Part 1: The Adventures of Bobo in the Lady of the Green
Bo Didley, or Bobo for short, was a very brave boy that hot summer in 2022. He probably used up more than one of his nine lives!
His journey began one June day high above the coastline in Algarve, Southern Portugal.
His human mother put the handsome orange and yellow striped three years old feline, twenty- one in cat years, along with his tiger sister Bella, into two cat carriers, and took them for the first time to Senhora do Verde (Lady of the Green), a village between Portimao and Monchique, named because of an appearance of Our Lady, and holy springs throughout the green valleys.
On the ride there, his green eyes never wandered from the carrier window, mesmerized by the green agricultural land that zipped past the car window. Eventually, they pulled into a long driveway with several houses on each side. Loud boisterous barking filled the afternoon air as a gang of dogs almost ripped down a fence trying to get at the car. A lady in a brown vest ran out the house and shouted at them, “Be Quiet!” and chased them back.
“They won’t hurt you. Follow me,” said Ana, a middle-aged Portuguese woman, walking towards a long narrow building framed with wooden posts, covered completely with wire fencing. Inside were several rooms with little tunnels connecting them. Cats could be seen lounging on beds, playing on the floor, and chasing each other through the narrow rooms.
“Now don’t worry you two, I’ll be back before you know it,” said June, placing them on the cement floor. Eyes, hidden by dark shadows, followed their every movement. Low growls echoed in every corner, and a pungent and sour odour filled the dusty air.
Bella let out a deep growl and cowered in her carrier. Bobo lay calmly in his and with his soft, feminine-like face, surveyed the enclosure through his window, wondering why they were in this strange place, and what was on the menu for lunch.
“Its OK Bella, they wont hurt you,” said June, rubbing the tigers ears with two fingers through the mesh door.
“They’ll be alright, don’t worry,” reassured Ana, muffling a yawn, taking it all in with crinkled dark eyes.
Deep murmurs and sharp meows could be heard throughout.
“How many cats do you have here?
“Oh, about twenty-four, not really sure,” replied Ana, shooing a big grey cat off the carrier.
“The rooms seem to go on and on!”
“I added two more this spring. Everyone is dropping off kittens, senior cats, injured ones, cats nobody wants, oh boy, I can hardly keep up,” said the tired looking woman with salt and pepper braided hair.
“You do so much for these animals, it’s amazing how hard you work.”
“I was up six o’clock this morning taking cats to the vet to be sterilized. Then I go and catch two injured cats in Portimao and take there also. My back is killing me. You want to let your cats out?”
“Are you sure the other’s won’t hurt them?”
“No, they fine, no problem.”
“And they can’t get out?”
“No, I put new wire up and fix all the holes where cats try to get out. It’s all OK now.”
“Well, here goes then.”
As soon as the carrier door was open, Bella darted out and disappeared into the next room, followed by a black and white cat in hot pursuit. Growls and hisses could be heard in the distant, then silence.
Bobo stuck his head out of the carrier, his eyes bulging and shiny, waiting for a pack of cats to pounce on him. None did. He eyed an old grey tomcat with a mangled ear sizing him up at a safe distance. In slow motion he stepped out, surveying every crack and corner. Suddenly a soft meow broke the silence. A slender yellow cat walked up and winked at him, and he calmly followed her to the food bowl where they shared some biscuits. It was only a flirtatious gesture as his manly tools were gone, along with his urges, but he still enjoyed the chase.
“I hope they both adjust to being here for two weeks. It’s always been just the three of us. I’ll message you when I’m in Canada, probably the day after tomorrow.”
“Have a good trip,” sighed Ana, watching the expat leave and closing the door, glad she could now clean the litter boxes in peace. She still had to pick up her granddaughter from school who was staying for the weekend, and cook supper.
Ana watched the two new members settle in, thinking of the shelter she had built over the years for the many cats she had rescued. Born not far from here in the little village, her grandparents owned the land and houses her and the cats lived on. They harvested vegetables year round and sold them at the market in Portimao on Saturday’s. Their oranges and lemon trees brought in a nice income too from their fruit stand on the road to Monchique. A cow put milk on the table and cheese in the cellar.
