Supposedly, a rest day. Took the chance to haunt a cat show, a championship round. I ran my fingers through the cream fur of a Persian longhair in the uncrowded end of a line.
Merchandise greeted the spectator: cat-food, shampoos, soft stuffs, key chains, attention-testing feathers, and other nick-knacks. About a hundred cats sat still in their cages. People noisily cramped and pointed where the big, pretty longhairs stayed. They ignored the less spectacular wirehairs and tabbies. Within the grid of cages, you could see a motley swirl of yellow, cinnamon, black, and sienna, hues of gray and white. Tried to catch the cats' eyes, but could only do so with difficulty; the cats kept these to themselves, maybe guarding a final secret from the ubiquitous fluorescent lights, pervasive air-conditioning, the adoration of humans.
My own eye roved, but occasionally it rested on a sphynx somewhere in the inaccessible center. She sat quite erect—how Egyptian of her—the grays and pinks of her body, I know, repelling most gazes successfully. She is the only sphynx present, a breed I know as the test of either an extreme catholicity or utter peculiarity of a cat-lover's love. See, her nigh-hairless skin arrayed her like the wrinkled young of rodents, sinewy albinos, rejects. Whoever loves her either embraced all cats or allowed no other.
The main judge was a fifty-something lady we'll call the Brit. She looks and sounds British, but who can be sure. What did the people think of her fashion, her all-black attire topped with leopard spots? Kitschy or apropos? I found her face appalling, and maybe most of the other lovers did too. Let me explain.
See, this was how she passed judgement. A Filipina assistant with thick make-up on her face would take a cat off the cage and put her on a small monobloc table that another, rather well-built Filipino assistant moved along as the Brit went from one cage to another. The assistants were in whites. The Filipina also wore a green apron with pockets for certain paraphernalia: a sprayer, a long feather, other things. The Brit sprayed her hands before she lifted a cat and stretched her out (all the cats were pliant, entirely domesticated, no struggle whatsoever). She frequently mumbled something to the Filipina who always replied by nodding knowingly. The Filipino tried not to look too jaded, but the expression on his face would often betray him. The Filipina annoyed me because she always managed to shield the cat from my view with her nondescript back (the dimensions of which I somehow committed to memory as one does a pop song that would later block all efforts to remember a beautiful tune). Truth be told, her back seemed just fine, shapely actually, but I also despised it for what it failed to conceal—the face of the Brit. Now, the Brit's face fell into an open-mouthed grimace whenever she examined, as if the study of beauty imposed an immense burden on the truly 'well-bred'.
Maybe that face was nothing more than the Brit's natural scrutinizing expression. How I wished she kept it to herself, or that the Filipina kept it from me.
I also much desired to see the feline eyes, the fur off them. Were the fuse accessible, I'd have shorted it to allow for the warm darkness where the glow of their eyes would be all.
I visited on the way to the second week of my second school year. I took a front seat on the commuter van to have a better view of rain, windows, lights, and rhythmic wipers. Thoughts fell on fur in those blanks between naps and the composition of lessons. I was uncomfortable. At first, I didn't know why I tried so hard to remember everything I saw. Near the end of my trip, I understood how it wasn't spectacle but absence that disturbed me.
Two hours among hundreds of cats and not a single meow. Not even a purr.