At 9 o'clock this morning I measured out a cup of dry cat food and went outside to fill hobo kitty's dish. The food has been disappearing at a regular rate but we haven't seen the little black cat for almost a week. I had to assume that it was visiting the food dish so stealthily that we never saw it eat. Usually, I only caught a glimpse of it by accident, entering or leaving the back yard, crossing the street or lounging on the front porch of my neighbor's empty house. Sometimes I would glance out the back door on the way through the den and find her speedily having a meal. As soon as she had finished eating she was off again. But it had been a week since either my husband or myself had seen her. We are a bit concerned but in the end know that we can't control the stray cat's fate. Hobo kitty belongs only to itself.
Anyway, as I cleaned and filled the food and water dishes I heard "MEOW!", loud and quite near. Startled, I looked around. Hobo kitty had never meowed at me. It had had lengthy conversations with my cat at the sliding door, but had never to my knowledge made a noise to a human.
"MEOW!" There it was again. I scanned the yard, and stepped over to look behind the azalea border around the patio. There, in the grass behind the nandina bush, was the tuxedo cat I had seen several days before. He (and I verified that it was a he) saw me and plunged into a meow-fest, snaking through the yard and across the patio in a sinuous path that never got quite up to my location. "Hey!" he was saying, "I notice you have cat food there. I could use a little cat food!"
At one point he got himself so wound up he worked his way over to me and gave me a head butt and rub on my leg. Just as quickly, he skittered away as if he had scared himself with his temerity. He continued to beg but wouldn't approach the food dish so I scooped up a palm full of kibble and laid it on the sidewalk by my feet. Tuxedo was on it in a flash and wolfed it down. Then he flew away again to the middle of the back yard to meow at me plaintively. I retrieved another handful of food and put it on the sidewalk again. Again Tuxedo came right up to me and ate it all. I repeated the action another time, but afterward he turned down a fourth handful and headed across the backyard. He meowed at me a few more times and then jumped the back fence and was gone.
This seemed like a cat that had been around people in his life. Had to have been around people, in fact, because cats only meow at humans, not at other cats. (That's an interesting fact my husband came across in his reading. Cats have a vocabulary of many sounds they use among their own kind, but the classic meow only happens to humans, like a special dialect they have devised to communicate with us.) He's terribly skittish, probably from living a tough life outside, but could definitely be tamed.
So now I may have two cats to help. I'm not sure if Tuxedo is the one that's been eating Hobo kitty's food for the last week or so. I'm not sure if Hobo is still around, or in fact if it's still alive. I have to admit that I went across the street to the empty house and searched under all the bushes, half afraid I would find a little black kitty's body. But there wasn't any sign of it. It may have left or may just be eating at night when we can't see its visits. In any case, I will continue to put out cat food, now that I may have two mouths to feed through the winter. And maybe Tuxedo will like the kitty house I made. Nothing has set foot in it yet, not even an opossum.