For Beckett, who is affectionately referred to by numerous aliases (most commonly, Bun), a day of flying is a day of pampering, aside from the morning administration of a low-dose relaxant (viz. social lubricant).
For eight uninterrupted hours, unending love, chin scratches, and belly rubs are given at her every indication of wont by adoring humans of every variety. She relishes in the attention of passers-by indiscriminately, enjoys surprising airport security with her mild mannered, dog-like temperament, and sits peacefully in her carrier with the top down on my lap for most of the flight (with breaks for window gazing, snacks, and naps). She is a kitten of the people, friendly and good natured, and has never said an ill word about anybody. For her, Sacramento International Airport is, in some ways, roughly equivalent to a hot night on the town.
She is thoroughly and deservedly spoilt, which has only accentuated the development of some unquestionably human qualities. She drinks from a mason jar at the breakfast bar in my one-bedroom apartment, where she often sits on a stool waiting patiently for food to be served, and bathes herself while sitting in the empty bathtub. The extremely young age at which she was introduced to human environments, caregivers, and role models (about four weeks) saw her development depend on her ability to absorb the actions of human beings, and to mimic them appropriately in order to understand and navigate her new world.
Like her namesake, she is known to indulge in various absurdities from time to time. She is a rarity in that, in addition to her other lovable qualities, she has a uniquely child-like — and eccentric — sense of humor, which she frequently and perceptively implements to improve the moods of those she cares about.
She tasks herself with the invention of numerous games, repeated frequently, all of which are designed to evoke a response from human participants, the collective breadth of which are credited to her alter ego, “The Prankin’ Manx”. One of her favorite games involves hiding behind corners, uttering light but audible, piteous meows as though some terrible fate has befallen her, and there she crouches, awaiting the eager and concern response of humans to her plight, ready to spring forth. She scampers away just before her discovery with laughing leaps and bounds on her powerful hind legs as if to say “I got you!” and to relish in the shock to her family. She is creative and bright, and for such a small creature, possesses an inherent knack for inter-species communication and empathy which owes itself to the expressive subtleties of her personality. Frequently, these qualities present themselves during travel and allow further insight into a cat’s perception of human culture, as do any cat’s expressions and mannerisms… But Beckett has proven again and again that she is far from an ordinary kitten.
After a successful morning of shamelessly collecting love, compliments, and admiration from elderly women, adoring children, and everyone in between, she sat comfortably and smugly on my lap with a business-as-usual-attitude once the plane reached appropriate altitude. The first hour of the flight saw no indications whatsoever of particularly idiosyncratic fellow passengers, until, a few rows up, someone unsheathed the sharp and noxious fumes of their airport-prepared lunch (at 8am) from its styrofoam quarantine, overpowering and tarnishing the majestic view of the Sierras with the scent of cheap curry.
The odor of sulfur, hummus, and cumin masquerading as proper Indian food, conspired in being the most overpowering and unappealing rendition of the traditional cuisine I have ever borne witness to. It filled the cabin with a gaseous, oppressive, and continually recirculating cloud, the diffusion of which into the enclosed atmosphere was, due to its thick nature, far from immediate. After a few painful moments of politely struggling for breath (as one sometimes must do on planes when a baby is present) in the face of this vaporous culinary imposter which was clearly overcompensating for its entirely disingenuous nature, I glanced downwards, my hand still devoted to stroking the cat. Concerned, I recalled her intense dislike of flavor, spice, or strong odor so ironically similar to the cultural origin of her breed (the Scottish are not known for an exceptionally spicy palette or for their culinary talents).
Her bright, green-gold eyes locked with mine, slightly squinting with one ear partly angled back as if seeking audible clarification from an unseen authority for the existence of this order as more than an imagined phenomenon due to the stoic reactions of other passengers. A horrified, disgusted expression written in the black depth of her partly-dilated pupils already winning over my often-absurd sense of humor, I glanced further down her tiny face. I quickly realized that this pitiful expression was paired with an even more remarkably humorous reality, and I noticed the commencement of her own tiny nostrils violently flaring with every inhale and exhale, expressive of the vitriolic abhorrence mirrored in her eyes. At this moment, as I watched her keen eyes observe my nose, I reached the point of consciousness that my own nostrils were doing the same — an action she had just begun to undertake, almost as though to mimic me as she had done so many times when she was younger, but with the flavor of a maturing sense of humor. I looked back to her eyes and observed the totality of her expression. We, locked in eye contact and convinced of our plight in a mutual state of misery with no discernible end, wordlessly communicated an absurdist interchange of total disgust.
This moment of mutual understanding, carried on the wings of facial expression alone and without a word of language being necessary — of true interspecies solidarity — prompted my immediate recognition of another moment of humor perpetuated by an eight pound ball of gray fluff which had again proven superior to that of most humans. And, further, she had done so with markedly more directness and clarity than most human beings. Regardless of the level of sentience with which her flared nostrils had been executed, I burst out in uncontrollable laughter, burying my face into her travel carrier, tears streaming down my face, and uncaring that the entire population of the airplane was, at this point, likely concerned for my mental state and thereby for the well-being of their flight plan. But the moment of mutual absurdity shared between Beckett and I was far more precious than the integrity of my laconic reputation to a group of people I would likely never see again. Fulfilling the highly prophesied (and assuredly, widely anticipated) public admission of my existence as a “crazy cat lady”, I acquiesced to her wiles and talent for making me laugh no matter the situation. Recognizing the value in being given all that a creature of any kind has to give, I took the gift of laugher she had woven from unremarkable circumstance and wrapped myself in it gladly.
Animal companions are capable of resurrecting in us a joy for the moments which we may otherwise forget how to laugh within, or of reminding us to truly appreciate even the moments which are easily taken for granted. I am blessed in that a chance meeting at the Sacramento SPCA nearly one year prior championed me a partner in humor and in life whom I can always count on to possess both the talent and the creativity to find the humor in a moment of relative mundanity which may otherwise have been as lost to time as any other.