One late-summer, fin de siècle night, Marge woke me, holding a tiny ball of black fluff in her hands. “Can we keep him?” she asked.
Distracted by tins of flaked tuna and super supper, I set about combing the burrs from his tail, then, when he’d eaten his fill, I tucked him under my covers and held him close until morning. Over the years, that remained his favorite place to sleep, head beside mine on the pillow, curled up like a little teddy bear. He didn’t stay little for long.
He told us his name was Sanji, Sanji Gupta. He was a prince among cats, proud and funny, with a regal air that spoke to an ancient lineage. His paws were immense but always velvet, his silky black fur and plume of tail – never again to run afoul of cockles – made him look like a great bearcat.
Over the years, he became the benevolent leader of the brood, not only accepting of newcomers but taking an active role in their raising. When Gatsby had her kittens Parker, Carter, and Poe, Sanji was the only other cat in the house she’d allow near them. He became their surrogate papa, keeping them safe, teaching them well.
Thunder was the only thing he was ever afraid of. And ever since the tornado of ’03, he was the best barometer around, scurrying under my bed at the first hint of a thunderstorm, coming out again as soon as it was safe.
So for almost sixteen years he was friend, companion, and inspiration. Then he suddenly got sick, aggressively so. And today I kept my promise to always take care of him, and now Sanji sits at Bast’s right paw.
Now he plays tag with lightning bolts and dreams he is the Panther Maharajah, ruling the forests of Chandrapur.
Every so often, if we’re lucky. we are blessed by truly exceptional companions. And every so often, with holes in our hearts, we have to let them go. And miss them.
Sanji is missed. Terribly.