Sunday, January 11, 2015

Caught in a Lebanese cat fight

Since I came to Lebanon, one bright spot in my life has been that Misha––one of my many little sisters––started emailing me regularly. Most our correspondence is mundane, consisting of short anecdotes about the weather, school, and daily activities. The other day, however, she surprised me with a one sentence email simply asking if I had "seen any cats at [my] door." I was surprised, because, I in fact, had.

For the past three days, there has been incessant meowing echoing through the stairwell of my building. Very loud, unpleasant meowing. My building is about five stories tall with each floor taken up by a large family flat. Mine is roughly in the middle, and while there are some neighbors downstairs, the two levels above are currently vacant. It was up the large, stone stairwell connecting my floor to those unoccupied levels that the phantom meowing––sometimes verging on human screaming in the wee hours of the morning––came from.

Wondering if some unfortunate animal was trapped up there, last night I left a bowl of milk out on the landing between my floor and the one above. When I returned from a run this afternoon, though, it was untouched. The meowing continued.

About two hours ago, as I was in my room packing for an upcoming trip, a knock came on the door. I came out to find my housemate, Jacob, talking––or attempting to talk––with an older Lebanese woman. After some Arabic, French, and finally, frantic gesticulation, we surmised that she also was concerned about the cat, and wanted us to come upstairs with her. In over two months of living here, I'd never once ventured up those large, echoing stone steps.

The madame led us to the very top floor, where there was a locked door to an unoccupied apartment on one side, and an open window on the other. Outside the window, just out of comfortable reach, was a balcony, and on it sat a cat, meowing away. Apparently the thing had snuck in through the parking garage level door when it was open, moved up the staircase to the window, and never come down. When Jacob started attempting to climb out onto the balcony, the woman––perhaps rightfully––was terrified and pulled him back. She then produced a bowl of water and some small slices of Picon cheese and communicated to us that she wanted us to check the food every day and replenish it if it was eaten.

After going back down the stairs, bidding madame and kind adieu and waiting a few minutes, my three housemates charged back up the stairs to take care of business in their own way. We were met with two surprises.

First, the cat had, of its own volition, moved off the balcony and onto the windowsill in front of us. This was good. Second, there was not just one cat, but two. This, was bad. After a brief scramble, we cornered both of the screeching felines off of the windowsill and onto the landing. There was a short pause in the battle, and for a moment we met eyes with our hissing, clawing opponents, and realized this was going to be more difficult than we'd assumed. And right then:

The lights went out. 

If you've never been trapped in a pitch-black stairwell with two angry cats, then you can only imagine it as something between the mafia nightclub fight scene from The Dark Night, and the part in The Exorcism of Emily Rose right before Satan reveals himself.

Mercifully, the blackout was only caused by the self-timer on the stairwell lamp, and after about 20 seconds of terror, the lights came back. I found myself huddled in a corner with my hood over my eyes, and looked up to see my housemate Justin wedged rather impressively three feet off the ground between the railing and the wall.

More mercifully still, the cats had retreated down the stairwell (not back out the window). There were two more floors before the parking garage and victory, though, and each of them had a landing with a window that the cats tried to dive out of. Armed with nothing but our feet and Justin's sweater, which had come off at some point, we rallied and drove the lightning darting, throat-high lunging little beasts down four flights of stairs, slamming shut windows as we went. At some point the terror-cats got ahead of us and we reached the ground level parking garage just in time to see the last cat dart out the door into the night.

Our home was saved.

For the moment.

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