Imagine going to a place where you can sit next to a coffee table, occupied by a fur ball taking a late afternoon nap. He cannot be disturbed. His feline companions, meanwhile, scurry under the chairs, hoping not to get noticed. Then pick a spot where you can have a sip of your strawberry smoothie, while doing some office work, when, a sudden appearance of an Exotic Shorthair gets your attention. It wasn't her intention to distract you, really, but her cuteness demands you abandon your laptop, as you are now spellbound to stroke her fine fur, until she walks away to charm another guest.
It can only happen in one place in the metropolis, where cats and baristas conspire to make guests feel cozy with good food and awesome company, at Miao Cat Café in Quezon City.
The idea behind the coffee shop isn't really a novelty as there are hundred of kitchenettes in the country that employ cats as pest control and leftover eaters. There's an eatery behind my workplace, where an elder cat serves as comic relief for hungry patrons. I also knew, thanks to the power of the Internet, that such cat cafés exist around the world. Japan has dozens of them, and so is Korea.
What makes Miao different is the pioneers behind it. Not one cat lover had the entrepreneurial spirit to set up shop for a niche market for feline worshipers before. And it shows, with several TV programs doing a feature about the place, and fully-booked days with eager guests waiting for weeks just to have a slot to socialize with Scottish Folds, Puspins (Pusang Pinoy) and Long-Haired kitties.
Miao isn't really your ordinary café, where guests simply drop by, order something to eat, and pet the animals to their hearts' content. One must keep in mind that those cats are prone to human-borne viruses. Therefore, around 15 guests are let in, including random walk-ins like me, to have a 2-hour communion with the pussies. There is a P300 pesos admission fee, which includes a choice of sweet treats, pastas, and ice cold drinks, as well as slippers, that you have to return after you exit the room. Picking up the cats and carrying them around is forbidden, so is the strong urge to squeeze and poke them, especially when they look at you with their droopy eyes.
One-hour breaks are enforced, and guests have to leave as well, for the attendants need to clean and sanitize the place. It is also the time for the cats to rest before another batch of visitors make their way in and become the kitties' object of fancy. I am sure the resident mimings know the drill: "Pretend not to be interested no matter how the poor humans try and try to get our sympathy."
"No doubt, they will return and try to pet us again. And when they fail, they will come once more, and this time do our bidding."
Being a cat person, however, makes me feel a little uncomfortable at what the animals have to go through. While I find immense joy being surrounded by felines, the unwanted attention bought by their unexpected fame somehow diminishes the snug atmosphere, the owners of the café might have envisioned at the beginning. There is no doubt, the enterprise is booming, and in the months to come, someone will set up another coffee shop with the same idea of letting these four-legged creatures roam freely to draw guests.
By then, I'd return to Miao Cat Café, and lay down my life's burdens at the same spot at the Al Fresco where I first fell in love with the place:
In my head, I see myself in front of the laptop, writing essays like this, as the same cats strut by pretending not to care still, even when I reach my hand to touch their fur. Behind the glass window, and occupying one of the indoor wooden tables is an elderly woman, spending the last years of her life petting animals that help overcome her diminished health. They say it's for therapy. There are few loyal patrons as well, reading novels, talking to fellow cat people who have suspended their urge to hide behind their impenetrable walls, reaching out and conceiving artistry, without really violating personal spaces. With the litter box, finally hidden from view, the strong smell at the Al Fresco no longer bothers the olfactory senses. A garden full of herbs now shroud the row of houses at the back of the coffee shop. Well tended with hands that grow greens, they sometimes use the leaves to flavor the homemade pastas and sandwiches. With the fancy and curiosity now over, guests can stay beyond the 2 hour limit. Hygiene remains the first rule upon entering, but with true cat seekers forming the bulk of the patrons, the rules have been relaxed, so is the atmosphere, that has become more inviting.
As I sip the strawberry smoothie, which still is my favorite drink, the same Exotic Shorthair, jumps on the nearby table to make her presence felt. It is the same clumsy cat I helped get out of the cage she tried exploring the first time I set foot at Miao Cat Café. In that brief moment of connection, where once more I get to stroke her fur, a familiar feeling emerges: something light, and almost fuzzy.
There and then, I realize, this place has now become home.