In my 25 years I've been privileged to know and love several cats, thanks to my animal-loving parents. Each of them has/had a unique personality that I would have recognised even if they'd switched colours overnight.
Of all the cats my family has had, O'Malley was actually the closest I had to my very own cat. But there was something about Whiskey that set him apart from the rest of the cat race and makes him, I believe, deserving of this first "Cat Profile" of many.
Whiskey was the last of three kittens my family adopted from the same litter. My mother's colleague's cat had given birth and the kittens were not exactly welcome in an already cat-saturated household. So after some discussion, my mother agreed to take in the brown tabby and the white one with black spots.
The week after Brandy and Pepsi came home, my mother's colleague mentioned that there was now only one of that litter left behind and asked my mother if she was interested. I think my mother would have taken in all the cats in the world if she could. Besides, the description "all black except a white nose" was intriguing.
One day the following week, my parents told us, "We've picked the cat up. He's very nice."
He was indeed very pretty, but the description was way off the mark. He was a typical bicolour pattern, with a white base and black "cape", tail, ears and face (except the chin). All this gave him a masked appearance, like a desperado from old black-and-white Westerns. His black fur was a rich, black black that gave you the impression that all attempt to describe the word "black" ended there. His white was slightly creamy, and during his favourite activity (sunbaths on the driveway with our dog Frosty) the white furs practically glowed.
When he wasn't quite a year old, one night we found Whiskey at the front gate with a broken leg. He was the strong, silent type usually, unlike his extremely talkative sister Pepsi. But that night, he yelled his lungs out until we went to him.
The vet said he might have been in an accident, but from the looks of it he'd probably been hit on purpose by a human holding a hard object. I may be naïve, but I still cannot understand how humans can be so cruel. Don't even get me started on how some of us treat other humans.
The vet pronounced the injury very serious and warned my parents that Whiskey might lose the leg. He suggested that euthanasia would be more merciful than amputation. My parents wouldn't hear of either one.
At my parents' insistence, the vet repaired the injury surgically. Whiskey became the first member of the family, humans included, to be able to boast a "fist [paw, to be more accurate] of iron". It took him months to recover from the surgery. The vet put him on a course of steroids to speed up healing, and before we knew it, Whiskey was a candidate for Beefcat of the Year. From a sleek, panther-like kitty, he turned into a chunky hunka feline. I'll have to admit, it suited him. When he could walk again, it was with a confident sway that brought new meaning to the word "catwalk".
Whiskey was the least vocal cat we ever had. Apart from the screams the night of his "accident", he hardly said anything except for a few short, high-pitched squeaks. But as he got older, the squeaks got louder and more repetitive. I suspect it was because he was getting hard of hearing and couldn't hear himself so well. It happens to humans, too.
If Whiskey was within earshot of our car doors opening, he would dash over and hop into the car. If we were just going out for an evening spin around town, this meant he would ride with us on the back section of the car behind the rear headrests. Sometimes, when my parents came to pick me up from afternoon school he would be there. My schoolmates were sometimes surprised by the cute "tissue box holder" which suddenly stood up and walked to the other end of the car. When we reached home, it would take some coaxing to get him down from his perch and out of the car.
Whiskey's social streak
When my brother and I were still schooling, my parents would hold garden parties from time to time. They'd rent the requisite Malaysian outdoor gathering equipment: canopy, wooden-topped trestle tables and plastic chairs.
When the guests began to arrive, the dog would be locked in the backyard and the cats would make themselves scarce; all except Whiskey.
I think he lived for these occasions. The sight of red plastic chairs scattered around the garden must have made his little kitty heart leap with joy. He would make his rounds of the guests, saying "How do" to those who bothered to stoop and stroke him. If there was an empty chair in a circle, he'd jump up on it and do his best to join in the conversation. Whenever someone says "party animal" in my hearing, I can't help but think of Whiskey sitting in one of those chairs, surrounded by friendly people. There was something about Whiskey that just made you want to be friends with him.
Whiskey's neighbourhood contacts
I think more people in the neighbourhood knew Whiskey than they knew any human member of our family. I know for a fact that he often spent the night in the home of our across-the-road neighbour. He was very well liked there, by all except maybe one. In the morning when my mother called the cats home for breakfast, Whiskey would trot across the road at a contented, complacent pace, licking his chops. Evidently, two breakfasts weren't one too many for this cat.
In his younger years when our Spitz, Frosty was still around, he and Whiskey would sometimes take naps together on the driveway. It was common to see the large white dog fast asleep in "roast piglet" position, with a stocky black-and-white cat next to him or on his front paws. When Frosty went missing in 1993, Whiskey couldn't get over it for almost a year. He would step out into the garden with an expression of hope and expectancy, as if his friend just might be out there. Frosty never came back, but I think Whiskey never quite gave up on the idea that he might someday. He was never friends with our subsequent dogs, although he was civil to them.
Whiskey probably felt that having to take naps alone on the driveway was too hard to bear, because after Frosty was gone, he took his outdoor naps on parked cars outside our compound, or on the cement culvert across the drain. This made him extremely popular with children, the elderly and just about anyone who passed. He was never afraid of anyone, and responded to their pats with friendly purrs. The few odd times that one of us came out to see Whiskey with a stranger, the person would give an embarrassed laugh and say, "Your cat ah? Nice, ah? Very friendly." Then, with another embarrased chuckle at being discovered in conversation with a cat, the person would walk/drive off.
I won't say why or in what condition Whiskey died because it's too sad, but let's just say his last days were a poor reflection of how he lived his life. About three weeks before that, he jumped onto my lap while I was sitting reading in the hall. Friendly creature though he was, Whiskey was never a "lap cat". In hindsight, I wondered if he knew his days were not only numbered but that the numbers were running out. He continued to be unusually affectionate for the next few days, until my brother found him paralysed one morning under the Christmas tree...
I hope that a couple of weeks after that when he took his last breath, what went through his mind was not his discomfort but the smell of freshly boiled kembung and chicken liver; the feeling of sunlight on his belly; the warmth of my mother's quilt when she was still alive and made space at the foot of her side of the bed for him each night; the laughter of good friends in the garden; and the soft snugness of Frosty's fur against the hard driveway.