DIASPORA DIARY: Home alone with the big black cat

Saturday February 29 2020

Black cat.

As I drifted back to sleep, my mind was full of the many scary stories I had heard about black cats in my home country. PHOTO | FILE | NMG 

JOYCE K. MWANGI
By JOYCE K. MWANGI
More by this Author

I arrived in the US on the cold Sunday morning of November 12, 2012.

Although our aeroplane landed at 11.35am, I did not get through the Immigration and Customs checks until about 2pm. The queues were long.

At the counter, the immigration officer took my finger prints and a photo of my face and eyes.

The officers had many questions for me. They wanted to know why I had come to the US and where I would be staying. They also wanted to know if I had brought in any items that had leather, or if I had any food or, as the officer put it, “that spice that people from your homeland bring called Roiko.”

By the time I was done with the Customs I was tired. I felt lost and alone.

My host family — a couple with no children — met me at the luggage area. They had a big sign that had my name on it, and a small American flag. I learnt that the woman was pursuing her Master’s degree at the University of Washington.

Advertisement

As we drove to their home, I could not understand most of what they said. I thought they spoke too fast. They too did not understand much of what I said. Our conversation had a lot of “can you say that again please?”

After a lot of back and forth they began to speak slowly one word at a time. I did the same. Finally, we could understand each other.

Their home in a Seattle suburb was warm and inviting. It had a basement with a kitchenette and bathroom. This would be my abode.

Although I was fatigued, I couldn’t sleep yet as my hosts wanted me to join them for dinner at 6pm.

They introduced me to their other family member — a big black cat called Ziggy. Then they showed me around their house. They said I could sleep in any of the two spare bedrooms on the main floor if I wished.

They showed me how to turn the bathroom water on and off. Then they showed me the fridge and asked if I had ever seen or eaten a carrot or cabbage or cheese or any of the other foods in their fridge. I began to miss my family and distant homeland.

Dinner was a vegetable salad, mashed potatoes, a nice juicy possibly quarter kg steak, some garlic bread and sweet yellow corn on the cob. Dessert was a pumpkin pie and coffee.

As we had our coffee, my hosts informed me that they would show me around Seattle the following day but they would be going away for week to visit relatives in another state. They requested if I could take care of Ziggy while they were gone.

Ziggy’s routine included letting her out of the house every evening after dinner. When she returned about 8pm or 9pm she would tap on a window to be let into the house. Once Ziggy was safely in then I would go to bed. I wondered whether we were talking about a cat.

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of something tapping and scratching on my bedroom door. I switched on the lights and slowly opened the door to check and the big black cat walked in. She stared at me and then walked around the room sniffing my bags and clothes. I stood there quietly watching Ziggy. I felt an adrenaline rush and my heart began to beat fast. I lost sleep. There was no way I could go back to sleep with this big black cat in my room. I thought of ways to get Ziggy out. Ziggy took her time and then eventually walked out. I quickly closed the door and went to sleep.

I was woken up at 5am by the same tapping on my bedroom door. There was no way I was going to open the door for this big black cat. I was tired. As I drifted back to sleep, my mind was full of the many scary stories I had heard about black cats in my home country. I wondered how I would be alone for a week in this big house with this big black cat.

I wondered how my family was doing and how they would go on without me. I wondered how long I would stay in this foreign land and how I would begin life afresh. I wondered where I would start, how I would find a job and how and where I would find my own place away from the big black cat, and these people who thought I had never seen running water or eaten carrots, cabbage and cheese.