Authors: Trevor Noah
grew up in a black family in a black neighborhood in a black country. I’ve traveled to other black cities in black countries all over the black continent. And in all of that time I’ve yet to find a place where black people like cats. One of the biggest reasons for that, as we know in South Africa, is that only witches have cats, and all cats are witches.
There was a famous incident during an Orlando Pirates soccer match a few years ago. A cat got into the stadium and ran through the crowd and out onto the pitch in the middle of the game. A security guard, seeing the cat, did what any sensible black person would do. He said to himself, “That cat is a witch.” He caught the cat and—live on TV—he kicked it and stomped it and beat it to death with a
a hard leather whip.
It was front-page news all over the country. White people lost their shit. Oh my word, it was insane. The security guard was arrested and put on trial and found guilty of animal abuse. He had to pay some enormous fine to avoid spending several months in jail. What was ironic to me was that white people had spent years seeing video of black people being beaten to death by other white people, but this one video of a black man kicking a cat, that’s what sent them over the edge. Black people were just confused. They didn’t see any problem with what the man did. They were like, “Obviously that cat was a witch. How else would a cat know how to get out onto a soccer pitch? Somebody sent it to jinx one of the teams. That man had to kill the cat. He was protecting the players.”
In South Africa, black people have dogs.
A month after we moved to Eden Park, my mother brought home two cats. Black cats. Beautiful creatures. Some woman from her work had a litter of kittens she was trying to get rid of, and my mom ended up with two. I was excited because I’d never had a pet before. My mom was excited because she loves animals. She didn’t believe in any nonsense about cats. It was just another way in which she was a rebel, refusing to conform to ideas about what black people did and didn’t do.
In a black neighborhood, you wouldn’t dare own a cat, especially a black cat. That would be like wearing a sign that said, “Hello, I am a witch.” That would be suicide. Since we’d moved to a colored neighborhood, my mom thought the cats would be okay. Once they were grown we let them out during the day to roam the neighborhood. Then we came home one evening and found the cats strung up by their tails from our front gate, gutted and skinned and bleeding out, their heads chopped off. On our front wall someone had written in Afrikaans,
Colored people, apparently, were no more progressive than black people on the issue of cats.
I wasn’t exactly devastated about the cats. I don’t think we’d had them long enough for me to get attached; I don’t even remember their names. And cats are dicks for the most part. As much as I tried they never felt like real pets. They never showed me affection nor did they accept any of mine. Had the cats made more of an effort, I might have felt like I had lost something. But even as a kid, looking at these dead, mutilated animals, I was like, “Well, there you have it. Maybe if they’d been nicer, they could have avoided this.”
After the cats were killed, we took a break from pets for a while. Then we got dogs. Dogs are cool. Almost every black family I knew had a dog. No matter how poor you were, you had a dog. White people treat dogs like children or members of the family. Black people’s dogs are more for protection, a poor-man’s alarm system. You buy a dog and you keep it out in the yard. Black people name dogs by their traits. If it has stripes, you call it Tiger. If it’s vicious, you call it Danger. If it has spots, you call it Spotty. Given the finite number of traits a dog can have, pretty much everyone’s dogs have the same names; people just recycle them.
We’d never had dogs in Soweto. Then one day some lady at my mom’s work offered us two puppies. They weren’t planned puppies. This woman’s Maltese poodle had been impregnated by the bull terrier from next door, a strange mix. My mom said she’d take them both. She brought them home, and I was the happiest kid on earth.
My mom named them Fufi and Panther. Fufi, I don’t know where her name came from. Panther had a pink nose, so she was Pink Panther and eventually just Panther. They were two sisters who loved and hated each other. They would look out for each other, but they would also fight all the time. Like, blood fights. Biting. Clawing. It was a strange, gruesome relationship.
Panther was my mom’s dog; Fufi was mine. Fufi was beautiful. Clean lines, happy face. She looked like a perfect bull terrier, only skinnier because of the Maltese mixed in. Panther, who was more half-and-half, came out weird and scruffy-looking. Panther was smart. Fufi was dumb as shit. At least we always thought she was dumb as shit. Whenever we called them, Panther would come right away, but Fufi wouldn’t do anything. Panther would run back and get Fufi and then they’d both come. It turned out that Fufi was deaf. Years later Fufi died when a burglar was trying to break into our house. He pushed the gate over and it fell on her back and broke her spine. We took her to the vet and she had to be put down. After examining her, the vet came over and gave us the news.
“It must have been strange for your family living with a dog that was deaf,” he said.
“You didn’t know your dog was deaf?”
“No, we thought it was stupid.”
That’s when we realized that their whole lives the one dog had been telling the other dog what to do somehow. The smart, hearing one was helping the dumb, deaf one.
Fufi was the love of my life. Beautiful but stupid. I raised her. I potty-trained her. She slept in my bed. A dog is a great thing for a kid to have. It’s like a bicycle but with emotions.
