The major purpose of these short stories is to offer children of primary school age, events which they can identify with, or with which they can spur their imagination to soar.
- The house that waited
- The squelched galoshes
- A dog’s life
- The old man on the plane
- The prim prudish parson
- The chamber of horrors
- The clock that would not tick
- The gypsy’s and the Graveyard
- The Hawk Nosed Bull
- The Garrulous Grandmother
THE HOUSE THAT WAITED
The market road stretched like the underbelly of a silver snake. Except that it looked like a hammocky kind, dipping in the middle, as if scooped out as an afterthought. This was the main street, the hub, the gossip place where social politics were cemented and broken, and even lives were torn and mended. It was nothing much to look at. It seemed as if each generation added a piece of topping to a cake gone mouldy, and weighed with age. An outlet here, a sign there, and over-painted shopfronts. What lay within the walls, mildewed with age and whisperings, would never be known. But it was a market place that the inhabitants of the village, numbering hardly three hundred families were comfortable with. They grouped together like children at the foot of a grandmother, nodding in her wobbly rocking chair, cheery faced and wrinkled, telling them stories of bygone days.
But it was not about the bygone days that the gossipers talked about this Monday morning. It was real news, fresh and like a dairy loaf straight from the oven smelling of a yeasty flavour, sprinkled with powdered flour.
It was old Fredrick who brought the breathless news. Fredrick had a memory as short as the blacksmith’s broken thumb. The blacksmith chanced to do so accidently. He had meant to break the steel rod he was holding, but instead hit his thumb. After that he boasted how it was nothing, just a cut, hiding his thumbless hand behind his back. Fredrick’s tongue and mouth was as long and as wide as the starfish that lay on the edge of the beach. It hung loosely and whenever there was a relishy bit of news to say, he almost delivered in tiny droplets of spit at the corners of his mouth, like the ocean when it lapped away the edge of the beach with quiet murmurings.
“I’ve said my piece… there’s nothing more,” he whistled through his false teeth, as if he had made up his mind to carefully stitch his lips into little dots and dashes. He was leaning over the groaning counter of Mr Sadden shop, the only respectable shop on market street, that is to say, it had stores and stores of stuff. If one trodded far enough into the interior of the higgedly-piggedly, dusty boxes wedged far away in nooks and corners, one might find old rusted misshapen cans, labelled corned beef 1945, a remnant of the war, and an odd relic at that. Mr Sadden was the butcher, the baker and the candle-stick maker of the village, all rolled in one. He had one scrawny-pimpled youth to scurry back and forth like a rat fetching this and that, and often the wrong one. Only Mr Sadden knew what was where, even down to the last terrified rat that lay in the bowels of the cellar, waiting for Mr Sadden to snore all through the rafters in a whoosh and a wharf. This made his community of rats all the more healthy, for then they ran around merrily picking up scraps of bread and cheese and sundry such items.
At this moment of conspiracy, even they were sitting up on their haunches, wide eyed with ears perked up, listening for the snorts that usually accompanied Mr Sadden’s remarks. “Yes, yes” (snort), “I get your meaning but Fredrick you surely don’t mean that HE”(again a conspiratoral snort), “that He would leave the little one alone in that godforsaken place, alone with a bunch of just servants and just vanish away like that to Tim Tim what’s that ..” Mr Sadden was also, hard of hearing, getting on in years, and being a widower, inclined to talk with himself. He usually shaped his long bulbuous ear like a conch and bent towards the speaker.
“Timbucktoo… I said that there’s nothing more,” asserted Fredrick again, his stitched-up lips looking a horrible gashed grimace in his podgy face over a heaving chest and a ponderous belly which he kept hitching over the counter, and none too successfully.
Fredrick was not a gossiper, nor Mr Sadden a gossip listener. It just so happened that this was a lazy afternoon. Fredrick was sucking his moustache over the traces of a beer, while Mr Sadden polished his glasses. There were no customers, except the flies on the window looking in at the pastries in their glass cases with jam running down the sides, as if the maker had forgotten to stop their rills. The flies swished their whiskers against the glass, looked hungrily for places where they could get in, set down their fat haunches and gulped down the smearings. But here were Fredrick and Mr Sadden with nothing much to talk about, since nothing much happened in the village, except the same old wake up do-your-chores nod to the neighbours, saying nasty things behind the backs and promptly forgetting about them, waiting for another routine in the next day. Fredrick and Mr Sadden had said what they said, because there was nothing else to say.
Now if they were women, no doubt they would have fluttered their eyes, gaped up in horror as if discovering the fat flies against the windows, which they would irrationally assume were hordes ready for the invasion. Like the irrational flies they would have thrown up their hands and use indignant tones of disbelief. But not being women, the comments of the two men were laconic and dry bone, wafted away like dust in the air. But, there was a woman. It was Mrs Gleason, whose ears were sharper than the contingent of weasels in the basement. She picked up the wafted dust-laden tones, as she stood at the meshed door, wondering whether to go in to pick up the yard of ribbon her granddaughter wanted, or put it off. But the unusualness of the word “Timbucktoo”dragged her in like a rabbit in a snare.
“Well, I do say, you two look as if you’ve found treasure island. What are you cronies up to?” Mr Sadden looked at her with a long suffering air. He thought “…the pest again… she snarls up stories more complicated than Agatha Christie’s Mrs Marple”. But suddenly it seemed as if a dam burst out of Fredrick’s mouth. Th flood gates opened. For some unknown reason, he felt that here was a distributor who would broadcast his message more aptly than he could, embellish it, perhaps. It was almost with relief that the words gushed out, to punctuations of “Oh my!” “Oh dear Heavens!”, “Oh Jesus! What next will He do!”. The He was said in hushed tones, as if He was a vampire, waiting with gnashing teeth and a dark cloak swung up devilishly on the shoulder, to swoop down on all three of them. Mrs Gleason shuddered at the thought.
Who was this “He”? “He” was an ordinary human being who lost his wife two years ago, and in grief could not bear to live in the tumbled-down house inherited from his ancestors. He escaped from it at every opportune moment, drowning his sorrows in the heightened excitement of shooting wild game in the depths of Africa, consoling himself that his daughter was well cared for by a doting grandmother and her retinue of servants. But He could not be forgiven by the staid community in which He lived, in the house on the hill. The house looked sad and bedraggled as if it had weeped in heavy rain, day after day, till it could weep no more. Inside it was sadder still. The servants moved around like automatic puppets with expressionless faces. The only times when there was a break in their rigid faces was when they attended to the little fairy-like elfin girl who hardly seemed to walk around the place. She flitted in and out in a charming hesitant way. Sometimes, she would sit on the window looking out into the far away depths of the grassy mounds of the meadows, as if unearthing some secret thought.
The elfin girl had a soft dream-like expression in her hazel brown eyes which gleamed with twinkling lights when she heard a bird sing, a stream gurgle, a marsh bird shrill with that empy hollow sound of a faraway never, never land. Into these secret corners of her life, she allowed a brief smile now and again. The servants, who loved the little elfin girl, secretly connived to give her what she wanted, against the strict orders of the terrifying grandmother. But her likes were peculiar. Girls her age would have liked chocolate and chips. But the elfin girl wanted soft furry things, a rabbit to hold, a little lamb to rub against her cheeks, a little new-born chick, always something little and alive. Her face would light up with the twinkles. The servants would bring these little ones from the farmyard and let her play with them awhile. She was never allowed to be out alone. There was always a maid, or a trusted gardener, who would accompany her to see that she came to no harm. Once or twice a week she would accompany her grandmother, sitting prim and proper in the horse-drawn carriage, to the shopping area, where the grandmother would do her usual errands.
