It was nighttime when I first saw her. In the near darkness – the street lamp was out, again – her all-black fur blended into the night and all I could see was her small shape moving hesitantly toward me.
“Do you want something to eat?” I asked. “Here,” I said, dumping the dry cat food in front of her nose. “You have something to eat. There’s some water over there too.” I gestured to the empty yogurt container I had recently filled.
The cat sniffed the food and backed away. Not hungry, I thought. Sometimes street cats aren’t hungry, strange as it may seem.
The next day the kitten had crossed the street and entered our garden, or, rather, the overgrown patch of ground behind the neighboring municipal health clinic that happens to border our apartment building’s parking area. Nobody ever comes by to mow the grass or cut down the brush so it is now home to about a dozen or so cats that I feed and water daily.
The kitten was sitting in the middle of the driveway, a long stretch of concrete just wide enough for a single car to drive down. I gasped when I saw her and instinctively looked away. She cried, walked towards me and cried again.
“Help me,” she said.
The kitten’s nose and eyes were seeping green mucus and her matted, thin fur was prickled with burs and grasses that she wasn’t able to clean off. I wondered if she could even see or smell given what must have been an upper-respiratory infection raging through her body. And then I noticed her jaw, the slight drooping on the right side, the teeth jutting out at an angle, the hole where skin and fur should have been.
She cried at me again, her jaw aching at having to open to get the weak sound out.
I turned away from the kitten. My instinct was to pick her up and rush her to the vet, but I hesitated. I’d done that so many times, lost so many cats teetering on the edge of death, that I didn’t know if I could do it again. After the last time, I told myself, “This is nature. This is how the world works. Shit happens. And you can’t save them all.”
I went inside, having put down some fresh water and food for the cats.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about the kitten. The next morning, there she was, waiting for me. “Please,” she said.
A friend, one who is much more knowledgeable about cats than I, came by and said that the kitten had to go to the vet. There was no way she’d make it otherwise, even if I force fed her antibiotics. The only vet open on a Sunday, unfortunately, was the one vet I can’t stand, the only vet I’ve ever met who cares more about his business’s bottom line than about helping animals.
But there was no choice. I was in it now. The cat had asked me for help, and I just – oh I had to give it. How can one not? How can a human being stare suffering in the face and do nothing?
An x-ray showed that the kitten’s jaw was, in fact, not broken, leading us to believe that several doses of antibiotics could clear up the infection eating away at her body and causing her mouth to fall apart.
On Sunday, we left the kitten at the vet and crossed our fingers. Let’s hope she pulls through, we said.
That night, I fretted at home about the cat, about the vet who put us off at first because he didn’t want to take the kitten in, about the asshole across the street who neglected to have his cat fixed and then dumped the kittens she bore into the street. I cursed every other person who walked by that kitten and refused to help it, who said, “not me, not today”.
That night, standing on my balcony watching other, healthier kittens play in the street, I watched two women walk by and saw one yell at them, swing her hand towards them. I yelled angry, inappropriate things in Turkish down into the street.
In the morning, I steeled myself for the worst, that the kitten had died in the night, or worse, that she was lying in a pool of her own vomit or piss, neglected by the very vet who was supposed to be taking care of her.
At the vet, they brought the kitten to me and I saw her eyes for the first time and they were beautiful, big black eyes. And she was standing, something she hadn’t been able to do the day before. And her voice was stronger and she talked to me and the abscess in her jaw looked a little less red and raw.
She wasn’t out of the woods yet, that much I knew, but oh what a difference 24 hours makes! What a miracle antibiotics are! How much stronger her voice, her legs, how much clearer her eyes!
I opened the door to the carrier and reached my hand inside. The kitten came forward, head bowed low so I could pet her.
I bent my head toward her and spoke softly. “You did the right thing by finding me. I’m sorry I hesitated. But I’m going to take care of you now.”
The kitten nestled her head into my cupped hand and purred.
After about two weeks of antibiotics, minor surgery on her face, and plenty of water, food and vitamins, the kitten – whom I’ve temporarily named Lucky (I think she deserves a nicer name than that, one more indicative of her personality) – is doing much better. Unfortunately, I have not found a permanent home for her and she is now in my guest room while I attempt to find her full-time parents. If you’re interested in adopting her, please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm happy to bring her to you anywhere in Turkey!