(Further to Luna’s Story)
At the end of long nights birds chirped and squawked, squirrels chattered their heads out. The wind rose and fell and the tall trees whispered. Footsteps swelled and footsteps receded. Footsteps stopped and guffawed and came to peep inside our home. Footsteps cackled.
‘A new family!’
‘A new dog family.’
‘They are black!’
‘One is brown.’
‘One is spotted.’
‘Like a leopard.’
‘They are four.’
‘They were five.’
What’s dying, Bruno quizzed Mama that day. He seemed to have understood it after she kissed his mouth. Later when we lay huddled snout to snout sharing our breaths, we knew the living walked the earth and the dead rode the air. Except the birds and moths who could fly with their bodies, and the bad things who lived under the earth.
Beyond the boulders that held our home together was a wall as tall as trees. It went a long way both to the left and right. At the far edge to right was the big-leafed tree. It was home to bats who hung upside down and dropped guano on little pups to kill them. The left edge of the wall met with the path from south where the pet lay buried. Further down the fork was a water spout where Leia was bathed vigorously after she was thrown away by the crooks who had adopted her for a few days.
At the base of the wall were the bowls that the kind one whom I call Kin had placed for Mama. When he would appear with dog-food and milk for her at daybreak, she would yelp with joy and rush to fill herself so that she could keep being Mama. That was the best food and water she ever had she told us, even though some human or other would turn up to pour stuff in the bowls off and on. Perhaps many humans found it fashionable to be kind to stray dogs temporarily. Or else they were doing it to spite our Kin. Because it fizzled out far too quickly.
One day when Kin turned up and Bruno was still a tiny pup even though he was the plumpest of us all, he squealed and set out to meet Kin on his four shaky legs. But he faltered and fell with a whimper before he could reach even halfway. Kin whistled with his lips, because he whistles often when he sees a dog, and carried him away hugging tightly. My heart skipped a beat as they walked past the wall and stepped under the tree haunted by bats. But nothing dropped on them from above. When he brought him back after a while, Bruno’s mouth had this delicious smell that Mama said was cheese. Next time the same thing happened, Bruno’s mouth smelled of eggs. Bella and Leia also tried to latch on to Kin but without much success. And I was the tiniest of them all, so he seemed to look through me. He did caress and pat all of us however. Mama said Kin was going to make Bruno a pet after all.
Soon, the four of us could amble to the wall which it turned out was the back of the house in which Kin and his family lived. Over time, we hobbled further than the fearsome big-leafed tree. We discovered the velvety haven of grass which begged us to chase each other and roll about as long as the sun shone in the sky. It was such fun scuffling and snapping at the ears and tails even though I was the one who bit the dust each time. We found the path to the staircase too with slippery black slabs that turned twice to reach a pair of doors. The one that smelled sweet was Kin’s home without a doubt.
Times came when Mama would get restless and be gone for hours. When she returned her snout would stink worse than poo. I knew she was eating carcass, because she had brought a slice for us one time and Bruno had puked. The frostbitten nights made us shiver and go numb while the wind went hoo hoo in the corners of our home. Scared and cold, we ran for the doors atop the stairs even though they remained bolted. Then we found there were similar staircases and doors next to Kin’s. Doors that smelled sour or tangy. And doors that smelled bitter and wonky. Bereft of Mama, we managed to beat the winter in those nooks somehow, but our chilled limbs failed to take us back to the bushes to answer the calls of nature, and we had to use the steps instead.
It happened when Kin had gone for longer than usual. We heard shrill cries the moment we stepped into the green grass with benches that day. A pot-bellied figure stood in the middle of many humans, flinging her arm in the air as she yelled. Fascinated by it all, poor Bruno ran to her feet and received a vehement kick on his rump. He was hit so hard he flipped in the air a couple of times before he landed with a thud. We scampered for our poor bums and hid below our dome with Mama. The clamour of the vile gathering kept wafting towards us. It petered out at last with the sound of humans clapping. The rambling of footsteps rose in tempo as the mob approached us. Some brute pulled away the cardboard top of our home and flung it across the bushes and all that was left was the burrow Daddy dog had helped Mama dig. It was like ten days had dawned at the same time.