The sight of the little elfin girl and her rather stern and noble looking grandmother, passing by majestically in the liveried coach, never seemed to astonish the villagers. They really looked forward to the days, when the handsome carriage would drive down the main street. To them, the grandmother was the epitome of their lost ancestory. She relived for them the past as she swept by regally in the carriage, which clattered along with the smooth silky cars which purred disdainfully by the old polished carriage on top of which sat a groom all in his old shined up livery. No one dared question her. It was always “yes madame, no madame”, as if she were regality personified. Her oddity was necessary in a world swept away by blaring beeps, quick flashing lights, movie halls, punch and soda and milky half clad women. She represented a window that allowed the older people look with nostalgia, at the curtain of mystery that shrouded her aloof imperious expression. Nobody could guess that this was a stubborness, which kept her holding the past with hands, a past where once she was a happy mother of a happy son, who was also a doting husband. That, with her smile, was swept away, and she was left holding a young wisp of a child, with occasional glimpses of a haggard taciturn son who hardly spoke, except a glum yes and no.
It was summer when He, the father of the elfin girl left on his long sojourn into the wilds of Africa. Except for the raggedy corner-bent post cards now and again, which seemed to travel all over the world, before it reached the house on the hill, there was little to relieve the gloom. The days became longer. Autumn had come and gone. The leaves all said their goodbyes, fallen like so many gold pennies on the inward curling grass. The wind from the moors gnashed and groaned wildly and eddyingly. The eflin girl still sat, curled up on the bay window cushion, looking… looking with her inward eyes. The grandmother took to sitting before the fire in the parlour, knitting endlessly, with the warm glow on her withered cheeks.
People came and went out of Sadden’s shop. There was not much to talk of these days. Except for an occasional long time customer and the ever pokey Mrs Gleason who had nothing better to do, there was very little to and fro. Whatever tourists had visited the beautiful quaint little village, on their way to and fro some high flying resort, had disappeared, as they rode off into the distance. This chagrined the villagers, how could anybody not recognise them? And so they clung to the grandmother’s regality. There was always the conspiratorial whisper and the bobbing heads. “Has HE written… tut tut.. the poor child will wither away.. but then the grandmother holds all under her sway and control, rather like a prime minister in waiting…she’s a great one, she is”, and so it went, the revered gossip.
The post office was a favourite haunt of Mrs Gleason and Fredrick who always dodged each other. If they met by accident, on their parallel ways to the post office, they would pretend they had myopia and look the other way in great earnestness. Mr Bean who was the postmaster in turn had a great time, regaling his rather dowdy wife who waited for his tidbits in the evening, very much like the gossip mongers.The latter visited the post office to find out, as if by accident, who was where, and who had written what, and how things were going with whom, and who was on good terms with whom, and who was not. Mrs Bean’s rather owlish eyes beamed behind her polished glasses and her rosy cheeks flushed with pride that Mr Bean was the carrier of all this secretive information, which nobody knew altogether, but picked up, whenever he choose to allow them access, by word of mouth. His mouth bestowed largesse on whom he fancied was the right target. And so, some knew much of little and others knew little of much. It was a real merry-go-round, as the grapewine, which curved and curled its tendrils all over the innocent looking cottages, dipping into one and then another, as the whim and fancy of Mr Bean’s choice.
Thus, it chanced that, instead of the usual ear-bitten post card that came infrequently, He had suddenly sent a rather heavy mysterious looking envelope with a huge sheaf of papers inside. Whoever chanced to be around Mr Bean heard of this: “He has not written his usual post card, it is a thick wad of a letter”. One said, “I dare say it’s his will… it has his writing on it.. and so he must still be living somewhere in the wild”, and in a soft aside “the poor child ..tut. .tut, God forbid she should become an orphan” Another said, “Maybe he’s getting married again and has written a long explanation to his mother”. Another said, “He’s probably not planning to come back at all”, and so on. All the while, Mr Bean gingerly turned it upside down and sideways against the light, feeling it like a lost treasure. The surreptitious contents were irresistible. But no one in the village exceeded the bounds. They could speculate, hypothesise, assume, give their hunches, but no one pilfered anything, not even from Mr Saddens grocery store with the wide open door, matching his wide open mouth when he snored through the sheer boredom of waiting for a customer.
Therefore, in Mr Bean’s office no one dared to try to read words through the envelope or, worse still, even suspected that Mr Bean would steam open the letter to get a brief look at the contents. Although Mr Bean was sorely tempted to do so, since this was an unprecedented piece of communication, he quickly said a prayer and tuned his mind aside. Not even to his dowdy Mrs Bean did he whisper how sorely he was tempted. It was an unwritten law among all in the village to talk about the letters that appeared at Mr. Bean’s post office, stamped with all kinds of overseas stamps, which were no doubt from the owner of the house that waited for his appearance. The grandmother had made it a rule that once every week when she went for her constitutional drive, she herself would fetch the letters. This way she would give the villagers the opportunity of seeing her again and again, being courteously held by the hand by the groom, while she stepped down as gracefully as her stiffened bones would allow her. She would sweep the street with her eyes, up and down, and then with a tolerant sigh sweep into the post office to be greeted with humble servitude by Mr Bean, and be just as humbly handed her mail. Not that there was much, but even the handing of bills and shopping notices was enough of a ceremonious charade that brought a certain amount of satisfaction to both parties, the served and the server.
The grandmother entered the post office. There was a hushed silence. Mr Bean coughed nervously. The other customers who stood around out of sheer curiosity, watched out of the corner of their eyes, for the effect that the laden envelope would have on the grandmother. They huddled instinctively in a corner. They pretended and yet could not pretend. Mr Bean made profuse gestures with his hands in the air, as he laid the packet on the counter. Then as if he had second thoughts, he busied himself, straightening the oblong object this way and that, and with another nervous cough, stepped aside. The grandmother picked up the package, slipped the rubber band off, and ruffed through. Her hand stopped on the laden envelope, and trembled ever so slightly, as it stopped at the familiar writing. She let out a heavily repressed murmurous sigh. The huddle echoed the sigh feebly. They felt with her. They did not wish ill-luck on her. They could not bear to see her suffer in silence, more than she had had over the last four years of her son’s mysterious disappearances and reappearances. Her well-being was an epitome of their well-being. The grandmother moved aside with leaden feet, and stood stock still. The others echoed her stillness.
Then as if with a supreme effort, she looked around glazed. The others hurriedly looked away. They pretended earnest gossip, as if their very lives depended upon the outcomes. “No”, said the grandmother to herself. It would be unseemly if she hurriedly ripped the envelope and poured over the contents. The others were around. The others might watch her reaction. The others would talk. She had borne enough over the last four years watching her son grieve, watching her son turn away from his daughter, as if she were responsible for the wife’s death, turning away from her his own mother as if to grieve openly, open the wound still further. Her son was now more out of the village than in. She resumed her regality, as if it were a cloak she had shrugged off temporarily. She walked slowly back to the carriage, like a condemned convict to the beckoning gallows, looking neither way, her footsteps reluctant but yet ongoing.
