“Worth.”

1

The dude’s cat died today, after a slow, drawn-out fight with kidney failure that I witnessed mostly from afar.

He’s had the kitty since 6 August, and announced the arrival via a whatsapp snap of a bedraggled, filthy, sorry-looking bundle of black and white fur. “What’s that,” I asked, human of four cats. It was a sweet little thing he picked up off the street with an injured paw. He got it treated for fleas and made a bandage for the wound. The kitty got a name (and a gender) – Bianca, for her mostly white fur.

When I visited, there were lots of cautious headrubs and back scratches. The kitty was still undeniably dirty. She had her own spot on the couch, on a stained blue towel, and we grumbled a bit when she rolled off it and spread her mystery muck elsewhere.

At some point during my visit, I was thrilled to find out that the Bianc-Bianc loved to drink from the tap. It’s all about an ingrained sense of preservation, I smugly informed the dude while we watched her skinny body awkwardly balanced to reach the running tap in the kitchen sink. Running water is always safer than tap water. She drinks a lot, the dude said.

Eventually, we washed Bianca in the same kitchen sink, and she was unbelievably good-natured and lovely about it despite hating the experience with every fibre of her quivering, protesting body. We went shopping for food and supplies, and I spent the last of my sheikels on a bunch of toys – balls, little crinkly bags, feathered whatsits. She proceeded to ignore all of them. I clipped her nails afterwards. She was all set to be a gorgeous, adorable little house cat, a Cinderella with a magical story ending.

But I’ve given away the real ending already.

Not long after I left, the brutish end started to arrive, with growing intensity. Bloody spots around the flat, multiple trips to multiple vets, problems with pee and poop. Amidst all this was a surprising discovery – Bianca wasn’t a girl! We latched onto that little bit of light-heartedness and debated names over text. Whitey, he said. Ugh, too colonial, I replied. He eventually became Bianco. A while later the dude sent me a photo of Bianco’s little white head peeping down at him from the flat’s balcony, watching him return from work.

Two days ago, Bianco stopped eating. Then he stopped drinking. On the way to the vet, he died in the car. There was no pet disposal service, so his cold body was rolled up in his blue towel and placed in the trash; that fragile, thin body that we held under the tap and scrubbed with pet-shampoo.

The part of me that I hate the most, the fearful, squeamish part of me wanted to know if it was all worth it. The time, effort, money. The giving of one’s heart and space. The hope, the future plans, the expectations. He didn’t even last two full months, even though it felt much longer.

The better part of me told my dude that I was happy to have met the little kitty, I was happy he died with care and attention rather than alone in a drain, that it was worth something to have made the last few weeks of someone’s life better. (That is, if Bianco did feel better living up in the apartment.)

Is anything ever worth it? I have four cats, and some of my blog posts chronicle little bits of our time together because I wanted to fossilise time. I’ve given up on that because, truth be told, it makes me sad. My Fab Four are pretty healthy and bouncy now, but of course they won’t be forever. As I rack up big vet bills, structure my days around their care, watch them waste away with my heart cracking into pieces, will I ask, was all of this worth it?

Many people have asked the same question. Google “C.S. Lewis” and the search bar auto-suggests “C.S. Lewis on love”.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The meaning of love and loss are hopelessly tangled up with each other; in fact, they beat with the same heart. Of course, no part of knowing this makes any of it easier to encounter; our feelings get helplessly buffeted about so much. In the throes of health, optimism and happiness, everything’s worth it. In the gaping maw of mortality, despair and fear, nothing is. Maybe the answer to this question lies in its unanswerability -sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not.

Maybe there is no answer to why, amongst all the street cats, we encounter one particular tiny, vulnerable, dirt-crusted street cat, and make it a part of our lives for a short while, and then watch it die. There is no answer, because chance, affection, and mortality are not questions.

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