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​Cat Got Your Tenancy

Pictures courtesy Mark Lyndersay
Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is Ayanna Leonard
and it took three months for me to find a pet-friendly apartment.

I’ve lived in the West from age 12 onwards. So I say I come from the West although I was born in South and my formative years were in St Anns.
I come from a small family, just my mom, Josanne Leonard (the journalist), me and my brother, Sebastian. I have a small family myself. Just me and my daughter Jayyiidah-Rae. Jayyiidah is Arabic and Rae is because she’s a ray of light. It’s taken a while to get there but we have a remarkable understanding of one another.
From very young, I had a strange way of seeing the world. I’ve always felt like an adult.
It wasn’t difficult, growing up with a mother with a public profile. I thought my mom was the most amazing thing. I saw her like a creature: enigmatic. I saw how rooms lit up when she walked in. I admired a lot about how she navigated the world.

Baby school was St Bernadette’s in St Anns. We lived in Coblentz House, the old plantation house converted into apartments. Gorgeous! Marble! Beautiful! I explored that magical space as a child alone. We lived there from when I was four up to Common Entrance. David Rudder’s line from Madness always come to mind: she went to Holy Name!
Holy Name Convent was a social experiment for me. I wasn’t a school person. At all. School society was complex – but, what I think I figured out [was] I got into every group. I thrived in school.
My mom went to London to work in the High Commission so, at 13, I left Holy Name and went to London. I was so ahead, academically, they pushed me up to do GCSE. We came back to Trinidad in ’91and they pushed me back to form three and I had to choose subjects all over again! All my friends I left were now a year ahead of me. School was just, like, ugh.
I’m now discovering I was neurodivergent [a non-medical term describing people whose brains develop or work differently]. I’m now discovering, in my 40s, why things were different for me in my teens and 20s. And why I had to learn the way I did.
I was raised Roman Catholic but not in my home, in school. Mom grew up Presbyterian.
Asked if I believe in God, I say I believe in Source, an ultimate source. I believe God is a word assigned to what might be. I’d never pray to God for good weather for the cricket. I’d quicker speak directly to the elements, to the moon. I choose to not wrap my head around mankind’s necessity to label and affix deliverance through this thing they need to believe in.

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersaySometimes I’m clear that I feel the suffering of the world. I was in an acupuncture session a time, because I was experiencing great pain in my body and I know pain-body usually stems from some sort of emotional trauma, something honed in or blocked out, residing in me, manifesting now in pain-body. I have faced sickness where I really believed I was dying. The doctors were saying, “You need to be admitted to hospital and put on this medication intravenously NOW!” I breathed through the pain. And I remember being in the moment, my mother gasping at the fact that I don’t want to listen to this doctor, and I told the doctor, “This is not what you think it is. I know you’re seeing readings and levels [on machines] but this is my pain-body and I can alchemise this.”

I believe WE are in charge. We have godlike abilities in the way we can manifest things and approach our own healing. If BC Pires asks if I mean God is Love, I say I am Love. You are Love. We are all pure manifestations of Love. Because, guess what, it’s a polarity. It has to exist.
I don’t like labels.
My mom was a deejay so I grew up in Radio Trinidad. And my daughter is a deejay. The talent didn’t skip a generation: I am a deejay. Just for the home crowd. Music is the expression that best gets everything.
My journey is not that long. All of my tattoos have come in the last two to three years. I’ve always had a fear of needles. My daughter got tatted before me. I did piercings though. I had, like, 12. The act of tatting, piercings, all these things, are deliverances for me. Sometimes it’s to mark an ego death, sometimes it’s to mark a transition.
My journey began with something I wrote – I write privately, not for consumption – and I wrote, “Halfway to the Source, halfway back from Desire” and I felt that was representative of where I was and where I am going – not that I put a measurement on it. Jayyidah loved it so much, she asked if she could have it tattooed. Hear me: you want to put that foolishness on your body? She said, “It’s not foolishness! I completely get it and I want to tat it!” And I was, like, “Maybe I should tat it, too!” And we were like, “Wow, let’s get my first tat with you!” And we went and got it done.
I had a fear of cats when I was a child through all the Trinidad crap I had learned: Cats are evil, cats are voodoo, a cat is the Devil animal, cats are for witches. Trinidadians would chase cats down to throw hot water on them.
I’ve lived with cats since Jayyidah was 13 years old. She wanted a pet animal all our tenancy lives – we’ve rented forever! But, everywhere we lived, there was never an allowance for animals. I was evicted from one apartment because of my cats.
My cats Yoko, who is my heart, and Trix, who is full of tricks, are part of our family. Jayyidah gave all our cats their names. Trix came to us a week after our first cat, Misaki, passed. Yoko is my everything. I’ve got Yoko tatted from a sacred geometric shape out of my belly button, circling my womb and up a stairwell to her pineal gland. Our connection is undeniable. I’m grateful she found me and helped me find me also. She’s the most beautiful soul I’ve ever met in my life.
I’ve learned so much about life and living from my cats. They’re such independent creatures. I love dogs but it’s hard to go back to a slobberer. Cats come to you when they are ready for affection. They can be aloof. They can be savage. If you look at them hunt you see their cleverness in how they approach a kill.
I’ve had Yoko and Trix for six years when I was first blessed to find a cat-friendly apartment compound. Since then, I’ve had neighbours threaten to poison my cats. You see some shining Trini behaviour when you see how people deal with animals.
I asked about my apartment at the beginning of November and the landlord said no pets. So I lived in three different spaces over the next four months. But I have a way that, if I have my mind set on something, I feel I can make it work. I kept asking the agent to keep calling the landlord. I felt that, if he could meet me, it would change everything.
We’re happy in the apartment and I’m settling into the settled feeling. But you don’t know if something can pop up where somebody has an issue.
The best thing about having cats is having to learn how to share the space with them. I belong to them. They have a unique way of navigating relationships. They never fail to let me know the order and balance of things.
Being homeless has brought me to a new level of understanding that you can measure the compassion of a society by how it views animals and the elderly. I think about loneliness and companionship. About how much an animal brings to the quality of life. About people not having the companionship of a pet because some fucking board says no pets allowed. I’ve wanted to curse out a lot of people.
I hope we’ll be here for a while. Compound living in Trinidad is a big, big issue. I find it amazing, the tolerance or lack of, for life on the whole: that someone can say, “No children, no pets!” In Canada, they’re now putting legislation into place saying you can’t refuse tenants because they have children or pets. You can have a business acumen that is inclusive.
I’d like to see Trinis really exercise some of this “sweet Trininess” they claim to own. God is a Trini and all that good stuff? Let’s see it translate to life on the whole. The environment. The way you go to beaches and litter. All of this is tied into the same mentality.
A Trini is a spirited individual. Sometimes hiding in the shadows of their own truth.
Trinidad and Tobago to me is where I exhale. It’s the space that allows me to exhale. It’s a very geographical, metaphysical, spiritual understanding of the space. It’s not about the people but the magic of the beautiful space.