It was Sunday afternoon when I found the kitten abandoned by the trash heap. On Monday night, my host mother Donika came back to me with her sister-in-law Marjeta, who stated that she couldn’t continue to look after the kitten. She had a sick son, and the kitten’s crying at night was a problem that she couldn’t tolerate, so we needed to place him with someone else.
By that point, his umbilical cord had fallen off, and he was energetic enough to do a lot of climbing around on our clothes and squeaking persistently, but he was well away from opening his eyes. I held him in place in my hands while the three of us went to the family across the street, who had a mama cat with a litter. Donika explained to the lady of the house that I’d found a newborn in the street and asked her if she’d take him for their mama cat to feed, but our neighbor was having none of that. She sounded extremely annoyed, and I caught “është puna juaj” (“It’s your responsibility!”) while she got rid of us. Since that didn’t work, I agreed to look after the kitten. Marjeta gave me a syringe and showed me how to feed him. We put some weird assortment of fabrics (including the green scarf I’d used to hold him to my neck the previous afternoon) in a shoebox as his bed. I filled a plastic bottle with hot water, wrapped it in an old red kerchief, and stuck that in the box to keep him warm.
(Quick digression: it’s possible that the family across the street was the one that abandoned him along with the trash and had no interest in taking back the runt they’d already discarded. I don’t have any evidence, however, aside from proximity.)
After Marjeta and Donika went to their respective homes for the night (Donika and her husband Berti lived in an apartment underneath the house I rented from them), I was alone with the kitten, who was now clean, fed, sheltered and still had no idea what was going on. It was late at night by then, I had to get up in time to be at school by 8 AM, and I needed to get him to stop squirming and crying so we could both go to sleep.
I was probably right in the middle of, or a little more than halfway through, the rough draft of Charlinder’s Walk, and since it was still chilly at night at that time of year, I was sleeping on the pull-out bed in the living room because it was easier to heat than upstairs. I found that I could, indeed, hold the kitten up to my shoulder with my right hand and write fiction in longhand with my left while sitting up in bed with a notebook on my lap. I placed his shoebox on a little handknitted acrylic rug (my handiwork, of course) on the floor next to my bed. He woke up once in the middle of that night; I fed him again, put him to bed, and he was fine until the morning. He slept through the night from then on.
Within the next few days it became clear that he was plenty strong enough to climb out of his shoebox and scamper around, and I did not need to have a still-blind, still-deaf, vulnerable little critter running around while I was at school and getting lost in the furniture of my non-insulated and unevenly heated house which was quite large as Peace Corps housing goes. I stuck the shoebox inside a larger, cardboard box and dropped some more fabric and my crochet-practice pieces (I had just started learning to crochet after the previous Christmas) inside to keep him warm and occupied. I folded up my big, cherished shawl and draped it across the top of the box as an additional barrier to cold air and the kitten’s escape.
New kittens need to be fed several times per day, so it was fortunate that I only had 6 hours per week of my own classes; the rest were observation and assistance with my counterpart, who had no problem letting me escape in the middle of the school day to go and tend my new animal. (My house was about an 8-minute walk from school, so I could easily come and go as I pleased.) He seemed to be really into his water bottle; I’d stick him back in his box after feeding, and I swear, I could hear him purr halfway across the room from inside the box where he cozied up to that warm cylinder wrapped in cloth. I don’t think he understood the difference, just then, between the big moving thing that picked him up and squirted milk into his mouth and the smaller stationary thing that nicely sat in the box and kept him warm. I’m pretty sure I could also hear his paws kneading away at the fabric, like the water bottle was his mama.
It was not my intention to keep him in the long term, since, as I mentioned before, I’m allergic to cats and it would not have been feasible to bring him home with me. I decided to take care of him until he was big enough to be adopted out, and then I’d place him with another volunteer or other expat. Ergo, I identified myself to him as Foster Mommy. However, just because I didn’t plan to keep him for more than a few months, didn’t mean I could deny he was just about the cutest thing that ever was.