The Prince’s Islands are is overrun by cats, but Heybeliada‘s are the most beautiful. When we first arrived, we kept my cat Meow Meow inside away from potential “friends,” and for a week she sat on the balcony and looked at the garden below – and then one day she looked at us, looked down from the balcony – and leapt down 25 feet into the garden. So now she’s a happy outdoor cat once again after having endured two years in Manhattan indoor captivity. She always startles when the faytons with horses as they pass by too closely. She goes out as she pleases until 4PM (she usually only stays out for an hour) and comes home to sleep by us and purr her head off. (Oddly, for over 22 hours in a cat carrier during the whole journey here, unable to eat, drink, or piss for 22 hours, she never cried once, so we didn’t have to give her the Ace Primizone tranquilizing pills – she just slept in our laps on the plane.)
Many of island’s cats have become my companions and are especially appreciative of our gifts of leftovers from dinner which we hand out every evening. I’ve given them all names. There’s Mino?, who engages in group love with us when we call her name but has zero interest in food. Shlomo Kedi is an immensely fat longhair calico (owned by the oddly-named Jewish doctor Shlomo Abuvaf) who lies on their windowsill and allows herself to be pet without granting you any reaction whatsoever. Ugly The Cat, the landlord’s gray cat, always sports a broken jaw, a ripped eye, a scar on the right side of its face, and walks with a limp – yet every night it persists in picking fights with other cats, who, after beating Ugly up, hiss to it in some kind of Turkish cat dialect, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” My favorite street cat is The Bad Cat. You can see him, gray and scraggly, eyes a little too close together, smoking a cigarette, walking to an upright bass accompaniment on the soundtrack. He approaches Ugly Cat and my Meow Meow and just keeps on coming, no matter what they do. He doesn’t fight, but nothing deters him. Meow Meow protects her turf by making herself appear psychotic. Generally, she only commits physical violence on people, but if another cat goes near or corners her, she puffs up her fur, crouches, her eyes dilate, and she growls and screams bloody murder. It’s a spectacular show. Ugly The Cat believes it. I believe it. The security guards at the Amsterdam airport believed it. There’s only one living thing that I’ve seen not buying her psycho act, and that, of course, is The Bad Cat. Sometimes when Meow Meow gets too crazy and howls and hisses and looks like she’s going to go into a seizure, I throw water on The Bad Cat, but that doesn’t help – he holds his ground. Of late, though, The Bad Cat has started to hang out elsewhere: the last time I saw him, he was down by the sea stealing fish from the fishermen, and what looks like his child now haunts our garden. His offspring is a bit of a pansy, standing on his paws like a squirrel and begging for food, and when another cat comes, he turns tail and runs.
One night we were walking, and right at the corner of our house, we saw a tiny kitten crying that we hadn’t noticed before, smaller than my palm, obviously abandoned by its family. We had to decide whether to bring it down to the fishermen or to take it in; the kitten looked like it was at death’s door, so we brought it in until we could decide what to do. It ate everything we gave it and played for awhile. But the next evening, it suddenly went totally limp and started crying. It stopped eating, crapped liquid, and started dying. Elif’s aunt Nebahat, who regularly converses with ghosts, was over at our house and began rubbing the cat to use her psychic vibrations to heal it. I checked the boat schedules to the mainland, there were no boats for an hour, and we didn’t think it would survive the trip to a vet. Now we were in need of something, and time was a factor: not the ideal situation one could be in in Turkey.
After borrowing a cell phone from our neighbors, we finally were able to get through to a vet the next island over, and he told us to tap its eye with our finger. We did and got no response. The vet said that was a bad sign but that he would not come; instead, he gave us the name of a cow doctor on Heybeliada whose office was closed but who still may come to help. Now, there are no cows on our island, but the navy employs one to test their food samples to see if their meat is healthy to eat. While we were on the phone with the Buyukada vet, the cat rolled back its eyes, gave a long moan, kicked its back legs twice, and died. And I actually was relieved by this, since after a bout of suffering, at least the kitten was out of its misery and off of this damned planet, home of such wonderful and complex organic organization which makes suffering and life-feeding-on-life the sine qua non of existence. I was sad that an animal which we had taken into our care had died on us. Elif hung up the phone. Our landlord was crying.
But then the kitten started breathing again thirty seconds later. The cat was just twitching, muscular spasms, like after you cut up a lobster or a chicken. I found this display of nature’s cruelty to be rather disgusting. We had no choice but to call the cow doctor whom the vet recommended. Elif told me to go get some yogurt at the bakkal (market) because once when a cat of hers was dying, she fed it garlic yogurt and it got better. Her aunt Nebahat agreed. I thought this was about the stupidest thing I’d ever heard, but since I had nothing to do at the house other than watch a dying cat twitch, I went. I put on some classical music and left, coming to some bizarre resolve that even for a cat, if your matter’s complex organization is about to break apart as you pass out of existence, you might as well experience this by listening to the complex organization of tones of Mozart. All of this was running through my head while I was walking to the bakkal to buy yogurt.
When I arrived at the bakkal, I found to my horror that my favorite yogurt, Mis, was bought out by Nestle, so it’s now Nestle Mis – and the label no longer proudly advertises “Full-fat!” – although, thankfully, it still tastes the same. (Are western fat-neuroses coming to Turkey?) When I got returned twenty minutes later, the cat was still unresponsive. The vet still hadn’t come yet. Our island really isn’t that big, and it shouldn’t have taken this long. I said to Elif that I don’t mind the lack of facilities or niceties of civilization here in Turkey (such as toilet seats), but I’m annoyed by the cavalier attitude here towards concepts of time and urgency. Were they ever to make a big-budget Turkish spy film (“Bond. Mustafa Bond.”), with a bomb about to go off in ninety seconds, the hero would probably go brew some tea first.
