Its name was Barsik. It is a common male feline name in Eastern Europe, meaning a 'small leopard', so further I'll use the pronoun 'he' instead of 'it' in the story. I'd never met such a strange cat before. He entered our family in August 14, 1996 when he was about two weeks old, bought for 300 roubles ($10) from a cunning aged woman-dealer, alledged the kitten being a 'purebred Siberian'. When an hour later I brought him at home, he developed severe signs of poisoning - lady fed the kitten with something stale. Thus, out cat's life began with forced feeding of activated charcoal. Oddly enough, the next day he was alive, although he could only lie down.

At the age of 7 months, coming outside for the first time, he climbed up a birch near the house, settled on branch at a height of 45 feet, and, unable to climb down, sat on it for four days and five cold March nights. Seeing and hearing us, he wistfully mewed and tried to go down, but increasing inclination of the branch forced cat to give in and come back. Neighbours saw the jackdaws pecking his head, and often he nearly fell, probably falling asleep. I softened soil using shovel where he is about to fall to cushion a shock, and not in vain - next morning I found Barsik in the stairwell - dirty, thin, but unharmed. He hungrily and quickly drank almost pint of milk. He never tried to travel outside again, despite the known inherent feline curiosity.

 

We have noticed the phenomenon approximately on 7th or 8th year of life of the animal. At first we thought it was a funny coincidence, but soon verified manner experimentally and long could not believe it. Cat talked to us with gestures! A rather unique gesture, moving his head negatively, as people, when someone need to say "no" silently. The fact that cats understand many human words is well-known, but their responding to them directly is a surprise. For example, "Barsik, you eat a piece of fish?" - if he was nodding from side to side, it meant "no." If he was still looking straight into your eyes, it meant "yes." Moreover, if occassionaly he was given, for example, a sausage instead fish, he left. Possibly disappointed, you never know...

"Barsik, you have scratched me, you are bad cat!" - Always "No".

"Barsik, it's hot. Wanna me turn air conditioner on?" - "Yes" or "No".

"Barsik, come to us, you won't be bored alone!" - Usually "No".

"Barsik, do you want your cats' food (fish, meat, milk, cheese, pasta, sour cream, soup, shrimp, sausage) put in you cup?" - "Yes" or "No" - he had diverse eating habits.

"Barsik, tell the truth, is that you have spilled the water from your cup?" - "No". And indeed, the cup overturned one of us accidentally. And so on from day to day - we were getting used to phenomenon, but could only guess at how conscious were these answers. We failed to show friends such a strange behaviour because of shyness or excessive fearfulness of our cat. When friends visited us, Barsik hid from the eyes and did not appear until they leave. Friends knew that cat lived with us because of our assurances and evidence - hair, a box in a closet, cups, pet food, but almost no one succeeded to see the animal all these years.

 

Barsik was not tamed at all - never sat on our lap, always tried to escape, resisted or ran away if we tried to take him in hands or hug. He almost never caressed and purred, just curried favour, when he was hungry. A rare case of his "purring" once was recorded on video. He still sometimes allowed stroking himself, but no more than half a minute - then rose and went away, and even scratching back. We used to shook and tug the cat just for fun, especially in his sleepy state, but he didn't share the enthusiasm. For that only we loved the creature so?

When we all gathered in a room, he sometimes came and sat in the middle, choosing nearly equidistant point from each of us. But more often he preferred to stay alone in a separate room, using his front paws to turn door's lever handle to enter it. He was half a Siberian breed - often slept on his back, and that was funny.

The cat needed explanation of any rule just once to remember it forever. For example, he was allowed getting on window sills, chairs, stools, sofas, beds, and wasn't allowed to jump on tables, cabinets etc. - and there was no doubt that he won't climb table ever, even if very tasty food on it. Not once, deliberately leaving food on a table and leaving Barsik at home alone, when coming back we found food untouched. We did not accustom Barsik to use out toilet as we did with previous cats, but Barsik always come to one of us and by the means of mewing "reported on the work" and that we had to change the cat box filler or flush the contents down the toilet.

He had a phenomenal memory. Once I raised tangerine peel to his nose, and uttered the word "tangerine". He wrinkled his nose funny, raising his upper lip with whiskers - just like all cats Barsik did not like fruits, especially citrus. The same word "tangerine" we just accidentally uttered near Barsik a year later. My cat started, then stayed frozen about 5 seconds and wrinkled his nose and lifted whiskers the same way as year before. How it's looked like (with perfume and menthol inhaler) can be viewed here.

 

elso Barsik curiously responded to sneezing reflex in people. No colds, of course, but when suddenly tickled one's nose, the usual "Ahchoo!", sometimes followed by "Bless you!". When he heard the noise from afar, even being slept, he ran to that person, looked straight into his/her face and mewed loudly and persistently. Whether with reproach, whether he wanted to say "Bless you!" - we did not understand it all these years..

He did not tolerate family quarrels, which, unfortunately, sometimes occur in life. As soon as we turned a conversation in a raised voice, he came from another room and started hissing at us, mostly at me for some reason. What impelled him to behave so and what was common between his and human worlds is not clear.

So Barsik kept distanse, but if someone happened to get sick, catch cold or temperature, he sat closer to the face of the sick person and stared strait and insistently into eyes, sometimes mewing. What he felt at these moments, remains a mystery too.

barsikHe was independent and proud. He didn't invade human space nor imposed himself. Not immediately, but later we realized the benefits of his special character. He was not just a little pet, nor pussy cat, nor funny fuzzy toy - he was equal to us. And we appreciated it. And even played with him on equal terms. But he still remained a cat, and preferred his own rules of games. For example, if we offered our cat to play with rope for only 5 minutes, he accepted it quite seriously and could suddenly attack fron his hide even after an hour, keeping all the time gaming excitement, whereas we had almost forgotten that game and had to explain: "Barsik, well, enough already, the game is over!"

 

owever, time passed and Barsik getting old. In 2007, he was diagnosed with diabetes, and every day we fed him medicine. He quietly passed away on Jan. 29, 2011, after living fourteen and a half years with us, and changed completely our preconceived notions about cats and animals in general. We have never seen cats even remotely resembling our Barsik by bahavior. And probably will never see.

 

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