Ron and I spent Christmas Day in the field behind On the Spot pretending we were lions. It’s our favourite game and because both of us are ginger I fancy we look more the part than say, Squeak who has long black and white fur and gets too hot and bothered to play for any length of time anyway. We didn’t invite Serafina because she always just bangs on about lionesses doing all the hunting to the point where it takes the edge of the game and normally degenerates into an argument, usually with Ron.
On Christmas night I snuck into Mummy’s room for some food and a cuddle but made myself scarce for all of Boxing Day because we had that blasted dog staying at our house. I let Mummy know how unhappy I was by staying away for a full twenty-four hours! I knew she was worried because she kept calling but I thought – blow it! That’ll teach her to invite one of those slobbering half-wits into our house. As Serafina would say; You need to make a strong statement of protest!
Actually, come to think of it, we hadn’t seen Serafina for a number of days. She had managed to find a nice home for Hypo who had been living under our house temporarily prior to Christmas. She was still somewhat “light-fingered” and had built up a fresh collection of stolen dog toys at her new home. The contraband that she’d brought to my place was still stashed under the house. Serafina had even suggested that we make an effort to find the dogs who owned the toys and return them!
“Are you mad?!” I said upon hearing this ill-thought out and potentially dangerous proposal. “Do you have any idea how attached dogs are to their toys?”
“Mental,” agreed Ron, loyally nodding his head in agreement.
“But they’re all just old, chewed up bits of … rubbish really,” replied Serafina, rather naively I thought.
“Serafina, it’s not the same as our toys which could be re-sold years after their purchase date. It doesn’t matter if dogs’ toys are chewed beyond recognition. That only makes them more valuable in their eyes. You should know this – you live with a dog!”
Serafina had muttered something about Madeleine not really being a dog and stomped off home. That was nearly a week ago and was the last we’d seen of her. We’d seen a bit of Hypo, or Snowflake as she was now called, although Ron still insisted on calling her Hypo, or sometimes “Flakey”. She had now been spayed and looked very fresh and clean in her new collar.
“I’ve heard Serafina has been spending a lot of time at the pub,” said Hypo dreamily one afternoon. It was the day after New Year’s Day and Ron, Squeak, Hypo and I were all extremely hot, and more than a little worried about Serafina. This, however was clearly one of Hypo’s flakey fantasies that I didn’t think for a moment had any basis in reality. I couldn’t imagine that Serafina whiling away her time in a bar somewhere!
But less than an hour later I was proved wrong. Serafina herself bounced up energetically to the four prostate furry figures on the deck and triumphantly announced: “I’ve done it!”
I had come to dread this sort of statement from Serafina but before I could open my mouth she continued. “I’ve been hanging around at Dark Star waiting for the chance to talk to him …”
This sounded very un-Serafina-ish. Hanging around a bar waiting for the opportunity to talk to a mere male who couldn’t even catch his own dinner without female assistance?
“… and he’s agreed to give a keynote address at our meeting tonight!” This seemed to have sent such violent shivers down her spine that she suddenly felt the need to sit down and aggressively lick the lower part of her back.
“But choir practice is on Mondays,” said Squeak, who I suspect misunderstood the meaning behind the word “keynote”.
“At the Mindfulness Group?” I asked tentatively.
Serafina halted her vigorous licking. “Yes,” she whispered hoarsely and spat out a grey ball of fur. Her eyes started to water a bit and I wondered if one of us should attempt the Heimlich Maneuver.
“Are you alright?” I said and gestured toward my water bowl. She had a mouthful and seemed to rally a little. “Who is this keynote speaker? It’s not that dog friend of yours is it?”
“No, no … NO!” she said once she had fully recovered. “It’s Whittaker and he’s a sort of Life Coach. I’m related to him in a roundabout way. Not a blood relative of course.” She giggled in a rather high-pitched girlish manner. “He’s Burmese!”
“I’d just as soon have the bloody dog,” said Ron grumpily. “We don’t want some upstart Buddhist guru from Burma coming to tell us how to run our lives. I’ve never liked those Asian breeds – too fancy for their own good if you ask me.”
“Ron!” scolded Serafina, silencing him in an instant. “No-one did ask you and I’ll have you know that Burmese are a highly intelligent breed that socialises well with humans and even dogs. We can learn a lot from Whittaker – he’s really been there, you know. Some of the places he’s been and the things he’s done. He can even do tricks and retrieve toys like a dog …” Her voice trailed away as she realised that no-one was particularly interested in learning how to perform tricks like a dog.
“Great,” I said. “Perhaps he can return all that stolen crap I’ve got stashed under the house!”
“I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to organise this event for you.” She looked around the group sternly, sounding more like a school-teacher by the minute. “His talk is entitled Awaken the Lion Within – How to confront and break through your fears and uncertainty, turn your dreams into reality and identify … something, I can’t remember what. Anyway, he said that before the talk we should think about what we truly want most in our lives and that there would be a challenge (that we don’t have to do unless we want to) which will help us to conquer the fears in our life with ease.”
To my surprise the others actually became quite excited about this. Serafina led the charge by saying that she wanted to raise funds and awareness for S.P.U.N.C. so that one day there would be no homeless cats in the Harbour. Squeak talked excitedly about losing weight and Hypo wanted to overcome her addiction to stealing dog toys. Even Ron had dreams of growing his own catnip and setting up a distribution centre behind On the Spot. I was the only one it seemed who didn’t have anything tangible that I particularly wanted.