In the carriage, there was no containment. The envelope was off in a trice. The shaking fingers held the pages anyhow, the dancing eyes went up and down the words in a disjointed way looking for negative words… “No, I cannot come, sorry, will not be able… never… nothing… no use… no way”, words of despondency to which she had been used to for so long. But there were none. She sighed again, only this time it was a sigh of release. Then she slowly straightened out the pages and willed herself to read the lines measuredly. As she read her eyes filled with unshed tears of joy… there were tremulous words of endearment… there were gestures of disbelief. The words danced. “I met a lonely man like myself… His story was so like mine… He was there in the wilderness, now, forever, wanted to be locked away in a silent prison. Had disassociated himself from his son whose mother died at child birth. Never knew his son… avoided him… and now his son was also gone without him knowing the joy of having a child. I realise now, how much I have missed and will miss…, cannot run away from things making myself more miserable… should get to know her and enjoy her if only for HER sake. I realise what a foolish thing I have done, shutting myself within… Coming back … tell the little one… shall be there as soon as I can get a ship booking…” The pages fluttered to the floor and tears of bottled up joy coursed through the rills of the lined face.
The next day all was hubbub and excitement. The word spread, from the servants to the farm birds. “Did you hear, did you hear the master is coming back for good”. Supressed excitement in the gables and chimneys, that carried to the village on fleety wings. The grape vine worked double time. Wreathed smiles, glad glances, open talking, no more gossip.
Fredrick rubbed his long nose and said to Mr Sadden, “you see the story I began the other day does have an ending. He is coming home for good” “Nothing of the sort”, snorted Mr. Sadden, “you were telling me in no uncertain gloomy terms that there was a misfortune indeed because he had left his only child…, deserted her, in fact you implied it”, Mr Sadden nodded his head emphatically. The mice in the basement perked up their tiny ears and their eyes gleamed in the darkness. Here was news indeed. So excited was the argument between Fredrick and Mr Sadden that the pimply clerk also stopped his work to eavesdrop, and accidently dropped a cheese ball on the floor which rolled into the mice domain. They were grateful for the feast in honour of His coming, or so they thought. Letters followed frequently from Africa, from the ports, and the great day had arrived. He was coming home!
The little elfin girl was told, gently, sitting on her grandmother’s lap in front of the fire, holding a purring cat close to her face. Now she was allowed whatever she liked. Her face as she heard, turned to a wondering of rounded eyes, which gradually filled with tears and mingled with those of the grandmother as she was held close to her bosom. The wall of silence was down. The little elfin girl’s words poured out, and out and around, and echoed all over the hushed house.
Gradually the old house was perked up, as furniture was dusted, silver polished and flowers arranged. It seemed as if invisibly a fairy brush was used to paint over an aura of cheerfulness and the old house on the hill shrugged its shoulders and straightened up.
The grand mother waited, the knitting silent on her knees. Her eyes softened and dimmed with tears reflected in the orange glowing fire. Even the dog was on watch, tweaking his ears stiffly, as if he could hear the squeak of Mr Sadden’s store mice. The maids waited with hushed tones and quiet tipping steps, even the flowers stood still, beautifully arranged in their priceless vases, with heads quirked to one side or the other, as if waiting for the knock and the opening of the great door. The elfin girl sat in her favourite place on the cushion in the bay window. They sat. So did Mr Sadden in his store, watching the market road where surely He would ride past in his gleaming car. So did Mr Bean impatiently tapping the glass pane of his counter. So did Fredrick as his head nodded and dropped on his chest as he waited, from which nodding he would frequently jerk up with a quick start.
But most of all the waiting with bated breath, was the elfin girl who sat as usual on her cushion in the bay window. Time went by. The people were like caricatures in a painting, still time went by, and the people stood still with the time. Suddenly across the horizon on the rim of the moor, a twinkling light appeared and grew large in the eye as it snaked its way up the winding road to the house on the hill. And just as suddenly a smile broke out on the elfin girl’s face. It was as if the awakening dawn had gently touched the rose’s dewed lip, and raised its glory to the light. The smile spread, just as if the rose had suddenly quickened its bloom, and then there rose from her lips the sweetest gentlest warbling trilling laughing song of the nightingale, as it carried over roof and rafter and enthralled all in the house who heard it. The grandmother dropped her hands on her lap in astonishment, the maids echoed the merriment, the dog swished its tail, the flowers became alert, and poised. The waiting indeed was over.
THE SQUELCHED GALOSHES
Donald stood in despair, his ankles deep in the sticky mud. He tried to lift one leg but all it did was to make a squelchy noise in his boots. The toes had gotten caked in the oozy mud inside them. No wonder! He had waded along the bank of the river, this bright Sunday morning in the hope of getting some squiggly worms as baits. But every step was a wade deeper. There was a stealthy quiet in the air, as if every tree and leaf was watching his despair in quiet glee or sympathy. Suddenly, there was a chuckle and a gaffaw, high up in the air, as if a disembodied voice had wafted down a tree top. Donald looked disconcerted. He was a sorry sight, trapped in the oozy mud, holding an old tin can in his hand, his deep brown hair in strangled ends, freckles which burned his snub nose and wide eyes in which tears threatened to drip. He looked like a thirteen year old standing before a headmaster, being told sternly in no uncertain terms that he was caught in a heinous act and had to be punished. He tried to look all around him, with his head in an awkward balance as he could not swivel his neck around. It was anchored to his body anchored in the mud. Again the chuckle and the guffaw, but this time with a whistle and a “Coo gosh! You are a sad face.” It was a very boyish voice behind him suspended in mid air. “Who the dickens are you”? he asked petulantly, “that’s no way to talk.. when you can see no doubt that I’m in a pickle and a jam.” “Sure I can see, I have eyes don’t I?” came the retort. “Just you wait and see.. I’ll get you when I come out of this mess.” “Fat chance you have!” was another retort in answer.
The sun suddenly slivered into a thousand gleaming and competing swords that shone brilliantly into Donalds face. He screwed up his eyes, thought the better of his condition, and said gruffly: “OK, help me get out of this mess.” “Now that’s better,” said the voice hinting satisfaction. “I’m going to slide a log down the embankment, when it touches you sit on it, I’ll sit on the other end, it should hold you up, then take out your feet from the boots one by one. It will be hard, but you will have to try.” Heaving and sweating, panting and despairing, Donald tried and tried, with his bottom threatening to slid down the log back into the gluey slush. He did not once glance at his rescuer, whistling tunelessly at the other end. Finally the second foot came out with a squish and a whoof. It was then that Donald turned around. It was a shock. At the other end sat a tomboyish looking girl, with muffed up red hair, a dirty face, twinkling merry brown berried eyes, and clothes that were half torn and looked as if they had been unwashed for days.
She chortled, “Thought I was a boy didn’t you? I usually use that voice,” she added thoughtfully, “when I don’t want to be found, which is most of the time. Anyway who are you?” she asked in a forthright manner. Donald’s mouth was round as he kept gaping at her. Bad enough to be in a soup, but worse still to be rescued by an imp of a girl. “Oh come on”, she said impatiently, “I’m not a ghost, at least not at this time of the day”. She laughed merrily, the laugh of a freeborn uncaring soul with not a worry in the world. Her laugh was really infectious. Donald let down his guard and he joined in the laughter. He must have seemed real comical, he thought with one quarter of his body in the mud. He sighed, no use antagonising her, after all she had got him out of the mess. She seemed a harmless jolly type.
