Winds howled, pushed and buffeted me across the quadrangle toward my apartment. At one o’clock in the morning, the wind-chill reached minus 20 degrees Celsius.
That’s cold for southern Sweden.
I wrapped my parka closer around my body, pulled the hood tighter, and leaned into the wind. I‘d be snuggled, under a feathered comforter, in 10 minutes.
Before the film club’s discussion ended, my Swedish friends plied me with a couple shots of vodka. “For the road”, they said. Therefore, oblivious to the cold I continued through the darkness.
“What the devil’s that,” I shouted.
The wail, so shrill, piercing, paralyzed my legs. Its intensity deafened the moan of the winds, and caused the skin on my back and neck to tightened. I poked my head out of the hood. A street lamp illuminated the path. I looked forward and to the sides. The path, edged with tangled leafless bushes, was empty. Nothing around, only the wind.
I stepped forward, but felt a slight pressure against my left foot. There lying next to my shoe, an emaciated bundle of threadbare fur in the shape of a kitten not more than a couple of months old. Its large black eyes stared up. Again it tried to muster enough energy to send another soul-wrenching shriek. But, what came out sounded like leaves scratching the air.
“Go home. You’re going to freeze,” I said, hoping it would leave. I didn’t want to feel guilty tomorrow when I found this bundle of fur frozen.
The kitten rubbed against my shoe and fell over.
I knew it would not survive in the cold, and maybe, not even if I took it home.
It would not leave. Just stared up at me, trying to send another meow.
I bent over, picked up the little fur ball, and stuck it under my parka.
We reached my apartment. The kitten warmed, tried to walk, but instead it wobbled about, uncontrolled.
“You’re starving,” I announced, and devised some cat food from crushed peanut butter cookies and milk.
The little thing inhaled the gooey paste, but it didn’t sit well.
After a few minutes of fur licking, while I cleaned the floor, he noticed the remains of the concoction I made, and polished it off, curled onto a pillow, and fell asleep.
The next morning I found the little refugee coiled on the bed, under the comforter, just behind my knee. When I arose, he arched his back and stretched. Although puny and wasted, this charcoal-colored kitten with a little white on his face and feet became very special, because he possessed a unique crosier-like tail. It was as if he could be hung by his tail from a clothes rack. My Swedish friends considered the tail a sign of cat aristocracy. So what I saved was an elite alley cat.
I named him Bugsy after the lead character in the movie the film club discussed the night I found him.
Bugsy and I lived together, while I completed my sabbatical in Sweden. We became close friends. When it came time to return to the U.S.A. and Huntsville, AL, Bugsy returned with me. To legalize his immigration, U.S. Customs required official certification from a Swedish International Veterinarian indicating that Bugsy was healthy and carried no diseases. This accomplished, I bought a cat carrier and paid Delta Airlines $140 for his one-way ticket. Bugsy and I then, flew across the Atlantic.
After affirming, at the request of an U.S. Immigration Official at Kennedy International, that he could meow in English, Bugsy became an American cat.
Nowadays, with his shepherd’s staff held high, Bugsy proudly patrols Wrensong, his estate. Since that frozen night in Sweden, I have not heard him voiced another horrific meow. It’s been ten years, since Bugsy’s great trans-Atlantic odyssey. I wonder if he still remembers his homeland?
This essay aired on WLRH on March 7, 2002 and was published in the Birmingham Arts Journal, 2006.