25 September, 2006

Pet project

On Saturday a cat appeared on the scaffolding outside my flat.

Heaven knows how it had got there, but it seemed perfectly content and effortlessly happy, basking in the sun, snoozing for hours on end and casually watching the world go by.

It was still there as night fell. My initial enchantment at such a domestic scene turned to worry. Perhaps the cat was stuck. Surely it would want to go home? Wasn't it hungry? Wasn't it cold?

When I got up the following morning and saw it was still there, I knew instantly it couldn't get down. Either it had been chased up the scaffolding or scuttled its way up in a fit of wild exuberance, but now it was well and truly stranded, and it seemed like I was the only one in the entire neighbourhood who had noticed.

The problem was, just as the cat couldn't get down, I couldn't get up to rescue it.

The bottom part of the scaffolding was pure iron bars - no ladders or climbing frames in sight. What's more, the plank on which the cat was sitting was too low for me to reach from my own window. All I could do was watch it, helpless, willing it to work out a way to escape or summon up the courage to climb down the ladders it had originally clambered up.

Last night - Sunday night - was the worst. The cat was mewing and whining for hours. I felt absolutely dreadful. Should I call the fire brigade? After all, it's what people used to do when a cat got stuck up a tree. Should I call on my neighbours and try to organise our own rescue?

Yet both ideas felt utterly ludicrous and far-fetched. I would be laughed out of court. Everybody would say they had better things to do. Nobody would believe me.

My sole hope was that today, Monday, the workmen would show up and help the cat to safety themselves. I couldn't bank on it; last week, when I worked from home for a day, not a single person showed up to do any work on the scaffolding whatsoever.

My abiding fear was that I could return from work and find the cat still perched up there, miaowing its poor heart out, desperate for food and shelter. Or worse, the cat would be up there, but dead. Starved into extinction, having been sitting in front of my own eyes the whole weekend.

Well, when I came back from work the cat had gone. Vanished. It was already dark, so I couldn't see any sign of how it might have got down or to where it had made its escape, but the poor creature had definitely disappeared. Helped down, hopefully, and allowed to trot off to its owners.

Daylight will confirm the fact and not, as is still my deepest, darkest dread, the sight of a cat lying immobile, stretched out not on another plank of wood, but far far below me on the ground, silent, still, alone.


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