From that day onwards, they became friends, even more so. They became friends thicker than thieves. Amy, for that was her name, lived down the dirt road, down a horse beaten track, in a ramshackle house that looked dog-eared. But there was a great deal of merriment there. The house was an untidy mess, her mother had grown wide (so Amy said) in proportion to the number of children she had, and there were five of them. Her father, a red bearded tinker man who sold all kinds of weird items from tin kettles to chocolate sauce, piled on his ponderous cart, drawn by a long suffering shaggy mule, was also as happy as a lark. Many times there was only bread and a thin soup for supper. But every one, from the toddly little Shenan to will- o’- the -wisp Amy, ate with the relish of lords and ladies feasting at a banquet. Once, when Donald visited the little house late in the evening, Mrs Harper, that was Amy’s mother’s name, bustling about the round table piled up with all sorts of things, said to him with a face beaming red from the stove, “Would you like to eat up with our supper, Donald?” He also turned a similar shade of red from an embarrassing thought. What would they say if he told them that they had a well laid supper every night, with a silent maid to serve at a very orderly table to a very orderly family, who were very aware of their ps and qs, eating with decorum and in silence?
Here it was all noise and comfortable confusion, every one reaching out across the table everywhere, and Mrs Harper more on her feet than in her chair. But Donald liked it. Here it was all natural and nice, very nice. He could behave as they did, and everyone was delighted with the way he accommodated himself to their style. Even Shenan, the little one stuck her wet spoon in his mouth and said: “eat, eat up (imitating her mother), you good too.”
“Donald, answer me where are you going? It’s so difficult to keep track of you,” came from his mother’s querulous face in a petulant voice. It was the summer holidays, and Donald was where he wanted to be. With Amy. He tried to sneak out quietly but his mother’s eye and voice was sharp, too sharp. “Nowhere.. just here and there,” he said nonchalantly. “Well, be sure to be in time for supper, the vicar and his family are coming to dinner.” “OK” said Donald, still nonchalant. This summer was one he would remember all his days. Amy was more of a boy companion than a chit of a girl. Her wiry body was up to all tricks. She would climb up a tree as nimble as a monkey. She knew where the best slugs were to be found. She took him bird-watching, deep into the woods, and her cook- outs, improvised in a fashion which would have dazzled a woodsman, were a treat to share. They, or rather, she, even caught a rabbit. She taught him how to skin it, and he thought it was loathsome in the beginning; her delight and joy in everything she did soon caught up with him. Everything she did was so infectious. Sad to say these days would soon be over. He would have to go back to that dull boarding school where everyone was so prim and proper. Amy, of course, was blissfully unaware of what a school was, except a place where one was tied down to a chair, and one’s eyes glued either to the teacher or the blackboard. “How can you bear doing that day after day,” she asked Donald. He grimaced. She would not understand, so why explain. She deftly caught a fly in her palm and pinched it between her fingers. “Ugh,” he said, “how can you do that?” “Why? How can you crush a fly with your elegant boots, Mr Donald?”she mimicked, “at least with my fingers I can see it… anyway, I can always wash my hands”, and she dipped her fingers in a bucket of muddy water and rubbed them against her short raggedy pants.
This day they were going on a big adventure. They were going to farmer Dodd’s barnyard, up the loft and pretend playing wolf and the sheep searching for each other in the hay. It was no use asking farmer Dodd’s permission. He was an old crusty, cranky child-hater. He always carried a grim face and a wicked looking stick, accompanied by an equally wicked looking mongrel, who was huge, neither a greyhound nor a sheep dog, but a curious mix of both. He kept snapping his teeth at imaginary children’s flanks. Avoiding all of them was a delicious secret which they hugged to themselves. So they set out.
The afternoon was mild and the sky looked suspiciously innocent of clouds. There was no brooding of the suspense and turmoil they were about to face. The farm was long and rambling in a very haphazard fashion, as if farmer Dodds had put pieces together in a jigsaw puzzle after scratching his head in perplexity many times. The result was the hencoops were at one end, the pigsty at the other and the two lone horses in the middle, looked straight into the farmer’s kitchen. The ducks squawked in the shallow pool around the silo, and the dilapidated tractor looked in a very melancholy fashion at the wheat field that spread before it. The barn, fortunately was at the end of the duck-pond, shadowed by bottle brush and weeping willows which hid it. It was loosely stacked with hay around, in a higgedly piggedly manner. Why farmer Dodds did not have his horses right there, was a mystery to all, but someone said that one day one had been stolen (and found, of course, when the thief saw its sorry condition and abandoned it). Since then, the farmer preferred to have them right before his eyes, so that when he lifted the grimy curtain of his kitchen window he could find them standing disconsolately in a make shift open barn before his very eyes.
Amy and Donald found the right time, when farmer Dodds and his two hands were having their midday siesta, to climb the stile and sneak into the barn door. The dog no doubt lay at his master’s feet, snoozing thankfully, and resting his gnashing teeth which always had that unbearable grin when he was awake. All was quiet and lazy in the drifty afternoon. The barn door squeaked on its hinges, but they managed in a very stealthy way to unhinge and close it. When the door shut, they turned around and to their dismay found that the skylight which was supposed to be there was no longer there. There was a musty fetid odour of rotting hay, and a dankness in the dark, which was very puzzling. The sky light had been boarded up, but this they did not know. The farmer because of some disgruntled grudge that the barn was now of no use, saw to it that it was all shuttered. Inside was only the squeak of the mice, and the odd noises that the unoiled rafter hinges make in the breeze. A hollow hoot emitted from the only owl which protested at the invasion of his peace. They were dismayed. They had not thought of bringing along matches or a torch, the first because of the danger of the hay getting on fire, and the second, because they thought the crafty farmer would somehow discover the waving beam. “What shall we do,” whispered Donald. “It’s too dark, let’s get out of here”. “This is no fun”, said Amy. So they turned and fumbled for the latch of the barn door. It would not budge. Try as they might it stood firm as if to say: “look I’ve had no visitors for a long time except this uncouth owl, so stay awhile”. It seemed a million years that they did all they could, fumbling in the dark, wrenching and pushing and shoving, but the latch was firmly attached to its bolt. They sat down in despair. “We ought to have sized up this place before we came,” said Donald sulkily. A fine person you are, talking about looking at the barn first, when the barn door is locked. “Ha, Look who’s talking, wise guy.” “Well, you think of something, you’re always saying that you have loads of ideas.”
They thought and thought, discarding this idea and then that. They couldn’t shout, no one would hear them. Even if they shouted and by mischance Dodds or his help got to them, there would be the dickens of a row with them, with his parents and he would be grounded for the rest of the holidays. Of that, Donald was sure. Tired out, and used to the owl, the mice and the creakings in the gloom, they huddled together and dosed off to sleep in utter misery.
