My Friend Rong Xuan
Friendships are forged in a myriad of ways, but ours by any definition is unusual. Rong Xuan is a twelve year old Singaporean girl, the fourth child after a long gap; her three siblings all adults. I’m a middle aged, childless woman from the UK who lives in the same condo building in Singapore.
For many years our lives rattled along on separate tracks. Our intersection only coming as a consequence of Rong Xuan’s family’s strictly non- negotiable pet embargo. When their youngest child hankered after a dog, she knew options were limited. Resourceful and curious, she began local reconnaissance to assess her neighbour’s pets. Soon she spied our two profoundly ungrateful rescue cats and began an examination. Her no- nonsense pragmatism soon trumped her preference for a dog, and Rong Xuan accepted the two unpromising specimens as an adequate starting place upon which to explore the world of pets.
I gradually became aware of her shadowy figure popping up from behind a bush or sitting quietly on the low wall, intently watching our cats. With smiles, then a few friendly words I introduced Mona the tabby, and Scholsey the ginger Tom – she struggled with Scholsey’s name, never having heard of the legendary similarly red-pelted Manchester United football player – so he immediately became Golzie. I too needed phonics for her name, mangling vowels wildly before gratefully settling upon ‘wrong chen.’ To my surprise I soon learned that Rong Xuan had never stroked a cat before. Quickly enough, the slightly more amenable of our furry twosome was pressed into action, the proffered head tentatively, then confidently patted; the forging of a cat and human friendship began.
Our patio doors are permanently open during the day to allow on demand cat access. Rong Xuan soon availed herself of the same access rights. Within a remarkably short time she made herself comfortable, appeared often, hunkered down, and embarked upon a continuous quest to find out absolutely everything about everything. The full back story of each cat was exhaustively poured over, the tiniest detail forensically dissected. She shadowed, observations flew, my unimaginative cuisine called out with a cheerful ‘cooking salad again hahaha.’ She loved to see how things worked. The washing racks, elevated by strings and pulleys elicited an ‘Oh my, how satisfying!’ Soon she was feeding the cats, precisely measuring their rations with scrupulous attention. If we were late home a stern WhatsApp would appear; ‘you are late, I will have to feed them.’
Our conversations featured ever more elaborate scenarios, pitching the cats in prominent roles. ‘It’s Armageddon. You have no food. Which cat would you eat first?’ After a few shrieks, the matter was given serious consideration, feline tummies kneaded to assess their degree of tenderness, ages re-established and a purring, potential victim selected.
In our apartment Rong Xuan ate olives for the first time, then went to the supermarket and bought her own. We learned about her dancing prowess and how she was called back to her primary school to coach one of the graduating groups. Her damning verdict. ‘They could do better.’
She proved herself eminently capable and volunteered to be the sole cat carer for two weeks when we swanned off back to the UK on holiday. We enjoyed detailed daily updates on the gruesome twosome’s shenanigans.
‘Mona caught a bat
I think she ate it.
But some body parts were left in the house. Well I saw the bat head and the wings
But I cleared it up.
Still have some blood stains in the bathroom
Grossed out hahaha’
Grossed out maybe, but gloriously understated and reigning supreme as the queen of capable. She dealt with all eventualities; the furry destroyers swishing lack of repentance never daunting her spirits.
Rong Xuan doesn’t visit as often now, her dance card too full of study and friends. Whenever she does appear the sun comes out, and she is greeted with a chorus of squeaks, purrs and shameless rolling, the two cats transported.
My clever young friend is growing up but some things don’t change; her family, resolutely maintain their no pet stance.