My cat Keeno is dying.
She’s been unwell for a few weeks now, and she’s getting thinner. But today I found her lying on her side on the carpet, unmoving. Her breaths were shallow, and when I stroked her back, her meows were half-hearted. She didn’t even open her eyes. I cleaned her nose; it was caked with mucus and blood. She breathed fairly easily after that. And I cradled her, stroking her chin, her shoulder blades, her tummy. She didn’t put up a fight. She felt so light. So light. And I knew she was dying. And then I cried. I didn’t care that my tears fell on her mottled fur. I didn’t care that the mosque in front of my house had shifted from Quranic recitals to the call for Maghrib prayer.
When I finally put her down, she staggered to the tiled floor where it was cooler, and lay down. I went upstairs and told Kasha, “Keeno is dying.” I eventually told the rest of my family via our WhatsApp group.
Keeno came into our lives eighteen (human) years ago. My dad brought this ball of white fur with black spots on her eyes, ears and stunted tail. She was smaller than his palm, and she was bloated. He said he saw her all alone at Syed Bistro, and he tried to feed her some of his food, but this not-so-newborn kitten couldn’t even chew the food. So instead of leaving her to fate, he brought her home. Kasha immediately took it upon herself to feed the tiny bloated ball. She couldn’t digest regular milk, so we bought a special kitten formula. We didn’t think she would last the week. We didn’t even want to give her a name in case the worst happened. We had lost a cat just before the kitten came, so Faiz was wary and kept his distance. He didn’t want to risk giving his heart to another cat who’d just go away.
And yet she persisted. She was able to digest the kitten formula, and she finally pooped. And she thrived. And since Kasha had been taking care of her from the day she came home, Kasha named her. Keeno. Don’t ask me what it means. Keeno was her name-o.
And my God. The intellect on her. Keeno has never needed a litter box, or to be potty-trained. She uses the sink as her toilet bowl. We used to have to cover the kitchen sink because she’d take every opportunity to try out ALL sinks in the house. Once, she tried using the actual toilet bowl, and ended up submerging her bottom half. She always knows when we’re distressed or in pain; she comes and nibbles our toes, meowing non-stop. She’s patient with children. She hates it when people touch her stumpy tail and her tummy, but she tolerates it when small children do that. She doesn’t bite and scratch them.
Keeno doesn’t scratch. She has a mean bite, and a short temper, but she’d always play hide-and-seek, and bite-the-offending-cobra-hand even at the ripe human age of 17. But she doesn’t scratch. Her adopted sister Chika did. Speaking of Chika, Keeno disapproved of her adopted sister. Always kept her distance. Always kept aloof. But whenever Chika yowled over the indignity of getting bathed or getting fed medicines, Keeno would always run to check if she was okay. Which made bathing Chika first a whole lot of sense.
When we first had Keeno, we held on to this absurd belief that if you capture a photo of your cat, said cat will die soon after. I know. Absurd. But hey. One day I hesitantly (and secretly) took a photo of Keeno sleeping. She was so. Effing. Cute. And she didn’t die. So I revealed to Kasha and Faiz the photo I took. And got a scolding. But we started taking photos of our cats. And they didn’t immediately die after those photo sessions. Indignant and annoyed, yes. But they survived.
While Chika was the elusive Snuffleupagus (people thought we made her up, until they saw photos of her), Keeno doesn't hesitate to be friendly. Postmen, delivery boys, neighbors and friends who stop by for a chat, even angry mobs seeking their money back, Keeno would weave between their legs, and would lie down belly-up, and we'd go, "KEENO!" And then she'd saunter toward us and lie belly-up, expecting to be attended to.
Before my eczema became an issue, Keeno would always scratch at my door at night so that I would let her in. She'd jump on my bed and snuggle with me under the blanket. She’s a chronic sneezer, even from the day she came home to us, but she loved the air-conditioning. I’d check under the blanket if she was comfortable, and she would sneeze at my face, and then she would reach over and lick the snot away. Sometimes she’d let out this nasty fart that got trapped under the blanket, and she’d look at me all innocently when I gagged. When I ripped out a nasty fart of my own in retaliation, she’d jump out, snuggle between my legs OVER the blanket, and later on when it got too cold for her, she’d nose her way back under the blanket.
When the kids came, Keeno was no longer allowed upstairs because she sheds her fur like a tree sheds its leaves in late autumn. And she adhered to the new rule. Grudgingly, but she knew the last step on the staircase was her limit. It doesn’t matter now, because she can no longer jump up a chair, much less to the sink to do her business. But still she looks for the floor grate in the toilet, because she’s cultured that way.
Keeno is family. I love her with all my heart. And that very same heart is breaking because I know she’s going soon. But instead of being there for her, I’m at Starbucks writing this. Because I don’t know if I can take it. Because even though Kasha took care of her first, Keeno has always been there for me, unconditionally. Even when friend after friend abandoned me, Keeno would always be waiting at the door whenever I came home. Real soon I won’t have even that small kindness.
Shit, I think I’m gonna cry here at Starbucks, in front of strangers. But it's important that I do this, that I remember Keeno as she has always been all these years, because soon these memories will be all I have left.