It all started four years ago with my mother threatening my eviction from the house if I dared to keep the cat I rescued from the premises of my then-workplace.
Bundled up in my bright yellow scarf, the tiny furball looked up at me from inside the paper bag I carried her in from Lalmatia. Tired from the days' worth of running for food, shelter and seeking safety from danger, the kitten stared at me with fatigued eyes – ready to drowse off any minute.
"What's in the bag? And why am I hearing meows?" my mother asked, to which I nervously said, "I found a kitten outside my workplace. She was in a bad state and I've wanted a cat for a long time. So, I brought her home."
Well-fed and finally warmed up, the kitten slept peacefully – maybe finally understanding that her days of struggle are over. I named her Putu.
Amid nervousness and uncertainty about whether my mother would let me keep the kitten, which she did, this was the beginning of my days as what the society likes to refer to as cat aficionados – the cat lady.
Since January of 2016, after I brought home my first rescue, I was spiraled into a maze of hoarding as many cats and kittens as I could. And as if sensing their presence, stray cats would start to linger outside our house, waiting to be fed. Taking care of the house cats and the strays gave me a sense of belonging which I had never experienced before.
By the time Putu was around ten months of age, she got pregnant by a densely built, deep-ash coated XXL sized cat.
The duo's holy matrimony gave me three XXS sized kittens but one of them passed away at a week old. My heart shattered into a million pieces and cried with all my might. But time is the greatest healer, and time did heal me.
Slowly but surely, the remaining four-legged trio of felines took over the Hayat household. I would do just about anything for Putu and her two kittens Puchu and Lulu – the girl and the boy.
Caring for them turned out to be one of the most fulfilling feelings for me. The thought that I could nurture two living souls everyday was enough to make me brush off the strain of daily life. Coming home to them at the end of the day was my reward.
Puchu and Lulu, by now, were a year old and potty trained. They ran around the house all day long and followed my mother everywhere she went. She, too, would pick them up and give the two head scratches and belly rubs until Puchu and Lulu's purring could be heard clearly. And while she prepared their food, the siblings would move around her feet in circles – demanding their third bowl of food within the last hour.
From feeding them bites of food from our plates to tucking them in bed with me, the cats managed to take over our lives, and one rescued kitten blossomed into a houseful of feline friends. Like the rest of the household members, the feline members also had their own entities. Their distinct personality traits made us feel more at home with them. The bed I slept on was more theirs and less mine. My father, who was never fond of keeping pets, would bring the siblings different toys every now and then. My mother would make them different meals every day. And I sewed Puchu and Lulu dresses and shirts with old scraps of cloth I had lying around.
The takeover was not something anyone in the family complained about. My cats provided us with constant emotional support. They stuck with me through thick and thin, and they were my stress relievers during some of the worst days of my life. When I lost human friends, my cats stuck around – giving me hope to look up to the coming days.
Fast forward to 2020, both mine and my mother's lives revolve around the fourth member of my family – my best pal, my instant remedy to depression and random mood swings, and my grand-cat – Lulu, the only son of my first rescued that we are left with now.
Turning three years old this August, Lulu is treated like the child of the family and loved by not only me and my parents but also by my friends, cousins and other relatives. His adorable face with the piercing set of green eyes and the fat tail is enough to make anyone fall in love with him.
Caring for all the cats I physically could during the last four years never made me feel queasy or annoyed – even at times when they were sick, threw up, spilled food, broke something, or emptied their bowels anywhere but the litter box.
When I got to know that I was not the only one who derived emotional support from the furry buddies, I felt more at ease. A friend, Nafisa Ferdous, who also has a cat named Amour, is one of the people I bond better with because of our shared affection for cats, and animals in general. She, too, derives immense emotional and mental support from Amour during those moments when the mind locks itself up in a darkened room. But as long as our cats are with us, pulling through seems easier.
My cats were always taken care of unconditionally, and they too, provided us with unconditional love and support – just like it is in a family. And at times when I needed a friend, I have always found a soft and tiny paw to hold on to.