…And An Alley Cat Shall Lead Them

It’s been quite the 6 weeks of traveling, event planning, writing, life and death at the hospital, job interviews, family fun (and dysfunction), and other such adventures. Last week I returned home to my own bed, own washer and dryer, own kitchen, own shower (did I mention my own bed?!) for the first time in 25 days. It was one of those returns where I had been gone so long and done so much that I wasn’t sure what season or month we were in, and I couldn’t quite remember what we did here at home.

I realized the fridge wasn’t so much bare, as needed to be evacuated due to those handy expiration dates highly recommending I go shopping. Instead of bothering with a list, I wrote “everything we usually need or eat” on a sticky note. And, while not the point of this post, I highly recommend not doing that, as you might end up with items like chocolate French toast which you’ve never actually eaten, more cans of pineapple juice than a Hawaiian cruise, and lots of protein but not a lot of veggies and fruit to go alongside it.

Upon my return from the not super helpful and needing to be revisited grocery stores, I noticed a feral kitten on the front steps of our 6 Flat. For you non-city folks, a 6 Flat is a brick building with 6 condo units in it. She followed me to and from as I carried bags in from the car. She followed me to the train station later that day. She was waiting on the front steps when I returned home that evening. One of our neighbors, who I’ve probably talked to a total of 30 minutes since we moved here 16 months ago, said he had been feeding the kitten tuna and milk for two days already.

When I went to get the mail the next day, one of the teenagers living on the first floor was on the steps with cat food and playing with the kitten. Her best friend was with her. Now, I know they are best friends because I’ve seen them both coming and going together a lot, but I didn’t know either of their names. As we all became embarrassingly attached to the kitten, I learned her name, her friend’s name, where they work during the summer to earn money for college, that her friend was having car trouble, and that her mom had told her she couldn’t keep the kitten in our building due to their canine companion.  I learned more about her in 15 minutes with a kitten than I had in 16 months of living in the same building.

As I attempted to regain my own routine, I noticed the kitten had already figured hers out. As a mid-morning stroll, she went over to God’s Little Acre (one of our neighborhood gardens) and curled up in the shade with the fearless group of retired men who congregate by the big tree for their daily fellowship. Later that afternoon, she curled up next to one of the Women of the Night in our neighborhood and consoled her after she appeared to have been beaten up. Then she welcomed the teenagers home and patiently waited to see when the 6 Flat Progressive Dinner would commence. One particular evening, her dinner included cat food from 1N, tuna and milk from 2S, and beef and water from 3S. I left a Tupperware bowl of water out one night, and the next day, the fine folks in 2S had replaced it with a set of cat food and water bowls.

Our building was enamored/a bit obsessed with the kitten. When we confirmed that she is female, I decided to name her Maggie. I asked the teenagers in 1N how they felt about calling her Maggie and they said it fit her. By the end of the day, the whole building was calling her Maggie. I informed the God’s Little Acre Men’s Group that we named her Maggie, so they began to call her by her new name too. And she answered to it. Maggie. Maggie the community building, non-judgmental, loveable, homeless, hungry, thirsty, feline mascot.

I informed the mom of the teenagers in 1N that we could get all of Maggie’s shots for $75. So, we decided we might take up a collection from the building just to ensure our safety if she came inside. (We are very concerned about Maggie being outside for the brutal winter months, and so we’ve discussed setting up a little cat bed in the lobby if 2S doesn’t let her live in their condo). I now know when payday is for my neighbors, as everyone’s Maggie the Mascot fund contribution came with the stipulation of , “I’ll throw in $__ when I get paid on __.”

Our building doesn’t know each other well, not because we’re mean people, but because it’s the way it is around here. I’m originally from the Southeast where we’re  forever waving, “Hey, how y’all doin’?” to everyone we see whether we know them or not. In Southside Chicago, were either keeping our heads down and powering through to survive the lake effect windy snow, or we’re just trying to get from A to B without getting caught in any drama. The culture is very much keep to yourself and mind your own business. And, for some, this comes from learning to survive-survive the freezing cold winters and survive the heat of violence in the summers.

But on an August day when Maggie the kitten decided she needed to leave her gang of feral cats in search of a better life, she changed the culture of our building and our little corner of the world. We all speak to each other now, whether Maggie is at our feet or not. The God’s Little Acre Men’s Group is friendlier as others pass by. We are all generally happier because she chose us.

Sometimes we’re so lost in our own attempt to survive that it takes a friendly feral kitten to remind us how to be human again. Maggie cannot stop the violence in our neighborhood, the injustices of the food desert we live in, or keep the lake effect snow away in the winter, but she does have the capacity to remind a group of neighbors of their need for each other. And she reminds us that regardless of when payday occurs, we can all afford to make the investment of time spent talking with each other.

Keep up the good community organizing, Maggie.

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