It was late Autumn last year when I found them.
They ran to me through a rusty, gaping hole of a barn door.
A barn that was in the middle of nowhere, really.
A barn that I passed each day on a 5 kilometre walk.
They were so tiny. I didn’t know what to do. I wondered whether to bundle them up right there and then in my coat and take them home.
I inspected them closely.
They seemed well-fed and their fur—despite the rain and cold—seemed to be soft and shiny. A sign that they were doing ok.
I was sure that their mother must be close by and that she was feeding them.
No-one else would be, that was for sure.
I live in a farming village, you see.
The culture here is that animals have a purpose: They work, as guard dogs or sheep dogs or egg-laying machines, or they are raised to be eaten.
Most people here don’t have pets.
And most people here would not give a shit about 2 tiny kittens that live in a barn, in the middle of nowhere.
I decided to return to the barn each day. I was worried about the kittens and whether they would survive the winter. I had a plan: the moment they started to look ill or hungry, I would bring them home with me.
“I’m off to visit the kittens”, I would call to my partner before leaving the house. “If they’re in a bad way, I’ll call you to come and pick us up. Bring a box with you, ok?”
I called the kittens Sophie and Jack, after the two pet cats from my childhood. They were the exact same colour. One tabby, one ginger.
As the months passed by, the kittens grew bigger and bigger. They remained seemingly well-fed and despite a few selfish moments where I wanted to scoop them up and bring them home with me, they seemed content and happy and nourished.
I constantly scoured the land around the barn for the mother. She had to be there somewhere. I was intrigued about what she was feeding them. Surely in the dead of winter, there were few birds and mice for her to hunt?
And yet the winter passed by and the kittens remained well.
Spring arrived. The kittens had become “teenagers” now. They were cocky and confident and would pounce on me as I bent down to stroke them.
The other day, my son and I visited them. My son rode to them on his bike, proudly wearing his pyjamas, and I ran after him, shouting to him that he needed to slow down because I couldn’t keep up.
We sat with the kittens on the bench outside the barn. They clambered all over us, as usual, and I watched as my son gently played with them and quietly whispered their names.
Suddenly, a man and woman appeared.
They eyed me curiously.
I lifted my hand and waved, almost sheepishly, as I realised that the barn belonged to them, and stood up from the bench and gestured to my son that we should leave.
The woman was carrying a watering can. The man was carrying a bucket.
The kittens, on seeing the man and woman, jumped off the bench and ran towards them.
“Hallo”, I said.
“Hallo”, the man and woman replied.
The man reached down and picked up one of the kittens and playfully ruffled its fur.
He then set it down on the floor before reaching into the bucket and pulling out a huge hunk of meat. He tore it into pieces, separating it into two neat piles. One for each kitten.
“Are these your kittens?” I asked him.
“Yes!” He replied. “We saved them last year from the side of a motorway. We originally wanted to keep them on our farm, but our dog kept scaring them so we brought them here to live in our old barn.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“So they don’t have a mother who has been feeding them?” I asked.
“No, no”, the woman smiled as she poured them some water from the watering can. “We’ve been doing that since October. We visit them twice a day.”
I could have cried.
I walked away from the barn that day flowing with a heady rush of relief and soft-gratitude and hope.
Life can be so hard.
Awful, unimaginable things happen every day.
People die, jobs are lost, we receive “the phone call” we never want to receive, a global pandemic knocks the world as we know it off its axis.
And as a result, we harden in the face of it.
We become negative and closed-off. We withdraw and consume. We numb and point fingers. We lose connection with our innate compassion. We make assumptions: That people are selfish, that nobody cares, that the world is going to shit, that people in this village wouldn’t care about 2 tiny kittens living in a barn.
There were 2 other people in this village who cared about those 2 tiny kittens.
Sometimes I forget that there is still so much goodness in the world.