Ever had a fabulous surprise?! Rota, Spain, 1974




   "Surprise!" My husband grinned at me as if he had just received fabulous news and added, "Guess what?" He rubbed his hands together, causing his brand new wedding ring to gleam in the sun rays coming through the kitchen window.

     What could the surprise be?  We had recently returned from the long and arduous trip to Gibraltar where we had got married. You see, since Franco was in the huff the border between Spain and Gibraltar was closed. The only way to get to Gibraltar was to catch the ferry from Algeciras to Tangiers, then turn right round and take another ferry to Gibraltar.  Maybe he had got the photos developed?

    "What's the surprise?" I asked, mouth watering, thinking about a lovely tasty treat of milk chocolate that he had perhaps got me from the Naval Base in Rota where the choices of food seemed endless. There, even the selections of bread were spread out over rows and rows, and many a time I'd stand transfixed trying to figure out which bread to buy. I had been more  accustomed to purchasing only either a barra de pan de un duro (5 pesetas) or Pan Bimbo in the local shops, so limited was the choice.  

     "Come with me." He led me outside to his car, a white Fiat that was normally always dirty unless I gave it a good, thorough bath.   

     "You finally washed the car, is that the surprise?"

He opened the car door and picked up a black furry creature which uttered, "Miaow".

     "I got him free, on the Base."

    I should have added to the list of things you could get at the Naval Base in Rota: poor little kittens who were in need of a home. Some lady was giving away kittens free, and since my husband really liked cats, he couldn't resist.

    "I'll call him Tibby." My husband beamed proudly at me and then the kitten before carefully carrying it inside the house.

    The wee dog I had found inside a box on the pavement was king of our house and perfectly content to be spoiled rotten. He was therefore, not amused one bit when he saw this little furry intruder. He stood up with a startle and started to sniff the cat, then ran around it tapping it with his paw. Growling and moaning he gazed up at me in dismay, as if to say, "Mama, what on earth have you brought into my house?"

    I will say this of my dog, he was a gentleman. He never bit the cat, nor did he bark at him, well not too loudly, at any rate. What he loved to do was chase Tibby all throughout the house. I think the cat quite liked this. He'd run upstairs and then back downstairs, dive underneath the dining room table with the dog lunging behind him. Whenever the dog actually 'caught' Tibby, by placing his paws on him, the game would commence all over again. The cat would turn round and run the other way.  
      
    This all sounds like some Norman Rockwell painting where domestic bliss had painted rosy cheeks and golden smiles. However, although our cat and dog were indeed fortunate in that they got a good home, outside on the streets, life was not so kind to animals. You'd come across dead cats or dogs who had been run over by irresponsible drivers. I don't think there was any respect for animals back then in the early seventies in Andalucia. I saw drivers go out of their way to swerve towards a dog or a cat. Perhaps they were just trying to frighten them. I don't know why they'd want to do that, though. I used to see teenagers throw stones at stray dogs. Many is the time that I'd speak sharply to them, tell them not to harm the animals.  I'd be met with surprised stares, and for a second they would cease, only to start once again hurting the animals.

    Tibby was an indoor cat whose adventures outside amounted to a fast run around the walled in back yard and a leap back inside the security of our house. We were therefore puzzled one day when we were out for a walk down to the supermarket and found a cat that looked just like Tibby lying dead at the side of the road.

    "Tibby!"

    "He must have got run over by some idiotic driver." My husband's voice was flat as the realisation that Tibby was dead sunk in.

    "He didn't normally go so far from the house. Poor Tibby." I looked around to see if there was some hooligan lurking around on his moped. If there had been I think I might have punched him on the nose.

    "We can't leave him here.  I'll get a towel and carry him home. We can bury him out back."

    It seemed an awfully long walk to our house. I was thinking of Tibby and how much fun he had been, of how he had got on so well with our dog. What a shame he had got run over.

    We entered the house and were greeted with huge licks from our dog. I was about to relate to him the dreadful news about his buddy, Tibby the Cat, when, what did I hear but a loud "miaow". It couldn't be! Yes, there was Tibby curling himself around my legs just like he always did. We had made a mistake believing the dead cat on the road to be ours.

My husband picked him up, hugged him tightly and blurted out, "What a fabulous surprise to see you, Tibby!"