‘Basil, the Bold and the Beautiful’ by Jennifer Watts

Basil was all fluff and cuteness when he arrived at our house in a cardboard box on the back seat of my car.

I’d picked him up from a young family, who were coy but firm about finding him a new home.

Words like ‘babies’, ‘allergies’ were thrown about. I naively caught them as intended, a family with little kids who could no longer cope with the demands of a pet.

Look how cute he looks hiding behind the scratched-up couch! I figured it was the kids who had destroyed the furniture. As he sat, peeping from behind the tatty three-seater, Basil already had me pegged as a fool.

‘Here kitty,’ I cooed.

His owner asked if I’d brought along a cage.

‘No,’ I replied.

Wouldn’t he sit, like a good boy, on the back seat for the short trip back to my place?

We had a large home and a decent-sized property, along with two teenage girls bursting to lavish attention on a sweet, little pussycat.

‘Well,’ said the owner with a pause I shouldn’t have ignored, ‘Let me find you a cardboard box.’

She also came back with gardening gloves, a thick pair covering her hands and forearms.

And so began a long hour of coaxing Basil from out behind and under furniture. I came away with scratches, the first of many from this cantankerous yet gorgeous ginger tom. He was terrifying and glorious, loving and moody, a personality I took turns at loving and loathing.

Basil was not happy with my travel arrangements and from inside his box on the back seat, let me know. His protest was at howl our whole neighbourhood was soon familiar with, as he took to bullying local cats and dogs, deep night hours his favourite gig.

He would not be tamed. From the start he made it clear that we were entering his world, not the other way round.

Despite his ornery nature, he had both girls wrapped around his tiny paw, so on the occasions when I yelled ‘Enough, he’s got to go!’, he garnered support from the two most influential people in our home, and stayed to live out another of his many, many lives.

He left bits of himself everywhere he went, from choked-up hairballs of fur, to hideous stains of spray. My new carpet lost that fight.

He refused to eat with manners. He deliberately carried great mouthfuls from his bowl, on to my shiny kitchen tiles. And for a lover of food, he was awfully picky.

He adored rubbish day. He got no end of joy from tearing open rubbish bags lining our street, spreading contents along verges, nibbling here, playing there, then leaving it all for someone else to clean up.

He had a thing for bare feet. Anyone polite enough to take their shoes off at our door found themselves the target of surprise attacks from Basil. He liked toes.

He was never fond of toddlers, probably a hangover from his early days with a family of boisterous children. When mums visited me, I took to locking Basil outside, or rather us safely inside.

Basil slept where and when he wanted, which was everywhere and most of the time. His fluffiness earned him praise from many who met him, and my ire as I almost continuously sneezed and itched.

The Christmas tree was his own personal playground and the space in front of a roaring fire was also only his.

His insistent tapping and meowing at internal doors meant all four of us became his servant, opening and closing doors for his highness, often times within minutes.

The hallway leading to the bedrooms became the scene of a great game for Basil, as the girls tried first stealth, then speed to get past his swiping claws.

There were the (several) times when (several) neighbours wanted to discuss the disappearance of their own cat’s food.

There was the time when a tradesman’s dog had to be put back in the van because Basil was terrorising him.

He could be incredibly affectionate, his deep purring rivalling the television volume. He was, however, also incredibly fussy about where he liked to be patted, a nightmare when newcomers saw only a bundle of fluff they wanted to pet.

Basil had one major weakness. Food, particularly straight off a dinner plate, was a magic wand that could be used to distract, lead and coerce, if only for as long as the chicken wing lasted.

Recently, Basil’s time on earth came to a peaceful end. Wherever he is, I bet he’s not behaving himself.

About the contributor

Jennifer Watts
Jennifer Watts is a writer and former journalist who has lived in several countries. She has freelanced for a range of newspapers and is a contributor for Chicken Soup For The Soul and The Blue Nib. She lives in New Zealand with her husband and two children.

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