Stretching her mouth into a huge yawn that brought tears to her eyes, Ana went about her chores, keeping an eye on the two new arrivals. Belle was in a corner surrounded by three large cats. Being curious and territorial, they tried to sniff her. Bella, who had learned to fend for herself before she found a human home, hissed loudly and swatted the nearest male cat, who immediately cowered back.
‘Fluffy, leave her alone!’ shouted Ana, waving her arm at the big, gray cat.
She looked around for Bobo, who sat crouched on a pillow watching with curiosity the whole scenario unfold. His sad eyes searched for his human mom even though he knew she was gone. He was taken from his birth mother at a very young age because he had the kitten virus. His lungs were so infected he could hardly breathe. Nursing him back to health, they developed a special, loving bond. He was now separated from her for the first time.
“I’ll see you in two weeks,” said June softly, giving each a pat on the head, and closed the door.
Over the next few days, the two newcomers tried to fit in.
Every morning they waited patiently with the others for the sound of the wooden door to open, and the lady with the soft, tired eyes to bring them their breakfast. They took their turn, not to upset the older residents. It was an uneasy arrangement amongst the feline group.
One morning, a week later, all hell broke loose. On this particular morning, a feeling of heightened restlessness was felt amongst its furry residents. Ana opened and closed the main door, making sure a cat wasn’t hiding behind it, and went about her chores. The door jammed against a feeding bowl, and was left slightly ajar. Suddenly, a cat fight broke out between Bella and Luna, a large female cat. With fur and bowls flying, the scene was one of pure mayhem. “Stop it, you two!” she shouted, lunging towards Luna. At that moment, a male cat named Rolf made a b-line towards Bobo, and a scuffle broke out. When the dust had settled, Ana saw three furry back ends slip through the partially open door. Bobo was the last to leave.
“Bobo come back,” she yelled futilely, watching his orange and yellow tail disappear into the tall grass behind the enclosure.
She ran into the bright sunlight and frantically scanned the countryside that stretched as far as the eye could see. Houses dotted the landscape, and horses and cattle grazed in the green fields.
“Bobo!” she shouted. With high temperatures and low water levels, she knew an animal could easily die from starvation or dehydration out here. Especially one that was a stranger to the area.
Ana spent a long afternoon in the fields looking for the ginger-striped cat. She asked the neighbors and checked with the vets and nearest animal canil. Nightfall came. As the sun set over the Serra De Monchique mountains, and cast a red and yellow shadow on Foia, the highest peak in the Algarve, she secretly hoped he would return on his own.
‘Should I tell her?
Maybe I can find him before she returns.
Let’s see what tomorrow brings.
It took Bobo a few minutes to figure out where he was, and it wasn’t home. Crouched in the tall grass with only the tip of his nose visible, he could barely see the fields below, and his feet were slowly sinking into a gooey hole. Lifting his right paw up, he tried shaking off the mud, splattering his coat with black droplets.
He winked into the sunlight and tried to focus on his surroundings. Green fields, ponds, house, fences and roads stretched in all directions as far as he could see.
‘Boy, am I ever glad to be out of that jail!’ he thought, licking his paws. ‘Those guys were really mean to me in there. I couldn’t get any peace and quiet! I just wish I knew where I was!’
Slowly he emerged from the grass, his ears turning in all directions and his nose acutely aware of the smells touching his nostrils – a dog was close by, as was another cat, but he couldn’t see them yet- dog and horse manure, plus urine were everywhere, and rotten garbage lay near the pond.
Suddenly, he heard a familiar voice shouting in the distance, a voice he was not fond of. A voice that was not his human mother.
He ran in the opposite direction to the voice, and stopped short of the water in the pond. His feet began to sink once more, and he shook his feet and ran up a dirt road. A brown, shaggy dog darted out of nowhere and made a beeline towards him, yapping and howling. Bobo jumped back and dashed up a tree before razor sharp teeth made a meal out of him.
‘Boy, that was close!’
The ginger spent the rest of the day cowering in the tree, but the angry dog had long gone. His stomach began to growl and he wished he had eaten more biscuits for breakfast. He spent the first night outside in a field unfamiliar to him, up a tree, catching only a few moments of sleep, dreaming of those biscuits.
