|Temba - Gone but not Forgotten|
This is an account of the loss of our Temba, written in June 2003
I stood gazing out of the window, lost in thought and not really seeing anything. My thoughts were of Temba, my beautiful Temba. Her name is the Zulu word for ‘Hope’. Temba was born in this house fourteen years ago, to our Matriarch Sammy Jo. At about five weeks old Temba and one of her siblings, Tombi (Zulu for ‘Girl’) had become quite ill, I nursed them both and Tombi, being the stronger of the two, seemed to recover very quickly, but Temba’s condition worsened. She was dehydrated and I fed her every 20 minutes with a saline solution from an eyedropper, plus I had to make up a special feeding formula for her. She was so tiny and so weak, I was afraid to leave her for a moment in case she became chilled and gave up the fight. I found one of Jim’s old woolly socks and turned it so the toe was level with the open end and I placed Temba inside it with her head cradled in the heel section, then I put her inside my jumper. Wherever I went, she went too, it was the only way I could be sure she would not get cold. Temba didn’t seem to be rallying at all and one day after giving her some of the saline she went limp and stopped breathing. I sat with her in my hands and cried, then I started to massage her little chest and she started to breath again. A few days later she slowly started to improve and eventually was restored to full health.
Temba grew into a big beautiful cat, she had long glossy black fur, white mittens, a white bib and white patches around her nose and mouth, long white whiskers and beautiful large amber coloured eyes. Her tail was thick and bushy and was always held upright when she walked. She and Tombi played together with our other cats and kittens, and the rabbits and guinea pigs that we had at the time. She was such a gentle creature, not a hunter at all, although bees and butterflies intrigued her. When she was still quite young she came home one day with a butterfly she had caught, she was so proud of herself. She was carrying the soft body of the butterfly between her lips and the wings were fluttering all the time. When we spoke to her softly and told her she was a clever puss she immediately let it go and off it fluttered, unharmed.
Temba loved to be in the garden whenever we were working there, she would go crazy, chasing around, pouncing on imaginary mice and patting at the bees and the butterflies on the flowers. She liked people and would befriend anyone who came to our house and would sit on their laps if they let her. She loved to be made a fuss of and have her tummy tickled or have her coat rubbed up the wrong way, that would send her into ecstasy and she would roll around making funny little chirping noises. Sometimes she would roll onto her back and grab the hand of whoever was tickling her tummy, she would kick with her back feet and pretend to bite our fingers but she never pulled a claw or used her teeth.
As she got older Temba became a home loving cat, she rarely wandered far from the house and could usually be found in our large lower garden when she did go out. She liked to sit in the windows or sleep on the couch. She wasn’t just an ornament and she knew she was loved. All our cats talk to us and we talk to them and give them a lot of attention, they are members of our family. Though we can’t speak their language, we know most of the time what they are trying to say, and they understand us perfectly. I swear though that Sammy Jo has learned some of our words, being the Matriarch and now sixteen years old, she is in full control. Jim is the
and I am the Housekeeper, if she wants to go out she will sit by the door and wait for one of us to open it. She is quite capable of using the see through cat flap but, if we are there, why should she! If one of us doesn’t take the hint, she becomes quite indignant and will sit there, glaring and saying 'out', ‘out!’ There is no doubt in my mind that she has learned how to say ‘out.’ Some of our younger cats have learned from her and are now following her example. Butler
There is one object in our house that none of the cats like, they react in varying degrees, Sammy Jo tolerates it but the others take off, into another room or upstairs but Temba would bolt for the cat flap as soon as she saw it emerge from its den. The vacuum cleaner is a menacing machine that threatens to gobble up their bodies if they allow it to get too close to them.
Last Easter Monday I brought the vacuum cleaner out of the cupboard and Temba made a mad dash for the door. Normally she would have been back within the hour, usually hiding under the old rabbit hutch outside until she knew it was safe to come back in again. This time she didn’t come back in, but it was a really nice warm day so she probably went to lie in the shade of a bush down in the big garden. She didn’t come back at all, she didn’t come in for breakfast next day or the day after. We searched the gardens, the village and the two roads leading out of the village, nothing. Once, several years ago she had gone ‘walkabout’ and had come back after a ten day absence, maybe she has taken off for a while. Two weeks later she was still missing, I made up posters with her photo on them and we posted them through every door in the village, even the milkman helped. Still nothing.