The next thing I remember was watching a big ball of a face. It had scariest eyes I’d ever seen. The face leaned in and let out a blood-curdling chortle, and Mama bolted out in fear. My heart froze under my ribs and my little brain sank in a foam of night. When I came around, I found myself slumped on the damp flowerbed to the south. Mama was back and Bella and Leia lay with their faces in their paws. Bruno the brave pup had barked his lungs out and was now short of breath. Mama had a mournful look on her face. Only cats get eyes like that, she said. And when humans get them, they be friends with ghouls and ghosts, and drifting spirits without a home of skin and bones.
As planned by the cat-eyed face and the human-witch of the pack, a bunch of louts appeared at noon and started looking for Bruno who was hidden away by Kin’s family. Led by Bella, I slipped under a drain. They grabbed Leia in the end and drove away on a two-wheeled bike. When he returned from his long trip, Kin put Bruno in his car and took him to a dog clinic because he had stopped eating altogether. Bruno was pricked with needles in his rears and given some pills to swallow, but more was to follow.
Leia was returned by her kidnappers the following day. She seemed to have come through a heap of pain and filth. Kin got worked up and took her to the water spout and scrubbed her clean. She was the next to be taken to the dog clinic where she pooed a mugful of rust coloured blood on the floor. The human cleaning the floor there shrieked in horror. There are two cursed diseases that can come to claim a dog. One is called the Rabies and the other is called Parvo. Leia the Leopard was struck with the latter and her bowels had melted to a slush.
Kin built a new dog-home in the faraway bed of plants and lodged us back in. But all night long, Leia kept looking out the door into the void that only she could see. Mama wasn’t happy, it is a dead dog that looks into future, or the end of a loved one at hand. Leia was taken to the hospital again for the drips to let some liquid into her veins. But her condition worsened and she was barely able to stand on her legs after a while. Kin brought us some bread smeared with butter and I chomped hungrily. But Leia had clamped her mouth shut and Bella too had stopped eating. Bruno had moved to a patch of herbs and was brooding at a wildflower. Mama lay deflated at a distance, away from the pack. That is when Kin called a vet through that thing he can press between his ear and mouth. I heard the word Emergency spoken.
He came from a faraway place by the time the sun sets in the edge of the sky. We had returned to the new home and were asleep in a huddle when I heard the footsteps approaching. I heard the familiar voice of Kin along with another’s. It’s a game where the virus has ninety-nine points and we have just one, the new voice said. But try we must, fight we must. They stopped at the door and a sharp beam of light hit us. The vet sat on his haunches and had a careful look. One of them has died too, he pronounced.
Died? The word struck me like a back-pawed whack. If only Leia was not taken away from us and returned with the Curse!
The brown one has died, I heard the vet say it again. What! The brown one? Bruno? He must be crazy, this man who smelled of medicines.
Are you sure? Please check again. I heard Kin say it twice. The vet had deftly worn a rubber glove in his hand and picked our brown one from the heap and laid it aside. His eyes were open, and so was his mouth. A fat thread of saliva hung from within his teeth. I heard the vet open his bags and tear open syringes, and all of us received two shots each except Bruno, who wouldn’t need a shot ever after that.
The gaunt-faced janitor of the human society was summoned. He is drunk, he is drunk, I heard someone whine. Bruno had dried up like a teddy, so he put him on his palm like a toy and moved to the place where the old pet lay buried. He dug a hole a yard away with a hoe. Kin’s family had brought a packet of salt so that Bruno could jell with the elements in his final sleep. They put a small boulder on the top when the burial was done. Along with Kin and humans, Mama too watched all this happen, and she let them do it the human way.
In the dead of the night when the moon played hide and seek with darkest clouds, we heard a heart-stopping wail that seemed to be coming from the farthest end of the campus. There was no mistaking the howling of Mama, but there was no mistaking the footsteps of Kin either, gingerly finding a way towards us. He sat poring over our door in the semi-darkness, his eyes searching for a shape not there.
A dog’s soul is a delicate thing like a dewdrop. It will be a loving soul that can look at it and have a glimpse of all that is stored, and have its feelings reflected. And a purer soul can touch it like a ray. One that is ruthless will sooner lose it to the dust. Just before he turned and walked away, my soul connected to Kin’s for the briefest of moments. It was wet with a pain whose colour was brown. I heard it crooning a poem before the connection snapped abruptly.
I will lend to you for a while,
a pup, God said,
For you to love him while he lives
and mourn for him when he’s dead….
(Continued in In Which Leia Doesn’t Eat the Ice Cream)
[Disclaimer: Incidents in this story could have really happened. However, it being a work of fiction, resemblances to persons, human, canine or feline, living or otherworldly, as also that of places, are purely coincidental.]