-Chapter Four –
The House of the Poets
Three doors down is The House of the Poets. Two French writers had lived there many, many people years ago. It was empty and sad. But all the cats would gather in the summer for the annual Pow Wow. Mum and I went along too. We watched as the street-cats strutted their stuff. It was a show of strength, get together, and mating ritual, all rolled into one.
Mum had met Dad there. She said Dad had escaped from the Veterinary Hospital. He was on the run so to speak. She fell for the dangerous look in his eyes, and the air of trouble that followed him like a cloud. But the problem with Dad was he never got further than the Poets House. He was captured, days after they met. Two great hair apes took him away.
Dad was a fabulist , Mum liked to say. He told tall tales. Made things-up when it suited him. It was part of his charm she said. I never told her about my fantasies. In one Dad would come back for a check-up at the hospital, and escape again. He would find us, and live in The House of the Poets. It was empty after all.
He would be sad about my brothers and sisters, but happy to have me. To show me the ropes. I longed to learn the tricks of the street-cats. They truly had nine lives: crossing Royal College Street like they owned the road. Some were so brazen they deliberately made cars swerve. But it was a dangerous game; some never made it to the other side.
Mum said they were all stupid, and Dad was nothing like that. But something told me, this was Mum trying to keep me safe. In the end Dad was my superhero, he was indestructible. In my story he had markings like people tattoos. Pictures of fish and birds, and mythical beasts like unicorns. And somewhere would my Mum’s name. Not the name the old man called her, but her real name. There are no English, French, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Hebrew words for our names. But some ancient peoples: the Native Americans, the Aboriginals, and those from deep in the Amazon Jungle, know our names, they just don’t write them down.
Old Felix named me Tiger, on account of my tortoiseshell stripes. That I didn’t mind, because tigers are pretty cool cats. One of my stories has Mum, Dad and me crossing the road. We make our way to London Zoo; where the real tigers live.
At one Pow Wow, one of the street-cats had boasted about getting as far as the zoo. She claimed to have taken the Grand Union Canal, which crossed underneath our street. The canal ran all the way to the zoo, and beyond. She described a floating Chinese restaurant , and huge grand mansions. For miles and miles, there was the smell of lovely food.
Stories got passed around at Pow Wow, that’s where we learned about Old Felix. He’d not always been old and forgetful. When he was young there were many cats living in his house. But people are just like cats when they get old, they get slow. They can’t cope with a ton of hungry cats. Before that Pow Wow was over, a big cat with the people name Butch, took us aside:
Have you considered your future, he said. And even Mum wasn’t sure what he was talking about. Street-cats can sense things though. They have to be on-the-ball. He then became more direct:
Have you thought about what’s going to happen when the old man goes.
Go where I first thought. Well I was young and didn’t understand the ways of the world. He could see by our expressions that the answer was no.
My advice to the both of you is to make friends with new people. Sorry to be brutal but the old guys on his way out. Find a family close by and be extra nice to them. It’s you’re only chance. You don’t want to end up like me, truly you don’t.
I remember he sized us both up and shook his head. He didn’t need to say any more. We knew the score. After Pow Wow, Mum tried to reassure me:
Don’t listen to him, he’s just trying to frighten us. Some street-toms tell tales to impress their girlfriends. They have lots and lots of girlfriends, its just the way they are.
But I knew deep down everything he said was true. And I was also kind of impressed by all those girlfriends. He was trying to help us in his rough and tough way.