A few days later I went in search of Laura and found she was very upset. Someone had put four kittens into a bag and literally thrown them away into a rubbish bin. Animal-loving friends of Laura noticed a faint meowing and rescued them. They were tiny: probably born only a couple of days ago. Two were dead but the others were blindly searching for food. Their crying was breaking Laura’s heart.
Together we went to the pharmacist to buy the special milk for kittens and a small pipette. It is an onerous task rearing new-born felines: they need to be fed every two or three hours.
‘I don’t know how we’ll manage,’ Laura continued. ‘I’m working all day and my father certainly wouldn’t allow me to nurse kittens in his shop.’
Fortunately her friends, the couple who found the kittens said they would take responsibility.
Once again I was struck by the juxtaposition of peace and violence in this place. Here was a café where people laughed and were tipsy on sun and wine, without a care in the world. I wanted to tell them that a few yards away from this jolly scene, there was a pile of rubbish where some cruel individual, having snatched these mites from their mother, had dumped them here.
I was reminded of W.H. Auden’s poem ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’, and of how suffering takes place in the midst of ordinary, careless life.
Auden visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels in 1938 and viewed Icarus Falling by Brueghel. His poem’s theme is the apathy with which humans view individual suffering. You could say that Breugal’s painting doesn’t take it that seriously: if you look closer at the untroubled ship sailing by, you can see the foolish and drowning son of Dedalus, legs sticking out of the water. Is the artist trying to say that life is absurd, suffering insignificant? Or was it meant to portray the Icarus event as of no consequence in order to make the point of the painting stronger?
Would these happy travellers be shocked by what I told them, or would they resent that I had disturbed the calm surface of their stay? I wondered.
Laura told me that one of the kittens had died but the other was fighting on; however, there was a new problem. Her friends were going on holiday, one that was booked months ago. What was to happen to the kitten? Would violence win after all?
She got out her contact book and we phoned around. A cat lover in a neighbouring village apologised profusely. She had to take her ailing husband to hospital. We sent emails to others and no one bothered to reply.
The best way forward was to pay a vet, the first, a truly caring man was up to his eyes with work and could not take anything more on, he told us.
Meanwhile, the day was approaching when Laura’s friends would depart. I was also on the verge of leaving for England. Laura was becoming desperate. If this tiny scrap of life wasn’t fed, she would die. Laura was in tears.
And then the small miracle occurred: another vet didn’t hesitate. ‘Yes, I will take the kitten. There is a young and newly qualified vet in the surgery. She is willing to help and I will be in attendance to keep my eye on things.’
Time passed and the little feline thrived. She eats like ‘a little pig’, Laura told me, she purrs, she plays. There are some people in this apathetic world who aren’t indifferent to animal suffering.
Laura drove to the surgery to see her. She was now a ball of white with smudges of grey fluff. It was clear the young woman vet had fallen in love with her. The kitten’s miserable past was forgotten and there was no self-pity.
As another poet, D. H. Lawrence commented, he had never seen a wild thing that was sorry for itself. Lawrence lived for nearly three years in this place, a tortured soul forever wandering, but who found a degree of harmony here.
On my return Laura took me to see the kitten. She was back with the animal loving friends and would soon be adopted and have a loving home. She scuttled about our feet, playing with my shoelace and then, like all young things, she suddenly tired. She curled into a ball and went to sleep… and slept with such tranquillity. All was well.
‘What will you call her?’ I asked.
While Laura considered, I looked back over these days and the undertones of cruelty and violence I had witnessed. Certainly there was sunshine here but also a world of shadows.
Laura had been watching as the kitten wakened, yawned and immediately settled to sleep again. ‘Stella Fortunata,’ she said at last.
I translated the word to English. Lucky Star.
Oblivious, the kitten slept on. Suddenly all the questions and imponderables faded and I felt myself in the moment, rejoicing that one small being had been saved. I am not religious in the accepted sense, although I have my own beliefs, but now the words of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ brought tears to my eyes. ‘I once was lost and now am found…’ I smiled at Laura. ‘Oh yes, let’s call her Lucky Star.’