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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FRAGMENTS: Of Cats and Men




Perhaps it was just a matter of time before something happened at the abandoned building site, the base for a number of homeless people and a place I have visited nearly every day over the last three months to feed a stray cat. And this week something finally did happen.


On Monday evening, as I was coming home from work, I stopped by the site to feed the cat, whom I hadn't seen since Saturday night. I entered the yard, and a group of well-dressed people f some of them in militsiya uniforms f looked at me blankly. I nodded at them and continued further into the yard.


A policeman approached me. "What are you doing here?" he asked with unveiled suspicion. Holding up a can of Whiskas, I replied, "I'm here to feed a stray cat f have you seen her?"


"No," he replied with mild disgust, turning away.


"What's going on?" I asked.


"Nothing you need to know about," he answered, walking back toward the group of official types.


I continued my cat search, looking on the side of the building where she usually lingers. She was nowhere to be found.


Since my return from the United States last week, I had continued my cat feeding in the yard. Other women with a soft spot for strays had assured me before I left for vacation that they would feed the animal, and so they had. The yard bore evidence of cat food cans, pieces of dried fish and milk containers.


But in my absence, the yard had changed somehow. I hadn't seen Sasha, a homeless man who seemed to let down his guard once he realized I was not coming to the building to shoot up in the basement (as do some other regular visitors) or to quickly entertain men behind the garages in the corner of the yard.


In our many but brief encounters, Sasha asked for the occasional pack of cigarettes, but he refused offers of food. He updated me on the movements of the cat, whom I decided not to take home until I could find her newly born kittens and find homes for them, too. Sasha even asked me to bring him a flashlight so that he could look for the kittens in the trash-bestrewn basement. But he found nothing.


The official types soon dispersed, returning to their vehicles outside the gates of the yard. Iapproached a group of some dozen homeless people who were standing or crouching next to a block wall. They all looked related, their faces bearing the reddish, ruddy, puffy traces of regular, heavy alcohol consumption.


"What happened?" I asked.


"They found two bodies on the top floor," one of them answered, gesturing toward the abandoned building. He intimated that the victims had not died of natural causes.


"Ugh f you should have seen them," a second man volunteered with a grimace.


"Where's Sasha?" I asked.


"He's in the hospital," a third said.


The man who had told me about the two bodies eyed the can of Whiskas. "Give me that. I'm hungry."


Instead of sharing the Whiskas, I handed him some money and suggested that the group get some food. They left the yard, en masse, slipping through a gate on the far side of the yard, apparently unseen by the official types who were still talking in low tones near their vehicles.


I continued looking for the cat, but to no avail. Either something had happened to her, or she had finally pulled up stakes and left the yard.


Before I left the yard, I looked up at the top floor of the building. Two ratty stuffed animals had been placed carefully on the window ledge. Other than that, there was no trace of human habitation.