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Sardines Sardines
by Valerie Sartor
2019-08-30 08:22:18
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A small, young gray cat with Siamese blue eyes crawled out of the broken cinder block that makes up part of the foundation of my Russian dormitory building. I think this structure, as many others around it, was built after WWII; we have no elevators or any modern conveniences to suggest otherwise. Post-Soviet life has not upgraded living conditions for students, foreign or otherwise. I noticed the cat last week, in the early morning. He had sidled up to me, rubbed against me and purred. I was loath to touch him, as feral cats and strays are not very clean and I would not be able to wash my hands for an hour, after I had arrived at the university.

cat01But I thought of him.  He pulled at my heartstrings. And that eternal maternal feeling poured out of me; I wanted to take care of the poor little thing. Not sneak him in the dorm - which is strictly forbidden, but rather just feed him something tasty, maybe ensure that he was safe in the little cave under my building.

So I bought a can of sardines, the same ones I eat myself.  Then I left the university early, around 4:30, instead of leaving at 6, so it would not be too dark and too cold to feed the cat. He was there, hopping out as neatly as you please when I said, “Meow? Meow? Are you there?”  I opened the tin and offered it to him. He sniffed and did not deign to eat. He did, however, allow me scratch his neck and rub his forehead.

Baffled, after some minutes I poured the tin on the snow and pushed his nose toward the food. He moved away, offended. Then a young mother, with a toddler, bundled up in a pink snowsuit, approached us. “See the pretty cat,” said the mother, smiling at me. “GAGGHHH,” said the toddler, lurching forward to touch the animal. He allowed this indignity, and purred. Then I picked the cat up and held him up so the child could pet the cat without batting it in the eyes with her mittens.  The child stared at me, as I spoke to the cat and to her.

“It’s your accent,” said the young mother placidly. “She wonders why you are speaking strangely.” I nodded. My accent follows me like perfume or body odor, depending upon the situation. After a few minutes the mother took her child by her mitten and walked away. I went inside.

“I saw you outside with that filthy little creature,” said granny security, the red headed mean one. “Don’t even think about bringing that thing in here.”

“Of course not,” I said gravely, and took my key. She sniffed.

The next day when I came home I saw the cat again, and petted him. He was friendly, but aloof, as only a cat can be. When I entered the building the friendly, frowsy bottle blonde granny was on duty. “Why does that cat refuse my sardine?” I asked her, leaning over the counter.

“Oh dear, we Russians all love animals. Everyone feeds that cat, I watch grandmas from the neighborhood walk up all day long with little tidbits that they have laboriously cooked up for him, and they coo and offer him their treats. Other students, especially the fat Italian, make him foreign treats. She gives him spaghetti and tiny hand made meatballs. You think he wants your cheap sardines?” She laughed pleasantly, and added, “Someone dumped him here, because they knew he would not starve. Sometimes we have a dozen strays, cats and dogs, because the old grannies and the students are all pushovers.”

I nodded, and climbed the four flights to my room.  No need for an SPCA here in Russia. I’m keeping my heart and those sardines for someone else.

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