Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Neighborhood Rallies to Find AWOL Minky

Where on earth have you been all of this time?" my neighbor Tanya shouted at me over her balcony as I drew up in my car after driving back from my modest little holiday in Finland.

"Oh, those Russians," I thought, "so rude, so interfering, so ... golden-hearted." For in her crude way, Tanya was only trying to tell me that in my absence my cat had run away and to offer me her tea and sympathy.

Then I saw the signs, stuck up all over the neighborhood: "Large, ginger cat gone AWOL, reward for his return." My husband, Costya, aided by the neighbors, had launched a campaign to find Minky.

Not all Russian characters are human. Minky is a four-legged Muscovite with a personality worthy of T. S. Eliot's "Book of Practical Cats." When I found him in my yard in 1991, he was a sweet little flamingo-colored kitten, not really ginger at all, who begged for bread because that was what he had been used to eating from the trash cans.

I enrolled him as a castrato in the opera of the cats and fed him the kind of tinned food that the adverts assured me he would have bought himself. The result was, six years later, a bloated beast, lazy and ungrateful, with an uncanny facial resemblance to Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Did I really want this creature back? The more I thought about it, the more I thought the answer might be no. All these years I have been unable to return to my native Britain because I could not bear to put Minky in quarantine. He had seized his freedom. I began to scent my own.

But the neighbors will not give up. If the loss of Minky has taught me anything, it is that Russian neighbors are the most concerned community in the world, making the characters of the British soap opera "Coronation Street" seem standoffish. Or perhaps they're just poor and keen to earn the reward.

Every five minutes, the phone rings. "We found a ginger cat. Is it him?" I go and look, and of course it is not Minky, who is an indescribable shade of pale ginger, more apricot, in fact. Ginger cats are brought to my door, also not Minky. It is amazing how many ginger cats there are in the Novoslobodskaya district that are not Minky. If and when he is finally found, I am going to have to take him because I cannot disappoint these people.

But there is another reason, too. The moment Minky left, a rat emerged from the hole under my bath and invaded my kitchen. Aaaaaaargh! The neighbors, as you might imagine, have had plenty of advice to give me on that subject.

Some say I should call in the rat man, who will poison her using grains colored bright red and green, like festive Indian rice. Others say this is a terrible idea because the rat will just crawl away to die somewhere and stink for months under my floorboards.

"Broken glass is the answer," said Tanya cheerfully. "Just spread broken glass around your flat, and the rat will go away because she will not want to cut her little feet." Indeed.

Now I realize that my cat, who slept for 16 hours at a stretch and then went off to sleep some more because he had had such an exhausting day, was actually earning his keep just by curling up and dreaming.

Come back, Minky, no more cheap jokes about your laziness. All is forgiven.