Dark of fur, and golden-eyed, the young she-cat sat, paws tucked under her, dozing lightly in the late afternoon sun against the wall of a suburban house, no more than a shadow amongst the dark green leaves of a garden shrub. It wasn’t her house..she didn’t belong there. She belonged nowhere in particular. As the sun went down, she dreamed…dreamed of a cool, dark space in a hot, hot land far from the place she called home. She dreamed of the same place most evenings and often, as she patrolled her territory in daylight, she looked for it – or somewhere like it – but had never found a place that even remotely resembled it.
The sky darkened and the temperature dropped. The cat shook herself awake, sat up and looked up at the sky. The Moon was still low on the horizon and not yet ready for communication, so she passed the time making her customary greetings to those of her ancestors who were already visible. She located The Great Cat’s Eye and looked across to where Old Tom lay on his back, sleeping away eternity. She loved to look at Old Tom. She imagined him to be a big old red cat, fat and contented, but still wise and kindly, like the old boy she had met behind the seafood restaurant. He had invited her to shelter from the rain and had shared his bowl of fish heads with her and told her all about his youth as a ship’s cat sailing the Caribbean Sea. She hadn’t believed his stories, of course, but she was far too polite to say so to a generous cat who had shared his meal with her. And anyway, the stories were fun. She left Old Tom to his infinite slumber, and scanned across until her eyes alighted on the faint cluster of tiny stars that made up The Kittens. Seven of them. She hoped it wasn’t going to be seven… Finally, she found her favourite constellation, the Diamond Collar. Yes…she would look good in a diamond collar…
By now, the sky was alive and sparkling with the eyes of her myriad ancestors looking down upon the world. It was a significant night for the young cat. The Moon had turned twelve times since her birth and the days had gone from long and balmy to short, cool and wet and back again. Today was the day she left her kittenhood behind forever and she was in need of guidance. She had never been afraid of being alone in the world. The Lady Moon had guided her often and Her wisdom had kept her safe. But now, things had changed. She was no longer going to be alone, and those that were coming would need her protection. The Moon was high now and She was looking the young cat squarely in the face so, glancing quickly around to ensure that she was alone, she began to sing her question. And, on this special night – just as her mother had predicted – The Moon sang back.
She had expected a little more than that, to be honest. However, one did not ask Her Ladyship for guidance only to ignore it once it was given, so she moved herself to the top of a wall where she believed she would be able to hear…whatever it was… a little better. After a while, during which she could hear only the wind and the usual sounds of the hoomin world humming through the night, she rested her head on her paws and drifted into sleep. She felt the heat of a blazing, noon sun on her back and dust beneath her paws and heard the sound of voices and the chink, chink of hammers working rock and a low, low rumble which she couldn’t identify….she jerked awake and lifted her head. The rumbling sound wasn’t part of her dream. It was real, but very faint and very distant. She listened intently, swivelling her ears to catch more of the sound. The rumble resolved itself into the murr of a cat, a long, long way off…and the cat was calling her by name. Startled, she responded, keeping her voice as quiet and low as possible. “Hello..?”.
“Welcome….” said the distant cat, “..to The Great Circle”.
It was a thrilling night. She had heard of The Great Circle, of course. Most cats knew of it, though not all were immediately invited to participate. There were many smaller, local networks who preferred to keep themselves to themselves but, in times of crisis or great celebration, all she-cats were welcomed in. She was excited to be able to talk again to her mother and her sister and she heard news of her brothers. She listened while the Circle exchanged news, gossip, information and some surprisingly filthy jokes. Emboldened by her joy at reconnecting with her family, she contributed the story of the rat in the drainpipe and was relieved when they laughed, despite her having messed up the punchline a little. Then, the atmosphere turned more serious and a hush fell over the circle. Each cat was invited to give thanks to Her Ladyship for something or someone who had made their lives a little better during the month (she chose the red tom who had shared his dinner with her) and then many of the sisters gave the names of cats and favoured hoomins who had recently been taken up. They were properly commemorated, and their eyes were identified in the night sky, and named. It was a touching ceremony, and she felt a lump rising in her throat as she listened, even though she did not recognise any of the names. The Circle seemed to break up into smaller groups after that – friends sought out friends, family members got together, and she found herself in conversation with the cat who had first called her name.
“Your name is interesting” the far-off cat said. “Why were you named after an Ancient Egyptian deity?”
“I’ve no idea. There is a naming tradition in my family, going back generations. My mother is named Ubasti, as was her mother before her. My sister is Pakhet and I am Mafdet. Many in our family have had the same names. Where is Ancient Egypt?”