Fufi could do all sorts of tricks. She could jump super high. I mean, Fufi could
. I could hold a piece of food out above my own head and she’d leap up and grab it like it was nothing. If YouTube had been around, Fufi would have been a star.
Fufi was a little rascal as well. During the day we kept the dogs in the backyard, which was enclosed by a wall at least five feet high. After a while, every day we’d come home and Fufi would be sitting outside the gate, waiting for us. We were always confused. Was someone opening the gate? What was going on? It never occurred to us that she could actually scale a five-foot wall, but that was exactly what was happening. Every morning, Fufi would wait for us to leave, jump over the wall, and go roaming around the neighborhood.
I caught her one day when I was home for the school holidays. My mom had left for work and I was in the living room. Fufi didn’t know I was there; she thought I was gone because the car was gone. I heard Panther barking in the backyard, looked out, and there was Fufi, scaling the wall. She’d jumped, scampered up the last couple of feet, and then she was gone.
I couldn’t believe this was happening. I ran out front, grabbed my bicycle, and followed her to see where she was going. She went a long way, many streets over, to another part of the neighborhood. Then she went up to this other house and jumped over their wall and into their backyard. What the hell was she doing? I went up to the gate and rang the doorbell. This colored kid answered.
“May I help you?” he said.
“Yeah. My dog is in your yard.”
“My dog. She’s in your yard.”
Fufi walked up and stood between us.
“Fufi, come!” I said. “Let’s go!”
This kid looked at Fufi and called her by some other stupid name, Spotty or some bullshit like that.
“Spotty, go back inside the house.”
“Whoa, whoa,” I said. “Spotty? That’s Fufi!”
“No, that’s my dog, Spotty.”
“No, that’s Fufi, my friend.”
“No, this is Spotty.”
“How could this be Spotty? She doesn’t even have spots. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“This is Spotty!”
Of course, since Fufi was deaf she didn’t respond to “Spotty” or “Fufi.” She just stood there. I started cursing the kid out.
“Give me back my dog!”
“I don’t know who you are,” he said, “but you better get out of here.”
Then he went into the house and got his mom and she came out.
“What do you want?” she said.
“That’s my dog!”
“This is our dog. Go away.”
I started crying. “Why are you stealing my dog?!” I turned to Fufi and begged her. “Fufi, why are you doing this to me?! Why, Fufi?! Why?!” I called to her. I begged her to come. Fufi was deaf to my pleas. And everything else.
I jumped onto my bike and raced home, tears running down my face. I loved Fufi so much. To see her with another boy, acting like she didn’t know me, after I raised her, after all the nights we spent together. I was heartbroken.
That evening Fufi didn’t come home. Because the other family thought I was coming to steal their dog, they had decided to lock her inside, so she couldn’t make it back the way she normally did to wait for us outside the fence. My mom got home from work. I was in tears. I told her Fufi had been kidnapped. We went back to the house. My mom rang the bell and confronted the mom.
“Look, this is our dog.”
This lady lied to my mom’s face. “This is not your dog. We bought this dog.”
“You didn’t buy the dog. It’s our dog.”
They went back and forth. This woman wasn’t budging, so we went home to get evidence: pictures of us with the dogs, certificates from the vet. I was crying the whole time, and my mom was losing her patience with me. “Stop crying! We’ll get the dog! Calm down!”
We gathered up our documentation and went back to the house. This time we brought Panther with us, as part of the proof. My mom showed this lady the pictures and the information from the vet. She still wouldn’t give us Fufi. My mom threatened to call the police. It turned into a whole thing. Finally my mom said, “Okay, I’ll give you a hundred rand.”
“Fine,” the lady said.
My mom gave her some money and she brought Fufi out. The other kid, who thought Fufi was Spotty, had to watch his mother sell the dog he thought was his. Now he started crying. “Spotty! No! Mom, you can’t sell Spotty!” I didn’t care. I just wanted Fufi back.
Once Fufi saw Panther she came right away. The dogs left with us and we walked. I sobbed the whole way home, still heartbroken. My mom had no time for my whining.
“Why are you crying?!”
“Because Fufi loves another boy.”
“So? Why would that hurt you? It didn’t cost you anything. Fufi’s here. She still loves you. She’s still your dog. So get over it.”
Fufi was my first heartbreak. No one has ever betrayed me more than Fufi. It was a valuable lesson to me. The hard thing was understanding that Fufi wasn’t cheating on me with another boy. She was merely living her life to the fullest. Until I knew that she was going out on her own during the day, her other relationship hadn’t affected me at all. Fufi had no malicious intent.
I believed that Fufi was
dog, but of course that wasn’t true. Fufi was
dog. I was
boy. We got along well. She happened to live in my house. That experience shaped what I’ve felt about relationships for the rest of my life: You do not own the thing that you love. I was lucky to learn that lesson at such a young age. I have so many friends who still, as adults, wrestle with feelings of betrayal. They’ll come to me angry and crying and talking about how they’ve been cheated on and lied to, and I feel for them. I understand what they’re going through. I sit with them and buy them a drink and I say, “Friend, let me tell you the story of Fufi.”