This is Sıtkı.
I have 11 of them, cats that is, but he is the favorite. I get heavy hearted before I go on trips because I will be leaving him behind and sit on the edge of my seat on the ride back from the airport in anticipation of seeing him. He is a big (tall and long, as well as fat) tabby tomcat. He is also quite stupid. He drools in fact, that is how stupid he is. For such a huge guy he has a tiny miaow. And more often than not, not even a miaow – he opens his mouth and no sound whatsoever comes out. Really, he is nothing extraordinary at all.
I found him as a tiny, emaciated kitten on my doorstep. That was 11 years ago. He was quite wild and it took me forever to even be able to get close enough to feed him, which would explain the terrible state he was in. People here feed cats on the street. When you walk down my block you can see all these food and water bowls set out. Not to mention the merchants in my neighborhood who are really wonderful with animals. Most stands and stores have their own cats and there is an army of fat, waddling dogs down on the market square, that are tagged on the ear by the municipality to prove that they have been vaccinated and are safe to be around. So, it would have taken a really shy and introverted feline personality to starve to death around here – which indeed is exactly what Sıtkı turned out to be. 11 years later, I am still the only one that he will come to. He is highly highly highly unsociable, hates his feline roommates (and they all hate him back btw) and he will go near another human only when he really desperately needs to be fed, most unwillingly and only when I am unavailable – like when I am traveling. But me he loves. And he lets me know that he loves me. I am his chosen one. And he melts my heart that way.
His size is really remarkable, he is huge. Big head, big shoulders, long tail. Huge paws. Fat big tabby belly, which he sometimes turns upwards when he sleeps. He sticks those huge paws up in the air and the big gut becomes revealed with all that mixed up tabby fur. Everyplace else his tabby patterns are perfect but on his stomach it is a reddish, grayish, brown mess. And then he dreams and these chattering chin movements and tiny screeches and grrrr’s happen. I love him.
Cats have very distinct personalities. It takes living with 11 of them to realize how utterly differentiated they are. Even more so than us humans I would say, in that they are also completely uninhibited in displaying their traits. We adjust ourselves to the society around us and do our best to conceal our differences from the herd. (At least most of us, for most of the time). Not so with cats. So, I have complete introverts and extroverts, highly intelligent investigators and somewhat dull philosophers, aggressors and defenders. Those that compromise and others that would sooner die than give an inch. Thieves and gentlemen. Floozies and prudes…
Like I have this one cranky old woman who will position herself out on the front stoop crying in this god awful, plaintive voice to all the passers by. Those that aren’t in the know will say things like “Oh, this poor animal, I always see her here. Why is no one taking care of her?”. So, how embarrassing is that? Little do they know that she has just come out of a house where bowls are filled to overflowing with the best cat food that money could possibly buy? And that she has thoroughly stuffed her face before she stepped out there? Now why does she do that? Why this act of desolate, impoverished, unloved cat, desperately in need of attention towards the outside world?
Bahriye – the spectre at the feast… A nail to my coffin she is… One thing that they all share is a highly developed ability to criticize. Anyone who has spent any length of time with a cat will be familiar with that gaze that conveys such utter depths of contempt towards anything and everything that it is surrounded by. Very judgmental little personalities they are. Sıtkı too, is extremely critical of all that goes on around him. Except me. Or is that my imagination? Or does his hard feline gaze really soften when he looks at me?
Huge paws I said. I do this very often: I put my foot next to his and I examine our respective toes side by side. His toes are considerably bigger than mine. Not my big toe of course, but my little ones are smaller than his big tabby protrusions. (It should be added here that quite a few of the others have pretty big toes too – but, as everyone knows, when it comes to these things, there are toes and then there are toes… So why are his special? And why do I make such a fuss over them being bigger than mine? And why does that give me such an immense sense of comfort, I wonder? Yes yes. I know. I am completely loopy. Have been for all my life. But still?
And here’s another Sıtkı story, that I will tell to anyone that is willing to listen. So time to put it here too, I guess. But it really is a weird one, this story. All my cats go out. There are cat-flaps front and back in all of the windows. I live in the city center, in a vastly busy urban area but luckily it is also a pedestrian zone and, like I said before, most of my neighbors are thoroughly animal friendly people. Sıtkı too goes out every so often. About 2 years ago he went out and didn’t come back. I have no idea where he was or what happened to him. (He returned completely filthy but with absolutely no weight loss so this one really is a mystery). As can be imagined I was totally and completely beside myself. I searched the entire neighborhood. And not only me: Every shop and stall keeper in Besiktaş was on the lookout. There were little lost signs in every shop window and on every lamp post. Not a day would go by without numerous reportings of the sighting of a likely tabby cat somewhere. The Boss searched every animal shelter in Istanbul, over and over again. We had the municipality on alert, garbage collectors were notified to examine the trash for a tabby body. During the first weeks I was frantic and then slowly I went into mourning. I was disconsolate. Everyone around me knew. My students tiptoed around me. Friends would bring me back treats from the cafeteria. I was a mess. Cried on the shuttle.
And then here is what happened: I am a very heavy smoker. In fact I am more or less a chain smoker. And like all really heavy smokers the one place above all others, where I love to smoke is (or was) in front of the computer. Where I smoked even more, where every inhale was pure unadulterated bliss. This is a time before I had ever heard of Second Life. But, Second Life or not, I have been a geek for 15 years or so now, spending a good 10 hours a day in front this blasted thing – smoking smoking smoking. So, one evening as I was sitting here, suddenly this thing came into my head and I said it out loud: If Sıtkı ever comes back, I said, I will never ever smoke in front of the computer again. This was the 26th day of his absence and that night he came back.
And I have kept my word. I have not smoked a single cigarette in front of the computer since that day.