I was eleven when we took her in, a half-feral half-grown kitten. I had wanted her long-haired tuxedo brother - we took him in too, but he was never as comfortable with us as she became. She was all-black, and my mother loved her for that. She had a kitten's mischief and energy, in spades, and my mother soon named her Basta Ya - roughly, "That's enough" - a phrase that was often said to or of her in tones of loving exasperation. She quickly became "Basta" for short.
She returned my mother's love with a sort of inconstant devotion - when she was at our house, she was Mom's cat, always with her. But once she was grown, she would disappear for weeks or months at a time.
We lived out in the country, a 15-minute drive from the nearest small town. Coyotes howled at night. The first time she vanished, when she wasn't back within a couple days, my mother cried and I cried and then - then we went on, as you do.
Then she came back, not merely alive, but fat, sassy, and healthy. As best we can tell, all those years, there was someone else's house within her walking range, and she would go there - and perhaps they would shut her in for a while - she would live with them, and then eventually she would come back to us.
I have long wondered what stories they could tell us of our cat. And whether it was one house or many. What other hearts did she touch in those times away from us? Were there other children who loved her, children who never knew what happened to her?
As she got older, she no longer wandered far from home, but stayed with my parents. I grew up and moved out, and still she lived, no longer the huntress of her youth but the grand lady of privileged age. Still active, no longer hyper active.
And then, when Basta was twenty, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She passed away within a few months. While she was on hospice care at home, in a hospital bed, Basta spent much of her time curled by my mother's feet. Taking or giving comfort, who can say? Mother would twitch her foot, bouncing Basta. With great dignity, Basta would stretch and re-curl herself the other way, and mother would smile.
I was there the evening that mother passed. A day or two later the hospital bed was removed. I was not there that night, when my Dad told me he was woken by a yowling. He got out of the bed he was using, went in to the room that had been Mom's hospice room, and found Basta standing right where the bed had been, crying her heart out. He held her and petted her, and eventually she let him carry her to bed with him. Both of them crying, each in their own way, as I was, as we all were, for a woman who should have been there, and no longer was.