I was to discover
the wonderful sound of a kitten’s purr,
an amazing fold in her kitten ear –
the velvet softness of kitten fur,
orange gold strips like a tiger’s
and her button nose!
My name is Conchita Bernadette Annalise Usha Fonseca. My family migrated from India in 1967. I am an Indian of French, Portuguese heritage. I grew up in Geelong, Victoria and although many of my friends had pets during their childhood, apart from a few goldfish, our home was pet deprived. During my first years in Australia many of my schoolmates would ask me about leaving my pets behind in India. I would tell stories of a baby elephant and chimpanzee, my fingers crossed tightly behind my back. Above all else, I wanted to belong—and my head was filled with imaginings of animal friends but it was to be a long time before I was introduced to the pleasures of an orange tabby, named Scout.
I came to live in Melbourne in 1992, after ten years in Brisbane. I was recovering from an automobile accident. I had no job and very few friends. And although my parents lived an hour’s drive away from Melbourne, I felt alone.
She came into my life at a time when I was uncertain of my future, insecure and shy. Crawling under the fence of a Fitzroy vet and into my heart, a teeny ball of orange fluff, determined green eyes and sizeable silky paws—she would be named ‘Scout.’ The name was used by Harper Lee in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird for the strong-willed, intelligent, steadfast and courageous Scout Finch.
Scout’s arrival filled me with wonder and trepidation. I gazed for hours at this little creature as she tripped over her own paws, exploring her new home.
It was ‘love at first sight’ and everywhere I walked, Scout followed close behind. I moved nervously about—unsteady on my feet, with the aid of my walking cane—afraid that if I stumbled and fell, she would be hurt.
At night I would lay awake as Scout, having crawled onto the precarious position on my shoulder, slept soundly. I feared that I would fall asleep, roll over and squash her, however this little kitten was adventurous, agile, determined and quick. She would be my character reverse, yet compliment—she would draw me out, make me challenge my physical abilities and become the protagonist in my discovery of new friendships, aspirations and goals.
Scout, like myself, has not been spared the pain of physical injury. When she was four, while playing with her cat-mate Black Black she fell out of a large silky-oak tree and suffered a broken pelvis. Absurdly, this was one of my injuries in the car accident a few years before and while she was trapped in a cage, immobilised for a month, we bonded even more. Scout would learn to walk again, just as I had.
It would take Scout several months to heal and for a short time we shared a matching limp and both walked with difficulty!
Both our lives have changed greatly in our twelve years together. We have moved houses and I have changed jobs. We have grown older and wiser. We’ve met many wonderful women and their cats and dogs, and we’ve grown especially close to some.
We now share much of our time with Zami, Pia and my partner Jane. Zami, a chocolate Burmese, is insightful, protective and strong-willed. Pia, her little ‘sister’ is the colour of milk coffee, comical and intensely affectionate.
We travel from town house to beach house, three cats in tow, meowing and yawning in the back of Jane’s wagon.
My Scout, lovingly called ‘orange Biscuit’ by Jane—has two new playmates. The three can often be found curled up together in front of the fire or chasing each other noisily down the long corridor of our Victorian terrace. They roll in the sunshine, cuddle up and join in the usual squabbling, which occurs between siblings. For me there is always that constant meow for food, and a warm friend to snuggle or comfort. There are now stories to share, moments to capture on film—adventures to experience and record. There is hope, challenge and laughter. We are a family of the 21st century. Our lives are filled with joy and passion more so for the love of our cats.
Conchita Fonseca was born into a creative family, and worked for many years as a chef/manager in Geelong, Brisbane and Melbourne. Now with time to take pleasure in the finer things, I am discovering a career as an artist. Her life is made richer with the companionship of three cats.
From: Cat Tales: The Meaning of Cats in Women’s Lives
Eds. Jan Fook, Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein