We walked through the pedestrian gate, ducking beneath the bar that stretched across the top of the gate posts. We were surrounded by chicken wire in a small enclosure. With our eyes on the gate ahead, it was by pure chance we spotted movement in the corner of the cage.
Creeping forward we saw a small bird trapped in the enclosed space. A robin. She must have flown in with an earlier visitor. She was weary, unable to fly away from us. My companion approached her, cornering her, and bent to scoop her gently in her hands. Crooning softly to her she took the beautiful little bird back to the gate we had just entered and released her. Without a backward glance, she flew into freedom, and we smiled at one another, turning again to the next gateway.
In silence, we went through. My heart was beating fast, for I knew what we were going to see and I had no idea how the occupant would react to me or I to him. The compound was larger than the one we had left, with trees and patches of knee-high grasses. One or two trees lay flat where they had been felled. Each of these provided shelter and a place to hide. It was an uncanny feeling to know he may be watching us even now, as we entered his domain.
My companion had asked me to be quiet, to walk slowly and not to make any sudden movements. I followed her lead as we wandered through the grass. Perhaps wander is the wrong word. Our pace was that of a wander, but I was not feeling relaxed. I tried not to show my concern, but I was wary.
We had walked three-quarters of the way down the length of the enclosure when we spotted him. He had been fed – two chickens, I was told – and so he was now sleepy. Stretched out on the grass ahead of us was the object of our search.
He raised his head and looked at us. My companion was a well-known visitor. He glanced at me, but her presence removed any concern that I may be a threat and he just stared at us for a moment before relaxing again. His tail twitched. My friend spoke to him gently, assuring him of her love for him.
And from deep within this magnificent creature came a resonant grumble. This huge animal was purring back to her.
She was delighted as she had mentioned to me earlier that he had purred at her for the first time only the day before. Now, this seemed to be the way he would communicate with her.
Magnify the purr of a tabby cat by a thousand and you will have an idea of the volume and depth of the sound. It seemed to vibrate through the air and made the hair on my arms stand on end.
But it was not fear. It was awe.
There I was, standing not five metres from a creature so perfect in his beauty. An animal many people never have the chance to see. And he was purring at us. What a joyful experience it was.
We did not linger but left him to his after supper snooze. As I left I glanced back at him, still lying, tail still twitching, and the sound of his purr carried to us across the distance that separated us. In silence, I bade him farewell but I know I will never forget that moment when this magnificent creature treated us to a purr.