It is seven weeks now, just a few days ago I was working in the garden and heard a soft little cry beside me, my heart leapt, for a split second I thought it was Temba. It was Tosh from next door, he is a very large, sleek and well muscled black cat and he is a softie just like Temba, he loves attention and, like her, he loves being around us in the garden. He chases the hoe or the rake as we use it or dives into the pile of dried grasses I have just pulled out and tries to bury himself in it. Tosh’s house doesn’t have a cat flap and if his people don’t see him, he can’t get in, and he has to go out for the night when they go to bed. He has a cat flap and a box in their shed, but what self-respecting cat wants to share a cold, musty old shed with a bunch of smelly motorcycles and lawnmowers and various other bits of machinery that the boys have brought home from the latest Boot Sale!
So Tosh spends a large part of his time in our house, he comes in for breakfast and then settles down on our bed to sleep, with Calli, our youngest cat. She is about six years old now, a beautiful Calico, longhaired with a big bushy tail. Tosh loves her but she likes to tease and give him a bad time. Tosh had a sister and they were inseparable and very playful, but one day she was hit by a car and killed. We believe Tosh was with her when it happened and he saw her die, he was traumatised for a long time and seemed to withdraw into himself, becoming a bit of a loner for a while. Also he didn’t make a sound for well over six months, we paid him a lot of attention whenever he came around to see us but he would disappear for days on end. One day he came home with an extremely swollen paw so he was taken to the vet and eventually had to have one of his toes amputated. When Calli came along he wanted to befriend her, but she was tiny, and to her he must have looked like a huge black monster, panther like. So she was a little afraid of him at first and would hiss and spit at him if he so much as looked in her direction. One day Tosh came into the kitchen and walked up to me to be petted and he spoke his first words since Tish had died. Not the usual meow but little chirps and brrrp’s, which is the way all our cats talk. He is very talkative now and although he belongs next door, he spends most of his time with our cats and us. A lot of people believe that cats are solitary animals, but ours like the company of their own kind and they are very close and affectionate with each other.
One of my last memories of Temba is from a couple of days before she disappeared. She often had ‘mad moments’ and she had been lounging on the sofa when she suddenly started to pounce on some imaginary creature that was obviously hiding between the arm and the cushion of the sofa. She was leaping about all over the place, her whiskers almost curled around to meet each other and ears pointed forward. Then she jumped down and promptly ‘killed’ my shoes, after that she dashed around the room, into the kitchen, back into the room and up the stairs. We could hear her paws pounding around the bedroom, then she charged back down the stairs, breathless and wide-eyed, to settle back down on the sofa!
I believe something bad has happened to Temba and that we have lost her. She was fit and healthy when she went out that day, and still a playful 14 year old kitten. The worst part is not knowing what happened to her or where she is, was she hurt, did she try to come home? Did she lie injured somewhere, hoping we would come and find her? It breaks my heart when I think about it. It also makes me think of the parents who have missing children, how terrible it must be for them. Some people would say “well, it’s only a cat,” but whether it is a cat, a dog or a human being, if you love it the pain is the same. We miss her very much and I believe our other cats miss her too, they seemed a little subdued, maybe they know something we don’t.
8th June 2003
The night that Temba disappeared we heard dogs barking in the field opposite our back door, and I heard a scream. A farmer used to cut across the field very late at night with his dogs, which are vicious little terriers. We now believe that the dogs caught and killed Temba, and that he disposed of her body, everyone in the village knew we were looking for her.
That farmer has since been charged with deliberately shooting, wounding and blinding a show dog, he claimed she was worrying his sheep, known to be a lie because the sheep were several fields away, and she had just popped through a hole in the fences he never fixes to the field which was empty of any stock, and he shot her immediately, straight in the face, chest and flanks then left her to die. Her owner was with her when she darted through the fence from her own garden, and he went to retrieve her. The Vet disproved the farmers lies in court and he was fined heavily and has had to pay for her ongoing Veterinary fees.