The Strangeness of Grief

V S Naipaul in The New Yorker:

Nadira was living in Bahawalpur, in Pakistan. One day, she saw a cat on the window ledge of her room. It was looking into the room in a disquieting way, and she told the servant to get rid of the cat. He misunderstood and killed the poor creature. Not long after this, in a laundry basket near the window, Nadira found a tiny kitten who was so young that its eyes were still closed. She understood then that the poor creature that had been so casually killed was the mother of the little kitten, who was probably the last of the litter. She thought she should adopt him. The kitten slept in her bed, with Nadira and her two children. He received every attention that Nadira could think of. She knew very little about animals, and almost nothing about cats. She must have made mistakes, but the kitten, later the cat, repaid the devotion with extraordinary love. The cat appeared to know when Nadira was going to come back to the house. It just turned up, and it was an infallible sign that in a day or two Nadira herself would return. This happy relationship lasted for seven or eight years. Nadira decided then to leave the city and go and live in the desert. She took the cat with her, not knowing that a cat cannot easily change where it lives: all the extraordinary knowledge in its head, of friends and enemies and hiding places, built up over time, has to do with a particular place. A cat in a new setting is half helpless. So it turned out here.

She came back one day to her desert village and found the people agitated. They had a terrible story. A pack of wild desert dogs had dragged away the unfortunate cat into a cane field. Nadira looked, fruitlessly, and was almost glad that she couldn’t find her cat. It would have been an awful sight: the wild dogs of the desert would have torn the cat to pieces. The cat was big, but the desert dogs were bigger, and the cat would have had no chance against a ravening pack. If it had got to know the area better, the cat might have known how to hide and protect itself. The dogs were later shot dead, but that revenge couldn’t bring back the cat whom she had known as the tiniest kitten, motherless, in the laundry basket. Grief for that particular cat, whose ways she knew so well, almost like the ways of a person, never left her.

And it was only when she came to live with me in Wiltshire—a domesticated landscape, the downs seemingly swept every day: no desert here, no wild dogs—that she thought she could risk having another cat, to undo the sorrow connected with the last. She went to the Battersea rescue home. In one cage she saw a very small black-and-white kitten, of no great beauty. Its nose was bruised and it was crying. It was being bullied by the bigger cats in the cage. It was the runt of its litter and had been found in a rubbish bin, where it had been thrown away. Everything about this kitten appealed to Nadira. And this was the kitten that, after the Battersea formalities, two friends, Nancy Sladek and Farrukh Dhondy, brought to us.

More here. (Note: This is what good writing is all about. A sublime piece!)