Friend or foe?

Ever wondered what a ‘bete-noire’ is? Let me enlighten you if you haven’t. It is a person or thing that one particularly dislikes or dreads. It is another word for enemy, who is, of course, someone who hates, attacks or harms another. An adversary, something that threatens someone or something. Literally, it means ‘black beast’.

Fuzzy, our pet, who for the last seven years has mostly just slept, keeps us as his slaves and wants for absolutely nothing (apart from the occasional bits of raw chicken as I cook and a slice of watermelon or two, or so I naively suppose)

But is the most wonderful thing about being Fuzzy ‘really’ that it seems you’re The Only One? If you have never seen another cat ever since you were separated from your sibling when you were a wee kitten (unless you count the weirdo in the mirror who got startled every time he saw you) do you recognize the yowling beyond your existence as the sound of others like you? And what is that potent aroma wafting towards you fromΒ  the balcony and courtyard doors? Smells like cat-pee but not your own…

Fuzzy lost no opportunity making sure that if what he suspected was true, there should be no doubt in anyone or anything as to exactly WHO was Master of this Domain.

Every morning to our dismay, we began to find puddles near every entry or exit point in our house. We dealt with it by putting our daily newspaper to good use. Yes, he had been neutered…or at least the vet did the best he could (since Fuzzy is monorchid)

One of Fuzzy’s favourite hangout spots is also one of mine, the breezy top step of the stairs that lead down to our courtyard. A swing door separates the stairs from the rest of the house, so in the evenings when someone opens that door, Fuzzy steps out for some fresh air. He prowls around downstairs, sniffing pots, inspecting different areas, marking his presence discreetly. Guilty as we feel keeping a living thing in such seclusion, the least we could do is allow him this little bit of freedom to experience the outdoors. This little freedom expanded to such an extent that we even let him spend the night outside since he loved it so much. It’s not like he would ever be able to scale the boundary walls and actually go out to explore the Outside World. He’s just not built that way. He’s the kind of cat that ponders and dilly-dallies before jumping on or off chairs and coffee tables.

Many years thus passed and a routine established itself. Fuzzy snored under my bed in the morning and all afternoon, emerging in the late afternoon, stretching out his back legs, yawning humungously. He’ll sit outside my bedroom door, disoriented and a tad cross-eyed. Then he’ll wander over to the netted balcony door, tucking his legs comfortably under him and sit there basking in the last golden rays of the sun, ears twitching now and then at sounds of passing cars, human voices and chirping birds, eyes half-closed.

Soon,Β  he will unfurl and walk lazily but purposefully over to his water bowl, positioning his body around it, enveloping the bowl in an embrace. He loves his water bowl.

No one could ever describe Fuzzy as a fierce cat. He is the very essence of docility, unless he’s in a playful mood. His mouth is so small that he can’t manage food that is larger than the tip of your finger. He will patiently chase a piece of kibble that drops from the bowl to the floor until he can latch on enough to be able to chew. He’s not the kind of enthusiastic cat who’ll run to his food bowl when he hears the rattle of kibbles. If he wants food, he’ll go sit by his bowl and wait with equanimity. But if he wants water, he’ll come into my room and get my attention by meowing softly till I get up. Then he’ll lead me to his water bowl , trotting ahead and looking back again and again to make sure I’m following. Sometimes he’ll swat at my ankles with his paw to hurry me along.

The only time he’ll betray any excitement is if he hears the rattle of ice cubes. An ice cube in his water bowl is like Eid for him. He’ll hover over it like he does on hot days in front of an open fridge. Such sweet small happinesses. And then of course, there is the anticipation of being allowed to go down to the courtyard.

We realized why Fuzzy had been acting extra territorial and so very eager to dash out of the house when we found him sitting on the stairs one day with a cat sitting across from him. They were staring at each other emitting low guttural sounds, not fighting but just facing each other. We shooed the other cat away and it ambled off lithely, scaling the wall and disappearing while Fuzzy looked on, unable to fathom how.

Another time we heard some fierce howling only to find Fuzzy having a face-off with the same trespassing cat, but this time, heartened by my presence perhaps, he began to chase the other cat round and round the stairs until the cat managed to jump onto the trellis from the balcony, scale the wall and get away, Fuzzy breathing in huffy bursts,Β  fuming with prickly antagonism. This was the first time I had ever seen Fuzzy so intensely worked up.

