On a visit to Muscat, a tourist seeing the cat outside the incense shop, called him Frank. After frankincense. But the cat took no notice. Having sat on the steps of the shop for eleven years Aziz —for this was his real name —was indifferent.
Another joker —Aziz thought he might have been British — suggested a good name for him was ‘Muscat’. Mus-Cat. Geddit?
Aziz thought this a bit pathetic since Muscat, the capital of Oman, was located in the next bay around the coast. He lived in Muttrah the port area, fish market and bazaar. So the man had just made a fool of himself.
Aziz bin Sultan al-Hamra, to use his full name, was a part-tortoiseshell cat of origins obscure. His very pointed ears lent credence to a suggestion of royal descent. Had his ancestors patted delicately around the Queen of Sheba’s palace?
The ‘bin’ means son of —Sultan — a right roue of a cat whose base was the fish market. Sultan had lived to a great age, fed each day on sardines from the Arabian Sea.
No one knew Aziz’s mother, a mystery cat who had birthed three kittens behind Muttrah mosque. There were very few cats in Oman. Perhaps she had been a feral cat whom Sultan had met on one of his nightly strolls.
A Danish embassy wife had seen the kittens and taken them home. But only Aziz had survived. And when the Danes were posted to Moscow, their driver took the kitten to his brother who owned the incense shop in the souq.
And there Aziz remained. From an early age he took to sitting on the step watching passers-by. He never did anything beyond watch. It wasn’t necessary as there was plenty to see. And as the only cat in the bazaar he was treated like royalty.
Old Mohammed who sold canes, ropes and other rustica brought him tidbits from the fishing boats. Fatima who lived in one of the tall, white waterfront houses put milk in a lid as she passed on her way to the shops.
The man who owned the incense shop did nothing, but Aziz felt this was fair since he allowed him to sit on the step. Rents were expensive in the souq: if he had to pay for a space on the step — perish the idea, thought Aziz.
And why the incense shop? He could have sat outside the jewellers, the money-changers or the shops selling shimmering textiles and beads.
But no. He liked the fragrance of burning resin, sandalwood and aloe and especially the silvery beads of frankincense from trees in Dhofar, the southern province of Oman.
He liked to sit on the step and inhale, imaging himself in the Queen of Sheba’s household. With servants to brush his coat and trim his claws.