James is on his way to work as a busker in Central London.
One day I headed out for work as usual. I had packed my large black acoustic guitar with its red trim on the edge of the body, slung it over my shoulder along with my rucksack and headed downstairs.
I saw Bob was sitting in an alleyway and said hello. When he started to follow me, I shooed him away, as usual.
“Stay there, you can’t come where I’m going,” I said.
This time he seemed to get the message and slunk off. As I headed down the road, I looked back occasionally to see if he was there, but there was no sign of him. Perhaps he’s finally getting the message, I said to myself.
To get to the bus stop that would take me to Covent Garden, I had to cross Tottenham Court Road, one of the busiest and most dangerous roads in North London. This morning, as usual, cars, lorries and motorbikes were carving their way along the road, trying to pick their way through the clogged traffic.
As I stood on the pavement, trying to spot a gap so that I could run for the bus that was looming into view1
a hundred yards or so down the traffic-packed2
street, I felt someone - or something - rub against my leg. Instinctively, I looked down. I saw a familiar figure standing alongside me. To my horror, I could see that Bob was going through the same process as me, looking for his opportunity to cross.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I said to him.
He just looked at me dismissively, as if I’d just asked a really stupid question. Then he focused once more on the road, nudging himself nearer the edge of the kerb3
, as if getting ready to make a dash4
I couldn’t let him risk it. It would almost certainly be suicide. So I swept him up and put him on my shoulder, where I knew he liked to sit. He sat there, snuggled up against the side of my head, as I sidestepped and weaved my way through the traffic and crossed the road.
A few moments later the bus pulled up. It was an old-fashioned red double-decker that you could jump on at the back. I went to sit on the bench at the back of the bus and was placing my guitar case in the storage space near where the conductor was standing when, behind me, I saw a sudden flash of ginger fur. Before I knew it, Bob had jumped up and plonked himself on the seat next to where I was sitting.
I was gobsmacked5
. I realised - finally - that I wasn’t ever going to shake this cat off. But then I realised something else.
I invited Bob to jump on my lap, which he did in the blink of an eye. A moment or two later, the conductor appeared. She was a cheerful West Indian lady and smiled at Bob, then at me.
“Is he yours?” she said, stroking him.
“I guess he must be,” I said.
For the next forty-five minutes or so, Bob sat quietly next to me, his face pressed against the glass of the bus window, watching the world go by. He seemed to be fascinated by all the cars, cyclists, vans and pedestrians whizzing past us; he wasn’t fazed6
The only time he pulled away from the window and looked at me for a little reassurance was when the blare of a police siren, a fire engine or an ambulance got a little bit too close for comfort. This surprised me a bit and got me thinking about where he had spent his early life. If he had grown up on the streets he would have got used to this noise a long, long time ago.
“Nothing to worry about,” I told him, each time giving him a friendly stroke on the back of his neck. “This is what the middle of London sounds like, Bob, better get used to it.”
It was odd, even though I knew he was a street cat and could run away at any time, I had this deep-seated feeling that he was here in my life to stay. Somehow I sensed
this wouldn’t be the last time we’d make this trip together.
I was going to get off at my usual bus stop near Tottenham Court Road Tube station.
As it loomed into view, I picked up my guitar, scooped up Bob and headed for
the exit. [...]
A Street Cat Named Bob, James Bowen, 2012.