Lit Up — January’s Prompt: Things We Left Behind
By: Shreya Parashar
I am listening to Shigeru’s In the mood for love when it starts drizzling. The petrichor emanating and 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. Cow sheds, kennels and bushes were our comfortable hiding places and there was a spread of grass to roll on. I was seven, the youngest of the three sisters.
That day, I had accompanied my sisters on their evening shenanigans. This was made possible by my skilful art of throwing a fit that my sisters could not ignore. 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. Such spots with young pups were safe from troubling urchins and annoyed adults. Apparently humans exhibit only two emotions; they either love animals or abhor them. There is no in- between.
As my sisters took stealth steps, an otherwise to their boisterous selves, I spotted a puppy. I pointed it to them. It lay on the grass, eyes shut as if basking in the winter sun. It was clearly unattended for sometime. The eldest picked it up and looked around, completely alert but no threat was sighted. The pup gave a faint wail. 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 initially, she let us be and told us to feed the pup.
Tony, our Alsatian dog, lingered around showing his displeasure first but soon resigned to sharing its field of intimacy with another of its specie.
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’.
We were sweating in December winters but all our efforts to feed the pup failed. I frantically called Maa.
“Maa, Jackie is not eating.”
My sisters looked at me and after a pause, gave an approving nod to the name.
Maa came to our rescue and 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. We stood mesmerised. Soon the wailing stopped and Jackie slept. His eyes were still shut so we could not differentiate much, but he was calm.
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. Today was clearly my day. 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 and 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….
I fainted, Maa’s voice drifting around me.
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. I would have rather invested in the future pain of Jackie getting old and dying in my arms. I was not prepared for this pain.
When I came back to my senses, my sisters were packing the shoe box with Jackie inside as per Maa’s instructions. We decided on the same place where we had found Jackie. Each one of us took turns to hold the box close to our heaving chests while our blurred eyes looked for the spot through tears. I held the box 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 before filling the site back with the soil. No one could harm our 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 and numb hearts.
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 have never lifted up another pup.
I live with Jackie’s paw print in my heart.