The first time I experienced death for real was when our three and a bit year old hamster Rodney died. (We called him Rodney in honour of the lovable, lanky smart arse from Only Fools & Horses.)
Rodney was an irritable rodent who’s objective in life was to – and I don’t blame him – escape the confines of his rather luxurious hamster cage. On one of the many occasions that Rodney managed to get out, he made his way up the stairs into my parents bedroom, and to the back of a wardrobe which was so stuffed with clothes, a fully-grown human being could literally disappear into it. We called it the Narnia wardrobe.
How Rodney managed to get up the stairs was a feat in itself. They were stupidly high, even for human sized legs. He must have clung onto the carpet fibers, and hauled himself up with his tiny paws, using his teeth for support. How my parents managed to find him at the back of the wardrobe of chaos is beyond me. I imagined the vast quantity of clothes would have muffled his hamster noises. But I do know he was pissed off about being discovered and became extra savage.
Rodney died not long after from a stroke. It was probably stress related. We had a funeral for him in the back garden. My dad, for reasons unbeknown, wrapped him in toilet roll and put him in an airtight sandwich box before burying him. I often think of the good things about Rodders; the wee snores, the times he didn’t bite me when I held him, the way his cheeks plumped out when he stuffed them with food. I also think about the people who will one day find him in the soil, tiny and mummified.
I’ve experienced several deaths of pets, but today was different, different because Offan the cat had only been a part of my life for about six months. Originally named Wolfbane, Offan was the sort of cat that you’d look at and think ‘You are just so cat.‘ She was quiet, except for when she was in heat, then she was anything but. After a few hours of a cat being in heat, you’re more than ready for a stint in a straight jacket. In the moments in between the yowling, I told her that I loved her, and stoked the red smudge on her head.
She was gentle, peaceful and so freaking elegant it was almost enviable. And those paws. Those neat and perfect paws which she always brought together when she sat down. She moved like a kitten. Not a newborn kitten, but one that had found its feet. When I first met her before she came to us in my head I thought ‘she can’t be more than three surely…’ She was ten.
When Sebastian put her in the carry case he asked me ‘would you like to say goodbye?’ I put my fingers through the bars. She looked at me. Her eyes asked ‘where am I going?’ I managed ‘Hej…’ one half of a Swedish goodbye. Nothing more would come. The cliche ‘cat got your tongue’ had never been so apt. She didn’t make much noise when they left. It wasn’t her style to make a fuss. I had asked Sebastian if he’d wanted me to go with his, but Offan’s mum would be making the trip instead. She had been there since day one.
The apartment felt colder with Offan gone, barren almost. Boney, our other cat, wandered around silently, ears pricked. She was tense, looking in all the shadows. She went to food bowl, nudged it with her nose and walked away. She did the same with the water. Several times I thought I saw Offan out of the corner of my eye. Several times my breath caught tight in my throat. Several times tears felt like flames kissing my eyelids.
When the door went again, I half expected to hear Offan’s soft meow. But I found Sebastian with an empty carry case, and shoulders stooped as a mountain trolls. He told me she’d passed in his arms. I wondered to myself if those moments I’d seen her out of the corner of my eye, if she was passing through, on her way to a better place.
Jag älskar dig Offan, I hope there’s open fields and mice where you are.