Late one evening a few months ago, we returned after several hours spent away from home, me worrying about Fuzzy being alone and hungry. As we climbed the unlit staircase, my worry turned into a strange sense of foreboding when I noticed clumps strewn about the landing halfway up…I was almost afraid to inspect closely, but then I discerned something dark smeared on the floor and my fears turned to panic as I turned to Huz to ask if Fuzzy was inside or out. Huz fumbled with the keys (why does it seem to take forever when you’re panicking?) we all ran in and called for Fuzzy but he was nowhere to be seen. We usually find him waiting for us by the door alerted by the sound of the keys turning in the lock. Heart hammering, I stood in the balcony and called his name…it is usual for him to come dashing up like lightning. After a few seconds I saw some movement and Fuzzy came out slowly from under the stairs and started climbing with some effort. Turning on the lights, I realized the dark blobs on the stairs were bunches of Fuzzy’s hair and the smear was blood.

Horrified and shaking, and too scared to touch him in case he was badly hurt, I let Fuzzy walk into the house unaided, limping visibly and looking rather subdued. I stroked his head and checked him tentatively for wounds, but couldn’t see anything through all his fur. Huz joked that the blood might belong to the other cat and the thought made me feel a little better, but I was sad for Fuzzy and outraged at the other cat for violating Fuzzy’s territory and consistently looking for a chance to attack him. I took Fuzzy to the vet next day and was told he had a sprained shoulder which was causing him to limp, but there were no wounds anywhere. I looked at Fuzzy with a degree of skepticism. How could a spoilt, evolutionarily challenged semi-Persian defend itself against a ruthless street cat and draw blood?

Nevertheless, Fuzzy had to be protected from the wily building cat and stay withiin the house at all times from now on. As a result, he became ever more vigilant at the balcony doors. The anticipation of more confrontations was palpable…Fuzzy was alert and tense on the lookout for further trespassing, eagerly waiting for the building cat to show up and he wasn’t disappointed. The other cat kept coming back and there were further face-offs through the netting (which occur with regularity around the same time every day.) I’ll be sitting in another room and I will hear Fuzzy yowling angrily or I’ll hear the door rattle loudly and I know he has flung himself at the door with force.




I don’t know how he gets his paws so muddy but there are fresh paw prints on the balcony walls and the floor every day. I began to regard the building cat as a friendly foe since he added so much spice to Fuzzy’s life and suggested leaving a bowl of food for him in the balcony, which Huz and Amu vehemently vetoed. But I had cause to rethink my soft spot for him as a worthy adversary.

I was sitting at my kitchen table one night when I heard rummaging sounds. Fuzzy followed me as I went to turn on the overhead balcony light and open the door. On the landing were two cats this time, apparently the black and white building cat had brought along a ginger friend and they were going through our recycling heap like vandals. Ginger saw me and ran off but Black&white stayed and stared back as he squatted on a brown paper bag and proceeded to pee on it. My jaw dropped at his insolent audacity but I couldn’t help laughing a little too.

Didn’t laugh too much when a few days later he left a little pile of poop on a cushion on the bench as a little gift for us. Or this morning when Huz went to fetch the newspaper from under our front door only to find that not only did it have a yellow patch of pee on it but had been torn up as well.

Seems we have a bete-noire on our hands indeed, albeit with a touch of blanc.





  1. GrahamInHats says:

    If it is any help, they don’t like water pistols. Best of Luck. πŸ™‚

    1. Munira says:

      And all this time I was thinking I need an air gun! πŸ˜› Good advice, a much less violent option πŸ™‚

  2. berlioz1935 says:

    What a great story, Munira. It is good to hear from you. We, Aunty Uta and I, discuss you often and your life in Karachi every time your country is in the news. Keep it up.

    1. Munira says:

      Thank you Peter and a belated birthday wish to you! My country is sinking into ignorance and chaos….I must return to my peaceful bubble to remain sane πŸ˜›

      1. berlioz1935 says:

        Thank you for your birthday wishes. Aunty Uta told me about it already.

        I hope you find that peaceful spot within yourself. Marcus Aurelius said, one can stay in that spot even in the middle of a battle.

        I hope Fuzzy is getting well again.

  3. I love your ‘bete-noir with a touch of blanc’ – not in the least because he made you write again, and oh the JOY of your penmanship πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ I’m tempted to type ‘poor Fuzzy’ but is he really? I think not πŸ˜‰ Btw…do we now if (TOB) is a boy or a girl? I’m thinking this is a ‘cattier-than-thou’ female πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

    And funnily enough we have our own bete-noir this side of the border now – he’s been elected with a majority and has the hopes & aspirations of more than a billion people resting on his shoulders. I’m cautiously optimistic because I’ve chosen to believe him when he says his agenda is growth and development. The jury is out and I’m hoping I haven’t misjudged him and more importantly my own convictions. Waiting on the ‘touch of blanc’!

