The appointment wasn’t for another 20 minutes so I have a few minutes to kill. Walking through North Beach I slide straight past Columbus and the alfresco seating that draws in tourists by the droves daily.
A few blocks up and I hook a right, feigning the casual stride of a local killing time and most likely appearing more as a directionless visitor looking for the nearest brick oven slice.
As I peer into the windows of a few odd shops I slow my pace at a small corner market. There perching at the front door is a tattered street cat – dingy white, complete with a nicked ear and a neck free of any ID. His eyes, slits as he sits under the protective shade of the grocer’s awning, squeezing tighter as I reach out to pet his head. He leans into my fingertips. There’s nothing better than a cat that participates in the conversation.
His attitude portrays that of a Haight-Ashbury resident more than his fiery Italian surroundings. Casual and calm, he struts around me and rubs against my shins as I lower, tucking my heels under me. Just as he steps out of reach he spins back for another touch, like a drunken ballerina enjoying a bit of company on the empty sidewalk.
I walk into the shop and down the far aisle. The cat trails behind me, clear blue eyes now wide, tracking my footsteps. He lets out a grating shout, the kind most often associated with the talking Siamese breed, too loud, like a deaf child’s scream, unable to completely form words that strain his cheeks.
After a few steps I stop and kneel by the refrigerated beverage case. I can see the grocer, reflected by the curved mirror, eying me around the corner.
I pull out my phone to snap a photo of my new friend to share with my wife but his slithery strut creates blurs across my screen. He follows me throughout the store and back to the sidewalk like an overly affectionate security guard.
After a few moments of seeking balance against my shins a passerby casually strolls into the market and is greeted by my new friend. He bends down, scratches the tired white scalp, and then away together down the far aisle.