Little did I know that the events of that night would test my resolve to the limits. To put it bluntly, Freddie, obviously traumatized beyond endurance by the past two days’ experiences, went berserk. That night I didn’t sleep at all since he ran amok, wailing and throwing books, papers and plants onto the floor. From time to time he would land with manic speed on top of my legs, and a split second later, just as fast and using my body as a trampoline, he would launch himself across the room to swing menacingly from the curtains. In between, he practised Spiderman’s walk up the walls, tearing the wallpaper as he went. I spent the night covering my head with a big pillow and peeping from under it in case any stray missiles came my way.
In the morning, although by then feeling utterly traumatised myself, I dragged my reluctant body along to carry on with my duties as usual. After giving me one last dirty look, Freddie finally retired to his bed in the pen, which was now left permanently open. He didn’t sleep but rested, his eyes cold and reproachful. Seeing him so unhappy, I decided then and there to give him the freedom of decision, to stay or to leave. However luxurious his existence in the study had been, there was no denying that a prison is a prison, no matter how sumptuous are the surroundings. I have never kept any animal with me by force and I wasn’t going to start now. It was more than twenty-four hours after the operation, the weather was fine, and he had been treated for the past four weeks like an honorary member of the family, revered and fed the choicest morsels; now it was up to him. I opened the kitchen door wide into the garden and left the study unlocked. It took Freddie a minute to catch the incoming breeze of fresh air, and he bolted.
When that night there was no sign of him, I began to worry. “What…”, “If…”, “Maybe…” I kept fretting, and in the end I went to bed with a heavy heart. The morning arrived drenched in cold rain. After feeding the birds I walked into the study and while glancing casually through the window, whom did I see but my wayward protege, wet and cold, sitting huddled up on a fence. Through the glass pane his eyes were directed at me, and he seemed very grumpy indeed. I ran outside with a dish of chicken and speaking softly, approached the fence. Freddie would not take the offering. Thinking that he might eat by himself, I placed the plate on the ground. I also left the front door open in the hope that he would come in and out of the rain. My conciliatory efforts were spurned and it became clear that all he wanted to do was make me feel guilty. “Remember me?” said his eyes, “Thanks to you, I am now in pain, feverish, and soaking wet. I will die soon and you are responsible for all this. I shall haunt you forever, just you wait and see.”
If he wanted to upset me by staying put in the chilly rain and in my full view, he more than succeeded. When he disappeared later in the morning, leaving behind an untouched plate of chicken, I sincerely thought that he had gone for good and felt awful. The next morning, to my amazement he appeared at the back door and when I opened it, he hesitantly walked in. I sprang into action and welcomed him like the proverbial prodigal son with three dishes of the most tempting morsels. While he hungrily breakfasted, I arranged a large box, well padded with blankets and his mink coat, in the kitchen since it was clear that he associated the study with bad happenings. Replete, Freddie settled on his mink bed but his eyes still indifferent, and it was only when he fell asleep, tummy up, that I began to feel cautiously optimistic.
I was aware that the success of Freddie’s adoption into our family depended on a great deal of patience, resourcefulness and kindness that would have to border almost on the point of madness. This was not going to be as difficult to strive for as might have seemed, since I had permanently on display on my noticeboard newspaper cuttings that had pictures of mistreated animals. In times of strife, I only needed to glance at the pictures of a bedraggled, almost drowned kitten, a half-starved dog or a paint-covered hedgehog which had been used as a football, to feel an anger that could only be assuaged by doing something positive. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing I wouldn’t do to persuade Freddie that the safety and comfort of a real home was preferable to his nomadic existence fraught with danger, however exciting it might have been at times. It was, I reasoned, only a question of devising the right technique. In Freddie’s case, I knew that a cat who had survived so far by living off his wits, fearful of any contact with humans, hiding in the daytime, huddled at night with other feral cats for warmth, never knowing when his next meal was likely to be, should in principle, if I knew anything about animals, respond to the combined treatment of intensive pampering and kindness.