Saturday, 22 February 2014

Jiggs and the cat

Jiggs snarled. This was getting too much for him. The cat had dragged out his favourite bone after having upset his basket for the umpteenth time today. He raced menacingly towards the door, out of which the cat had bolted after her mischief.

He stopped short when a shadow crossed his path, and looked up to find Huh-huh eyeing him quizzically.

Leashed, Jiggs was unhappy with Huh-huh.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Jiggs was very unhappy these days with Huh-huh, his master who had given him his strange name. He had heard Huh-huh say a number of times he was an ardent fan of Mr Jiggs, but little did he know that it was a comic strip character Huh-huh was referring to. To him, Huh-huh was simply reiterating his love for his hulk of a pet.

Huh-huh? Well, that was how Jiggs thought of his master, for those were the first words he learnt to comprehend. It did not matter to Jiggs if Huh-huh had another name.

And of late Huh-huh was quite of favour with Jiggs. They had been quite a pair. They used to go for long walks when the sun was still a little yellow globe up there. If Huh-huh was at home all day, they would play in the shaded garden when the globe glowed warmly. Once the sky turned a dull blue and the sun went down on the other side, Huh-huh would take him for a short run around the apartment blocks.

A large ball, an assortment of bones, a convenient hole in the garden to bury them or dig them out whenever it pleased him, a smart leather collar, a lavishly done-up basket, a bagful of old shoes and socks to tear apart, lots of meat, dog biscuits and other stuff to gulp down – Jiggs had all these and much more.

Huh-huh had never failed to comb him down daily and take him for a weekly swim ... till the cat arrived. She didn’t just wander in. She was planted there by the woman who had moved into Huh-huh’s apartment. He seemed to like being with the woman a lot, even more than he did being with Jiggs. She wasn’t bad, no, sir. She took turns with Huh-huh to feed him and walk him and all, but it wasn’t the same thing any longer.

She couldn’t be a friend friend, you see. Jiggs and Huh-huh, Huh-huh and Jiggs – that had been a great combination. But Huh-huh was often distracted now, sometimes forgetting to pet Jiggs even though he wagged his big, bushy tail till it hurt. He no more checked if his pet was well stocked for the day. Jiggs missed his run around the apartment block, but it seemed Huh-huh did not, because he went out with the woman instead nowadays.

When they sat down for the meal after dark, they kept holding hands and smooching, ignoring Jiggs’ dripping tongue that at one time used to attract savouries throughout dinner. Of course, his bowl was hardly ever empty when he felt like eating, but previously table time was reserved for treats from Huh-huh. Even that change was bearable, for when Huh-huh spared time for Jiggs, it was like the good old days. Jiggs firmly believed that Huh-huh still enjoyed himself more when they were together than when he was with the woman.

He would not have minded the woman so much, had she not brought the cat soon after joining the household. Just as Jiggs had no name for the woman, he refused to call the cat by any name.

The cat had an injured foot when she arrived, so Jiggs was not much concerned about the intrusion. Once she was back on her four feet, however, there grew a silent hostility between them. 

The cat was wary of him, and he possessive about his territory. The woman sensed his discomfort, and demarcated their domains to avert any disastrous encounters. The dog was free to roam around without a leash when the woman had to go out and the cat was locked upstairs. On her return, which was always too soon, the woman would bring the feline down to the ground floor and his freedom was curtailed.

Jiggs began to resent the way Huh-huh humoured the cat, just because the woman had brought her. Huh-huh let the cat paw his sofa, his plush rocking chair, the rug next to the dinner table … wherever the cat wanted to be. He did not remonstrate when the cat spat or shed her hair – ugh, so much of it!

What hurt him most that Huh-huh could not … rather, would not … see how the cat was making Jiggs’ life miserable. Now the occasional fly could buzz around his wet nose but he was not free to chase it down. He was chained, that’s why! He could see a rat scuttle by, but the cat was free to pounce on it and play with it before killing it, not Jiggs. 

Not that Jiggs would kill a rat. Them dirty creatures were no prey for him, heaven forbid! He had better things to do. Like barking at strangers who dared to stop by the house, let alone enter it. Like chasing away the birds that soiled the window sill. Like digging in the garden to his heart’s content. Like huffing and puffing with a ball or a bone in his mouth and making Huh-huh laugh at his antics.

Sigh! That was all in the past. Now the windows were no longer open for the birds to flit in and out. With a cat in the house, Huh-huh had called some men one day to fit the frames with mesh so that the cat did not attack the birds. The cat was so slender that she could sneak out of the iron gate of the garden, so some mesh was fixed on it too. Now Jiggs could not see much through either the windows or the gate. How was he to guard his master’s house?

Why couldn’t Huh-huh make out what was happening? Jiggs was not exercising enough, he was becoming ungainly in gait, his coat of hair no longer shone as much, he did not prance around his master because of the leash, the house was almost unguarded, the cat kept tipping things over, and she irritated Jiggs.

As the days grew colder, Jiggs got more irritable. He longed for the sun, but he was forced to sit next to the heater most of the day. He began to look forward to the woman leaving the house, for then the cat was locked up and he was let off the leash. To feel this way was not good, he knew, but he could not help it.

Today the woman was away but Huh-huh was at home, and he had let Jiggs roam around without securing the cat upstairs. Jiggs wanted to make the most of it, tearing around and generally amusing his master with tricks he had almost forgotten. But every so often he found the cat in his basket, pulling at his rug or sniffing at his tin of biscuits. He chased her out each time, sometimes discreetly, at times with short barks so as not attract Huh-huh’s attention.

Now she had attacked his favourite bone, and he was not going to let her off lightly. He had decided she must be smacked, and hard. But Huh-huh appeared in the doorway just then, and Jiggs braked hard, almost knocking him down. Huh-huh recovered his balance with some effort, and caught hold of Jiggs by the collar.

“What’s gotten into you?” he asked absent-mindedly, patting Jiggs.

Jiggs barked, and licked his master’s feet. Then he bounded out and back in, out and back, hoping Huh-huh would follow him into the garden. He wanted to lead him to the cat and somehow make him put her on the leash instead.

Someone entered the gate that Huh-huh had left ajar. He called out to Huh-huh, but Jiggs dashed out first and was at the intruder’s ankle in a trice, barking madly.

The agitated man was holding the cat in his arms. She was purring and purring. Huh-huh shushed Jiggs into silence. The two men exchanged some words, and behold! The stranger took away the cat.

Jiggs could not believe it. Was the cat not coming back? Was he going to have his master back, all to himself? Had the woman also gone? That was too bad a thought, he chided himself. But he restlessly followed Huh-huh in.

Jiggs felt his master was not perturbed that the man had taken the cat with him, and he positively perked up when Huh-huh gave him his undivided attention after many, many days.

The woman was back when the sun was gone. The couple had a long chat, but they did not tie up Jiggs. He kept to his territory, lest his unexpected freedom drew the woman’s attention. But she seemed somewhat upset and paid him no heed.

The cat did not return the next day too. Jiggs relaxed.

Soon after, when Huh-huh and the woman were at home one whole day, the men who had put up the wire mesh came and took it down from the windows and the gate. Jiggs was now sure the cat was away for good. He could have an unimpaired view of the road outside again. And the birds would be back too, thank heaven!

He could live with the woman around. That was a small price to pay for freedom, Jiggs thought to himself, curling up in his cosy basket after setting his rug just the way he liked it.

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