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East and West: Purposive drift

August 6, 2014

By Angela Jeffs

July 2014

I am a thief, stealing by day and night, right, left and centre.

For one thing, my theme this month is not original. Rather I have friend Richard to thank; the first entries on his website are dated May 2003. But then, in late 2007 he was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy  followed by years of heart problems. For much of that time he drifted, seemingly, with no purpose at all.

In April 2013, a flutter of purposive hope with a hesitant new entry, since when silence. But that he says, is because he is enjoying slow recovery; words in any shape or form beyond the immediately spoken can wait.

I was enjoying a recovery of a kind until we returned from travels down south, realising for sure that we do not want to live in London again. It seemed a turning point somehow. Within days, however, another gauntlet was thrown down. Instead of July rolling out with warm and sunlit purpose, it turned into – to plunder a line from the musical Chorus Line –  a hell of a month.

Our beautiful cat Tora (Japanese for tiger) became sick. Diagnosed with FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitus) we were given three options: put her through a range of gruelling tests and treatments that at her age would ultimately make no difference, take her home and wait for her to die, or put her to sleep. We chose to take her home.

We remember the day we brought her home the first time. It was in 1998 and, being the day of the closing ceremony of the Nagano Winter Olympics, a Sunday.

We had planned to get a kitten from the animal refuge in Zushi, but those on offer were a month or so older. While Akii favoured a patchwork calico, I was drawn to its sister, a tabby. I have always had tabby cats, excepting BBC (Big Black Cat) who bullied his way through the cat flap in my London home somewhere around 1980 and never left.

The volunteers working at the refuge warned us: whichever we chose, all the youngsters were feral; having grown up on a mountainside to a wild mother they might not suit, they might resist becoming domesticated.

Undaunted we (for which read, me getting my own way again) took Tora home, and for two weeks she screeched and yowled her way around the house, tearing shoji and clawing walls. Akii was close to giving up: take her back, he urged. But I refused, begging that she be given time…

Time did indeed calm her down, and she transitioned slowly into a cat of great character, as happy drooped around necks or flopped on laps, as outside hunting in the wild outdoors.

She made the next move – from Hayama to Zushi in 2000 – with initial deep- remembered fear but long term trusting grace.

Twelve years later, she was moved again, but this time not a few kilometres along the coast, but 12,000 miles from Japan to Scotland. I can still see Akii descending from the train from Edinburgh, with case, backpack and a cage, containing one very tired and stressed out tabby. She had been three days on the road and in the air, followed by that long train journey from London. Looking back, I’m not sure who was the most exhausted and traumatised, Tora or the human she adored.

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but Akii had become her main provider and carer, and she responded with a devotion bordering on the spiritual. She loved me too, but Akii always came first. The love between them was 100 per cent unconditional.

Because Akii could not bear the idea of putting her down, the next three weeks were far from easy. She stopped eating, and eventually could no longer lap milk or even water. While we offered liquid on a sponge, gently, patiently… she slowly lost energy, moved around less and less. Yet right until the end she managed to jump onto our bed at night and settle herself on his stomach or tucked between us.

That last week was odd but immensely moving. She took to walking very slowly (with one of us beside her) down to the burn, where she sat, lay and walked in the cold running water. At the time it seemed bizarre, but now we are thinking she was instinctively reducing her temperature.

The second to last day, she disappeared and despite all efforts could not be found. Assuming she had returned to the stream, Akii hacked his way through the summer jungle from one end to the other, but no: she was nowhere to be seen. Just as we had given up, accepting that she had gone somewhere quiet and remote to die, neighbour Tom came rushing round: Tora was collapsed in the middle of the road a field away, holding up traffic. And so she came home again, for the last time.

From that point on she faded fast, but staying close. The moment she took her last breath, we both burst into tears, clinging to one another.

We buried her that evening at moonrise, in the heart of the labyrinth we were constructing at the side of the house between the road and the burn. Wrapped in a patchwork throw and rolled in Akii’s childhood duvet – the one she had slept on since arriving in December 2012 – she was laid to rest with English rose petals and Japanese incense.

Every morning since Akii has filled her water bowl from the burn and lit incense… Neither of us can believe the enormous space she has left in our lives. Akii has his family. I have my own. But she was the emotional bond that linked us. She was OUR family.

Now Liam, our young and strong grass-cutter, has taken pity on our pathetic efforts and rolled a stone of near solid quartz from across the other side of the burn into the heart of the labyrinth. Sunday last my son and his friend who were visiting from London tipped it over onto Tora’s grave and tweaked it into position. A very fine stone, they both agreed!

So many losses in less that two years… friends, career, a home, my whole life in Japan. My aunt. And now Tora. Each one requiring a shift in consciousness, a transition from one phase to another.

And so I shift and drift on, switching gear up and down as needs be, feeling the weight of time from above and the winds of change on all sides. Drifting with purpose, purpose fully drifting…

Such drift purports to have apparent meaning and significance, and that I suppose is what Richard means.

Yes, I do feel that I am being led into new unexplored territory with purposive intent.  But right now, once again feeling too sad and bereft to be excited.


About the author: After training in theatre and Laban dance, Angela Jeffs ( stepped sideways into London publishing. She worked freelance as an editor from 1973, then reinvented herself in Japan as a journalist and writer from 1986. She was a weekly columnist for The Japan Times for 22 years, and Japan Correspondent for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong from 1989-1996. Her book Insider's Tokyo, commissioned from Singapore, was published in 2001. Since 2005 she has been developing and facilitating a programme of therapeutic creative writing under the title Drawing on The Writer Within. Her latest book, Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail into the Past, can be ordered via
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