Nicole Townend had a way with cats, and especially liked exotic ones like the Burmese.
The Burmese were sleek and independent, rather like Nicole.
They were the colour of polished brown shoes, unlike Nicole.
Their fur was shorter and denser than most cats.
And the Burmese had a way with themselves.
It could be said they were not pets at all: the Burmese were visitors in the household, guests.
Like guests, they came and went as they wished.
They ate or didn’t eat their supper.
They said goodbye or just left.
They left the washing up to the hosts.
This Burmese cat was a welcome guest in this household.
Nicole did her best to make her welcome, to minister to her every need.
The cat would only ever eat one brand of tinned food, the best. She had her own bed and slept in the main bedroom on the main bed. She brought home socks, but we will get to that. And she had the magical ability to disappear, at will.
Burma the Burmese cat was a cat after all, and Burmese as well, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Burma went missing.
One night she didn’t eat her supper.
That wasn’t unusual, but she didn’t drink her soya milk either.
That was unusual.
Nicole and her husband Ian looked in all the cupboards.
She wasn’t in the cupboards.
They looked under the bed.
She wasn’t under the bed.
They found a sock instead.
She wasn’t at the bottom of the laundry basket looking for socks.
You see, Burma had a penchant for socks, or a fetish, you might call it.
Whatever you called it, you really had to use a fancy French word to describe the condition.
She would come home with socks from all over the place.
One at a time, of course.
How many socks could a cat carry?
She never brought home a pair.
One was ever enough to satisfy the fetish.
Nicole had to collect them and put them in a bag.
Duly each month she set out to find the owners of these socks.
She never did find an owner to one of the socks, from wherever, so the bag got bigger.
This didn’t seem to be a case of socks.
Burma wasn’t visiting the neighbours.
Nicole asked after her up and down the street.
Nobody had seen Burma recently.
And nobody had recently lost a sock.
Then Ian, who ran a parcel business, heard about No. 24.
The people in No. 24 had had a moving van in to move their things.
Cats love doors, will come in a door when it is opened, will go out a door when it is closed.
They like to sit near a door until it is opened.
Will come in and go out in an act of will you can only call ‘cat’.
Sometimes a cat will go out a door just so it can come in again.
So Ian and Nicole Townend, the hosts of Burma the Burmese cat, decided to track down the truck.
The truck had been there the day Burma went missing.
It seemed like a reasonable hypothesis: Burma could be in the truck, wherever that was.
It could be in Perth.
But no, they tracked it down to Nerang, forty miles away.
Ian made the trip to Nerang, asked around, and found the people of No. 24.
‘Have you seen a cat?’ he asked.
He realised how stupid that sounded so instead described the cat he meant.
They knew of Burma, the cat and the country.
‘Burma’s that way,’ said the man, with a little laugh – past Darwin.
Ian had found the people of No. 24 but still no Burma.
There had been no cat in the truck.
Nicole was disappointed.
It was beginning to look dire.
The Burmese cat was pedigree, would fetch a pretty price.
Or she had been run over.
It had been a week.
Nicole and Ian had plastered notices all through town and on nearby telephone poles:
Nicole had spent hours on the Internet to discover that the country Burma was actually called Myanmar.
That would be a rotten name for a cat.
The country was once under British rule.
The British had been everywhere.
So, a week to no avail.
Then Nicole was hanging out the washing, as she must, one day, when she heard the clatter of the cat food tray.
She had left the tray over near their back screen door.
It was empty but ready, in case.
She heard the clatter and turned.
She had a towel in her hands and pegs.
It was Burma.
‘Where have you been?’ said Nicole, pleased and displeased at the same time.
The miscreant guest just looked at her with big wide green eyes.
Burma would like to have said she’d been to see the Queen, to talk about the Commonwealth or something, but that was a long trip even for a cat, and also not true.
So she meowed about her supper.
Most cat conversation is about food.
‘I have been a long time without much sustenance,’ she said.
Nicole was rubbing her fur for ticks and gladness and good luck, such is the superstition of cat owners.
Burma was unhurt, no injury, a little sleeker than normal.
Nicole leant right down and hugged her cat to her chest.
Where have you been? she said again.
She was near to tears, for happiness.
Cats have been everywhere, on all the continents.
Burma had been a few places as well.
She was well known in a few cafés.
But Burma, for all the love she shared in this welcoming family, could not say where she had been. In her green eyes you could see it.