I'd seen him around for a while, changing from a sleek, shiny cat into a filthy old scruff monster. He was a friendly beast, always trotting over to see me, emerging from under parked cars in the rain, to headbutt my hands or knees as I crouched down to scritch him.

(Don't be fearful of the past tense. The cat is alive and well. You need no hankies here.)

I didn't always see him: maybe three days in a row, then nothing for a couple of weeks. But, you couldn't miss him. His lionlike head was unmistakable. From the front, he was huge. He had a giant head, with a mane of creamy pale ginger mottle patterns. Side on, though, you realise that it's an illusion. He looked more like a hammerhead shark.

A few weeks back, I saw him. I saw him bedraggled and filthy, his coat was rough and harsh with dirt and scratches. And there was blood on his face. But, I was late for work. All wound up in that early morning haze of getting out of bed and into my city head. I scritched him, and showed him some food, and rushed off to get the tube.

By lunchtime, I was itching to get back, to dig out the cat carrier, and take him to the vet. He'd been bleeding. His mouth was all messed up and his eyes were full of sad stories. Though I bunked off work early, there was no sign of him in his usual haunts when I got back to the east end. I talked to the guys in the garage, who pointed to the burnt out smashed up car where they often saw the lioncat. No sign. I danced around in the broken buildings, calling to a cat with no name. I quizzed the parking attendant, and peered between roof tops.

No cat.

Later, in the dark, I walked around again, with gnarl. We shook a box of crunchies. And still nothing happened.

Two days later, a visitor spotted him from our window, and we went speeding into the street, shivering in tshirts, looping around in opposite directions in the dark night. But the lioncat had slipped between railings and vanished into one of the yards and gardens that patchwork these streets.

Even on holiday, everytime I saw a scruffy stray cat trotting around the streets of the middle east, I had a pang of worry for the lioncat.

We saw him the day after we got back, lurking under a car in the garage, being hissed at and growled at by a shiny pampered housecat. I walked over, and he arched up to greet me, rubbing against my hands and meeping at me. Filthy, but so much better. Not so scrawny. Bloody, but with dried blood of street fights and dings and slings and arrows, rather than the dreadful shredded face of last time.

"Hey, little lion cat."

His eyes were less sad, but so distant. This is not a cat who wanted to be a wild street cat, living on his wits and scrawny pigeons. This was a cat who once had his own bowl, his own blanket, and his own people to stroke him. I sent gnarl to fet the cat-lugging box.

I talked to the cat, with that pointless chitterchat you use with a friend whose name you don't know.

The parking attendant fussed and fretted, telling me that he's not the same, "he's not got the energy to run away. Thassa sick cat."

We got the box. We got the cat. We couldn't match the two together. That was a lion cat with strong strong legs, and the wriggle of a greasy worm. He ran off. I shouted at gnarl.

But we came back an hour later, to see the lion cat dancing nervously away from us, wise to our trickery and betrayal. He hovered around the doorway to a falling down house, and flicked his tail. Though he gave it away with his purring. And when I offered a handful of crunchies, he tiptoed across to press his hungry nose into my hand. And he shivered with welcomes and hellos and where have you beens.

So I felt like a traitorous hound when I scooped him up and tried to squeeze his remarkably heavy body into the doorway of the cat box. He grew six extra legs, and stuck them all out to bar the way. But, he lost. We won. And he cried all the way to Battersea Dogs Home, mewling and singing on the floor of a taxi cab, as we told him, as we told ourselves that it was the best thing. That he'd get vetinary treatment there, with someone to wipe his runny nose and give him his shots. That he'd get blankets, and good food, and attention and heating. That he'd get a home, soon.

And he was signed in, and signed off, and tucked into a nice warm bed with an armful of endearments and little fuzzy catnip toys. And I felt like hell. I felt cold and cruel and mean for not adopting him myself, for squeezing an extra cat, a lost cat, a sweetheart of a cat into a house big enough and more for the two we already have.

I have a nasty feeling, though, that I'd soon turn into the Crazy Cat Lady, with three dozen kittens chewing my toes and crapping in the kitchen sink. No, I wouldn't. I may still go back and get him from battersea.

Unless there's anyone in London want to adopt a hugely lovely big small lost cat who looks like a lion?

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