The next morning he got as far away from the shelter as he could, running down the dirt road that went on forever, his instincts telling him it was leading him to his human mother. How did he know? Some people called it homing instincts, a sort of inner compass that guides an animal back to where it used to live. Others say they use geomagnetic fields from the earth, potentially combined with scent cues, to locate their home. Bobo used to live down the mountain in a village called Mont de Alvor, a distance of eighteen kilometers. He was happy there with his human mother and his sister Belle. There was no straight pathway home, for the road, narrow at times, turned and curved through villages and towns, over bridges and overpasses, and because it was summer, many cars, trucks, motor bikes and campers were driving on it, often at high speeds. The fields and pastures bordering the roadway had fences and gates dividing the land, with large, aggressive dogs guarding the properties, who had little patience, or use, for cats, and would make an easy appetizer of any that so much as set a paw on their territory.
‘I wish my human would come and get me,’ he thought, his ears laid back with sad eyes, sitting on the side of the road, waiting for a large, scary, chunk of metal with four wheels to go by.
A strong scent filled his nostrils, and saliva drooled down his jaw. When the road was quiet again, he ran towards the scent and came upon a house with many humans there, sitting at many tables, eating.
‘Maybe if I position myself near them they might see me and drop a piece or two,’ he thought, cautiously entering the area where the smells were the strongest.
Suddenly, a morsel of chicken landed on his ear and fell beside him. He grabbed it, and went under a table and gulped it down. A second one landed in front of him, and he wasted no time in devouring it. Feeling full, he found a quiet corner and fell asleep until the light started to fade and the northern star came out.
He went back to the same spot, and sure enough, more tidbits dropped at his feet, plus a bowl of fresh water was waiting.
With his tummy full, he made good time on the now quieter road, down the mountain towards home. It still took him two more weeks to find his way home, dodging two and four wheeled contraptions on the road; little humans chasing him in playgrounds; big, moody felines who swatted and bit him; hunger pains and a parched mouth; burnt toes, matted hair and infected eyes.
June couldn’t understand the message at first. He was what? That’s impossible!
“Bobo is gone. He ran away. I searched day and night for him,” Anna texted on WhatsApp.
Barely home from her holidays, she was greeted with this alarming news.
“How long has he been missing?” Is Belle alright?”
“The silence on the other end said it all. After what seem like hours, her reply was forthcoming in a very squeaky, high-pitched voice,
“A week. Belle is fine.”
“And you are telling me now!”
“I wanted to find him before you came home,” a feeble voice replied.
June was at the shelter in record time, and searched the hills and fields with Ana long after the moon came out. In the days that followed, she put up posters, checked every vet in a twenty-five kilometers radius, and posted on social media. She stayed nearby with Belle in a rented caravan, hoping the little ginger boy was still in the area. His micro-chip had her phone number on it and she stayed close to her phone. Days went by with no word. Her heart was broken.
Then one day, a week later, her phone rang.
“Is this June? I think I saw your cat near Alvor. He came to the sliding door of our rental apartment looking for food,” a pleasant young man said in good English.
“Did he have a green collar on?” she asked excitedly.
“He had two on, a green and a beige one.”
“Where are you?”
“I don’t know the exact address, but I will explain where we are. We are on holidays from Lisbon and I just followed the GPS.”
After some confusion, she was able to figure out he was in Monte De Alvor, but where?
“Come tonight when it gets dark, and you will see your cat by the abandoned purple restaurant and spa.”
At dusk, June waited by the spa and sure enough a cat come out, but it was a big tiger cat. She walked down the street to make sure it wasn’t him. Suddenly a howling sound came from the opposite side, and a ginger cat ran towards her, bewailing for joy at the site of his human mom. He ceased when she held him in her arms, and all was OK once more.
“How in the world did you make it all that way home, with your life in peril, Bobo?” she asked him.
His soft whimpers and wet face were answer enough.
At that moment, a young man, with his wife and baby, came out of her old apartment, smiled and walked towards her.
“I’m so happy you found your cat.”
“Me too,” she said with wet eyes, soothing a very contented feline.
“I think he used up two of his lives.”