It was a warm, safe place to live, Bastet thought. There were two humans in the same space, and it was clear that it was their actions that made it warm and safe for her. The one who had brought her to this place in a cage was very attentive to her needs. It was her who had made the sound BASTET emphatically often enough for the cat to understand that whenever that sound was made, it referred to her. Where she had sights and smells to denote things, humans had sounds. They had sounds for each other. The human who had first used the sound BASTET on her responded to MERI. She – Bastet was sure she was female- called the human male SHINGI.
Tonight, there were two other humans in that space, another female and male. Meri held her out and said those words with which she had shown off the cat to other humans, “I said I would show you my pussy!” The other humans reacted with shrieking sounds, displaying their teeth. Certain of the sounds the humans made evoked such a reaction, but Bastet did not fully understand what was being communicated.
The other female peered at the cat and said to Meri, “Bastet is a strange name for a cat.”
“Au, contraire,” said Meri. “Bastet is perfect. It is the name of an ancient Egyptian goddess, whose symbol was the cat.”
“Oh,” said the other human female, pulling her face back from Bastet. “Isn’t there something from our mythology you could have drawn from? I mean, what is the ChiShona name for ‘cat’, for example?”
“Sod knows!” said her mate, coming for a closer look at Bastet. He stroked her under the chin. “You’d think, given how we always hear these days that we are descended from the ancient Egyptians, there would be a name in our language.”
“Oh, that reminds me of how growing up in Zimbabwe,” said Shingi, “I always came across dogs named after creatures that had no canine connections at all; Spider, Tiger, Shumba, Jumbo! What was that about?”
The humans laughed. The second female stared at Bastet again. “So, Meri, are you reviving the ancient Egyptian religion, or what?”
“She is convinced this particular cat has special powers!” said Shingi.
“Like a witch’s familiar?” the second male asked, leaning closer against his mate to get a better view of Bastet.
“No, something more New Agey,” said Shingi. “Meri thinks the cat can transmit its thoughts to her.”
“Well, not me in particular,” said Meri. “I mean, we don’t know yet that she can. But the suggestion has been made before about cats in general. I guess that’s why they were regarded as witches’ familiars.”
“They were only regarded as witches’ familiars in European folklore,” said Shingi. “And, I believe, that started when the Church persecuted the Templars. Many of those warrior-monks they tortured described Baphomet, the god they were charged with worshipping in secret rituals, as resembling a cat. Every other culture, however, regarded the cat as a pest control device.”
“I remember a short story, American, I think, about a cat that helped its owner identify burglars by transmitting the thought in her head,” said the second male. “We had it in our library in grade four, remember, Shingi? I think it was part of a donation by the U.S. Embassy.”
Shingi shook his head slowly. “I remember the American books, but not that particular story.”
Meri looked a little taken aback. Bastet noted the gestures, the head jerking back, eyes widening. They were all alien to her, but she could interpret them in feline terms. “OK, that was just a story, but the idea itself has never been tested. Maybe all those people who thought cats were witches’ familiars were on to something. I have it now!”
“What?” the other humans chorused.
“A new series for my Youtube channel!” said Meri. “I am going to conduct experiments with Bastet, and see if I can learn to read her mind.”
There was a silence. Bastet could not interpret it. She was quite warm pressed against the other female like this, and this communication among the humans, even with its unexpected and seemingly pointless bursts of animated displays, was beginning to bore her. It was possible that it was beginning to bore the humans too, for the second male began to move towards the door. “OK, Meri, you can tell us over dinner.”
She followed him, leaving Shingi with the second female. “I wish I had never bought her that camera!” he said.
“And I wish my magazine had never re-published that Lilian Jackson Braun story,” the second female said, ruefully. “Still, you should be proud you have a Youtube-celebrity wife who draws inspiration from serious literature.”
“I should be,” said Shingi. “But she peddles in fringe beliefs!”
“For now,” said the second female. “She will find something else, soon. Besides, fringe beliefs bring in the ad revenue. The sort of people that will watch videos of a cat demonstrating its telepathic powers might not, in your view, have a lot of sense, but they have plenty of AdSense!”
Bastet fell asleep, slipping into dreams fed by creature comforts and the smell of cooked food wafting from another part of the house.
From that the day, Meri engaged frequently in a ritual in which she held up Bastet and stared into her eyes, before shouting a word. Whatever point there was to this ritual was not clear, but, then again, nothing not directly connected to creature comforts ever was. For Bastet, as long as she still felt safe, Meri could shout at her to her heart’s content.
One evening, the humans exchanged sounds again, with animated gestures that saw Meri flap her arms in her mate’s face while screaming at him, then walk away from him. He would follow, apparently trying to placate her. Bastet watched them from her mat near the radiator in the living room. She could make out some of the more familiar sounds: “stupid!”- Shingi used it frequently, and also “too far.” Meri returned with “My cat!” Eventually, the man left the apartment. Meri was talking tearfully into a small, back object that she sometimes pointed at the cat, repeating some of the sounds Bastet had heard earlier. Bastet had padded across the carpet, and stroked her head against her mistress’ leg. Meri had picked her up, and held her against her breast. She could feel her human’s tension ease gradually, until it seemed she was in a good mood again.
When Shingi returned, the humans were quieter in their communication, and made love in the bedroom. It seemed as if they had resolved their dispute. However, Bastet was certain that this was not the end of whatever the matter was.
She watched the humans carefully over the next few days. Their routine remained the same. In the morning, Shingi left the home and did not return until the evening. During the day, Meri engaged Bastet in that futile eye-staring ritual, in front of an object that had a single round eye. Meri talked at length to this monocled object. She also stared at tiny replications of herself and Bastet that Meri had somehow trapped in another handheld object. They were frightening to behold, until she realised that they could not come out of that device. Moreover, Meri could make them vanish and appear at will.