Eventually, the cow doctor shows up. He is a huge guy with massive hands and the largest head I’ve ever seen on a human being. He stands at our door, sees our kitten comatose on the chair, and proceeds to slowly untie his shoes. Of course: it’s impolite not to take off your shoes when entering a house in Turkey. We yell at him to stop. I shout “Gerek yok.” He shrugs and then slowly ties his shoes back up. He goes over to the cat and juggles it in the air, spinning it around his head like a seal with a ball at Sea World. He pokes its eyes. He mauls its belly. He smells its mouth. I just want to offer this bear some honey and get him to leave. He goes to the landlord and calls the vet at the other island, and he gets a list of four medicines to give the cat. Nobody knows what the problem is, but they all decide we should give it a liquid for diarrhea, a serum for parasites, a multivitamin, and a shot for diarrhea. This all sounds to me more like more torture, but the kitten’s survived this long, so I suppose we should do everything we can. But where can we buy cat medicine on this island at this hour?
At the eczane (pharmacy), of course, since for most ailments there is no cat medicine. The eczane is a lovely thing to behold; there’s one on every corner, and no matter where you go, there will be one one in the vicinity whose turn it is to remain open round-the-clock. So Elif and Nebahat stayed at the house and watched our comatose kitten; our older cat Meow Meow took off for parts unknown; and I left our house with the cow doctor to buy the drugs. I started walking fast, and he panted behind me, begging, “A little slower, please.” I slowed down and then started walking a little faster again. He looked guilty and then sped up. He took out a cigarette to smoke and offered me one. I declined, and then I changed my mind and accepted. I despise cigarettes, but at that moment, it fit the bill perfectly. Although the eczane was left open and unattended, the pharmacist was not in, of course. He was out on the street hanging out with some kids playing football. We all went inside and bought the medicine. He, of course, wanted to wrap each box in tissue paper.
When we got back to the house, we tortured the kitten some more. Marcus Guernsey-cow, M.D. decided that we should administer the shots in two doses because the kitten was so small, but he kept missing and it was more like six shots. It reminded me of the scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the psychotic old grandfather is too feeble to properly hammer in his victim’s head, so he just lets it fall on the victim, over and over. We poured liters of liquid into the kitten’s mouth, all of which it drooled onto our chair. Its main reaction to the shots was further muscular spasm. Finally, the bear left, happy to receive $10 for his house call. We found a large cardboard box that once held Elif’s mother’s computer, and which she had given us to transport dishes to the island. We put some rags in the bottom and wedged the box behind the sofa in the living room. Finally, we laid the kitten in there, where it could die in a warm and safe place.
The next morning I was voted (by Elif) to be the one to see if it were still alive. I crept in, looked in the box, and there were only the rags inside. Then I looked up, and she was standing up on the chair, kneading it, saying, “Meow!” I have no idea how it jumped three feet straight out of the box in the middle of the night. We didn’t want to mess around, so we got dressed and brought it to a real vet on the Asian mainland, along with our older cat Meow Meow, because perhaps what the kitten had was contagious. The vet seemed more concerned with Meow Meow than the little one. “Boy is she fat!” he exclaimed. “Fat?” we asked. “No, obese!” he said. Then, he took one look at the kitten and pronounced, “Parasites.” We asked how he knew and he said from the stink of the thing. Then he took a second look, inside its mouth, and he whistled. “Do you know how old this thing is?” he asked. I said I figured about three weeks; it was the size of my hand, so I’d have guessed two weeks, but it had nice fur, so I allowed for three. He said, “Over two months, judging by its teeth.” So he administered parasite shots to both cats, and sent us home with a parasite liquid which we’d have to give them for three days, and prescribed megadoses of calcium and vitamin D supplements for the kitten, and lots of sunlight. When we got back to the island, we bought the medicines and found out to our dismay that the parasite liquid, meant for human infants, only came in a cherry flavor (rather than a tuna flavor or something). I developed a strange reaction to the potion: each time I administered it to Meow Meow, my arm suddenly broke out in bloody scratches.
All week, the little one’s been playful, alert, and doing all the kitten things, thumbing her nose at Meow Meow, who wants to kill her but can’t. The kitten even ate Meow’s diet food yesterday. We took her to Nebahat’s house for some more spirit-healing, and she enjoyed the trip in the boat and the minibus and loved Auntie’s home. Yesterday, we left Meow Meow at home and brought the kitten to the mainland to celebrate Elif’s mother Dilek’s birthday. But on the boat ride this time, her ears went back, and she completely wigged out, running around in circles in the cat carrier. When we were carrying her off the boat, the cat carrier was shaking violently. We brought her into the house, set her carrier and food in the corner, and the cat literally started running around in circles and climbing the walls. And then its eyes rolled back, it fell over, it kicked its back legs, and it went completely stiff. We called the vet again, and he said to bring it immediately, even if the shock of transporting it would kill it. We brought it. The kitten didn’t move, and its eyes were pointed in completely different directions. He looked at it and said, “Boy does it smell!” He looked at its belly and confidently pronounced, “Worms!” We asked, Worms and parasites? “Yes!” and he gave her another shot. Can Meow catch worms from her? “She had her shots already for that.” We asked, does it have rabies? “Absolutely not!” Kitten disease? “No!” Epilepsy? And he laughed a good laugh and sent us on our way.
We brought the cat back home, and it woke up later that evening and again seems frisky and perfectly normal, doing all the kitty things. We named it “Sara,” the Turkish word for Epilepsy. I’m worried about Meow Meow, and we’re keeping a close watch on her and keeping her away from the kitten, who has doubled in size within days, as if the food and vitamins had jump-started her kitty-growth program.