The other night I was ready for bed, so I went out back to bring Geo inside. He usually spends the evenings outside in my small yard, catching lizards and licking off my dinner dishes. I cooed and tutted and shook his bowl of food, but he was nowhere to be found. I stumbled out into the dark with my flashlight, poked my head around my concession, and nothing… I announced that Geo went out, and my concession brother Cedric took me out to look for him. We romped around the bush, walked into neighboring concessions, and accumulated a small search party of my neighbors, but to no avail.
I was told he’d find his way back eventually and to go home and get some rest – they could see the worry on my face. I waited until I was safely inside to let the tears fall, and I called my loved ones for comfort. I left my screen doors open, placed a bowl of food outside, and tried to sleep. But I could hear my neighbors outside, some of them still calling “Géo! Géo!,” and some of them surely laughing about the ridiculous yovo, making her cat come inside every night.
While my family always had indoor cats while I was growing up, I am all for the freedom to roam. If I had a big open farmland, I’d have no worries about Geo’s being out late at night. But as I lay in my bed, missing the sag of my mosquito net where Geo usually sleeps on top, I thought about all the motos that zip by on the road next to my house, or all the people in village who had commented on how well I feed my cat, while greedily licking their lips (it’s a matter of preference, but yes, some people do eat cat here).
So I gave it one last effort to roam around village, this time the tears flowing freely. Although, I think my tears were somewhat pardoned this time, as many people half-joke that Geo is my baby. They call me Maman Géo and then usually say “But really, Mishu, that’s not good. You need to have real children. Now. In Benin. Before you’re too old.”
It was my first night in village without Geo. And while becoming an autonomous cat owner has been a learning experience that has required many band-aids, Geo has become a big character in my life here – A friend to greet me each time I come back to my lonely home; something to be responsible for; something to share love and food with. I’m not one for cat stories, but he’s got personality.
So I laid there again, missing my friend, and worrying about what could happen to him. I cried myself into one of those deep, sad sleeps. The kind that are easily disturbed but heavy enough that you have a ½ second of ignorance when you wake, until you remind yourself what has happened, and the sadness sets in again, as it did after every subtle noise I awoke to.
But around 6h30 the next morning, I heard what I had been listening for all night – his little scratches on the door! I leapt out of bed, opened the door, and he pranced on in. I was so happy I started crying all over again. He was ok, and he came home! I gave him a big bowl of food and scratched him all over, which he probably thought was some sort of reward for his big night out…
At day break, I announced the news to my neighbors, some of whom were already up and ready to relaunch the search party. Even a man I strongly dislike had called the gongonière (man who bangs a gong when people are to assemble). The good news spread, and people kept stopping by to “Dieu Merci!” (Thank god!), because “Mishu, hier-la… Tchᴐ!” (Mishu, yesterday, tsk...), meaning I was ridiculously distraught over my missing kitten, and may never live it down.
If I don’t want him to leave again like that they said, it’s time to castrate him. I had about ten neighbors – village chief and delegates included – come tell me this within an hour of his return, and not one of them failed to accompany their suggestions with the corresponding cutting and crotch-pointing gestures... I think Geo knew what was up too, because he sat on my bed looking a bit guilty when my neighbors poked their heads in to shake a finger at him… At least Bob Barker will be pleased.
I’m just so happy to have him home. It was a long night. For us both, apparently. After the cuddling and the lecturing, and the big meal, he climbed up to take a little cat nap on my mosquito net: right where he belongs.