Sunday, August 30, 2009

Purr-fect end to en bloc tale

Two years ago this month, Singapore was in the grip of en bloc fever. Condominiums were being sold for redevelopment faster than you could say Strata Titles Board.

The frenzy resulted in a flood of dispossessed tenants having to search for somewhere new to live. The mass move still has ripples today. In my own small world, it set the cat among the pigeons, literally. This is the tale of my tabby cat, Poppet.

Our family had been renting the same condo unit for eight years when suddenly our landlady phoned to say that the condo apartment that she herself had been renting - a nicer, bigger place close to town - had gone en bloc. She had tried to find somewhere comparable to live, but buildings all around her were also undergoing collective sales, and at those that hadn't, the rents had gone through the roof.

As a result, she was going to have to move to our small unit and make do there. She did not want to come, and we did not want to go. But move we all had to.

Luckily, I managed to find somewhere to live within the same condo, but on the other side of a steep hill.

I worried how our nervous cats, Charli and Poppet, would cope with the move.

The pair were trouble at the best of times. We had selected Poppet from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) as a companion for Charli, who, alas, detested her at first sight, and their relationship was one of benign mutual loathing.

At the new apartment, Charli ambled in and made herself at home. But pesky Poppet escaped as soon as she found an open door. Two days later, she turned up at our old place. She had crossed two internal roads, evaded numerous dogs and climbed down scores of steps to get there. I bundled her up and brought her back.

This to-ing and fro-ing went on over several weeks. I tried locking Poppet in our place, but she yowled non-stop for days until I either had to let her out, or go mad. Once out, she was off, drawn by some homing instinct back to her familiar territory. A distinct look of triumph glinted in Charli's green eyes whenever Poppet made a dash for it.

At the old place, another problem emerged. Our former landlady complained that Poppet was a nuisance, often caterwauling incessantly to be let inside. Once she weakened and let Poppet in, only to have kitty bite her hand when she fed her fancy tuna. The bite required tetanus injections, and many apologies from me.

I made the sad decision to take Poppet back to the SPCA. Several times I went over with a cat carrier, and cunning Poppet hid from sight. Then, one day, I got her. But as I turned to cart her away, the landlady's maid rushed out and begged me to let the cat stay. Imelda had taken a liking to Poppet, and said she would persuade our former landlady to get used to her. This was as long as I paid for the cat food and kitty litter.

So for two years, I took food or money over once a week. Poppet adored Imelda, who renamed her Princess. The fortunate feline enjoyed being pampered and fussed over. Sometimes I glimpsed her fluffy, well-fed form sprawling on a Persian rug. I once called to her, and the ungrateful creature lifted her head, glanced at me blankly, and turned away.

But then came new housing anxiety. Singapore's property market suddenly took off. Someone made a nice offer to buy our former home, and our former landlady sold up, and moved overseas with Imelda. The old place has been empty for a month now, and I have tried to rehouse Poppet with us.

But still, she kept returning to the empty home. For a while, the cunning critter ensconced herself within a large prickly bush nearby, which kept her safe from stray cats there. I went back once a week to feed her. One day, a security guard came upon a huge python devouring one of the strays - he photographed the cat's furry remains with his camera phone - and I knew I had to find Poppet a safe home with someone who loved her - yowls, Princess airs and all.

I placed advertisements around the estate, and last week I carried Poppet to her new owner, a Singaporean who has renamed her Karunaa, the Buddhist word for compassion. I certainly hope Poppet/Princess/Karunaa enjoys some Zen moments after all this.

The writer is a copy editor with the Life! section of The Straits Times. She is a New Zealander who has lived here for 16 years.

Source: Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2009

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