I was not driving fast. Nearly in town, the 50 km/h indicator had flashed at me and I was going slowly. But still there was no time to stop. The cat dived out in front of me and then tried to double back.
I felt the soft bump as I went over its body. I looked in the mirror expecting to see it lifeless at the roadside and, appalled, I saw it was still running.
In shock, I kept on driving.
In the days that followed, sick to my stomach, I lived and relived those agonising moments and wished desperately that I could undo what I had done. Not the fact that I had run it down - I knew I could not have avoided the accident. But that I had driven on, that I had not stopped, not been with it as it died (I was certain death was inevitable). Not stayed to find its owners and explain. Left someone else to cope with a dying cat.
What if someone had done that to Bertie? I would have been heart-broken.
What does it say about me? That I can leave a being dying at the side of the road.
So I went back. I wrote words on a card so I could put together the phrases - my shame, my inexcusable behaviour. I walked the streets around and talked to people, tried to find someone who might know of a missing cat. And learnt the hard way how unsentimental French people can be about cats.
I expected shock and disgust at my behaviour and met mild amusement at my "English sentimentality" and surprise that I was troubled. I was told "a cat is not a dog" "they do not have owners" "even in town they are feral".
I learnt enough. I met a man who had seen the body in the gutter. We talked of his beautiful roses and that his wife had inherited a grand house in Tunisia. He told me not to worry. I found two small, scruffy blocks of flats with semi-wild cats watching me warily from under rusting cars. I was told (with disapproval) that people in the flats feed the cats. I watched a black one streak across the road as a car approached. I think there are no owners to whom I have to explain the inexplicable and apologise.
And so, the people who talked to me that morning gave me a kind of closure. I still believe I was wrong and I hope that if ever it happens again, next time I will stop.
The Cat - that beautiful tabby creature I saw for a fleeting moment - is still with me. In my mind, the Cat is curled in comfort on my lap, walks with me through the garden and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
5 months ago