Pleased to meet you. I’m Bainbridge. Yes, I know it’s a stupid name for a cat, but I didn’t actually choose it. It was bestowed upon me in a weird naming ceremony by my family, who muttered something about its significance, and it even brought a tear to the eye of the mother. At the time, Bainbridge had rather a grand ring to it and I remember smiling to myself about how I’d landed on my padded paws. Now, I see my name for what it truly is. It’s nothing more than a collection of vowels and consonants. It has a hoity-toity air to it, that’s true, but it has no real significance any more. Not now. But, back then, my owners seemed to think that it suited my social standing and I was ever proud to have it on my silver tag.
All that’s changed and I can’t help but sigh. Now, here I am, sat amongst the Tiggers and Mr Fluffykins of the world, in the animal cemetery, and I’m sure they’re judging me. Most of the time, the other cats just ignore me or walk past, arching their backs with their fur pricked up, and they hiss and spit in my direction. The dogs snarl and bare their teeth, warning me to stay back. I do. I just bow my head and look to the ground and pretend that I am invisible. I wish I was. It’s stupid of me to say such a thing, and I shouldn’t let them get to me, but they do. I feel so isolated and alone in this God-forsaken, wretched place, but there is a glimmer of hope that keeps me going. There is somebody special. Oh, she is so very special.
On a night, it’s really quiet here. Sometimes I like the silence because it gives me a chance to dream, like I did in abundance before, but that all changes at dawn, when the birds wake me up by rustling in the leaves, taking their dust baths. I get the impression that they’re mocking me. I can hear the chatter of their beaks as they swoop down, pecking at the soil, squawking in that shrill manner of theirs, and knowing fine well that they’re out of my reach. “It’s payback, Bainbridge,” they call out in their droves.
This lonely place is not at all like home. I belong to a girl called Betsy… Damn it! I have to stop saying that. You see, she’s probably in her seventies now, so hardly what you would call a girl any more – and that’s if she’s still alive. Oh, I do hope that she is, and that she’s surrounded by a loving family who adore her, just as much as I did. We were best friends, Betsy and I, all those years ago. We did everything together and she would tell me all of her secrets. I would like to think that I was a good listener. I certainly tried for her sake.
Betsy had a face full of freckles and beautiful red curls in her hair, which I used to paw at. As I tapped at her face, the curls would spring up and down and she would giggle before lifting me up into her arms for a kiss. She and I lived in a big house with her parents. Her father was a retired army major, so he and her mum were forever travelling to formal events up and down the country in their new car. Her father loved that machine; it was his pride and joy. When they went on their outings, they didn’t like to take Betsy with them because it was too disruptive for her schooling, they said, so they decided that I would be her constant companion. I think I was their replacement, in a way.
It was Major Williams who was the one who chose me. He plucked me from the warmth of my mother one winter’s day. I remember being in a light sleep one minute, listening to mother’s heartbeat thumping against my ear and nuzzling into her fur, when a rather plummy voice started to bounce around the room. I sat bolt upright, pricked up my ears, at which point he directed his finger towards me, and asked if I was healthy. Then with a nod, I was selected for duty. I’m glad he trusted me. If only I could turn back time. I wish I hadn’t let the family down.
The house I lived in as a kitten for the first few weeks of my life was considerably smaller and dirtier than Betsy’s. The day that Major Williams plonked me down on Betsy’s bed I can honestly say was the happiest day of my life. She was covered in some weird looking spots, smeared in white cream and drinking warm milk. She smelt funny too, but it was a nice smell. I heard Betsy’s nanny mention something about chicken pots, but I never saw any sign of them around the house. I gave up looking after a few weeks.
Oh, they were such happy days! Betsy and I were going to grow up together. We had such plans and adventures mapped out. In the big house, there was a huge fireplace that I could stretch out in front of when the mood took me, which it often did, and I could dream of our future. I would lay there for hours, rolling around on the rug, looking out of the windows, which went all the way from the floor to the ceiling and let in so much sun that it was like living in what humans call Paradise. On a night, Betsy would lie in her bed, reading aloud to me, and I’d fall asleep by her side on her duvet, curled up in a tight ball, purring happily to myself. It was the life!
When Betsy slept soundly, I would stretch and waken my limbs, before prowling the corridors of the great house, keeping an eye out for any signs of trouble and looking for mice. I was on patrol, but can probably count on one paw the number of rodents I caught. They always seemed to evade me.
It was rather a lazy existence and I suppose that I took it for granted. But one day, seven years after arriving at the great house, and while Betsy was at school, I escaped. It felt rather exciting, to be honest. You see, the maid had turned her back for one minute and left the kitchen door wide open. I took my chance and bolted. I’d never run so fast in all of my life. The wind was blowing through my fur and my ears were pinned back. I could taste freedom and didn’t know which way to go. All that was going through my mind, at that moment, was to avoid being captured as Nora – that’s the maid – was hot on my tail. She had a sweeping brush outstretched, beating the ground as she went. She was far too slow, though, and never would have caught up with me. Although I wish that she had now because the only punishment I would have received would have been a telling off and a quick tap on the nose. I could have coped with that. Anyway, even after she had given up the chase, I continued to run, and could hear her voice trailing off into the distance.
I thought I’d only be out for a short while. It was just meant to be a little adventure, you see – me, out on my lonesome, in the big bad world. It was going to be a one off experience, never to be repeated again. I always intended on going home, I promise. I wouldn’t have left poor Betsy, not in a million years. But that day, I didn’t quite make it home. I just never saw the car coming.
The driver got out, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and kicked my body to the side of the road like it was a piece of dirty rubbish. I tried to cry out to him, but I couldn’t make a noise. Then there was one almighty scream, and a woman got out of the car too. She had a headscarf wrapped tightly around her jet black hair and the brightest red lips I have ever seen. She was like an angel and reminded me a little of Betsy’s mum. I watched her, through one eye, come straight over to me and crouch down. I remember how soft and gentle her hand felt as she ran it along the side of my body. It still hurt, though, but she wasn’t to know that. She shouted a lot at the man. In fact, she swore a lot, and I wanted to cover my ears! The next thing I remember was being cradled in her arms, wrapped up in the very headscarf that she had been wearing, but the pain was getting worse. Soon after that, the lights went out for me.
It was strange, watching her carrying me in that headscarf, knowing that I wasn’t inside that shell of a body any more. She eventually took me to the pet cemetery. As she lay me down in the grave that she had dug with her own bare hands, she removed the headscarf from around me, and it was then that I caught full sight of my body. It looked nothing like the one I would see in the gilt mirrors of the great house. My beautiful cream fur was bloodied, my left ear was torn, and my jaw was dislocated badly. I looked a mess.
They say that cats have a good sense of direction and that we can always find our way home, but I haven’t managed it yet. I don’t know where that big house is any more. I can’t smell, see, or feel it. I miss those days, snuggled in Betsy’s arms. I miss being her beautiful Bainbridge.
Chapter 2 will be available to read from 30th November 2014