Suddenly Amy woke and tugged at his sleeve. “Shush, Donald, I hear noises,” her usually carefree voice was tremulous with alarm. “Oh, that’s only the wind and the mice whispers,” he said. “No, no, it’s as if someone is opening the barn door.” “Good,” said Donald excitedly, “we can sneak away quietly while he looks away.” Donald was convinced that for some unknown reason, it was farmer Dodds who was opening the door. Strange though there was no bolt being drawn open. The noise was the grating and sawing of steel on steel. Before Amy could reply, the door flew open with a yank and a bang. The evening sunlight came in wanly, and they could just about make out the shapes of two figures, waving a torch this way and that, as they stood in the doorway. “I told you!” said a deep bass voice in grim satisfaction. “See.. there’s no one here… Old Dodds at his supper, the hands have gone and we can do what we like.” “I still don’t like it,” said a quivery voice, “What if the dog goes out to pee.. he’ll surely smell us out, he’s a vampire that one.” “Are you getting cold feet, Higgins?” said the bass voice. “Why have I got to take the first step and also the last,” it ended sarcastically. “You’re a wimp, Higgins, that’s what you are.” “And who gave you the idea, may I ask?” said the Higgins’ voice haughtily. “You know they will not discover us.., the slammer is ten miles out, I showed you the way. I used to live here about once.” “OK, OK, but what are we going to do now that we are holed up here and for how long? We’d best be getting on.” “No, no.. I’m tired, my feet are aching and we can get a few hours of rest here,” said Higgins. “OK,” said the bass voice. “OK, have it your way, one hour and no more…We have to travel by night. The cops already have the wind up by now, and that dirty swine of a warden would love to have us back in the slammer… and then think of the hell hole we have to be isolated in for one week.” “Don’t talk about it,” said Higgins. “I’m getting cold all over already”.
There were grunts of tiredness, foul abuses and louder wrangles, till even that subsided, and there was a brooding silence. Now it was a moot question who was quieter, Amy and Donald, or the bass voice and Higgins. Amy shivered, and huddled closer to Donald. Not a word passed between them. They felt it would echo all over the barn and awaken that weasly owl, sitting high looking at them and enjoying their plight. Suddenly, they heard a loud oath: “I say Higgins… why do I have the feeling we are not alone,” said the bass voice. “You’re imagining things,” said Higgins, “Don’t tell me you are not used to the wretched mice scurrying around and, of course, those eyes are the eyes of that wretched owl, and not a ghost, not by a long chance”. “No, na, it’s a human being, I smell.” Donald and Amy felt icy fingers tingle down their spines. Was this bass voiced person an ogre? It seemed like some nasty fairy tale where a giant would roar: “Now I smell tasty morsels of human flesh, up my twiddly long nose” and prowl around with huge fingers to seize them and hold them upside down while his huge eyes listed every tasty bone in their bodies. “I’m going to have a look. My instincts are always correct,” said the bass voice.
The beam wavered this way and that. The heavy boots sprayed hay while the bass voice riffed the mounds with his heavy boots. The mice scurried around in fear, and the owl looked more owl-eyed in astonishment. As expected it was not long before, the beam raked out the two little miserable figures cowering in the hay. “Ha, Ha! What have we here, Higgins did I not tell you? We have two little nasty ones here.” “What, where?” asked the bewildered Higgins, and the children felt the two smelly huge figures towering above them. They couldn’t see anything further. Everything else was in pitch darkness. “So what are you doing here, you two wretches?” asked bass voice. Donald opened his mouth against the glare, but nothing would come out. Amy spoke up in a squeaky voice: “Sirs” (she hated sounding so hypocritical with these criminals, but she knew instinctively that, this was the only way to cajole themselves out of the mess.) “Sir, we don’t mean any harm, we just came in to play.” “Ha,” again said the bass voice contemptuously. “Besides being nasty little wretches… you are also liars. We have to think what to do with you two.” The voice was menacing. The beam moved away… and they could hear urgent loud whispers with only catches of words. Obviously, Higgins, the timid, wanted to just leave them there. They heard him say, “We must make a move immediately”. They heard snatches of “They have not seen our faces …, we will be soon away… Come on.” Bass said in a growl, “We could knife them… who would know it was us, this is a desolate place…..weeks before their bodies would be discovered …. soon we’d be far away, besides who would know it was us?” Every word from bass voice made them creep up inside themselves with fear. This was a nightmare. They felt the two figures walk away, and heated, vehement argument followed. Finally, the footsteps returned. “See you here,” said bass voice, “We’re going to truss you up real tight, you can’t even squeak, it’s a good chance no one would discover you except in the end the hungry mice (a malicious chuckle followed). In any case you’d be too far gone to notice anything. You’d be starved for days, not being able to move, then you’d be too weak to talk, your mouths will grow dry.” He grated his voice, rolling each word with relish. “Aw, shut up”, said Higgins irritatedly, “isn’t it enough that we’re leaving them to die. Why rub it in.” “Because”, said bass voice coarsely, “because we were left in the isolation cells to be just like that, why not these wretches heh.., why not?”
While they went off to search for a stout rope, which was a long time coming as nothing was easy to find in the hotch potch disused barn, Amy whispered fiercely into Donald’s ear: “I have a plan. I only hope it works…” “It is better,” said Donald, with tears ashamedly close to his eyes. “I have’nt said good bye to my mother. I was rude to her this morning. Wish I had time to go back and say so,” he said absurdly. “What a sissy,” hissed Amy. Before he could retort, the two thugs reappeared noisely. In the moving beams of the torchlight they could see a sweep of stout rope swinging about like a long slithering menacing python. “What’s going on here,” said bass voice, “I hope you are not trying to think of any tricks.. Ha.. Ha! We can show you a thing or two. Enough now… you are enough of a menace. Be quiet before I cut your tongues off.” There was mild protest from Higgins, “Say these are only little kids.. lay off.” “You lay off, these are little monsters, the world is best without little monsters.. not enough place in the world for small and big monsters like us, what?” He laughed crudely at his own coarse joke. Amy and Donald collapsed like sacks, cowering. Before Amy had time to tell him about the ruse, they were soundly wound up. With much heaving and swearing, their legs were trussed up like chickens for the market. Bass proceeded to tie up the children’s hands. Higgins held the torch in his mouth and took out a dirty scarf from his pocket, tearing it into strips to tie up the children’s mouths in case they would shout for help and somebody chanced to hear them.
“Very, very impossible,” chuckled bass voice, “very impossible for any one to hear them for miles and for weeks.” Donald’s eyes grew round with terror competing with the owl’s in a horrible way. Amy’s eyes only glinted in the dark. “Sirs”, she said quaking with fear, but yet with a courage which she did not think she had. “Sirs,” she gulped back the tears, “Could we have a last wish?” “What?” bass voice’s hands stood in mid air. “What do I hear,” Amy’s voice grew stronger, “I hear that even those who are about to die, have their last wish fulfilled?” “Well bless my soul,” said Higgins, “that’s a mighty spy girl!” “Shut up you fool… let me think. I hope she doesn’t have a trick up her sleeve. She is arty, this one. But then… but then there is honour among thieves,” bass voice said misplacedly, and in a grandiose manner. “Let it not be said hereafter that we did not do the right thing for those who are going to the gallows.” “These little ones are being left to die, not gallowed,” protested Higgins hastily. “How many times am I to tell you that I am the thinking and deciding person, on important matters, and do not interrupt me! Now let’s see .OK, my lass, what is your dying wish?” “I’d like a drink of water please and so will my friend,” she nudged Donalds’s arm. “Yes sir, please,” he squeaked.
“Now, where in the hell are we going to get them a drink?” asked bass voice. “We have some in the canteen we brought,” ventured Higgins timidly. “Alright… but mind you, no fuss,” said Bass voice. “Here, Higgins give me the canteen while I hold it to her mouth.” Amy took a few swallows, her heart beating fast. “That’s better, I see you are well behaved.. a pity we have to do away with you, you’ve got spunk.. as for this lad he’s quaking, come here lad come closer,” Bass voice held the canteen to Donald’s face. Higgins standing next to Amy held the torch idly upon Donald’s face. In a swift second, so swift that even the owl had no time to blink, Amy lifted her trussed feet and dashed both against Higgins. The torch slithered in the hay, the light buried in it. With a swift movement Amy jabbed Higgins in his crotch. He yelled. In the next few seconds Donald, geared up with the extreme urge to survive, bit hard into the hand holding the canteen. It too fell… Bass voice howled with pain.
