Paloma Paquita was born to a sexually liberated street mog in the streets of Antibes, France in 1997. She survived for the first year of her life by scavenging from dustbins and catching mice and rats, and thought her luck had changed when she was adopted in 1998. Sadly her new owner hit her with sticks and shoes – items she would be scared of for the rest of her life.
In 1998 Paloma Paquita escaped and returned again to street life, where a brief dalliance with a male produced offspring, but it was winter and there was little food around and she would struggle to care for them. She became skinny and ill of health, and lost track of her kittens which, being cute, got taken for adoption one by one.
One day, an old lady caught Paloma, now alone again, while she was stealing her own cat’s food. The old lady fed her and then caught her and took her to the Jean Duflos animal refuge in Antibes, where she was given urgent medical treatment and fed and cared for. Smaller than other cats due to childhood malnutrition, Paloma was often looked over when adopters passed through the refuge, but, having witnessed the darker side of man, she wasn’t entirely sure that she wanted to leave the refuge anyway, so often hid in corners to avoid the shrieking children who might pull her tail.
And then, one day Nick Alexander, who had lost his two previous cats to a messy divorce, arrived at the shelter.
Paloma could never explain why, but she knew she wanted to live with Nick immediately, and followed him tenaciously as he walked around the refuge looking at big ginger Tom Joneses and fluffy white Fifis. Whenever Nick stood still to speak to anyone or to stroke a cat, Paloma would simply stand on his two feet so that he would have to lift her away if he wanted to move on.
Eventually, on the fifth or sixth attempt, she managed to get his attention, and when he looked into her eyes and asked, “So what’s up, pussy cat? Do you want to come and live with me or something?” she blinked very slowly and made her cutest burrrurp sound. It was the first of Paloma’s many successful attempts at interspecies communication, and Nick would often say that Paloma had chosen him, not the opposite.
In Nick’s flat on the Cours Saleya in Nice, Paloma felt safe. She didn’t mind at all that Nick didn’t have a garden or balcony. The outdoors, was, she knew, a dangerous place. But she was sometimes lonely during Nick’s long days at work, so she was over the moon when Nick came home with a tiny Persian kitten called Pablo. Paloma loved Pablo as if he were her own, in fact, she saw Pablo as a fresh chance to be a mother having failed, as she saw it, the first time around, and would spend twenty four hours a day cuddling and nursing him. But Pablo, sadly, suffered from a congenital disease, and despite constant and expensive veterinary care, would not live to his first birthday. On Pablo’s death, Paloma was devastated. She stopped eating and slept all day, and Nick was so concerned about her lethargy and depression that he returned from the refuge with another compagnon for Paloma, a tortoiseshell kitten he named Pedro who had been born in the frozen fish storage unit at Marineland. Though Nick loved Pedro, he could never, as far as Paloma was concerned, replace Pablo. She did her best, but she struggled to love him. She would eventually learn to tolerate him, all the same, and occasionally, if it was very cold, would deign to sleep next to him.
In 2001, The little family moved from the flat in Nice to a beautiful house in Grasse with a garden and Nick began to write. These were good years, years when Paloma would lie on Nick’s desk in the sun, receiving a cuddle or a stroke at the end of every paragraph. Nick was at home often which Paloma loved. There were chickens in the garden to chase, and a series of pleasant boyfriends passed through, and Paloma liked all of them, even as she learned to protect herself for their seemingly inevitable departure.
In 2004, Nick travelled to Australia to visit his brother, leaving Paloma and Pedro with his best friend Sylvie. But Sylvie already had two cats, naughty hissing, selfish cats who did not want to share their space with her. The situation was intolerable, and not understanding that Nick was going to return, Paloma decided to return to the streets.
When Nick returned from Australia to find that Paloma had vanished he was heartbroken. In fact, he was so miserable that he drove, every night after work for half an hour to call for Paloma in Sylvie’s garden. This he did for weeks and weeks because he simply could not entertain the idea that he wouldn’t see Paloma again. A month after his return, and almost two months after her disappearance, in a final attempt at finding her, Nick walked from the hilltop on which Sylvie lived, down into the streets of Villefranche-sur-mer, where he wandered for hours calling Paloma’s name. And eventually, as if by miracle, she heard his voice, which she slowly followed as he walked the two miles back up to Sylvie’s house. When Nick finally got back to Sylvie’s and found Paloma sitting on the step, he swept her into his arms and wept until her fur was wet. Paloma had a broken rib, a bleeding ear, and three missing teeth, but she would never let on just how hard her two months in Villefranche had been or what had really happened to her.
As Nick began writing full time and his savings slowly ran out, Paloma’s and Pedro’s cat food got cheaper, but they didn’t complain. They could see that Nick was cutting back too, and did their best to be understanding when the house with the garden had to be swapped for a tiny apartment in Nice.
Things eventually got better again, and the family was able to move back to a tiny house in the mountains, and when Nick’s 2011 novel, The Case Of The Missing Boyfriend became a hit on Amazon kindle, there were feasts of fresh salmon all round.
Again, these were good years. The new house was isolated but gorgeous and the new desk was big enough for Paloma and Pedro to sleep either side of Nick’s computer screen while he worked.
And yet Paloma felt sad. Nick was single, and despite her best attempts at providing constant companionship, she could tell he was lonely. He would sometimes cry into her fur, and she would lick his tears away with her raspy tongue.
In 2013, Nick met Lolo, and Paloma saw how happy he made Nick and loved him instantly for that. She was less keen on his cat, Typhus who in addition to being made, seemingly, of orange acrylic, would bite and hiss at anything that moved. Paloma tried a few times to befriend him, but in the end she gave up. He was, she decided, simply a psycocat and no amount of friendship was going to change that.
In late 2015 an agressive tumor was found on Paloma’s back and with her being eighteen years old and suffering from a number of other serious heath problems, treatment was not an option. Thus began her slow decline.
She retreated first to a drawer in the lounge, and then, as tiredness overtook her, to a cupboard in the bedroom. Eventually she demanded that her meals be brought to her in the cupboard.
In March 2016, Paloma communicated, through a series of sad blinks and moans, her desire to be taken to the clinic where she died, peacefully, in the arms of the man who had loved her for 17 years. It is said that Nick cried so much when he was typing her obituary, that the number three on his keyboard ceased to function correctly.
Paloma is survived by Pedro (14) and Typhus (8). Paloma was next to nick, sleeping on his desk, for almost every word he ever typed, and featured in a number of his novels.
She will live on in our hearts forever as the smallest, prettiest, most resourceful, communicative, loving, writerly, gorgeous fucking cat that ever walked this earth.
With these words, I salute you, Paloma. It’s the only way I know how. Without you by my side, writing will never be the same. I miss you so much already, and that’s never going to end.