed with a defeated and sorrowful face expression.
But Theodora went missing and the woman was forced to get into contact with the real world. After three days of futile waiting, Felis decided to go to the police station.
It’s 3 pm in the afternoon and she is sitting in the waiting room of the local police station. Dirty light green walls, squeaky wooden floors, spiderwebs in each dusty corner, and the smell of indifference and dullness alienated Felis, who sat there with a vivid green coat, purple scarf and an iconic little blue handbag. It seems to her that this building did not only imprison drug traffickers, smugglers, or vandals. To her horror, it contained and stored the souls of the poor people who worked or appeared there – people, whose cold-blooded faces indicated that they had abandoned their freedom, wishes, and wildest dreams.
Although she was the only person sitting in the room, Felis waited for half an hour to be invited by a sheriff himself to enter his office. This tall, slim, approximately forty-seven-and-a-half-year-old man appeared to be quite unmoved by this situation. The second Felis sat down in front of his desk, he started his usual monologue, the same one apathetically recited to mothers whose teenage child went missing, or husbands whose wives didn’t come back home that evening:
“Dear Mrs. Kehler, I…”
“Miss Kehler, you mean?”
The officer glanced strangely at her but decided to continue, in his formal tone.
“I am afraid there is nothing we can do about this case. Currently, our men are working on big and serious cases, and, unfortunately, we have no time nor other resources to help you. I am incredibly sorry.”
He tried to be as affectionate as possible, but clearly for him it was impossible to show a single expression of concern for this weird lady who is passionately looking after her pathetic cat.
“Did you look at the reports of the people? Perhaps someone has found my cat and told the police?”
“Miss Kehler, I believe I made it clear that we, the police, the servants of the State and people, have bigger problems to deal with. Pets come and go, I am sure you can find another cat for your home.”
Felis didn’t respond. She didn’t like the answer — her home wasn’t home without Theodora. She understood that she was wasting her precious time in this absurd building which was supposed to provide help and support for any kind of human miseries. Instead, it symbolized the facade of primitive human nature, marked by self-absorption and lack of empathy.
So she stood and went to the door. But just before closing them, she heard a teasing whispering of the officer:
“Look at the women these days! They do not only live a careless life but also try to burden us with their petty made-up problems! Why can’t they be normal?
She stood next to the door for a good second, looking directly at the wall in front of her with soulless eyes. She inhaled and returned. Now it was her time to give a monologue.
“You see, dear police officer, there is a simple error in your words. I just can’t be normal. Or, I just don’t want to be normal. I find no joy in being married to a man I have no interest in just to be married to; I have no joy in having children just so I could say that my life finally has a meaning. Do you know what kind of life I am actually fond of? The one I am currently living – alone, in a small flat, next to my dearest kittens. I go to university while being 50 years old, I read the books I want, I take care of myself and other people around me. I am the only owner of my life and I have all of the capabilities to create it the way I want it to be. (she stops for a second, thinks) Why do people want so badly to tell others what to do, how to look, and how to act? As if we were some sort of puppets and we were living in the theater. Of course, my lifestyle and thinking might seem strange or even unacceptable to you, after all, I am a woman and I have so many duties to fulfill as middle-aged men like you are busy burdening me with them. But, my dear, millions of women who fought and are still fighting for our final liberation today stand behind my back allowing me to have the confidence and to be unaffected by your inappropriate stares and useless gossiping. I have been working all my life to live the way I want to live and to care for what I want to care for! Even if it would be 100 cats. Even if it would be a one crippled blind sloppy cat!
She sighs. She looks at the officer and from his facial expression notices that he doesn’t have anything useful to say to her. She turns to the door and before leaving calmly mentions:
“It’s Miss Kehler, not Mrs. Kehler”.
Outside, a cat meows for the first time.