“Hold my hand,” breathed Amy into Donald’s ear in all the commotion, for the mice were also squealing and the owl was hooting away to glory. They had never witnessed such drama in their lives. “I know the direction to the barn door”. Lucky for them it was pitch dark outside too, for night had set in. They clung to each other and dragged themselves towards the direction of the barn door. There was much cursing and jabbing between Higgins and the Bass voice who were still howling, searching in the dark for their bearings and for the children. “Feel the slight breeze… that’s where the door is… quiet… they should not hear the sounds of our movements or they will come in this direction.”
It seemed ages, although it was only a couple of minutes when they felt the barn door, and out they were sitting up against the wood work. “Now do as I tell you,” Amy hissed, “I have a pocket knife in my shorts. Give me your legs,” She chuckled, “why… it’s funny why do I always have to rescue your legs?” “Can’t you be serious for once?” grunted Donald. “Don’t be such a spoilt sport,” retorted Amy. As fast as she could she used the fingers of her tied up hands to ease the knife, and began sawing through the ropes on Donald’s legs, and then the ones on his wrists. It was difficult going, but she just managed it. It seemed ages. Their hearts were in their mouths. None too soon Donald had just about sawed through the ropes on Amy’s legs, when they heard loud curses growing closer in the dark. “Quick. Forget my hands,” and on fast legs, the fastest they ever went, Donald and Amy found the dirt track and sped away silently like homing pigeons.
The rest that followed was a nine day wonder in the village. It was in the village newspaper, the district newspaper and even the national newspaper had a little write up on them, with their faces staring out of it. Amy’s father had lost no time in cycling furiously to the nearest telephone. Donald’s mother was so speechless at the narration of the drama that, holding her son’s dishevelled face to her bosom, she was crying and laughing at the same time. It was discreetness itself, that no one mentioned that the children were on a dare, and should have been scolded. Mrs Harper only smiled at her daughter’s antics, and made a little thicker soup for dinner that night in celebration. Even farmer Higgins straightened up his back, actually smiled and twirled his moustaches for a photograph in the local daily. Amy and Donald had to see Higgins and the Bass voice face to face, in order to identify them, routinely, though, all they could really identify were their voices. Higgins looked a sorry figure, scrawny and beaten-in, like a fallen baked pudding. Bass voice’s name they heard was Putman,, a notorious criminal who did not hesitate to kill three men one after the other. Higgins was his stooge and accomplice, as the police called him. Bass voice, they could not get used to his real name, glared at them meanly, muttering oaths and shaking his handcuffed hands at them. They shivered, inspite of themselves. This was one ogre who could never eat them!
The holidays, as all good things for boarding-school children, came to an end for Donald. His mother fussed and hovered over him while he sulkily collected his things together. “Donald…,” she held up his galoshes, “surely you don’t want to take these old things back to school. They’re so worn out. We’ll have to get one from Harkin’s store tomorrow.” Donald looked up at the much used galoshes. If only they could speak! What delightful tales they would tell.. of dreamy days lying on the grass and sucking dandelion stems, of turning a freshly caught fish over a wood fire, of outracing each other on rented bikes along the bumpy road, of the aroma of Mrs Harper’s soup, of Shenan’s prodding his face with a sticky spoon, of Amy’s impish grin, boisterous pranks, her uncanny knack of findings ways to get through scrapes, but most of all her plucky courage. “OK,” he shrugged, “I’ll leave them behind.”
The next morning while his train gathered up speed, round the embankment of the river, Donald looked out of the window eagerly. There was Amy, in her raggedly shorts, her hair flying in all directions and her hand waving wildly a pair of much used galoshes. He peered as long as he could at the waving figure. Things would probably not be the same next year. Amy would have grown into a girl, perhaps, she would be at the age when girls preferred girl-friends or be less boisterous… or something else. But, for him, that summer was one glorious summer that he would always remember.
A Dog’s Life
I am a dog. I am nothing much to look at. When I look at myself in the long mirror in the hall, as the others in the house do, I see a shaggy dark brown coat, with hair not too long or too short. But according to Norine, I am the cutest, the “lovingest” dog that ever lived. Thank goodness, I don’t have long hair, for I heard the mistress tell her daughter Norine, the other day, “Your hair is too long. You cannot manage it. It’s all a tangle.” My hair is not tangled, it’s too short. I wanted to tell my mistress that, but she only nudged me away and kept on scolding Norine.
I forgot to say that I live in a house and these other human beings share it with me. I can go all over the house, anywhere, unlike most of them. For instance, I can walk into the bathroom when the youngest son, Ashley is sitting on his potty, with his pants down. He does not shush me away as he shushes his sister Norine. If I go into the bathroom looking for a lick of water when the mistress is showering, she comes out all naked and just says, “I see you can’t find water in your bowl and so you make an excuse to come into the bathroom. Ok, here’s some”, and she fills her tooth-glass water and puts it on the floor. Of course, it’s an excuse. I know there’s plenty of water in my bowl in the kitchen, but I just like looking at the mistress, all beautiful without her clothes. When she looks at my doleful eyes, she melts into a smile. I wanted to tell her that I also had no clothes and she should not feel shy, but she only smiles and smiles.
When she is kissed a long time by my master, and finds me looking still dolefully (I put on the dolefulness deliberately when I know I should not be there) she only smiles and says, “Thank God it’s only the dog that’s looking.” Now I can go up to her, to the master, to the children, whenever and wherever I please, even to the ugly greengrocer’s boy if I want, and kiss them, I mean lick them. That’s my way of kissing. They don’t mind. In fact, they ooh and ahh over it, as if I had done them a favour. In fact Norine asks for it. She says: “Come Boy (that’s my name), come Boy and give me a kiss.” Yet, when she meets her boyfriend at our gate and no one is watching, she keeps saying, “Stop kissing me, someone might be watching.”
Breakfast on Sunday is when they all sit together in the kitchen and laze over their eggs and bacon. As a special treat on Sundays, I also get to share not the breakfast of one but the breakfast of any one I choose. Then they begin talking of who has to do what chore. I sit on my haunches and look at them quizzically from one face to another, as they argue who should do what, and criss-cross their voices over the table. I repeat, I do not have any chores, none whatsoever. Even when I want to go out to pee or let out stuff from my bum, someone has to open the door for me, to let me out into the backyard and wait for me to come in. Or, attach a leash to themselves by a special belt to take me out, because they don’t want to get lost. They let me stop wherever and whenever I want to. Often I have a special escort, that is Norine, or when the master is home early in the evening and she is still at school, doing goodness knows what, he takes me out. I guess he does that with relief, because then mistress is not yelling at him to set the table for dinner, to help with the vegetables and all those tedious things. Me, I’m very easy with my meals, I eat only twice a day, and try to be disciplined. They eat several times a day, especially the children, taking out cokes and icecream from the fridge, or searching around for munchies and grumbling when there is none left of their special kind. I also eat without fuss, no table, no knives and forks and plates and all those little fusses on the table, when all they have got to do is to use their hands and mouths.
