Unforgettable Feline Celebrity: Fatty, the Cat with a Passion for Curry Who Became my Guardian, penned by Val McDermid

I encountered a stunning black-and-white cat on my doormat when I opened my front door. I had no other option – Fatty was making herself at home.

Fatty was a cat with a distinct personality. She began her life in a group of stray cats that lived in the basement of a rundown building between Curry Row and the student hub in the West End of Glasgow. She grew up feasting on the leftovers from late-night takeaway containers thrown into the basement area. I know this because I was familiar with the Jellicle cat colony and would walk by it on my way home from work. That’s where she captured my attention. It was clear that she was one of them, especially considering her love for curry.

One winter evening, as I walked past the cat tenement, I had a feeling that I was being followed. I looked around but saw no one, so I continued on my way. When I opened the door to my building, a streak of black and white zoomed past me. I assumed she belonged to one of the other flats, so I didn’t pay much mind. I went up to my second-floor apartment and let myself in. However, as the night went on, the sounds of a cat’s yowling grew louder and more insistent. Eventually, I opened my front door and discovered a rather magnificent, large black-and-white cat sitting on the doormat. She walked directly past me, tail held high, and headed straight for the kitchen. I had no say in the matter; I had been adopted.

On that first night, I treated her to some leftover tandoori chicken. Over the years, true to her origins, if she stumbled upon abandoned takeaways late at night, she would eat curry until she became physically ill. She possessed a fascinating array of social behaviors that helped her navigate the world, including a purr of such high decibel levels that it had a strangely calming effect.

When my partner and I relocated from Glasgow to Buxton in the Peak District, her graceful and friendly greetings charmed the elderly ladies who vacationed in the nearby guest houses. From my office window, I could see them approach the end of the garden path every morning. They would glance around cautiously before rummaging in their handbags to reveal a sausage or a bacon strip wrapped in a napkin for Fatty. No wonder she gained weight.

Those who weren’t as generous received a different kind of reception. There was a tree stump in our yard that had been cut to the same height as our hedge. Fatty would perch on it, blending in perfectly; as people walked by, she would emit a blood-curdling screech. I knew it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t resist a little chuckle as I watched her victims jump, stumble, and let out surprised yelps.

But if she loved you, it was abundantly clear. She adored the man who lived next door. Each morning, he would find an assortment of gifts lining his path: mice, shrews, and even moles. I witnessed her catch a mole once – she detected movement beneath the ground and slowly crept alongside it, completely focused. Then she pounced, vigorously digging with her front paws, and emerged triumphant with a struggling mole clasped firmly in her claws. A swift bite to the neck and it was all over.

Sometimes she came home carrying larger prey. I would return to find half a rabbit on the doorstep. I couldn’t figure out how she managed it – she wasn’t exactly a speedy hunter. Eventually, one of our neighbors explained the method. Across the road from us were fields and woodlands. Fatty would perch on the wall and patiently wait for an unsuspecting bunny to hop by, then launch herself from a height of 4ft onto her prey. It was an impressive display of efficiency.

She tolerated no nonsense either. Once, after being doused in flea powder, she vanished. We searched the neighborhood, shaking a jar of cat treats and calling her name. Our search gradually expanded until, a week later, I spotted her in a driveway a mile away. “We thought she was a stray,” the homeowner said. “She simply adopted us.” We never used flea powder on her again.

She passed away at the age of 15, just as she lived her life. She considered the road outside our house her personal domain, and I grew accustomed to the screech of brakes as she leisurely strolled across it. One day, a driver failed to brake. And that was the end of it.

“Past Lying” by Val McDermid is now available (Sphere, £9.99). To support the Guardian and the Observer, purchase your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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