This article is part of the English PEN Between EU and Me project, supported by the European Commission
Translated from the Greek by Georgia Panteli
When Zooey was brought to me, and I was pressed to adopt him, he was both lucky and unlucky at the same time. He was unlucky because when I was ten years old I decided that all I’d do in life is read, write and travel all over the world. There was so much beauty out there waiting for me to discover, which meant no children, no dogs and no cats. Nothing would stand between me and the world. Yet he was lucky, too, as the night before I had watched ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ again at the Truman Capote festival and Zooey looked exactly like Holly Golightly’s Cat, only smaller: ginger, smart, nippy. So maybe we could live together like those two, like two good friends, without too much devotion and whining miaows and ‘What will I ever do without you?’ We could live together without belonging to each other.
I let him stay with me just to try it out. As if he had read my mind, he moved quietly under the armchair and left me to do my work undisturbed. I am not going to name him, I decided. I’ll call him ‘Cat’; Holly knew better. If you give him a name, he’ll ask for more. If he asks, you’ll give. If you give, he’ll give and if he gives, he’ll bind you with invisible strings, the strongest kind. So, no name then. ‘Goodnight, Cat,’ I said and switched off the light.
It was a stormy night in January. It had been raining all day and suddenly at midnight, with a flash of lightning, the bedroom became as bright as the noon day. I woke up startled. Water was flooding the balcony and was seeping into the room through the balcony door. Thunderbolts fell like bombs out of the sky. With a sudden zap, the power went out in the entire building. I fumbled desperately under the covers to find my glasses and instead touched a furry little ball curled next to my legs. ‘What are you doing here, Cat?’ I asked, frightened. (I never had kept an animal. I had never slept next to an animal before. Their hair disgusted me. Their germs scared me. I didn’t want them on my bed.)
He was playing possum. ‘Ha, you sly trickster, I’ll show you,’ I mumbled to the supposedly sleeping fluffball. I took him in my hand – he fit exactly in my palm – and placed him on the rug by my bed. Neither too far nor too close: the exact distance one needs to breathe. We shouldn’t get in each other’s face.
As soon as I put him down, I saw him in a flash of lightning opening his huge green eyes and then Cat, the hypocrite, started crying with all the might his tiny little lungs could afford. My heart broke. Yet I decided to play my cards right. I knew that in relationships cards get dealt early on. Whatever you do, you tread a path from which there’s no turning back. I got up feigning indifference; blindly, I grabbed a bowl of cherries from the fridge and started eating, deaf to his cries, worrying about the room getting flooded. But in the end I made a really stupid mistake: I underestimated my opponent. He was only four inches long, but he was a fighter! For a quarter of an hour he was howling as if there was no tomorrow. He filled his lungs with air and let it out as desperate sighs. Then his wailing dropped to a heartbreaking whimper, which you could barely hear, as though his soul was about to leave his body. His performance was rivalled only by the National Theatre.
Seventeen minutes later I admitted my defeat. I took him in my hand, put him in front of me and started lecturing him, looking straight into his eyes that were glowing in the dark:
’Why are you so stubborn, Cat? What do you want from me? Didn’t we already agree about this? You don’t belong to me and I don’t belong to you. We’ll live like Holly and her Cat, flatmates and buddies, until we find out exactly what we want to do with our lives. I’ll feed you the best delicacies, I swear. And you can wake me up in the morning if I don’t hear the alarm. But we can’t sleep together. We’ll come and go as we please. No complaints, no whining, no “Please don’t leave me alone”, all right? Are we clear? And I swear to you that after I go all over the world and decide where I want to settle down, I’ll take you with me and give you a name. I think I’ll call you Zooey, like my favourite Salinger character. Do you like the name Zooey? Or maybe Truman to honour Holly? And if I get rich and move to New York, I’ll buy you a collar from Tiffany’s.’
He was listening to me attentively without moving an inch. After I finished talking I took him in my hand and put him back on the little rug. That exact moment there was a loud crack of thunder and a flash of lightning lit the room once again. The kitten ran towards the balcony, from where the water was still coming in.
‘Please don’t go, Zooey, I’m scared’, I shouted. He stopped, turned and looked at me with his glowing eyes. Then he turned back, slowly climbed up on the bed and ensconced himself behind my knees. He never left my bed again. And we had breakfast together in the kitchenette; we didn’t give a damn about Tiffany’s.