I had been living at site for nearly two months when I discovered Bennie.
Technically, I didn’t discover him. My friend Crissy did. She and Iris, both my site mates, visited for a weekend in January and I took them on a tour of my new home.
My house has two floors with a third half floor, which I hadn’t explored. There are three doors on that half floor. One opens to stairs to an upper terrace, one to an unused bedroom, and a third I’d never opened.
Crissy opened it.
As I fumbled to find the light switch, a dark gray cat nearly bowled us over. I slammed the door, reeling.
“There’s a freaking cat in there guys! There is a cat LIVING in that room! How did I not know that?!”
It felt like I had just discovered the magic rose in the library in the west wing. What else hadn’t I noticed in my first six weeks? (Answer: probably lots.) My host mom wasout of town when we found Bennie, so when she returned I sheepishly asked about the cat living upstairs. She thought I knew. (I blame my lacking language.)
In all his glory in the cat room.
Here, I thought Julie was the only feline game in town.
Over the weeks, I learned more about the mystery cat. His name was Bennie. He was Julie’s son.
They both used to live inside, but Julie fought with him, so she was sent outside. (Not surprising.) My host mom said she wanted to find him a new home. I supported the idea.
I realized the strange sounds in the night were Bennie scratching on the door, and meowing like he was getting ready to audition for a cat opera. (Not ideal when you’re trying to sleep.)
My friends here laughed at my cat stories and bad catitude. (I’m just never going to be a cat person.)
And then Bennie escaped. I still can’t figure out how he did it. There wasn’t a kitty sheet he could knot together to lower himself down two floors. The door to his room was always firmly closed. My best guess is that he Spider-manned down the wall or took a deep kitty breath and jumped from his window. (Eight more lives, right?)
My host mom asked me one day if I’d noticed. I hadn’t, but I wasn’t exactly making frequent social calls to the cat room.
I assumed he was happy outside. He was reunited with Julie. He had the run of the village and my upstairs hallway smelled better without him.
I also assumed he had no intention of going back inside. He gave me a few clues on that point, like sprinting in the opposite direction whenever he saw a human. (Or maybe it was just me?)
He ran up the stairs to get away from me once. (Poor choice of escape route.) I followed him up, because it’s where my door is, and he wriggled through the railing, scampered across the roof and leaped off. (This fueled my theory of his initial escape method.)
Periodically, I saw him and Julie stalking across the garden. He always bolted away. One morning, in his haste to escape, he ran smack into the metal fence. He sort of bounced off, then slid through the space and kept going.
I wished he realized I supported his new-found outdoor freedom.
Knowing his aversion to all things human, I was surprised to see him sprawled in the driveway this week on my way to school. I figured he was in a deep kitty slumber if he didn’t skitter off when he heard my approach.
I stopped for a minute, and it was clear there was something wrong. He wasn’t moving at all, but there was no apparent injury.
My host dad confirmed later that he died. Maybe he’d been hit by a car.
There was no love lost between Bennie and I, but I felt bad. It was like the kitty version of Shawshank Redemption: he dreamed of the outside, finally made it, and then couldn’t make it on the outside.
I wonder if Julie knows. Side note: Somehow she and a kitten got into my bathroom this week, possibly by climbing the tree outside the window?
Rest in peace Bennie! This one goes out to you.