It was a lousy Sunday, and I had no plans of leaving my cozy bed. Over the last month, I had worked very hard, presenting and perfecting my sales pitch to win over the new client. I am an introvert, and talking to others does not come easy to me. That said, I have always enjoyed a challenge. Working through the night on a daily basis had slowly turned me into a zombie. My final presentation was ready, and my goal was within touching distance. Naina – The fabulous VP Sales.

It had been a while since I got accustomed to the new work-from-home culture. Being an introvert has its perks, after all. You do not need to pretend, make small talk, or smile at people you would rather throw a brick at.

Anyways, where was I?

As I got ready to binge-watch my favorite show, I saw a mail pop-up that made my eyes pop out as well. The CEO had asked me to make some last-minute changes to the presentation, subtly hinting at my long-awaited promotion in case of a favorable outcome. I zoomed out of my bed and scrambled toward my dining-table-cum-office-desk, my mind doing a happy dance. Naina – The amazing VP Sales – my brain went in a frenzy. I saw myself being congratulated by everyone as I treated myself to a cup of coffee.

The day could not get any better, or so I thought. As I began working on the presentation for the umpteenth time, I heard a faint scratching at the windowsill. I ignored it, gluing my watery eyes to the screen until I heard it again – more insistent this time. Frustrated, I got up and peered across the window pane to see a tabby cat staring at me. He was grey, except for his paws, which were crystal white. I shooed him away when he scratched the window again, and I found two beady grey eyes looking at me. I had some really urgent work to finish, and a very stubborn cat was standing as a roadblock between me and my promotion. We played the scratch-and-stare game a couple of times when I finally gave up and opened the window. As if on cue, the cat hopped in and sat on the table. He had achieved what he wanted, and now it was my turn.

As I began typing furiously, the cat yawned and made himself at home. While stretching across the table, his paw hit the coffee mug and spilled the contents all over the table. Panicked, I grabbed all the tissues and towels I could, but the damage was already done. My laptop switched off with my unsaved presentation, and that signaled an end to my ambitions of becoming a VP. I was beyond mad. I cursed and shouted at the cat, who was alarmed due to my sudden outburst. It bolted for the window. I cried myself to sleep, switched off my phone, dreading and procrastinating things, praying to God that the earth would swallow me whole.

The next day, I got up and dragged myself to the office with my resignation speech in mind. I had failed at the only chance I had. I did not bother taking my phone; it was better to avoid seeing the angry emails and messages. I hung my head low with drooping shoulders and drove to office. As I walked in, I could sense an eerie silence. I avoided looking at anyone and felt every pair of eyeballs digging into me.

I staggered to my cabin, situated in the farthest corner of the office. As I opened the door, I was greeted by a loud burst of voices. I tried to inch away from the door, but a pair of hands grabbed me and pulled me in. It took me more than a few minutes to register that nobody was angry at me. On the contrary, everybody was cheering and celebrating. Why was that? Apparently, the CEO had erroneously sent the old presentation to the client, and they had loved it.

I recall crying and blabbering, though I am sure pretty much everyone dismissed them as tears of joy. Never in my life had I felt so relieved. I just crashed into a chair and cried some more. When I was done, the CEO walked in, announced my promotion, and asked me to go home and get a well-deserved day off.

I do not remember driving home, but I do remember falling on the bed and dozing off. It was evening when I heard a scratching noise again. I pulled the covers up on my ears and tried to catch some sleep. The noise, however, got more insistent. I shot up from the bed, and half-fell, half-stumbled to the window to see the same tabby cat outside. I opened the window and gave him a really tight hug. Actually, I felt guilty for venting my anger on the poor animal, who appeared to bask in the cozy company of a human. I thanked him over and over, though I doubt if he understood a word. I named him Tabby and took him in, spoiling him with loads of cookies and treats.

Tabby came to my rescue from many a hardship since that day. I grew used to having him around. I could understand him, talk to him for hours, and sleep beside him peacefully.

However, Tabby was old, and over the years, I could see his energy dipping. Then one day, I saw a dark figure lurking in a corner of the house. It had red eyes, and it tried to approach Tabby. I shooed it away and almost convinced myself that I had been daydreaming. But I could see the small, dark figure more clearly now as it seemed to appear out of nowhere almost every day. It was hazy, but resembled a cat and was always trying to get near my beloved cat. I considered it a bad omen, and soon enough, Tabby started falling sick. I knew he was getting old, but my heart refused to agree, and all I could do was blame Tabby’s poor health on the dark figure.

Apprehensive, I started keeping a close watch on Tabby and would never let him out of my sight. Meanwhile, the dark figure grew bolder and started inching closer to Tabby as my poor cat struggled to walk. I saw the dark figure sit near Tabby and gently stroke him. Tabby relaxed and let out a pitiful meow. The dark figure looked at me straight in the eye and barely gave a nod before walking away.

I ran toward Tabby, hugged him, and sat with him all night, refusing to cry, refusing to let go of him. Tabby slept peacefully in my lap and passed away the next morning. I could still see him in my house, running around, munching his favorite cookies, and sleeping on his favorite pillow. Frankly, I had never experienced such grief in my life. I was an orphan and had worked my way through life all by myself. Surprisingly, I now felt clueless about how to live alone. I missed him so much that I could almost hear my windows being scratched in the dead of night.

A week after Tabby left me, I adopted two kittens – Coco and Simmba. Like me, they were orphans, too. I never knew I could love animals or that they could love me. I still missed Tabby, but the burden of that ache felt a lot lighter with two new additions to my family.

Over the years, I worked hard, started a company, and even found a life partner. My husband came around to the idea of cats and fell in love with them. As we grew old, I could hear Simba and Coco hissing at empty walls. At first, I could not make anything of it. But then it hit me.

I started having issues with my health, started falling ill more often, but the doctors seemed to see nothing odd. Simba and Coco watched me like a hawk, and I could sense their unease whenever I returned home late from office.

My husband used to think that the cats were going crazy, but deep down, I felt maybe they too were seeing a dark figure lurking around me – an eerily human figure with red eyes. Perhaps hissing was their way of protecting me from it, just like I had tried to protect poor Tabby.

Over the next few weeks, the two cats growled and hissed at the furniture, the walls, and practically anything within a foot from me. I guess they won the fight, as, a few days later, they stopped their odd behavior. My ill-health was dismissed as a case of severe fatigue and exhaustion. I was advised bed rest for a whole week and emerged as healthy as a horse.

Doctors said I needed to strike a good work-life balance. My husband insisted on enforcing a strict no-office-work-on-holiday policy at our home. However, deep down I know that my cats had prolonged my life for as long as they could. And I could not be more thankful than by spoiling them with cookies and a lot of soft toys.

…now that you’re here

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Anagha Aglawe, English poetry writer at Ameya

Anagha likes to make the most of her creativity to come up with intriguing stories. To know more about her, feel free to get in touch with her over her Upwork profile here.