I WILL always think of this time as the Year of Walter.
He is a marmalade cat that adopted our college.
Perhaps, because our building has laboratories for dissections, any cat that strayed in our part of the campus avoided close contact, eyeing humans from a safe distance.
Not Walter. My first encounter with him was set, typically, on Walter’s terms. A mewling outside the newsroom interrupted my lecture.
I hastily opened the door, thinking a cat may have its tail trapped in the door.
The cat tilted up its broad, well-stroked supercilious face, obviously pleased I responded correctly to its summons.
Walter began to weave a sinuous dance, drawing figure eights in and out of my legs before sauntering inside the room, tickled orange to have the students pay more attention to his Fred Astaire number than they had given to my impassioned discussion on creative nonfiction.
Such a shameless creature was bound to steal not just attention but affection. When His Orangeness tours the corridors, the students stroke, feed, and even include him in their study sessions.
During an art exhibit, I watched, more avidly than I wanted, the bright tip of an orange tail trace the edge of the table where the guest of honor was seated with university officials.
The tail tip was as inexorable as a shark fin sliding through the sea like a scythe. I was wondering how the august, immaculately groomed guest of honor would respond to Walter’s Fred Astaire moves when the tail suddenly disappeared.
The young handsome son of one of the exhibiting artists carried away Walter, looking purrfectly smug. To a Cat, being a Cat is the only rationale for existence. Magnanimity to humans is a feline concession.
I must admit, though, that Walter gives more than he takes. When I stay late in campus, I sometimes look for Walter to give him dinner scraps. A nocturnal hunter, he is rarely in his usual perch.
On these evening walks, I discover, instead of Walter, the passion of a solitary group of students rehearsing for a class project. I have time to gaze at the gallery paintings I am too distracted to notice in the day. I smell the quiet of the night; I listen to a pensive moon, waxing with the unattainable.
If Walter comes, I hear first the red bell and see the red collar emerge from the surrounding dark.
Given by an admirer, the red collar and bell show up starkly against the ginger of his coat. When Walter was first seen wearing this, his fandom was disappointed. To know Walter is to want to do things for him.
Like give him names. The orange tabby goes by many monikers, given by different persons and groups. “Walter” was given by a young teacher named Reginald Michael Quirong.
I wonder what Reggie would have thought about belling Walter. Before Reggie passed away unexpectedly, he and fellow teachers planned to bring cat food for Walter. I doubted that would diminish the cat’s overweening drive to court and collect admirers.
Unlike Walter, I can be petty about the impermanence of affection. I gnash at the inconstancy of felines and humans. With Reggie away, there is no one with whom I can go over the minutiae of Walter’s perambulations, the complacent curl those saffron paws have on human affections.
On evenings Walter deigns to share the remains of my dinner, he first does his Fred Astaire routine around my legs. I wish you could hear the sound his bell makes, Reg.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s December 18, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”