After everyone had gone home to have their tea, I started to panic. There were only a few hours to go before they were all back here for the Mindfulness Group meeting. What if Whittaker made each of us stand up individually and share our goals and I was the only one just standing there with nothing to say? I already had everything I wanted – a loving owner, a good group of supportive friends, a nice warm home, a bowl that was never empty of delicious food … what more could I possibly want? I wouldn’t mind a cat door but then Ron would be helping himself to my delicious food and a cat door didn’t seem like a goal lofty enough to awaken my inner lion. Maybe I should just stand up and say that I’m perfectly happy with what I already have and that the lion within could go on sleeping? But I knew that Whittaker was something of a legend in Diamond Harbour and I wanted to have something a bit more profound than a cat door to contribute to the discussion. Although I was keen to meet Whittaker and hear what he had to say, I found myself only picking at my dinner that night.
Everyone arrived on time and Whittaker began his talk by telling us how his brother, Sarkozy had been run over by a car just outside his house when they were both little more than kittens. Serafina was in tears as Whittaker recounted the trauma of seeing it all happen and said it was an ordeal that he doubted he would ever truly recover from. But his naturally social personality soon brought him out of his depression and he became a familiar face at Preserved, Dark Star, the Rugby Club, the library, the medical centre and he had even been known to spend the occasional afternoon at the hairdressers! I could have listened to his stories all night but then he took us all out on the road and said, softly at first but building up to a crescendo:
“Are you ready to change your mindset? Are you willing to challenge one of your deepest fears? The dogwalk will teach you to take hardships in your stride instead of letting fear dictate your life. Take control of your life by shifting your perspective and Unleash the Lion Within!”
Each of us had to walk past the house a few doors up that was home to a large Huntaway dog. The property was fenced but the challenge was to hold our head high and to walk, not run past the property. I started to panic. What if the dog got out? I had personally had an up close and personal encounter with that dog and the unpleasant memory was still fresh in my mind.
I waited nervously as everyone else took their turn. The dog looked at Squeak as though he’d never seen a cat quite that large. Hypo walked past reasonably confidently and afterwards looked through a gap in the fence to see if he’d left any dog toys lying around. Ron did a sort of hop, skip and jump arrangement which caused the dog to give an enormous bark that sent me scurrying into the bushes for a nervous poo. Serafina walked past with her head in the air and then stopped right outside the gate and eyeballed it as if to say, “Come on sucker, make my day”. And then it was my turn. Having had the benefit of watching everyone else, walking nonchalantly was definitely the best option but I think the dog had got bored with it all by that time and yawned and went inside. I felt a little bit deflated and my inner lion was still inside snoring away happily.
We went back under the house to the bit that I was dreading – where we had to reveal our innermost aspirations and desires. Whittaker gestured to Serafina to begin the discussion and listened as she told of how she’d enlisted my help to set up S.P.U.N.C. and the objectives that she hoped to achieve.
“That’s great,” said Whittaker. “And getting your brother involved is an excellent idea.”
“Sorry?” said Serafina, clearly puzzled by this. “I must have misunderstood. Did you just say, ‘getting your brother involved’?”
“Of course,” said Whittaker. “You and Weasley are perfect examples of …”
His voice trailed away as soon as he saw the looks on both of our faces. We were staring at each other with wide copper-coloured eyes … my eyes! Mother’s eyes! Why hadn’t I noticed this before? I knew I had a big brother, Winston from another litter whom I’d never met, but I never knew I had a little sister and that that sister was Serafina! She was obviously from a more recent litter than me. I was a Big Brother! This brought with it responsibility, family duty, concern. I felt myself growing in stature. I needed to set an example, keep a watchful eye, pass on wisdom that only comes with age.
“This is my finest hour”, said a voice inside my head which sounded a lot like how I imagined my big brother Winston’s might sound.
“Mother was a Ragdoll,” said Serafina who was clearly still in shock.
Obviously my first big brotherly duty would be to take her aside and put her straight on “the birds and the bees”.
“She was a cat,” interjected Ron. “Your mother was definitely a cat.”
“Lily, your mother … and Serafina’s mother, was a Ragdoll Persian,” explained Whittaker. “I’m sorry if I’ve sprung this on you. I thought you both knew.”
“Sorry?” I started to speak but to my embarrassment the lump in my throat seemed so big that I was scarcely able to make a sound. Despite this, the lion within was roaring triumphantly. Not only was I Serafina’s big brother but I was also a Persian – well, part Persian at least.
“Funny how the one who was already happy with what they have was the one who ended up being given the most” mused Hypo in that dreamy, far-away voice of hers. Everyone was heading off home including Serafina – we needed to talk but it was getting late and we had plenty of time for that.
“But he didn’t actually give me anything,” I said, though I knew exactly what she meant.
“No, he gave you nothing that you didn’t already have.”
Hypo was a bit of flake but I had to admit that she was right. She skipped off to her new home and I went off to find Mummy and her dressing gown. I couldn’t stop smiling but the thing that made me smile the most was the ridiculous idea that just for a fleeting moment I had imagined that Serafina would hang off every little nugget of wisdom her big brother uttered. Ha! Fat chance!