A man was sitting in his comfortable cave. The fire just outside the entrance was burning brightly, its flames dancing up from the crackling wood casting moving shadows across the walls and lighting up the serious faces of the animals who were sitting listening to what the man was saying.
“We have been friends for a very long time,” he said. “Ever since the first day, we have helped each other as best we could. On cold nights you often came here and shared my fire with me. When there was anything wrong with your families you brought them to me and I cured them. But I have decided that I too would like to find a mate for myself and so I must go far away, to where there are more people like myself. All this time I have thought that I was the only man, but the other day I met one the same as myself and he told me that far away there is a place where men live together, as many as there are animals here, and I am going to that place to find a wife and have a family.”
The animals were silent. The man had long helped them with their small problems and they knew they would miss him – but they also knew they had no right to ask him to stay.
“We will find it strange without you,” said the lion, after the silence had lasted a long time. “When are you going?” “Tomorrow,” answered the Man. “I will leave at first light. That is why I have called you together tonight so that I could say goodbye.” “So soon,” said the lion, shaking his head sadly. “But you must do what you think is best. Goodbye Man, I wish you health and happiness.”
One by one, the animals solemnly said their farewells and left the cave, to return to their own homes. Soon Man was left standing alone and, in his mind, he went over all the animals who had just left. He thought there had been one of them missing but he could not think who it was.
“Why!” he said, at last. “iGola, the cat, was not here.” He could not understand this because the cat had always been closer than any of the other animals to him, sharing his cave and his food on many occasions. Going outside he called out to iGola. Many times, he called but there was no reply and eventually, he had to give up.
The following day was very busy, and he would need as much sleep as he could get tonight. In the morning the man tied all his belongings into a bundle and, after a last look around the cave that had been his home for so many years, he set out along the path that would take him to the place where the other men dwelled.
All the animals watched him go but they did not show themselves. Partings were sorrowful things, and it was better that man should go his own way and forget his life as it had been.
The man travelled for many days and nights before he came to the place where people lived in little, round houses with walls of mud and wattle, each with a conical roof thatched with long, dry grass. Everything was new to him and there was much to be learned but soon he had chosen a wife and had a house of his own, by which time the life he had lived with the animals seemed far, far away.
One day, when he had been out in the fields with his wife, tending the crops that were to keep them fed through the days of winter, he stopped to talk to another man while his wife went on alone to their hut. She was inside for only a moment and then, with a loud, piercing scream she fled from the hut and ran back to where he was standing.
“Come quickly,” she cried. “There is a fierce animal in our hut. Hurry and bring a big stick.”
The man ran to his hut while the friend he had been talking to hastily snatched up a spear and followed him. The man could see nothing at first but then his friend cried, “Look! There it is in the corner.” The man looked to where the other was pointing and there, spitting and showing his teeth because he was frightened, was iGola!
“Wait,” said the man to his friend, who had his spear raised. “It is all right, I know him. It is iGola.”
He waited until the others had left the hut and then he went and crouched down before the cat. It was a very different iGola to the one he had last seen. His ribs were showing beneath his striped coat and many scratches covered his face and body.
“Why, iGola,” the man said, kindly, “why are you looking so thin and scratched?” iGola got to his feet and rubbed himself against Man’s ankles affectionately. “I was a long way from your cave when you left us, I was very upset that I had not wished you good luck in your new life. I have been seeking you since that time and have travelled far.”
The man was very touched that iGola had taken so much trouble to find him. He called the woman into the hut. “Wife,” he said, “this is iGola, the cat, who was my friend for a long, long time. He will not harm you. Please make some food for him, he is very hungry.”
The woman was afraid at first but when iGola rubbed himself against her legs and began purring, a deep, happy sound that rumbled from his throat, she was not afraid anymore and bent down to stroke him. “How soft he is,” she said. “There, iGola, you just wait here and I will find some food for you.”
“Thank you for coming, iGola,” said the man. “Now you are here I hope you will stay for a long time.” iGola did stay. Soon after his arrival the man’s wife had a baby son, and as he grew older the cat loved to play games with him and keep him amused. He would roll over and over in the dust outside the hut, suddenly springing up to chase a leaf that was blowing through the village, and the child would gurgle with laughter.
One day, iGola spoke to the man. “Man,” he said, “I came here to say goodbye but I like living with you so much that I would like to stay forever. Will you let me?”
“Of course,” said the man, very pleased. “In fact, if you were to leave now, I know my wife and son would be very unhappy.”
And that is how iGola, the cat, came to live with the man. But sometimes, especially at night, he will remember that he was once a creature of the wild and will insist on going out on his own, no matter how cold it is outside or how warm it is by the fireside. Where he goes to only iGola knows, but he will always return, rubbing himself against man’s legs and purring, happy that he came to find him many, many years ago. (Folktale from Kikuyu people, Kenya)