“Hey, look here. Your cat is no Empress of Blandings.” Those words hurt. Indra looked at his cousin Gauri and tried to keep his calm. He was against body shaming of all kinds but how dare she make such a comparison! And he told her as much.
“Gauri Sarkar! My cat is half the size of the empress you mention. Also, I will not tolerate any comparison.”
Gauri burst out laughing for a second. Then she managed to shut up because Indra’s face was getting dangerously red. The truth was that both cousins loved the cat and every animal on earth except for those Bengali tiktikis on the walls. Still, Indra’s love for the family feline member Queen, could not be matched.
It had been one hour since they had begun to search for the pet. Indra had already sobbed in the bathroom and threatened the other family members with serious consequences if Queen was not found. He charged at his father saying, “I knew you never cared much for her, but how could you not see anyone stealing my baby from our own house?” Indra’s father cringed. He looked down at his toes. His mother tried to make things better saying, “Don’t say such things. You know that we all adore Queen.”
They certainly did do their best to keep Queen happy. Guest would come over and see her lounging on the main sofa. They were told to sit on the smaller sofa or on the divan. Queen’s sleep was priority. When Gauri argued about this being super rude, Indra told her that disturbing the cat’s sleep by trying to move her to another location would be worse behaviour.
Even when it came to meal times, the humans in the house ate only after Queen was well fed and done filling her litter box. In fact, Indra got anxious if she did not do her potty and pee duties according to schedule. If she was late, he would rejoice and expect everyone else to rejoice as well when it finally happened. He’d run to tell everyone, “Queen has finally done her potty! After so many hours. Thank goodness!” He’d proceed to clean her litter and pat her head, thanking her for finally relieving herself and him of his worries.
So considering such a close relationship, a missing Queen was enough to turn the house over. Well, at first, Indra turned over the coffee table, the dining table, all the chairs and a desk. He didn’t find his cat. Then he crawled under all the beds. No luck. He checked the balcony and turned over the potted plants in his haste. Still no sign of Queen except for a stash of Gauri’s hairbands that she had collected and kept under Indra’s desk.
Dinner was cancelled that evening. “I’m telling the police,” Indra announced to a group of gaping humans. The parents looked at him like he was a lunatic. The more compassionate bachelor uncle nodded his support. “Go ahead, Babu. It is getting late. God knows where she wandered off.” he said.
But Indra did not believe that Queen had wandered off. She would never do that. Six years with them, and not even one attempt to explore outside the main door. “Uncle, somebody took her. By force.” Uncle nodded. Gauri sighed as she took a new bunch of hair bands out from their packet. She needed a pack every month with Queen’s collecting habit. Indra paid for them so that no harsh words were said against his cat.
Indra did not call the police right then because his father had a suggestion. “Why don’t we make a list of all the people who entered our flat today and zero down on suspects?” Indra liked the idea. So they sat down at the dining table with Gauri making the list. “The part time maid came twice, the newspaper wallah came to get his dues, and your Aunt Nonda came for tea. She left just before you got home.”
Indra’s head popped up. He had never liked that sister of his father. She showed up to eat, drink and criticise his mother and him. There was the answer. “Aunt Nonda took Queen!” Indra shouted with his fist in the air.
Everyone asked him to sit down. “Indra, your aunt detests cats,” his father reminded him. Indra looked back at him with wild eyes saying, “Yes, father. She hates me too. That’s why she took my Queen.” His mother couldn’t help it. She didn’t like her sister-in-law either. She came over and said things like, “You haven’t brought up your son properly. Spends too much time with that cat.” Etc etc. But this accusation was too far-fetched even for her. “Indra, stop being silly. Maybe Queen slipped out the door and went out to see the neighbourhood. It’s been years since you brought her home, right?” Indra was not convinced.
He picked up his phone as the others watched. His aunt picked up the phone on the first ring. “You never call me. What is wrong? Sick today?” She was laughing. Indra got to the point: Where is Queen?
The latter’s reply infuriated him to the point that he threw his phone down. She said, “Who the hell is Queen, child?” That was the last straw. Indra wiggled a finger at his parents and uncle. “That woman should never enter our house again!” Nobody replied. They were hungry and sick of the drama.
“Who else entered the flat today. Try to remember,” he instructed everyone again. Gauri chewed on her pen. She thought for a minute while her cousin bit his fingernails. The elders were silently praying that Queen would just walk in. There was ilish maach getting cold.
Gauri finally answered. “Yes, one more person did come today. She was here for 10 minutes though.” Indra asked, “Who?” Maya Aunty from the floor above. To collect Durga Puja subscription money.
“And?” Indra wanted details. His mother spoke up, “She collected the money and asked how Queen was doing and then she left.” But Indra didn’t believe her. It sounded too innocent. So he asked again. “What else did she say or do, mother?”
“She did not DO anything! I offered her tea and she said no. Then she mentioned that some neighbour has got a cat in the building next door and how cats are so popular these days. Even on the Internet everyone is busy with cat videos and all,” his mother explained.
Indra did not wait to hear the last line. This neighbour with a cat must have taken his Queen! She must have wanted a companion for her cat. Many people he knew liked having two cats so one wouldn’t get lonely by itself. In his anger, he did not ask his mother the new cat parent neighbour’s name or flat number. Instead, he rushed out and asked the first security guy he saw, “Dada, who brought home a cat today?” The security man looked confused. He said that he had just come to duty for the night. Indra resisted the urge to shout at him for not being on duty earlier.
He bumped into his part-time help Minu di. “Minu di, who brought home a cat in the next building?” Minu di loved animals so she knew the answer. Phew! “Rini Boudi on the 2nd floor,” she told him. Indra was already running in that direction as she continued telling him how cute the new cat was.
When he rang the doorbell, he expected the woman to open the door with the new cat in her arms. He had carried Queen around in his arms her entire first week after adopting her from the street. This lady did not seem as good a pet parent as he was. He could teach her a thing or two.
“Aunty, I was told that you have adopted a cat today?” She nodded yes.
“May I see it please?”
“Of course you can. But do you normally knock on stranger’s doors to meet their new pets, child?”
Indra did not blush. He smiled.
The curious woman asked him to wait a minute and left for her bedroom to bring her new pet to show this neighbour who she had spoken to only once before in a gathering. Indra’s heart was beating fast. He wanted to run inside with her to see the cat as soon as possible.
Sure enough, Rini Ghosh came out carrying a cat who looked exactly like Queen in her arms. A happy, purring cat who WAS Indra’s beloved pet Queen!
Indra snatched his cat away from the shocked lady. “Aunty, this is our cat. My cat. She slipped out of our house today. I think when somebody opened the door.”
The aunty did not look happy. “Do you have any proof?”
Indra stopped hugging Queen and looked at her with eyes that could pop out any second.
“Aunty, you can ask the entire neighbourhood. Everybody knows about Queen.” At this moment, Queen licked Indra on the face. He put his nose near hers and she put her pink little nose to his. Rini Ghosh was not taking this display of affection well. She started crying. “But I just got him today!”
Indra told her it wasn’t a him. “Queen is a her, Aunty.”
His phone rang. It was Gauri. “Indra. Queen is back. She was on the roof. We fed her and she’s in your bed, waiting for you.”
Indra was in trouble. He put the Queen lookalike cat in the crying aunty’s arms and said, “So sorry, Aunty!” The real Queen was given a short lecture about disappearing and the whole family had their ilish maach and slept well too.