He was just a cat, when I first met him. He sniffed round me, unsure of me, then warmed to me when I offered him peekaboo fingers round Jude's gatepost, which he vigorously attacked with his little paws. I noticed then how the tufts of white hair poked out from between his toes, kept immaculately clean by his constant grooming. With his pointy fur 'sideburns', he looked like a cartoon cat, like Sylvester or Tom or Top Cat, but was funnier than all three.
He was just a cat, but never a big cat, or a heavy cat, even at 13. His long soft fur hid the lightness and smallness of his frame. Towards the end though, he felt hollow, like a bird, as his muscles wasted away and the flesh fell from his bones. I picked him up and stroked him, just five days ago, the day he stopped eating, and I felt each rib, and the knobs of his backbone, still hidden beneath his deceptively fluffy coat. The picture of him under his fur was no longer a pretty one. I worried then. I worried that he was going, like Barney back in May, wasting away until his spirit left his body like the last wisp of smoke from a dying candle.
He was just a cat. He was just a cat, but he was much more than that. "Just a cat" is what soulless people say. I have no time for people like that. Say that to me and I'll laugh in your stupid face.
He was just a cat, and he was my friend. He knew me as well as I knew him. We understood each other, each in our own way. We trusted each other. He knew I'd never hurt him. He showed it in so many ways: in waiting for me to come up the road on my bike after work, just so he could roll on the ground and purr and stretch whilst I rubbed his sheepskin tummy; in the way he'd be there sometimes, on the pillow next to my head when I woke on a morning, sleeping softly, or the way he followed me down the garden and sat vigilant on a rock, defying the Big Toms of the neighbourhood to come near, because I was there to scare them off.
He was just a cat and I worried about him, when the vet named his illness, his reason for wasting. When he stopped eating and just lay there, eyes dull, I already missed him. I missed my friend, missed his mincing walk and his feather-duster tail and his constant need to sit on my knee whenever I sat down. Missed the way he used to sit on the table and reach out with his paw when it was feeding time as if to say "just give me the tin, I'll open it". I forgave him all the times he deftly flipped a piece of food off my plate as I ate, and ran off to eat it under the table.
He was just a cat, and I could see him waiting for death to come and I knew he was going, even as I muttered unfelt words of hope. The operation which would save his life was already planned, but he was never going to reach it.
He was just a cat, but yesterday I woke up and he wasn't there, and he wasn't just a cat, he was an empty space, an absence of cat, and a gentle fear in my mind. I looked and looked and found him, lying amidst dead wet leaves in the back garden, under a bench. He was cold, like he'd lain there for hours in the rain and dark. I carried his weightless body in as he purred gently against my chest.
He was just a cat and he's gone now. A last straw was clutched at with a night spent in a vet's cage, fed by a tube. Poor small, soft Towser, in a cage, without his friends, alone, would never see his home again. I can still feel his paw against my lips, waking me just days ago, to tell me it was breakfast time. I can still feel it, warm and soft, with the faint trace of claws. Yes, I can feel that and I always will, even though I'll never feel it again.
He was just a cat, but he was himself, his own being, unlike all other cats. He was Towser, and I wanted him to stay Towser and carry on being just a cat. I wasn't there when the needle went in. I never got to stroke his fur and hear his last purr. I never said goodbye to my friend.
Goodbye Towser my friend. You were just a cat, but I'm just a man.
Below: Jude with Towser as a kitten
Below: Towser in typical repose
Below: Towsers "sheepskin tummy"
Below: Me relaxing with the cats in our back garden, after a bike ride; summer 2004
Below: Towser sitting on Barney's coffin; April 2007
Below: returning home for the final time