It's the dead of winter at about 6am in Kimberley. I'm wearing my trusty Ouma-jersey over my pyjamas, wrapped in a sherpa that must have been woven in heaven. I have a boiling cup of tea in my hand and a hot water bottle on my lap. And I'm working away on M is for Meerkat, one of the 26 letters of my South African Animal Alphabet.
A smile crosses my face. Ah, Meerkats. They are positively fabulous. Such charm! Such character! Adorably cute but surprisingly fierce, they are basically tiny tough guys that suffer from short-man-syndrome!
In strolls my mom's rotund cat, aptly named "Pokkel" (Chubby). She gazes longingly at the soft, warm nest that I've created for myself. I can tell she even knows about the hot water bottle. She squeaks at me. Yes, squeaks. Some cats don't bother to meow... When I don't react immediately, she hoists her two front paws up and digs her claws into my leg. Even through all the winter padding, it hurts. This, of course, is Cat for "pick-me-up-or-die".
I gently extract her claws from my sherpa and try to reason with her, "Pokkel, there's no space for you up here, darling.". With bright, yellow, slightly squint eyes she looks at me as if I'm an idiot. "Hush, lowly cretin. If I say there's space, there is space", she replies. I sit back in my chair, exasperated... Without warning, she seizes the opportunity and leaps nimbly onto my lap. "But Pokkelllll...!" I exclaim. She merely starts to purr in response.
I pick up a paintbrush and reach towards my painting, but the furry obstacle on my lap magically expands, making it impossible for me to get close enough to paint. I use the back-end of the brush to inch the painting closer on the desk, and hop-hop-hop my chair a bit closer. Pokkel squirms as she becomes more and more squashed between my body and the desk, but she refuses to take the hint. Finally, I'm able to reach my artwork.
Just as I'm about to resume painting, Pokkel sits up, blocking my view with her head. With my left hand, I tickle her chin. As her head sinks back down towards my hand, I quickly paint a few brush strokes. Just as I'm about to start celebrating my ingenuity, her ample backside rises slowly and hovers in mid-air, just below my nose. As if sensing her victory, she expertly whips her tail across my face a couple of times. I immediately stop the tickling. Her backside slowly deflates, and she gives me a dirty sidelong glance.
I lean over Pokkel again to attempt another go at painting. All seems to go well for a moment, until I hear a fretful squeaking and feel her squirm beneath me. "I can't breathe, you overgrown pillow!", she shouts. I try to convince her to go back to the warm, spacious comfort of my mom's bed, but she blows me off with a curt, "I'm here now, so deal with it".
I hop-hop-hop my chair so that it faces the desk at a 45 degree angle. Pokkel immediately notices the change of legroom, and stretches out luxuriously. As for me... I twist my upper body sideways at a horribly uncomfortable angle and continue painting, trying to ignore the sharp claws that have started to rhythmically puncture my knees (not to mention the throbbing spasm in my back!). This time, I really think I've managed to tame the beast (or at the very least -- this is as good as it's ever going to get!).
I was making good progress, when suddenly a long paw slips between my hands onto my artwork, followed by another, then two pointy ears, a head and finally an entire bulge-of-a-feline.
What else can I do but laugh and give into such determined persistence...?
I tickle her ears, my paintbrush now carelessly abandoned on the desk. She mutters under her breath,"I told you there was space, darling".
See the SA Animal Alphabet in store here: