The Importance of Being Ernest (the Cat)
There is a simple, two-day verification process to discern if the human is suited to feline company. On the first day, the cat is to approach the man, woman or child cautiously. Never is the passage to be rushed, it doesn’t do well to scare the potential caretaker. Slowly, very slowly, when the biped is nearly near, the cat is to meow once or twice and wait for the human to walk over. A brush against the leg here, a purr against the hovering hand there, and the cat would have caught the attention of the human. For the second meeting, arranged to appear as an accident, the cat is to stare directly at the same man, woman or child from a far, and wait a bit more. If the human stays on the spot as a mark of respect, then it has passed the test. If it tries to take a step forward, even a little, the cat is to immediately leave the premises.
It’s harsh according to some cats, and necessary according to others.
The latter are sticklers for rules. They follow a precise, unchanging protocol in their interactions with humans. They’d rather not interact at all, but society demands that they do. And, well, sometimes the bipeds are the only source of food. Inevitably, these are the kind that never once step inside a human house. Instead, they live in colonies of their own.
One such colony is that of Prof. Flufferton, a fluffy red Maine Coon. He is the leader, teacher, and moral guide of a group of ten cats—all of varying sizes and colours—and they listen to everything the professor has to say. There are a few who question his motives, as is the case with any cat colony. But no matter how outrageous a plan seems, they always go through with it because of his oratory skills. Right now, he’s talking to them about the humans.
“My dear catizens! Long have we suffered under the tyranny of the bipeds. They live inside houses while we suffer under the sun…”
“We could just become indoor cats,” interrupts a grey Scottish Fold.
“They wear clothes while we must walk in shame, bare and naked…”
“I quite like showing off my fur, to be honest,” says a Bengal.
“It has gone on for too long. Too long. It is time that we take control of our destinies…”
“I’d rather not,” a third cat says, a white Persian.
“I say we send a spy into one of their homes, collect as much data as possible. And then we attack! What do you say to that?”
“Yeah, sure”, “Ok”, “Absolutely”—come the many replies. And then a voice breaks through: “Who’s gonna be the spy then?”
Prof. Flufferton stands tall from his vantage point, a garbage bin, and puffs his chest out. “I have thought long and hard about this,” he says. “And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to send out someone who already has an advantage, who shares a crucial detail with the bipeds…”
“Dammit,” whispers Ernest from the back.
“I’m talking, of course, about the one catizen amongst us who has a thumb. The one and only, Ernest Hemingbird.”
“Ah, shit,” the polydactyl Ragdoll says out loud, and walks up to the front. “Okay,” he says, sighing, “What do I have to do?”
Ernest is properly prepared: how to spy on humans, how to collect data, how to pass messages over to the colony every 25 days. And though initially reluctant, he does all that is required during the training period. Such is his determination and zeal at the end of it, that the catizens are most excited for his first report and gather for it half an hour early.
They wait for hours near the rendezvous point. They keep on waiting, and they return to the point 25 days later, and again and again, but still Ernest doesn’t come.
“He’s theirs now,” a Persian whispers to another one day.
“You can never really trust a cat with thumbs, can you?” the Scottish Fold replies.
“Do you think he’s walking around on two legs now?” a Bengal says.
“I tried,” Ernest says behind them, making all three of the cats jump high into the air. “But I looked more like a meerkat.”
“Ernest!” the professor exclaims, jumping down from the garbage bin. “Where have you been? Why didn’t you send us any messages?”
“Well,” he says, “It took time gaining their trust. You know how it is. But I’ve managed to…”
Instead of replying, Ernest starts to retch and then coughs up a hairball and a crumpled-up piece of paper. “Here,” he says, pawing the latter, “this is an important data sheet that I found. I haven’t been able to decipher it yet, but I’m sure that some of our gifted catizens will be able to. I’ll be back with new information as soon as possible. But I must warn, it might be months before I get another break.”
He waves his tail at everyone and walks back to his humans’ home, while Prof. Flufferton picks three of the most intelligent and puts them to work on the data Ernest so bravely provided them with.
“He’s grown fatter,” the Bengal tells the Persian, as the catizens dissipate.
“Not surprising. All that readymade food,” comes the reply.
And then a third cat joins the conversation, the Scottish Fold. “The yellow shape on the paper looks awfully familiar. I feel like I’ve seen it near one of those buildings where humans eat,” she says.
“What shape?” the first one asks.
“This one,” she says, using her paw to draw an ‘M’ into the air. “Haven’t either of you seen it before?”
“Hmm,” she ponders, and then walks ahead of them. “Wanna go chase a few bird-brains?”
“Absolutely,” the other two reply in unison.