One Month with the Cats of Managua

Day 1:

“There are a lot of cats wandering around this street, huh?” I ask as my new housemate unlocked the front gate.

“Oh yeah, they’re everywhere,” he replies casually.

“Huh. I’m allergic,” I say.

Day 2:

When our third housemate arrives, I point outs the street cats to her. “Maybe we can start naming them,” I joke.

Day 3:

The warm night finds the three of us lounging on our second-floor balcony, enjoying the temperate night air. As we chat, a cat on the street below begins to stalk the other. Deliberately pacing toward a darker-colored cat peacefully curled up on our bottom stairs, the beige aggressor approaches close enough to disturb the grey cat from its resting place; when the grey cat moves, the beige cat follows. We watch from our perch above as the grey cat heads toward the nearest bushes, then back again, as it becomes clear that the other cat isn’t leaving without a fight. When it does come, the fight is fierce but brief and without casualty, as the two merely pounce and growl until the beige cat seems sufficiently fulfilled by the excitement and they part ways. A few minutes later, a beige cat goes sauntering up the street. I can’t tell whether it’s the same cat or not.

Day 6:

As I go to pull the front door shut for the night, already lamenting the loss of the cool evening breeze through our living room, a cat streaks silently past my feet to escape into the outdoors.

Day 7:

My Spanish language-learning app teaches me the sentence, “My cat dreams.” Somehow I doubt I’ll ever need it.

Day 9:

My friend sends me a Snapchat of her cat, batting at her foot like it’s a toy mouse. I think of all the time I’ve spent in that house, sniffling from my allergies while trying to avoid letting the cat sit directly on my face. I’m glad to know that her stupid cat is doing well.

Day 11:

We’re going out of the city for the weekend and will be leaving the neighborhood cats behind. I think I might miss them.

Later that night, we’re walking back from the pool in the dark when my housemate points toward the shadows. “Look at all those cats!” Aha. So they’re here, too.

Day 13:

Sitting at a restaurant, typing at my laptop, I see movement in my peripheral vision. I stretch my neck toward the right and squint slightly to confirm that, yes, there is a cat under that table. It licks its paw, unconcerned.

I wonder what the cats at home are doing.

Day 16:

As I head downstairs, I see a cat pass from our laundry room into the living room and quietly slip out the front door. My roommate, just behind me, asks, “Did you see that cat?”

“I guess we have a cat now,” I reply.

Day 18:

We’ve just arrived at our hostel in Granada. We haven’t even properly checked out our bed situation for the night before we start exploring the place, ducking past overgrown palm leaves and rainbow yarn hammocks in the lobby to discover the back courtyard, where a beautiful hanging herb garden stands out against a turquoise wall. To the left, there are hampers of laundry waiting to be washed; straight ahead, a tiny cat is curled up under the herb garden. It is so small and I’m in love with it.

I see the cat’s tail before I see the rest of it, unusually upright as it wanders toward our feet tucked beneath the table in Granada’s Central Park. We’ve sat down in anticipation of three servings of vigoron, the local specialty, and I think the cat wants in on the action. She stays by our feet the whole time, quietly waiting.

Ten minutes later, a jewelry stall owner in the park asks me if I have a cold. I hadn’t even realized I was sniffling. That damn cat.

Someone at the hostel is in the lobby/lounge/bar area, casually stretched out on the couch, playing with a tiny cat. It’s so small that I struggle to see it when my housemates point it out. All of us are jealous that the cat chose her and not us.

Day 19:

There is yet another tiny cat who wants to be our friend while we eat dinner. Why are all the cats here so small? Should I be concerned?

It’s been an upsetting night and I’m off to the nearby grocery store to pick up some milk for my cereal in the morning, hoping to clear my head on the short walk there and back. As soon as I open the front door, I see one of the street cats perched on our steps, peering up at me. “Hello,” I say quietly. How are you? The cat blinks at me, slowly, and waits a few seconds before hopping down the stairs and padding away. I feel lighter already.

Day 22:

I’m home sick today. Maybe it was unfair of me to blame that cat in Granada for my sniffling over the weekend. Sorry, buddy.

My housemates are at the office without me and I spend most of my day asleep, but sometime in between naps, I can hear a quiet meowing from downstairs.

Day 25:

I realize I haven’t seen our cats for a few days. When I head out briefly to satisfy a craving for potato chips, I see one cat stretched out contentedly on our neighbor’s stoop. When it catches me looking over, it stares back, cool and emotionless. Traitor.

Day 27:

I try meowing gently at the cats to get them to love me, or at least pay attention to me. They seem unimpressed at first, but I notice one of them hanging around our steps a good while longer than it usually does. When I return from putting the trash out on the corner, one cat scampers over from the neighbor’s side of the building to settle on our steps. Victory.

Day 30:

I’m sitting downstairs in our living room reading with the front door open to let the breeze in as usual. The usual beige cat (I think it’s the usual one, at least) wanders in, pokes its nose into the open bathroom door, then slowly walks back out again. A minute later, the usual dark speckled cat peeks into the doorway, walks toward the bathroom, keeps walking toward the kitchen, disappears briefly into the laundry room, then retraces its steps right back out the door. I hope both of them find what they’re looking for.