I am listening to Shigeru’s In the mood for love when it starts drizzling. The petrichor emanating, blending with the music, tows me towards my childhood.
In the abandoned garden. The derelict Victorian mansion. The ornate wrought-iron gate. Frangipanis and bougainvillea. The cross.
I grew up on a farmhouse, like Heidi, but with parents and siblings. Dogs, cows, a parrot, fish in a tank, swing on trees, all kept us busy. I was seven, the youngest of three sisters.
That day, I had accompanied my sisters on their evening shenanigans. Their usual spots were abandoned farmhouses and holiday homes where stray bitches (an innocent word back then!) lay around, holed up in Hume pipes and bushes, with their newborns.
As my sisters took stealth steps, an otherwise to their boisterous selves, I spotted a puppy. It was clearly unattended for sometime. We carried it around the compound but no ‘motherlike’ figure appeared, to claim her baby. Soon its faint grunts turned into wails. We brought the prize home and narrated the pup’s story to Maa. Though suspicious, she let us be and told us to feed the pup.
Tony, our Alsatian dog, lingered around, showing his displeasure first but soon resigning to his fate.
Our helter- skelter dash began. A cardboard shoe box for a kennel. Milk and biscuit. Soft cloth rag as bed sheet.
And name? We couldn’t call it ‘pup’.
I frantically called Maa when our efforts to feed the pup failed.
“Maa, Jackie is not eating.”
My sisters gave an approving nod to the name.
Maa enlightened us that the pup was hardly a week old, too small to eat on its own. Jackie’s eyes were like pink sealed bags. Maa soaked a cotton ball in milk and squeezed drop after drop into Jackie’s mouth. Soon the wailing stopped, and Jackie slept.
We kept the lid of the shoe- box ajar for ventilation and went to bed, exhausted. I swelled with pride, name and ventilation idea were mine. We agreed that Jackie was too young to jump out of the box and without eyes where could he go.
Even when hunted!
Next morning, we found Jackie motionless in box. His mouth and yet-to-open eyes had scratch marks, skin was peeled off around the nostrils. I howled, burying my face in maa’s bosom. I was guilty. My sisters were equally shattered. Maa tried to console us; a cat might have sneaked in, following the smell….
Jackie’s face flashed in front of my eyes, mutilated by marks of paws and teeth.
While we bore with our first heartbreaks, Jackie had left before he could see the world. I had lost a friend before I could seal our friendship.
When I came back to my senses, my sisters were packing the shoe box with Jackie inside, as per Maa’s instructions. We chose the same place where we had found Jackie. I held the box to my heaving chest while they dug a deep pit with a shovel, removing the loose soil with hands. We lowered Jackie’s box in the grave and placed few stones on the lid. No one could harm Jackie again. Frangipanis and bougainvilleas were laid on the tomb and I wrote his name with my finger. A cross was drawn next to the name.
They did not correct the spelling. We came back home, with tear trailed cheeks, nails filled with soil.
My sisters grew up fine, doting on Tony and other pets that followed. I chose a defence mechanism, instead.
The buried memories are back. I need to clear my head. A walk, may be.
As I enter the elevator, my neighbour greets me. I choose a corner farthest from her Beagle. I do not let any dog snuggle upto me, I never lifted up another pup.
I live with Jackie’s paw print in my heart.