Some mornings they talk about democracy and how important it was to have individual space. I have not one space but many. My night space is in my own special room which they call a dog kennel. In summers, it’s nice and airy; in winters when it is too cold, I pretend that I am feeling ill. I moan and groan and whimper, till Norine says, “Oh let Boy sleep in tonight, it’s too cold outside, he’s shivering already,” and they give in. This is when I choose to be inside. Not like Norine when my mistress says, “Be sure you’re in by 10 o’clock tonight, I don’t think you should stay out late. Be sure you’re in by then, otherwise we’ll have to ground you for a week.” For me, there’s no grounding, I can stay out as late as I want. They just assume that I am in my house, the kennel. Most of the evenings, on weekdays after dinner, they sit before a box which has coloured flashing pictures. I sit at my master’s feet curled up snoozing easily.
Occasionally, I would open my eyes and look at them. They are like statues in the dark, like a ghostly painted picture. When the scenes change on the screen, they light up their faces. They look ghoulish and really frightening with eyes popping wide at noises from the screen, or laughing madly or just nodding off to sleep. Occasionally one of them would say, “What a rotten picture?” or “This is really interesting.” If any one talks in between, there are loud protests, “Do be quiet, if you don’t want to watch, do something else, go somewhere else.” Or, if there are pictures of men and women kissing too long and making all kinds of movements on the couch or bed, or wherever they happen to be lying, my mistress would say to the little one, “This picture is for adults… go and do your home work.”
He would sulk and slouch and say, “When it suits you I’m a grown up boy, when you want to make me do something you don’t, and when it suits you, I am too little. It’s simply not fair.” Me, I can watch everything and anything, no one commands me to watch this or that. I can choose to watch or not watch. I simply go to sleep when they are watching, as I find these flashes and noises very boring. When the lights are cut off, and they yawn and stretch, I do the same but not through the boredom of watching silly flitting movements on the screen. I am happy to say I don’t have to brush my teeth, change into my pyjamas or say goodnight to any one. I can give them little licks if I feel like and get patted on my head for that. What reward! What freedom.
Sometimes, though, life is not that plain-sailing. I get easily disturbed, especially when there are strangers around, and I keep barking and rushing around to let everybody know that they are disturbing me. This happens when there are visitors or parties. I don’t care for them personally, but I tolerate them because it makes the family happy, and I guess the family deserves some of this from time to time.
It’s just like when I go for walks and have a happy time growling and straining at the master’s or Norine’s leash because I want to chase a pretty little bitch, whom these human beings call she dogs. Or if I see an opponent who might want to trespass into my area, or try and catch the eye of that dainty little thing that steps with mincing little hops when she passes me by – I feel that since I invariably pass by her often than any other dog, that she belongs to me -, I bark and growl and show my teeth to tell my leash-escort that something should be done to stop me from being unhappy. Invariably, whoever is escorting me walks faster, to remove the unpleasantness from my view. I wish I could sing that song to her that my mistress tries and hums when she is alone during the day ironing or cooking something about: “she belongs to me, or I belong to her,” good song that! Instead, when I pass by the dainty little dog, I simply simper like a stupid dog and oogle at her, instead of being polite and gentlemanly-like. I guess I have to learn some graces that these humans have.
But at times, when I continue to feel unhappy and growl and gnash my teeth on these bitch-acquainting walks, I cannot contain myself. I think my master guesses I need a companion at least to make love to her. For he keeps eyeing me when I eye the bitch, and says thoughtfully to the mistress, “I guess we will have to have Boy mated, it’s not good for him you know, he leads a voiceless dog’s life, but I know he has similar needs like us.. after all we are also mammals like him.”
My mistress looks at him as if he is going mad, “Jerry,” she says “control yourself, you are talking like a rabid dog.” He winks at her and says, “Oh yes, sometimes I do get rabid, when I am near you.” Now that’s contrary to what I have heard of going rabid… it means a mad dog, who goes around biting everybody and then dying a painful death, after foaming at the mouth and then going rigid. That’s what I hear anyway. I am certainly too dignified for that, and I have never seen my master, never imitating a rabid dog, at least not in my presence.
A place I simply dislike going to is the vet’s. I am a big dog, mind you, but I’m terrified of the vet’s clinic. Firstly, because I do not like other dogs eyeing me and thinking, “Oh here’s another sickly one, what a pity!” If there’s anything I don’t like is pity from fellow men, I mean fellow dogs. Another thing is the humiliating way in which the dog’s assistant treats me. He pokes and prods, I resist. The vet comes in washing his hands and says in a very effeminate voice, “Tut.. tut.. what have we here, another one to patch up. Now what’s your name?” He looks at my card, peers at the name and says in a condescending fashion, “Oh Boy.. what Boy and how are you today?” He knows I have a fat chance of answering in any way, because by this time the attendant has deftly tied up my jaws, in case I snapped at him, which I very nearly did. The vet imitated his attendant, by probing and prodding. He lifted my legs, looked in between my toes, flashed his torch on my teeth, shifted the overhead light to peer at my testicles and examine the circumference of my anus. This indignity was too much. He then tut tutted, chewed his pen (like a dog), and said with a gleam in his eyes. Some people say his eyes are sympathetic to animals.
But I am sure it was sheer delight, when he enunciated carefully, “We must have our shot today, mustn’t we?” His expression was absurd. Firstly, he and I were certainly not on the same plane as being “we” like a brotherhood! I was one of the few around (dogs I mean), not as prolific as the many human beings milling around the neighbourhood. Therefore, I had a special higher status, if I may say so. I was not his equal. Secondly it was I who was going to experience the jab and the pain, and not he. So, where was his stupid “we” fitting into the whole scheme of things, I ask you? Of course, after everything was over, and I returned to my usual dignified self, he would pat me on my head in a fatherly fashion, and pop a dog lolly into my mouth, saying, “Now, that was a good boy… yes… Boy,” and he would laugh a silly simper at his own joke, with the attendant dutifully imitating his master, much like a dog.
But a place I love going to is the seaside. This is about once a month, usually over the weekend, when everyone is at home. If they do not go out over the weekend, there is much laziness and grumpiness. First of all, every one gets up late. Now, mind you, I am a very disciplined dog. Weekends or no weekends, I have to go for my walk in the morning. On weekdays, usually the master or the mistress is up to take me out, because they have much work to finish for themselves and the children, before master and the two children leave for the day.
