WHEN I remember the eunuch cats of Bonifacio High Street, I realize we can still be drawn to the very things that upset us.
The first cat was lolling on a makeshift platform used by men working on the landscaping. It was a tom, as big as a dollhouse.
Yet, it allowed me to scratch its exposed stomach, an inverted yolk, white in the middle and yellowish at the outer ring.
On our way to a bookstore to pick up my books, my son and I had started from the Burgos Circle where there seemed to be more dogs than humans taking in the sun that Monday morning.
The dogs of Burgos Park are cosseted and urbane. They have no fear of humans.
These pets are as close to the otherworldly and the exotic in my world.
Where I grew up, the barbed wires enclosing the house we rented was ineffectual for keeping our menagerie of nine or so dogs safe in a neighborhood where any dog was free meat fueling several rounds of drink and feral singing.
After our guard dogs went the way of the ten little Indians in the nursery rhyme (“… and then there were none”), my father finally decided to keep small dogs who slept with us, locked away from the world with teeth, to borrow an image from Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”.
The cats that suddenly showed up in our home were thin, fierce survivors who waited and waited, moving in to finish the meals only when the dogs napped or were shut in for the night. They melted away in a blink but it wasn’t long before I convinced my father to bring home a kitten from a cousin’s cat’s litter.
There is no lack for cats that no one wants. When I was younger, I brought home abandoned kittens: in my knapsack from school, in a shopping bag someone left on the side of a busy road, where I plunked into my shirt the mewling blind creatures that poured out like tomatoes about to be squashed into red paste.
The world jokes about steaming cats into buns. Feral survivors nurse on this mean teat. Most of the strays we feed at home never lose their wariness. In this country, a housebroken cat is often a dead one.
The Bonifacio High Street tom, complacent and suave, was odd as ferals go. We entered another promenade that hosted, years back, a community of cats. After a five-star hotel opened nearby, the cats were relocated, like absurd Third World artifacts.
I found just two strays napping on the benches that day. Neutered, enormous, and slack from human benevolence. Ignoring the signs that warned people about feeding and petting the cats, I scratched between two pointy pairs of ears, two furbellies.
A cat rolls on the ground and exposes its belly to a human it trusts. My prayer is that those cats will live not to regret this.
*First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 10, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”