    1. Munira says:

      You say the nicest things H! The ol’ pen has gotten a tad rusty of late but this story had to be told πŸ™‚ I think Fuzzy isn’t too unhappy about the Outside Cat at all! Who is definitely male btw, he is too baleful to be female πŸ˜›
      As for Modi, let’s keep our fingers crossed shall we? Both our countries seem to be veering sharply towards the right and I don’t think that bodes well in the larger scheme of things. I hear only negative things about the BJP so your optimism is refreshing!

    2. berlioz1935 says:

      I’m always vary when a politician talks about growth. It means the things that are being produced at the moment are not shared equally. In today’s world growth is a dirty word as it depends on further degradation of the environment. Modi looks like a demigod and promises much and with a billion people behind him he could achieve much. But India is a sleeping tiger and once woken nobody can ride him.

        1. berlioz1935 says:

          Munira for the link. It was indeed interesting reading. I had heard very little of Arundhati Roy, but will keep an eye on her. What she she said about Modi made me more wary. The world does not need a conflict between Pakistan and India.

        2. Haven’t read yet but I dislike Arundhati Roy and I’m not very impressed by social activists who comment on politics. In my opinion, social activism and politics should work mutually but never do, because they each have their own egos and agendas, and rarely do the people they are fighting for benefit. I may be sounding rather harsh but I’ve been very disappointed by many ‘pseudo-activists’ in this country. The most recent case being that of Arun Kejriwal who in my opinion has made a mockery of himself and of the people who actually voted for him 😦

          I do however have utmost respect for people like the Amtes, who serve the down-trodden and shun the press. They are my heroes πŸ™‚

          1. Munira says:

            A.R stands for a larger cause, though her context of course is India. She stands against exploitation of the poor by the extremely wealthy corporate giants that are the backbone of India’s economy. I really don’t see her as someone with an ego or an agenda. How can she be when she speaks for the greater good?
            But I am only an outsider and I don’t want to be thwacked. So we shall have to agree to disagree on this!

          2. We shall! Everybody talks, nobody really does anything. Certainly not the Congress in this country who has had decades to get it right! I must confess though…my dislike is biased coz I don’t like her writing πŸ˜›πŸ˜› Or perhaps it’s my extreme cynicism for activism and politics in this country. I have a faint hope…but it really is more like ‘hoping against hope’…I do not think the lot of my country will improve in my lifetime 😦

            Uff! Sorry M…I had no intention of burdening you with all my baggage! Hai meri majaal jo mein apne dost ko Thwack karoon πŸ˜±πŸ˜±πŸ˜‰ Waise thwack karne ke liye yahaan kataar mein bahout hain πŸ˜„πŸ˜„

  4. ravinj says:

    You might be able to rattle bete-noir’s antics with a motion sensor light on your balcony. Or a motion sensor to activate a sprinkler.

    1. Munira says:

      Haha, good ideas both! I’m rather looking forward to acquiring a water pistol though. Have some fun while we’re at it πŸ™‚ Plus I can shoot water through the netting so I can hit him before he can get away! πŸ˜›

  5. Stacy says:

    Or should that be “with a touch of blanche”? haha….just playing along with the pun Munira. Fuzzy is quite a character, and “post-worthy,” in my humble opinion. xo

    1. Munira says:

      You’re welcome to play along anytime Stacy! πŸ™‚ Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

  6. Hey, Mun, good to see you back on the stump. We have a couple of bruisers who roam our garden frequently causing cat-trouble so I bought one of those pump-action soakers that kids love on the beach. I never got to use it though. A couple of clicks, Arnie-style, and they were gone… Hasta la Vista, baby. πŸ™‚

    1. Munira says:

      Hahah, I need to get me some weaponry it seems. Thus far I have been of the opinion that bruisers are bruisers cos they never got any love 😐 But this guy is a real creep and I think he is responsible for giving Fuzzy fleas as well. Sigh. Tomorrow : vet.

  7. Sid Dunnebacke says:

    What a fun story, Munira. All the while I was reading, I couldn’t get pictures of my Abby out of my head, as I thought you were describing her and her life.

    I wouldn’t be too hard on Fuzzy’s bete noire, though I would want to stop the poo and pee placements… Good luck!

    1. Munira says:

      Thanks Sid! Cats transcend geographical borders in their ways of being it seems πŸ˜‰ Bete noire continues to visit…he is completely incorrigible, yet he does add a certain je ne sais quoi to Fuzzy’s quality of life πŸ™‚

  8. Peter says:

    Here is another take on your story

    1. Munira says:

      HAHAHAHAH i just saw this because youtube is finally unbanned in my silly country!!!

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