From the minute he was born, Gilbert the ginger cat has always been an inside person. When he was young, he was quite a traveller his foster mum took him to the office every morning so that everybody could coo over him all day instead of doing any work, and then she took him home again with her every evening. So he did get to see the outside world quite a lot. But he always saw it from the safety of his travelling cage on the back seat of his foster mums car. He never had an opportunity to run around in it and break things. That remained his one, great, unfulfilled ambition.
After Gilbert came to live with us, he continued to be an inside cat for several months because Robin and I felt that he was far too small and vulnerable to deal with the great outdoors. Gilbert, however, did not agree with us
One day Jake the Dog went up to the door and said, "Can somebody open this please? I want to go outside and inhume my bone." Ever eager to obey Jakes requests, I opened the door for him.
"Can I go too?" asked Gilbert, fur quivering with ginger eagerness.
"Certainly not," said Jake forcefully. He trotted off through the door into the garden. I closed the door behind him.
"Sorry, Gilbert," I said. "You arent quite ready yet."
"Thats not fair," said Gilbert. "Why does Jake have all the fun?"
"Because hes a dog," I said.
Gilbert wasnt convinced by my logic. "I can be a dog too," he said. "Jakes been giving me lessons."
I looked at Robin and Robin looked at me. We both looked at Gilbert. "Woof," he mumbled, somewhat unconvincingly. Then he lifted his back leg and threatened to pee on the couch. "See?" he said. "Just like a real dog."
"OK. OK," said Robin, "Youve persuaded me." She opened the door.
Gilbert trotted gingerly outside. The first thing he did when he got there was dash under the couch that sits on our deck. From there he surveyed the big blue room that stretched out infinitely large in front of him. It wasnt long before he noticed leaves that were bouncing in the breeze and insects that were buzzing in spirals around the flowers. Cor! Fascinating! It was all too much to resist and the urge to catch and kill something overwhelmed him. He pranced out on to the lawn where he raised himself up on his hindquarters like a meercat and tried to grab something with his front paws. He dropped back onto all four feet then he flopped down onto his tummy and examined his front paws carefully in case anything interesting had been trapped in them. "Damn!" he muttered when close scrutiny revealed them to be empty.
He looked around for something else to stalk and it wasnt long before he was rewarded with the sight of a rather sluggish bee that was hovering around a lavender plant. It seemed to have taken on a full cargo, so much so in fact that it was barely airworthy and its wings were working overtime simply to keep it in the same place. "Hah!" said Gilbert softly. "A sitting target." He gave a convulsive leap into the air and the bee vanished. The next thing I saw was Gilbert chewing contentedly. "Yummy!" he said and he licked his lips.
"Youre lucky you didnt get stung," I said. "Probably the bee was too tired to react in time."
"Stung?" asked Gilbert, puzzled. "Whats that?"
"Youll find out eventually," I said. "Sooner or later youll come across a bee that will teach you a lesson youll never forget."
"Oh goody!" said Gilbert. "I like learning new things. Are bees good teachers?"
"Very good," I said.
Gilbert turned his attention to a pair of butterflies that were flying in circles around each other. His head turned round and round as he followed their gyrations and just when I was starting to worry that he might unscrew his head and cause it to fall to the ground where it would land in a pile of yummy dog poo, he made a mighty leap and missed the butterflies completely. They flew away, still making circles around each other and laughing hysterically at Gilberts clumsy efforts to catch them. "Call that flying?" yelled one of them. "Thats not flying. This is flying." The butterfly looped a loop into the fourth dimension and then both butterflies vanished with a soft popping sound, leaving Gilbert frustrated and alone.
An aeroplane buzzed by overhead. Gilbert stared at it in wonder and made a little yammering sound in the back of his throat. Then, with an almighty leap, he caught it, pulled it out of the sky and ate it all up, spitting out the indigestible bits like pilots and suitcases.
Well, that was clearly the plan. Maybe next time it will work. I resolved to send a letter to Air New Zealand to warn them of the danger.