Sometimes I call her my familiar, but Botchok would probably turn her nose up at that. Botchok is my first cat.
I heard her first before I saw her. It was in March 2000, and I was at the UP Quill tambayan. She was a tiny, loud thing, gray and white, practically screaming at me and my friends from the rickety bookshelf against the wall. She kept falling off the shelf, and we kept picking her up. “Are you suicidal??” my friend Cons said.
I went to class, and when I came back she was still there, loud and restless and impossible to ignore. I feared she would get run over by a car, and I couldn’t bear to leave her. So I found a discarded box and picked her up. She was so small that the length of her body, from the tip of her nose to the base of her tail, fit in the palm of my hand.
I brought her to class, and she slept in the box, perhaps tired from her day-long meowing. I went back to the Faculty Center for an errand, still carrying her. She woke, and started meowing, her cries echoing in the hallway.
“What in the world?” A door opened, and my friend Dante peered out of his office. He saw me, and the little bundle of noise I was carrying. “Hello!” he said to the little cat. Then he turned to me and said, “You have a kitten!” I explained where I found her.
With my classes over, I left the campus and headed home. The kitten was asleep in the box, so she was quiet for most of the ride. She woke briefly while I was in the FX, and she uttered a lazy meow, much to the surprise of the guy sitting next to me. The rest of the ride home was quiet, thank goodness.
At home, we found a large box for her, and put her in a small storage area just outside my room. And she proceeded to meow all night. Loudly! I barely slept that night. My mom and my brother were amused.
I wanted to call her Annie, after Little Orphan Annie. But as she settled in, and wormed her way into my family’s affections, she gained weight, and my mother started calling her Botchok, which is a local endearment for someone who’s a little on the heavy side. It’s like someone getting nicknamed Chubby. So much for “Annie”!
Mistress of the house
Botchok grew into a beautiful little cat, with a personality much larger than her tiny frame. She soon lorded it over our household. If we were in the living room, she would lie on the coffee table. If we were in the kitchen, that’s where she would be. If I was studying at my desk, she would lie on the very book I was reading. If my books and readings were spread out over my bed, she lay across the most important ones. When I got home, she greeted me at the door. If I was in the kitchen, she would jump up and hang on to my jeans or shorts.
Sometimes I would be sitting in my chair, legs propped up on my bed, a book on my knees. She would climb up and settle on the book, and fall asleep. Sometimes I would be sitting or lying on the sofa, and she would climb up and sleep on my lap.
Most nights Botchok slept on my bed. Sometimes she liked to be carried, perching on my shoulder, surveying all that she owned.
For all her noise when I first brought her home, Botchok turned out to be pretty quiet cat. That was just as well, because she sounded more like a quacking duck!
Of course, it wasn’t enough that Botchok ruled over all the humans. Eventually she dominated all the cats. Even dogs bowed down to her! My mom had a dog that she’d rescued from the street, and the dog was terrified of Botchok. If my tiny cat was in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, the dog would take the long way around, through the garage and the front door, rather than cross paths with Botchok.
Before Botchok, we’d never really taken care of a cat before. There were cats in the neighborhood, and sometimes we fed them leftovers in the garage. But Botchok was the first cat who was really ours. So when we had to go out of town for Holy Week, we were worried about leaving her at home. Rather than worry all weekend, we brought her with us. Botchok was small enough to fit in a shoebox, and I brought a can of tuna for her. My relatives were amused that I decided to bring my cat along.
When we arrived in Subic, Zambales, we checked into our hotel, and left Botchok there while we took care of family obligations. We made sure she had food and water. But when we got back, she hadn’t eaten much. She seemed too curious about this new place to eat anything.
A month or so later, we went to Tarlac for a family summer outing. Again I brought Botchok, in a shoebox, with tuna for her dinner. This time we didn’t leave her in the hotel room. I brought her box to the poolside, and she watched and explored while we were swimming. My mom, my brother Victor and I took turns watching over her, making sure she didn’t wander too far, or fall into the water. But she seemed content to just sit and walk around the table where we had placed her box. My Tito Manny seemed tickled by the presence of my cat, and he checked on her quite often too!
I don’t remember how old Botchok was when it happened, but I do know she was quite young. For some reason, her hind legs stopped working. She couldn’t walk, and ended up just dragging her legs behind her, moving around with only her front legs. It was very alarming.
That was probably the first time I had brought any cat to a veterinary clinic. There was one at the strip mall on the corner of the Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway. We brought Botchok there for a checkup. I was so worried. I couldn’t understand how her legs could just stop working.
The vet examined Botchok’s legs, and found no break or sprain. She didn’t seem to be in any pain. She just couldn’t walk. The vet thought it might just be a pinched nerve. She told us to massage her hind legs with a warm compress, by putting warm water in a glass jar and rolling it on her legs.
Home we went, and we massaged Botchok’s legs as instructed. Then one day, a miracle happened: she stood up on all four legs! We knew she was on her way to recovery. Soon she was walking and running around the house again, ruling over humans and cats alike.
That wasn’t Botchok’s last brush with disability. One time we found her outside the house in Cubao, crouched on all fours, limping. I feared she had fallen from the second floor of the house, and brought her to the UP Veterinary Hospital. Dante’s uncle, Leo, was a veterinarian, and he facilitated the x-ray. “But she has no broken bones. She probably just needs rest,” he said. So we brought Botchok home.
A few days later, our friend Jovan came over, and saw Botchok walking normally. “Your cat is fine!” she exclaimed. Botchok saw me watching, and she proceeded to limp again! That’s when we discovered my cat’s amazing capacity for melodrama.
And there was a lot of melodrama over the years! Stay tuned for Part 2.