I've mentioned before that Nagasaki has a whole lot of 野良猫 (noraneko - stray cats), and they're kind of like pigeons around here; you get used to seeing them, they do their own thing, and they're generally pretty wild and scared of people. Occasionally one'll be hungry enough to accept the ham from your sandwich, but any sudden movements and they bolt. On Monday, Miss Georgie and I found ourselves miles out from home, at the wrong train station, with an hour left to wait - and me in a towering temper - when one of these noraneko sidled over, eyeing us.
It was ginger and white, with vampire-bite puncture holes in its neck, and a nasty open wound just across its back, above its tail. The fur had got all matted and pressed into the scratch, and there was another along its front leg. Its tail was broken, bent like a TV aerial, and only half-length - god knows how you lose half a tail. A nip was missing from one ear. It was thin enough to wrap one hand around, with ribs like a toast-rack, and I've been hardened enough by this city to say sharply to G, 'Don't touch it - it's probably got fleas, or like, rabies.'
The cat mewled, trying to rub itself against our legs, and I noticed how thin it was.
'I don't have anything for you,' I told it, softening slightly. I had one carrier bag of shopping to hand, but it contained only soy milk, and I opened one carton and tried to dribble a little out for it. The cat seemed uncertain, but when I reached down it tried to headbutt my hand in a friendly sort of way, asking for attention.
'Fleaaaas,' wailed Georgie, her vegetarian, animal-loving impulses fighting with her understandable desire not to spend the rest of her holiday in Japan frothing at the mouth and scratching. 'Rabiiiiies.'
Perhaps because I was pissed off and feeling contrary, I decided I didn't give any shits about fleas and rabies, and chucked the cat under the chin. It practically died with joy.
'It's friendly,' I said. 'That's unusual.' I've been scratched by strays before when I've extended a hand to them. This cat had taken my touch as encouragement, and was winding around our legs, knocking its head into our hands to be stroked. It looked young; I assumed it was a boy, since to my knowledge most ginger cats are, and went on petting it, while Georgie watched uncertainly.
'I don't want to leave him here,' G said, eyeing his visible ribs. 'I suppose it's not like we can call the RSPCA, is it; if we rang the Japanese equivalent and said we'd found a stray in Nagasaki...'
'Yeah,' I said. 'They'd be like, "Tell us something we don't know".' I rubbed the spot between his ears, thinking. We had around twenty minutes left to wait before our train came, and I couldn't think of what to do - we had a hurried debate while the cat purred against us, both of us feeling that we couldn't just hop on board and leave him there. We even took the shoes out of one of my shopping bags in order to size him up against the shoebox and see if we could transport him that way, but my disproportionately tiny feet once again foiled us.
The train was fast, and loud, anddamned if we could leave this cat behind, and on impulse I scooped him up - expecting him to hurtle away, but he didn't - as Georgie picked up the rest of my bags for me, and clutched him to my chest as we threw ourselves onto the train.
He was still and silent in my arms, eyes very wide, but he didn't try to escape. The wound on his back was weeping against my t-shirt, leaving little smears of yellow and red.
When we reached the right station, we climbed straight into a taxi, and I was so caught up in this tiny, starving animal in my arms that I could hardly think of my own address. The second we got back, Georgie went haring off to the 24 hour supermarket to find cat food, and I googled frantically and - off the internet's advice - tried to clean him up, although he didn't think much of this and my initial bathing efforts turned into a wipe-down with a damp cloth, as if he were a kitchen counter. He had weed on my jeans at some point in the car journey, so they went into the washing machine, and I ended up sitting on the kitchen floor cuddling him in reassurance with no trousers on - which, to be honest, at this point I knew I was gonna be keeping this cat, and he would need to get used to seeing me with no trousers on since that is my default state. When G reappeared with food, he flung himself on it as if he had never eaten before. We sat on the floor and watched him.
'We'll have to take him to the vet,' I said, mostly to have something to say. 'What if he's got, like, feline AIDs? That's a thing. What if he dies overnight?'
'Oh god,' said Georgie, who did not need my fear-mongering and had only just confirmed online that there is no rabies in Japan. 'No, no, he won't die overnight. His eyes are bright...'
'I'm going to keep him,' I said. 'I have to keep him.'
She nodded, as the cat attempted to upturn the saucer in order to get any last traces of food, and I thought it was a good thing I'm so damn British and have so many cup-and-saucer sets.
I made him a makeshift bed out of a folded bath mat and a towel, and we left out water and a newspaper, in case he needed reading material during the night, and we shut him in the kitchen, neither of us quite sure what we were doing.
By morning I had decided to call him Ryoma, after a famous Nagasaki samurai.
We spent a couple of hours as I tried to ring people I knew with cars, before I manned up and braved speaking Japanese over the phone to make a vet appointment: with no other way to move the cat, I wrapped him in his towel and we walked the ten minute trip there - Georgie once again laden down with all the bags, since this is what you can expect if you come to visit me. Ryoma was impossibly well-behaved, mewing a few inquiries and resting his head on my chest with absolute trust, and when an animal's reaction to having a thermometer pushed up its butt is just, 'eep!', without so much as a claw unsheathed, you know you have a good one. 'He's only about one year old,' said the vet. 'He's a stray - do you want to pay for treatment? Are you going to keep him?'
'はい,' I said. '一緒に家に帰るよ。' Yes. He'll come home with me.
By the end of the day, Ryoma had stitches in one leg and the wound on his back, both bandaged up. He had been newly-neutered, and as a result of the anesthetic spent the evening looking rather drunk, weaving bow-legged around my flat and banging off the doors. He had special high-calorie food to help him gain weight, some of which is intended to help wean kittens under four months - that's how unused to regular food he was. He had medicine to take twice a day, to de-worm him. Even his nails had been cut, and some of the fur shaved off his butt so as not to get into his scratches. Given that all this had happened since he met me and that I had funded it, I wouldn't have blamed him for being rather suspicious, but instead he crawled into my arms again and tucked his head securely under my chin.
'It's okay, Ryo-chan,' I said, thinking that this was the first time in my life I'd been able to make a decision like this. He'll come home with me. I turned twenty-two last week, and I have my own flat, and I can afford to keep him. If I meet a cat at a butt-ass station in the middle of nowhere, to use Miss Georgie's words, I can take him home and keep him safe.
This is Ryoma. He's come home with me.