A composition of illustrations and photos where sun beams are piercing through the clouds over the city of Dubrovnik.

Cats, birds, and Dubrovnik

By - Shanna Luis

Dubrovnik is a great place to live — or at least vacation to. According to the locals, the government is corrupt (shocker), and there isn’t much for young people to do at night. Nevertheless, the party scene is there, even though there aren’t too many clubs or after hours to go to. I guess it helps that there are plenty of drugs and alcohol to keep interesting conversations flowing and bodies dancing. In the end, it’s still one hell of a time.

There’s only one main “club” in Dubrovnik, or at least that’s the only one I’ve seen and been to. It’s called Lazereti. The music’s less than mediocre and not worth paying an entrance fee for, so we’ve only been there twice. The constant “boom boom boom” follows you home in your ears at night. The locals seem to love it. There was a kind and pretty girl named Carla who gave me a line in the washroom stall. She enjoyed the music so much she had to bite herself. Thinking of her makes me laugh as I imagine the bruise she must have had in the morning.

We’ve been in Dubrovnik for almost three months now. It’s probably the nicest country I’ve been to so far. The Adriatic sea captivates you by sending fresh air soaring through the valley and into your bedroom window at night. It smells like traveling. When the winds are really strong our patio furniture gets pushed onto the side of the balcony and our apartment creaks and shakes. It’s kind of scary but the locals don’t act phased, so that makes it normal, right?

Rocco and I are taking a ferry to Ancona from Split in about a week. While I’m excited to leave Dubrovnik and switch up the scenery (beautiful sceneries grow tiresome quickly, I’ve come to find), we will be leaving a cat named Poubelle behind.

Poubelle is an outdoor cat we’ve come to feed twice a day. She spends her days sleeping on our couch, basking in the sunlight. She’s cute, but feisty and unpredictable like most cats are. While she has left us a considerable amount of scratch marks, we can’t help but love her and worry about her well-being after we’ve gone.

There are hundreds of stray cats in Dubrovnik, maybe even thousands. They line the streets and beg for food, but will settle for a pat on the head. The other day in bed I was wondering why there weren’t any dead cats in sight. A troubling thought I know, but the mind does have dark pathways one can’t control. I silently hoped that the cats here looked out for one another, and imagined hundreds of cats gathering for their loved one’s funeral, like humans do. In a way this silly thought was comforting. It’s only highly unlikely, not impossible.

A composition of illustrations and photos where the sun is shinning over the city of Dubrovnik.

I’ve always wondered where the bodies of dead animals go. Sure, it’s common to see roadkill, but that’s death caused by human circumstance, not by old age or disease. I’ve always found it weird not to see dead birds or rodents, old and grey, stiff on the ground. This is strange in itself, I know, but it leads me to believe that animals take care of their dead, and find ways to lay them to rest with dignity.

The day after thinking about dead cats in Dubrovnik, Rocco and I were walking to the grocery store. On the way there, we saw two dead cats on the sidewalk. The sight of them was like a nudge on the shoulder from an unknown energy. It rained heavily the night before, and the cats’ fur was wet and mottled. In a way, these cats resembled plush animals, like the ones children cradle in their youth. That same night, Rocco saw a third dead cat.

The cats I saw looked like they’d been dead for quite a while, which would mean I’d walked by them for days without noticing. Unsettling and peculiar, life is, to constantly remind me that when I open my mind, I open my eyes to seeing new things.

I was petting Poubelle, who is still a young cat, and wondering how she would act once we’d gone. Would she wait by our patio door, like she usually does, meowing to be let in and fed? How long would she wait and how many times would she return before she finally came to terms with the fact that we’d gone, for good?

I continued to pet her, her fur shiny and soft, so different from the fur of the dead cats rotting in the streets of Dubrovnik. Although I didn’t will it to, my mind went to that dark place it sometimes visits, and I pictured her laying outside on the ground, lifeless.

I shook the thought away yet it reemerged, and it hurt me to realize that I would never know when Poubelle died, nor her me. Basically, Poubelle would die as soon as we left Dubrovnik, and we’d be as good as dead to her, too.

A composition of illustrations and photos where a cats walks around the city of Dubrovnik at night.

It comforts me to think that Poubelle is only using us for food. That she really thinks we’re stupid, silly creatures who spend time dangling a string on the ground in front of her. I feel better believing that she doesn’t mean her purrs when we pet her, and that she’s not going to wonder why we abandoned her. I toy with the thought that she might prance about, sassy, thinking, “I thought they’d never leave.”

The next morning I came downstairs and opened the patio door to let Poubelle in for her morning meal. She was there, waiting, as she usually does, but this time there was a dead bird with her. The balcony was a murder scene filled with smears of blood, numerous feathers and a smiling cat. It appeared that, once again, life chose to show me what I didn’t want to know. That Poubelle did in fact care about us, and that she wanted to thank us for feeding her by trying to “feed” us in return.

Although the sight of the dead bird pained me, I couldn’t help but feel flattered that my temperamental cat loved me. However, it didn’t stop my mind from forming elaborate scenarios about the bird’s life and unjustifiable death. I closed my eyes and pictured its loved ones scanning the skies for its familiar wings.

With mixed feelings, Rocco cleaned up the smears of blood, put the bird in a trash bag, and tied a knot. An unworthy funeral for a being so small and free. Had I been a child, I would have given it a proper burial. But I stopped being a child a long time ago.

Poubelle ate happily from her bowl, making sounds of what appeared to be contentment. She didn’t seem to care that we didn’t eat her present. I guess it truly is the thought that counts.

Yesterday, in the sun, writing on the balcony, gazing out onto the river that streams through the valley of Mokosica, small grey feathers leftover from the massacre were finding movement in the wind. A bird was chirping in the distance. I smiled, conflicted, knowing, understanding, that despite death, we are never gone completely.

A composition of illustrations and photos where birds are flying over the city of Dubrovnik.
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