Chili, the cat who first wormed her way into our hearts as a kitten, is gone.
Our snuggly, cuddly friend has run from the flooded town of Guayabitos. It’s been two weeks since anyone has seen her. She hasn’t been around to paw the door open and she hasn’t touched the food that’s been left out for her.
“She’s gone to higher ground.”
“She’d have to cross the highway. What if she got hit by a car?”
“She’ll come back. She’s smart.”
“She’s a people cat. She’ll try to approach someone and they’ll chase her away.”
We picture her, broken tail wagging a question mark as she brings home offerings of dead mice or insects. “Thanks a lot, Chili, but we know you love us. No need for gifts, really, no need.”
We phone our caretakers every week and every week it’s the same—still no sign of her.
“Do you think she’ll come back?”
We wait anxiously for our cat-expert friend’s answer. He shakes his head. “I don’t know. They can get lost.”
She’s a people cat we remind ourselves. She’ll do her best to get back to us.
Three long months go by with no sign of Chili.
Then, “Meow! Meow!” A scrawny, wounded Chili is back. She presses up to the first human she sees and her meow sounds like “gracias” as he offers her a tin of Whiskas.
She’s dirty and has suffered what look like burns. Perhaps someone threw boiling water at her to chase her away, but she’s back.
She presses up against each piece of furniture, against the man’s legs again and again, and pushes her head into the palm of his hand. When she hears our voices via Skype, she presses up against the computer.
She sleeps beside the man. Each time he rolls over in the night she gets up and walks around him to settle in facing him, her gaze never leaving his face.
The next morning her tail wags its question. “Yes, Chili, yes,” the man says. “We love you. Yes, we do. We’ll bath you and feed you and pamper you. We promise.”