A surprise wake-up call from a cat

I finally realized that the vociferous meows were real, and they were probably coming from the balcony outside my window.

Once I owned a tiny condominium in a large city. It was an affordable experiment in downtown living, and I enjoyed what the city had to offer during the daytime: museums, shops, restaurants, and festivals. But finally I had to admit that the night life - clubs, shows, and even concerts - were not for me. I'm an early bird, both morning and evening.

Mostly I didn't have any trouble sleeping. My condo was located deep within the building, overlooking its courtyard, and didn't get much street noise.

But one night, the first summer after I'd moved in, I was awakened by loud sounds. At first I thought I had been dreaming of a big alarm clock full of cats, all mewling at the top of their lungs. They wanted me to be awake, but I didn't want to be.

I resisted them by squeezing my eyes shut and snuggling down into my sheets. But the cat noises continued, undermining my efforts.

By this time I realized that the vociferous meows were real, and they were probably coming from the balcony outside my window.

My apartment, jammed in tightly between other neighboring units, had one incredible drawback. There was a balcony outside my place that didn't belong to me. A neighbor and I were nestled into a corner of the courtyard. If you hold your hand out, palm down, and stick out your thumb to form an L, my living room window was the thumb, and the index finger was my neighbor's place, with a balcony large enough for a couple of adults to sit out on. My window overlooked the balcony, and the sash opened up about as high as the balcony was tall.

The neighbor's cat used the balcony, mostly. He was a little brown cat, young and agile. I had seen him several times before, but never had I heard him make such a fuss. Was he trying to warn us of some danger? I decided to investigate, especially since there was no getting back to sleep until the meowing stopped.

Halfway to the window, I tripped over something soft and warm, which moved when I made contact with it. I stopped and stared down at the shadowy form, which greeted me with a soft meow. I guess the extra volume had been just to get me out of bed.

My new friend with the bright yellow eyes rolled on the floor, exposing his tummy. He got up and circled me, getting close enough for me to reach out and pet him.

I recalled that his owner was out of town. A quick glance showed me that his bowl on the balcony was overflowing with kibble, and a huge pan of water had been set out. There was no way of telling how long she would be gone. And we had no on-site manager with a big ring of keys. So the cat had to go back the way it had come - I had to get him through the window and onto the balcony with his food and water and access to the neighbor's apartment.

Could I just place him back by hand? The angle was awkward. One false wiggle and he'd be flat on the ground, three stories down. Perhaps I could stuff him into a basket and ferry him across. But even the cat seemed to realize that this was a bad idea. I put down the basket and sat down to think.

What about my breadboard? It was large and sturdy. It would reach from the windowsill to the balcony, and it would hold a cat. This idea had promise. I walked to the kitchen and got the board. I propped it across the slim divide, pounded on it a few times to test it, and looked at the unsuspecting cat.

I implemented my plan quickly, so he couldn't argue. I scooped him up by his armpits (if cats have armpits) and never stopped moving: scoop, stride, put cat on board, point cat toward home. Keeping one hand under his chest to guide him, I clamped onto his rear end with my other hand, and pushed.

Bewildered, the cat nevertheless walked up the breadboard ramp in my firm grip. When he got to the top, he scrambled for a second as I gently released him, and then he made a delicate leap down. When he landed, he let out a surprised "mew?" I retracted the breadboard and closed the window.

The next year, my experiment in low-budget city living over, I sold the condo to someone who was thrilled to buy the place. It didn't matter to him that it was tiny, or that someone else's balcony was floating in front of the living room window.

The new owner wanted to live in the city to enjoy its active urban night life. I didn't mention that my place offered extra night life - in the form of a little brown cat.

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