“Ancient Egypt was a hoomin culture in which cats flourished. They were considered sacred and were protected and worshipped. The goddess Mafdet was a slayer of scorpions and snakes. She protected the Pharoah’s palace and she protected the sacred temples, where the hoomins worshipped. She was also a goddess of justice and retribution.”
“I like the sound of her. I often dream that I am in a hot and dusty country and I am catching scorpions and snakes. They try to sting and bite me, but I slay them easily with my claws. Actually, I’ve never seen a snake or a scorpion in my life.”
“Well, you see, we cats have two types of memory. There is the memory you keep in your head, of your life since you were born, of family, friends, enemies, places, favourite meals, best naps…and then there’s the memory you carry in your bones. Those memories are passed down through so many generations that nobody can now remember where they originated. They are the echoes of your ancestors and they tell you who you are and where you came from. They also tell you how to be, how to think and what to do – provided you interpret them right. They are the very core of who you are. There were cats living in the temples of Ancient Egypt, keeping them free of vermin. They were revered and venerated. Maybe you are descended from an ancestor who guarded the halls of Mafdet’s temple”
“How do you know all this?”
“Easy,” said the far-off cat. “My hoomins have this machine. I’ve figured out how it works. Tells me all kinds of stuff…Anyway, have you made a decision as to where you’re going to birth your kittens?”
“I asked The Moon for guidance,” said Mafdet, plaintively, “but she just told me to listen. I don’t know what to do.”
“She told you to listen to us, for no-one can advise you better than your own kind. You have a choice. You can take your chances living wild in the city and hope to find a warm, safe place to raise your family, and hope to find enough food for yourself and them by hunting and scavenging, or you can put your faith in hoomins. Life in the hoomin world can be very easy, very rewarding and very comfortable…if you find the right one, of course. We can guide you, and make sure that you do. You will be safe, warm, well-fed and loved, and so will your babies. I found a happy home in the hoomin world, by putting my faith in one man in particular. If you look up and to the left of The Great Cat’s Eye, you will find a constellation of eleven stars and, near it, another of four stars. I myself named these The Father and The Son as a tribute to the hoomins who saved me and set me on the path to happiness. If you choose to do so, and if The Moon and the fates are smiling on you, you may find the real father and son on earth. Then your future happiness will be assured. However, it is up to you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my daughter has recently joined The Circle, and I am anxious to talk to her before the sun rises. Think carefully, young Mafdet, and choose wisely.”
“Wait…” said Mafdet. “You never told me what you dream about, and I don’t know what your name is..”
“I have filled my head with many things since I was your age, so my dreams are often full of calculations and machine designs and star charts. But…sometimes, I see a dark forest in a northern land, with a cold, running stream from which I am drinking…” she tailed off and was silent for a while, before she shook herself out of her reverie. “I go by the name the hoomins gave me these days, because it is who I am. It’s a warm and friendly name and I like the way it sounds when my people speak it. I am Rosemary.”
The two cats bade each other good night, and Mafdet jumped down from the wall and once again took up her position amongst the plants next to the house. Her head was buzzing with the excitement of the night but, as the dawn came up, she began to doze…
She was walking through a cool, dark space…on either side of her, great columns rose, columns covered with intricate, carved patterns. There was a fine dust beneath her paws. On her lips, the taste of a recently consumed rat. She walked on, past a tall plinth on which stood a gleaming, black effigy of a handsome, fine-boned cat. Suddenly, the cool hall was behind her and she was outside in heat and blazing sunlight. All around her were hoomins, shouting, laughing, chipping at slabs of rock with tools, carrying bundles, cooking over small fires. As she walked on, every hoomin she passed bent down to stroke her head, or tickle her chin, some even lifted her up and spoke to her with affection in their voices. One offered her a small fish from his cooking pot, which she did not refuse. She came upon a small, clear pool and, bending her head to drink, she saw her reflection for the first time…a slim, long-limbed cat with large ears and fine, high cheekbones. Her coat was black and glossy and shot through with silver. Her almond-shaped eyes were the colour of the sun and…yes, she wore a diamond collar.
Mafdet awoke suddenly to the realisation that the sun was sinking once again, and that she had slept through the whole day without eating. It was hunger that had woken her up. She stretched and emerged from her hiding place, to find herself face to face with an unknown tabby cat.
“The Circle sent me to find you.” said the tabby. “Have you reached a decision?”
Mafdet smiled. “Yes,” she said. “I know now where I belong.”
“In that case…” said the tabby, “…follow me. Your journey home is about to begin.”