The year my father died my cat TK died first. Tutankhamen was a king of cats. He started out as a nervous black Oriental kitten that shied from noise and people and ended up as one of the main characters at Sunday Lunches. He owned the house, hunted the suburb and when he died, I received cards of sympathy and gifts that emphasized the effect his life had on many people.
I really missed TK when he was gone. I was heart-broken. And inside I knew his death was a reflection of something much bigger. When my father died later in the year I knew then what TK’s death forebode. My heart was already broken and was turned to stone.
Between the deaths I went Greece with my father. As he walked through the village and Tripoli he greeted all and sundry with a hearty “Mia Xara” . The Greek equivalent of “ciao”, I knew then that I would get two cats and call them Mia and Xara. I just couldn’t think of who they would be or where they would come from.
Over the year of TK’s illness I confided in some of my patients. Roy and Carol touched a cord within me. Roy has diabetes, and had to be transferred to St Augustines Hospital one day when I was on call and Kingsway was full. He had fractured his tibia and was treated by a colleague. Roy always confides in me, “not that I want to bad mouth another doctor”, but my colleague did not give him full attention or care and sympathy. He went on to develop a non-union of the tibia which I decided to treat with a Physiostim ( an electromagnetic device that stimulates bone healing) and a cast and eventually it healed. We had regular monthly visits over 18 months, and they talked about their cats, Russian Blues, and slowly started a marketing campaign to win me over. They brought little pictures, told me of their habits (head butting is a classic) and then invited me to see some of their kittens. I visited their little house full of cats with big hearts, but really did not have the heart to want new kittens. I was worried about the two old cats I had, Stormy and Servie, at home, about being responsible for the new ones, about all sorts of things. And would any cat measure up to TK?
Eventually after a few visits and meeting the sire and mother Russian Blues I chose two that I could take at the end of December, when I would have some time to be at home, and after Christmas at Mbona.
Just after paying for Xara and acknowledging Mia as a gift from Carol in thanks for my treating Roy, we went to Johannesburg for George Bizos’ 80th birthday celebration, where my father was the master of ceremonies. He had the time of his life, but definitely was tired. I remember at the end when 2 young girls sang traditional Greek songs he glowed from within he was so happy. Maybe it was something else…
Early the next morning he died. I hadn’t told him about Mia Xara; how it reminded me of him in Greece, and how happy a greeting it was. Directly translated “Mia means “one” and “Xara” means happiness. Mia Xara.
They were named Mia Grisha and Xara Shura, as they had to have Russian names for their legacy. Grisha means ‘watchful” and Shura “defender of man” in Russian. They were brothers and are the closest of friends.
They spent their days in my study. Mom was with us for that week and spent time with them. They were soft and cuddly, and so playful and confident. In the beginning they slept on the bookshelves and nothing was safe. Books and ornaments went flying at night, waking us. Covers were torn off as if they were the skin on the carcass of a dead animal. Page corners were eaten.
Always near each other, on the lookout and more often than not ambushing each other, they had arrived at their home forever . Mia watches out for Xara, and Xara defends all of us from being too serious. He is a complete hedonist, happy to stretch out on a bed, couch table or anywhere. Ecstatic in the morning when he gets his fix of catnip. Bounding up onto the bed to get a hug and scratch. Purring in contentment. Mia is lively. He eats more but is thinner, his taught muscles rippling under his blue fur.
Russian Blues are not blue, but silver grey, with a double layer of shorthair. Never tell an owner that they are grey! They may be Royal cats from Archangel in Russia, with lines unchanged since the made their way to England before the turn of the last century.
They love company; often I look up from where I am sitting, working or eating, and find them under my chair, or on the couch nearby or the chair next door. Sprawled out elegantly.
More than the technicalities, they are a legacy of a home of cats, filled with memories.