The one-eyed black cat called Majicou sat between a rusting cage and two
sacks of stale grain on a shelf at the top of a shop on Cutting Lane.
He had positioned himself with care; of the shop's inhabitants, only the
spiders he had dispossessed were sure he was there. He seemed to be
asleep among the shadows and soft grey cobwebs. But his one eye was
half-open, and from it he had a hunter's line of sight through the shop to
the street door, where small rippled-glass windows admitted just enough
weak afternoon light to illuminate a stock of leather collars,
tartan-lined wicker baskets and gaudy paper sacks of dried animal feed.
Among this poor stuff, a human being moved clumsily about its business in
a cloud of disturbed dust. It seemed to Majicou as tired and greedy as
most of its kind; it seemed as ill as they all were, on the bad air and
bad food they had made for themselves. Majicou watched it idly for a
moment as it pushed a rat's nest of straw, torn paper and spilled fish
food round the old wooden floor with a broom.
Unless their affairs touched his, the black cat had no interest in human
beings. He sat on his shelf as still as a stone, and half his mind was
somewhere else. (There, fires broke out, there were cries of terror both
human and feline, he was responsible and not responsible: it was long ago
but no so far away.) The other half was on the shop--where, despite the
gloom, nothing escaped him. If his cold eye could not penetrate, his
whiskers mapped the air currents instead; and his nose was full of the thic
k, complex smell of imprisoned animals: "pets," reeking of their own
pent-up energy and tired resignation. Fish swam round their tanks in
circles. Mice and rabbits crouched listlessly in heaps of straw. A cage
of finches filled the shop with sad electrical peeps and chirps.
There was a single kitten in a wire pen. At sixteen weeks, he was already a little old to sell easily.
He was too big. He had lost the awkward delight of the very young, the
appearance of a charmed life, the mixture of fragility and iron, timidity
and courage. Nevertheless, he was still striking, with lambent, shocking
green eyes set in a sharp, intelligent, oriental face. He had enough
energy for every other animal in the shop. His fur, creamy white
beneath, shaded above to an almost metallic grey. When he paced his cage
his thick-piled coat seemed to shift and ripple restlessly in the gloom,
emphasizing each muscle and movement; polished by passing gleams of light,
it leapt out silver to the watching eye. There were faint grey
tiger-stripes high up on his forelegs, and a darker stripe ran the length
of his spine. Did this reflect a darker stripe to his character? Majicou
hoped so; but before he let things go further he had to find out. He
would not call the kitten by its true name until he knew.
Let someone else name it until then.