So while it is decided that it is Norine who takes me out in the evening, it is the master or the mistress who is supposed to take me out in the morning. The master is often lazy, he grunts and protests, not growls, mind you. That noise is especially for people like us, dogs. The result is that mistress gets impatient and has to put on her boots and coat, and takes me in a yawning fashion, “her greatest chore” as she calls it. For me, the “greatest chore”, is to wake up someone in the morning on weekends for some one, anyone to take me out for my exercise, and you know what. Therefore, if there is one grumpy person who hates having to get up on weekends so early, then gives everyone the infection of grumpiness. After breakfast (for mistress insists that every one eat at the same time, at least on the weekends), the laziness and grumpiness increases. So by a kind of a pact, they get ready by mid afternoon to go out, anywhere. If there is a carnival or a fair, they all bundle up in the car and off they go. They say very sorrowfully, “We’d like to take you Boy, but we’re afraid we’d lose you at the carnival or the fair.” Fat chance they would have losing me! Even when there are crowds of people running around, I can smell anyone of them out, like a cat does a mouse. But I don’t tell them this in case they get distressed. So I pretend they are right, cock one eye at them knowingly and wag my tail as if to agree. On these weekends, I prefer to stay behind and guard the house, sleeping in the sun, or chasing anything that moves whether it is a fly or a bug or a bird that dares to come near me. I would have loved chasing the cat next door, but once when I did that, in the early days I snapped the neighbour’s fence stake. Master had to pay for it. Then every one, whenever they saw me sitting quietly and not getting in anyone’s way, would take turns to come up to me and scold me, saying things like, “naughty Boy… you know you must not chase Mrs Wiggly’s cat… Mrs Wiggly is very annoyed with us.. Mrs Wiggly threatens that the next time you do it, she will report it to the police, telling them that we are harassing her. Mind you, don’t do that again,” and on and on they would go. To shut them up, in good grace I disdainfully avoid the cat, even when she sits on the tree overlooking the fence and taunts me. I would just turn a disdainful eye of scorn on her, and turn my back on her. This annoys her further. She is a very vain cat and seeks attention. But that she does not get from me. For me she does not exist.
So it is only when they go to the seaside that I am allowed to go with them. They realise that carnival and fairs are boring things, meant only for human beings, but the seaside, now that’s different. There is so much space along the beach to romp and play and splash. Even the grumpy master who prefers to sit in a deck chair and read his newspaper, occasionally sniffing the air like a dog and saying “how fresh it is”, even he, does not need much coaxing to get up and play ball with me. I deliberately chase it to the edge of the water, and when I see master coming along I push it into the sea. The result is that he has to trudge into the water to fetch it for me, while I watch his exertions, till he brings it back to me and I say a graceful thanks with a “whoof.” He goes back to his deck chair and hides behind his newspaper. Sometimes, I feel he should be more light-hearted, and keep playing with me. I wish I could leap in the air, take his newspaper swiftly in my teeth and dump it into the water, so that he cannot read the soggy thing and would have to play with me, with no hide and seek behind that wretched newspaper. But I think I am too well brought up for that, and content myself with joining the children, and getting just a little wet by wading and splashing around at the edge of the water.
I must admit that I do have my weaknesses. For who doesn’t? I have a sweet tooth, a raving, not rabid mind you, but a craving for sweet things, even the wrapping paper of sweets and the empty icecream carton. I take these from the garbage can, and stealthily sneak away to my house, the dog house that is, and am in great rapture gnawing away at these discarded goodies. Why human beings don’t lick them clean is something I cannot understand for the life of me. There is often a bowl of candies placed on what the family calls a coffee table. At those times, I studiously avoid it, at much sacrifice, but with a great conscience. One day, craving for something sweet, I delicately picked one. There was no one at home. Taking one from a huge pile, I reasoned, rationally, was something no one would notice. Was it a yummy chocolate, I said to myself dreamingly as I gulped it down after one chew. Next day, with no one around and so many chocolates waiting to be eaten, it seemed a pity they were lying around. With the return of the unbearable craving, I nicked another. I lost count as the days went by, till one day I discovered to my horror, the bowl was as clean as a whistle. Every one thought, every one else was picking them up as they passed by the coffee table. No one, not one suspected that it was I who was passing by, and so frequently, till one day to my horror I discovered I had cleaned up a bowl. Thank goodness, unlike human beings I do not have to unwrap the wrapper. It made no difference. But one day, Norine passed by and said, “My goodness all the chocolates are over!” She called out to my mistress, “Mom, someone’s polished all the chocs.” I had left no telltale marks. But I began to feel very guilty. After all, even dogs have a conscience. I know when I do something they don’t like, and because I like to please them, I am usually contrite, and go up to them, wag my tail vigorously, look at them dolefully, lick them, and try to make up, by following them, lying on my back on the floor with my paws in the air in a sorry fashion, till they finally understand that I am really sorry. Then all is forgiven. But this obsession of eating sweets on the sly, and pretending I did not hear when every one else did, made me feel uncomfortable. When mistress kept saying in a puzzled air, “Where could they have gone.. we don’t have mice in our house. Ashley would have got sick to the stomach if he had eaten them, and I would have known.” I felt worse.
After a few days of such remarks, Ashley chanced to look at me suspiciously. I turned away my face guiltily. He said with grim delight in his voice, “Aha.. so that’s it Mom. Mom.. come and look at Boy’s face.. he looks so guilty. I think he ate the chocs.” Of course, I was scolded and scolded. I was taken to the empty bowl, it was turned over, wagging fingers were pointed at me, sharp voices were raised at me. I felt like telling them. “Ok, Ok, don’t rub it in. I know I made a mistake. Why all this talking charades? Don’t you think I understand when you tell me once? Isn’t that enough.” All I could do was to go through my sorry act over and over again, till they understood. Needless to say the bowl disappeared. But what appeared were more of my dog lollies handed out to me more often than they did before. So eventually there is some compensation in life after all. If I am deprived on one side, I get plenty more on the other. Now that’s not what happens to Ashley and Norine when they break a home law, like not putting out the trash for three weeks, Ashley breaking a neighbour’ window pane, or Norine wearing her mother’s dress without her knowledge and ruining it. Then they have to pay out of their pocket money. Thank God I have no pocket money. Any way, I don’t know how to keep accounts, so that is all for the good.
It’s been seven years since I have lived in this house. Norine has gone away to college in some other town. I miss her, but then I get greater attention because the rest of the three also miss her when she is away. They tend to pet me more often because they know how much Norine loves me, and they try to make up to me for her absence. She cried more for me, than for anyone else when she left. The result is that on holidays when she comes home, I get most of her attention. Ashley has become very dutiful towards me. He now takes me for walks, and when we are in the park he lets me do things Norine would never allow. I scamper up and down the pathways in the park with him. He tries to race me but I am faster and wait for him at the end of the pathway with my tongue hanging out and my tail wagging away as fast as it can. He also gives me a treat of his ice-cream, which mistress doesn’t know about, and I get a fair share of his chips. But neither of us let on to these secrets. Mistress would never hear of it.
The times we eat too much, I have a pain in my stomach, and am off my usual meals. Mistress looks at me thoughtfully, and wraps up some pills in a mouth-watering piece of meat and puts it down my throat, saying, “Good boy, now swallow that, swallow that.” She turns to Ashley and says, “That should do him good.. he has worms in his stomach.. I wonder how?” A day or so later I am right as rain, and eat up my meals with much gusto. Mistress pats me on the head and hugs me as if I have done her a favour, and says, “That’s my good Boy.. that’s my good Boy”. Curious, come to think of it, why didn’t I think of it before? Why do human beings keep repeating what they have to say to me, as if I am deaf or not paying attention? When they talk to each other, they say what they have to say once, and not keep repeating themselves as if one of them is a lunatic! But then I have given up understanding everything about human beings and their behaviour. Most times they don’t understand each other’s behaviour themselves, so why should I be expected to do so?
After seven years of living in my house with human beings, I am much mellowed. Now I like spending much of my time when I am indoors, sitting on the ledge of the drawing room window and waiting for Ashley to come home, or hear master’s car in the drive way. Then I am all whoosing and whoofing with gladness, and they smile when they enter. I am glad I can make these human beings happy! I must say, I am looked after well. I often hear master when he comes home tired out, and mistress asks him how the day went, he’d make a face and say, “it’s been a dog’s day!” And I raise both my eyebrows at him!!
Select Page below to Continue Reading…