One afternoon, Bastet was woken from a nap on the radiator and found Meri crouching over her. In one hand stretched out so that it could look at her, she held a smaller version of that device with the one eye. In the other, she had a bunch of papers, like the ones the humans had lined up on shelves in the passage and stared at for long periods of time as they sat on the couch or in their bed. Bastet, torn between curiosity and the instinctive urge to flee at once, focused on the papers, and saw the picture of the cat.
“So, I could go by my husband’s claim that there are no known prayers to Bastet that archaelogists have discovered yet,” Meri was saying. “But it would not hurt to try this incantation, would it?”
None of it made sense to Bastet. Meri was looking into her eyes. What was happening, now? There was a mode of communication that the humans had that involved eye contact. Usually, Meri would just stare into the cat, but, this time, she was speaking words in a flat tone. Bastet’s own attention riveted from Meri’s eyes to her lips, and then to the gold and ivory cartouche that hung between her breasts.
Meri put the book down, and turned a beaming face to the one-eyed thing. “Tomorrow, we will try to see if the incantation really has awakened the goddess within you, Bastet!” she said to it.
Meri spent some time with the device that trapped miniature versions of living things. Then, she left the flat. Bastet fell asleep.
The sound of the main door opening woke the cat. As she drifted back into sleep, she heard the sound of two humans sighing, moaning, grunting and fumbling. Bastet raised her head, all senses alert. One of the scents was familiar, but the other was only half-remembered. The door shut.
They came in to the living room, Shingi and the Second Female. He was leading her by the hand, she giggled as she followed. He turned, and pulled her close, and their lips locked. Out of the corner of her eye, her glance fell on Bastet and she pulled back from Shingi’s embrace. He turned to see what she was looking at.
“That cat gives me the creeps,” the Second Female said.
Shingi laughed, and reached out to pull her close again. “Don’t tell me Meri’s obsession is catching on!”
“I’m serious, Shingi,” she said, shrugging him off. “What if it really can relay thoughts? It could tell her about us. Imagine if it did that on one of her live videos!”
“Come on, Tina!” said Shingi.
“I mean it, Shingi,” she said, glancing warily at the cat. “It was a dumb idea to come here.”
“Well, it was a tough choice between the CCTV Taku installed at your place, and this creature that sees everything and says nothing.”
“We could have booked at the hotel,” said the Second Female.
“Which one, Tina? The one where Meri’s nephew recently got a job, or the ones miles away?”
He reached out, and this time, she did not resist. However, Bastet could see that she was still uncomfortable.
“Look, you can laugh at me, Shingi, but the truth is we do not know everything about the supernatural,” she said.
“OK, let’s suppose that the cat can indeed project its thoughts,” said Shingi. “That doesn’t mean that Meri will be able to understand them. The cat doesn’t know any human language, and it does not think like a human. If it transmitted its thoughts, all Meri would get is ideas of hunger, food, warmth, furballs and mating!”
The Second Female laughed. “Yeah, I suppose cat-thoughts would drive her crazy!”
“Speaking of mating…” said Shingi, taking her by the hand and leading her to the bedroom.
Bastet’s last impression of the humans, before she slipped back into her sleep and comforting feline dreams, was the red and blue stripes on the grey things the Second Female covered her feet with.
The next day, Bastet was playing with a new toy that Meri had brought her, a strange creature that flopped about on the carpet while she tried to catch it. Meri came in, picked her up and took her into another room. She was communicating to that thing with the one eye again, and she sat in front of it, placing Bastet on her lap. She seemed to be offering Bastet to it. The one-eyed thing made no move to accept the offering, but just stared.
Bastet stared back, until she heard the sound of the main door open. It was Shingi, Meri’s mate. His scent hung faintly in the air. He was in the room where the water came out like rain on the humans, or collected in a pool in which they would sit.
“Bastet, honey; I am going to open my mind to your thoughts now,” Meri was saying.
Bastet looked up at the human female. Meri wanted her to do something, that is what her tone of voice conveyed. But what it was, Bastet was unable to discern.
“Someone said in the comment section of the last video, sorry, I can’t remember the name, that this is like turning a dial around on an old wireless until you find a channel.” Meri was talking to the one-eyed thing again, Bastet was sure, but she was looking directly at her, staring intently. What did this mean? Human mannerisms were so complex.
With a gasp, Meri suddenly shot back. Alarmed, Bastet lept off her, and nearly knocked into the tripod. She turned back to stare at her mistress warily, but Meri remained seated on the chair. Shingi burst in. “What is it? Are you OK, babe?”
“I got it!” Meri said, as if to herself. She looked up at Shingi. “Bastet just shared a thought with me!”
“Did she? What was it?”
“It was a single image, it just thrust itself through all the other thoughts in my head, and I knew that it came from outside it!”
“What was it, Meri?” Shingi walked towards her. Bastet saw her chance and bolted towards the door. She heard Meri say, “Stripes.”
“Stripes?” said Shingi.
“Yes. Red and white stripes. You know, like on the shoes Tina got from the charity shop last week.”
The humans did not follow, but, even if they had, Bastet no longer thought they were an immediate danger. Something else had shaken her in that room. Something that Meri had done without doing anything, but it had been terrifying.
It felt good to stretch out on the radiator, and forget about that moment of sheer fright and strange thoughts. As she drifted off to sleep, Meri had another visualisation of the Second Female’s feet, exactly as she had seen them.