A Christmas Tail

Here's a happy holiday story for you. This has nothing to do with underwater photography, but I hope it inspires some appropriately warm, mushy feelings for the festive season.

The protagonist in this tale is Muji, a feline friend I made in 1999, pictured here sunning himself in the swank London apartment where he now resides:

Cat sunning himself in window sill
Muji sunning himself at his London residence

Muji started life as a homeless street kitty in Holland Village in Singapore, where, one balmy evening, he decided to enlist my assistance to better his lot in life.

I was standing on the sidewalk, talking with a friend after dinner. Just as I was about to head to my car, I felt something rub my ankle. I looked down and saw a scrawny little kitten, barely big enough to cover the palm of my hand, rubbing itself against my ankles, wrapping its tiny tail around me while making that low-pitched, deep-throated gurgling sound that furry felines specialise in.

Kneeling down, I picked the kitten up by the scruff of its neck and did a quick visual inspection. Male. Ears, nose, eyes, paws, teeth…all clean. No scratches or wounds. No fleas. No ticks. Perfectly normal, other than the fact that it was far too small to be on its own.

I spun around several times in search of a mommy cat or sibling kittens. No luck. There were no homes nearby, so it probably wasn't lost.

Growing anxious, I held the kitten out to passersby and asked if it belonged to them. All I got were strange looks. More than a few people hurried away, with callous disregard for the plight of an increasingly desperate man, standing in the middle of the pavement, at night, holding a kitten, calling out to anyone who would listen.

After a while, my muscles started to fatigue from holding said kitten out at arms length, so I placed it in the crook of my left arm. Kitty pushed and pulled, shifted and shoved to make a few adjustments to my limb position, then snuggled in, gurgled, purred…and fell asleep.

That was how I came to be the owner of a cat.

Cat curled up asleep
This is how Muji got me to adopt him

When I first took Muji home, Pasta (my golden retriever) sauntered over for a salutory sniff, as amiable goldens are wont to do. Tiny though he was, Muji hissed and growled up a storm, leaving no room for doubt about who was top dog now (so to speak), giving poor Pasta a considerable fright in the process.

Muji's less-than-cordial initial greeting made Pasta a nervous wreck for a few days, until the two reached an inter-species détente of sorts and learned to like one another (meaning Muji used Pasta as a fluff pillow while Pasta accepted her fate with stoic canine dignity).

Somewhat unusual for a cat, Muji stayed with me 24/7. He followed me everywhere. His favourite activity (besides sneaking up on Pasta and snickering when she jumped) was sitting on my shoulder, going along for the ride wherever I walked, drove or sat.

Instead of a footloose and carefree pirate with a multi-hued parrot on his shoulder, picture a Chinese guy with scrawny stray cat on his shoulder.

Muji and I shared many (mis)adventures together…far too many to relate here…but one in particular stands out…the day I gave Muji a shower.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Pasta, after all, was enjoying her weekly shower, basking in the spray of water as I hosed the suds off her in our driveway. It was sunny; sparrows were chirping. It was the perfect day to shampoo one's four-legged friends.

When the first drop of water touched Muji, he screamed. Literally so loud that I'm sure everyone within a kilometre heard him. Up until then, I wasn't aware that cats were capable of screaming, but it seems that they're pretty good at it when the occasion warrants. Go figure.

Anyway, Muji was still a tiny tyke, so I was able to hold him down during his involuntary ablution, suffering only a thousand or so scratches on my forearms in the process.

When all was said and done, I had the cleanest, best smelling cat in Singapore. It was therefore somewhat unfortunate that Muji was far too incensed to appreciate the faint bouquet of lilac that wafted up whenever he slunk by.

For many days thereafter, Muji wouldn't come near me, much less sit on my shoulder. He scowled, snarled and sulked, refusing to acknowledge my existence (except at meal times of course).

It took a contrite apology and sincere promise from me never to inflict such an indignity upon him again (along with a good chunk of catnip) for Muji to let bygones be bygones and re-establish his quasi-permanent perch on my clavicle.

Cat on a cabinet
Muji on a cabinet in his new home

Along came the day when I had to prepare for an extended trip. Pasta had quite a few friends she could go stay with, but I needed to find someone to take care of Muji. Fortunately, Yoko-san, a friend who lived not too far away, agreed to take him in.

I have to confess that when I dropped Muji off, I felt a pang of separation anxiety, exacerbated by a nagging concern that my little kitten might suffer trauma at being abandoned…especially given his origins as a stray.

To make a long story short…Muji and Yoko-san got along famously. In fact, they got along so well that when I went back to pick Muji up and was about to leave with kitten (and kitty bed, kitty food, kitty litter, kitty toys, kitty treats, kitty blankets, kitty pillows, etc.) in tow, I saw a tear forming in the corner of Yoko-san's eye.

Now…here's the thing. Fond as I was of the young lad, it wasn't never my intention to have a cat. My dog was responsibility enough, and the most important thing to me was to ensure that Muji had a good home.

In fact, the reason I named Muji Muji was that the term is a contraction of "Mujirushi" (無印), the name of a brand in Japan, which literally translates to "no name". In other words, I didn't want to name Muji, because I didn't want to get attached.

Sensing opportunity, I asked Yoko-san if she wanted to adopt a kitten. The answer was obvious.

So that was how Yoko-san came to be the owner of a cat.

Two cats sleeping together
Yoko-san eventually became the owner of two cats

After Muji settled in with his new family, another stray kitten joined them, and they've been living the good life ever since.

From his humble beginnings as a homeless street kitty, Muji has come a long way. After enjoying a peaceful, pampered life in Singapore (with the minor exception of the aforementioned shower incident) and Japan, Muji has most recently taken up residence in London (via cross-continental flight Tokyo to Paris, hotel in Paris to recover, car ride to Calais, ferry to Dover, car ride to London), where he's looking forward to many a new adventure, good English food (or maybe not), and lots of lazy afternoon naps.

On that happy note, permit me this opportunity to wish you a happy holiday season, and a wonderful new year ahead.

Cat in window sill looking outside
Muji surveying his new domain