Ooh yes, yes, scratch me there…there…right there….yessssss….that’s it! I like it when you do that. Keep doing it, I’m loving it here!
Aaaaaaahhhhh…its so nice and soothing, your hand. It smells of aftershave and coffee, smells familiar…and is that nicotine I smell too (sniff, sniff). Yes, maybe it is. I’m old you see but I can still make out a few things. (Woof!)
Don’t mind me, I’m just gonna sit down a bit. I’m old now. 12 is not an age that suits me (pant, pant, pant. Stranger sits down by his side on the porch and rubs his tummy).
Oooh, please rub my tummy! Yesss…yessss…..ooohhh….Yes….Feels good! I love it! (Woof, woof, wooooof!)
Do you wanna see tricks, I can do tricks… (leaps up and wags tail furiously) I can shake hands, see?! (holds up paw), I can play dead! (lays flat) and I can even jump (jumps on haunches).
“Good boy! Good boy you are” (Stranger pats his head again.)
(Sits back down by Stranger’s side on the porch) My master taught me all this (starts panting, tongue hanging out). He was a good man, my master. He was always talking to me. He could talk to no one else, you see. No one else lived in this old house. Just he and I. We were a team. I used to fetch his newspaper, his slippers, help him cross the roads. He used to give me little treats every time I did something good. (Rests head on front paws) Those were the days…bright, sunshiney days….(dozes off).
(Several minutes pass by.)
What’s that?! FIRE! Oh! You’re only lighting a cigarette. (Squirms) But stranger, you shouldn’t smoke…like bad things happen when you do. I know, because Master died of it… (Squirms).
(Stranger takes drag after drag) Oh, alright, suit yourself. It’s not like you can hear what I’m saying anyway. I’ll just doze off by your feet for a bit. (Lies back down and dozes off till Stranger finishes his smoke.)
(He dreams of Master, treats and coffee. He dreams of how it was when Master would grill chicken and feed him bits. Boney bits were his favourites. He loved to chew and gnaw on things. Hadn’t he chewed through Master’s slippers once? He had been a puppy then. And poor, kind Master, he never screamed at him. He only patted him and laughed it off. His Master was a good man. He whimpers in his sleep.)
(Jingle, jangle, click…)
Oh, Stranger, how did you open the door to the house? (Sniffs in the stale air and grimaces) Ugh! Smells like rotten wood in there… (He sniffs some more, then walks around in a circle on the threshold and whimpers) Woof! Woof! Don’t go in there, Stranger. It smells bad!
(Stranger proceeds to enter, open drawers, closets, lift the dusty covers off mildewed furniture. He checks the whole house from front to back and then heads to a cabinet in the kitchen, inspects it for some time and then takes out an album from therein.)
Oooooh, I remember that!! (bounds off inside, wagging tail, straight to Stranger’s side). Master used to look at it from time to time. He and I, we used to sit by the fire there, after dinner, and he’d smoke and smoke and cough and then he would tell me, “Gino, this year he’ll come, you’ll see. I know it in my old bones, he will.” I never understood who the ‘he’ Master kept talking about was. No one would ever come around here… ever. We were a team, he and I. We were by ourselves.
(Bounds off to the armchair by the fireside and barks at Stranger.) Come sit here and look at that book! (Woof, woof! Wags tail furiously. Stranger eyes the armchair sadly, ambles towards it and runs a hand reverently over it, lingering here and there as if touch could tell him the story of that armchair and the man who used to sit on it and pore into that album. Finally, he eases into the armchair).
You don’t mind if I sit beside you and look too, do ya? It’s been a while. (He whimpers and Stranger pats his head affectionately. He lets the dog nest himself between Stranger’s legs.)
Oh! I remember this one! Master used to say this was his boy. Little Master. Here he was only a year old. Just like me, when Master brought me home. But I never met Little Master. You see I came here when Little Master wasn’t little anymore and had gone away to a faraway land. Master brought me home because he got lonely and tired of having no one to talk to. I think that’s what really killed him, loneliness… and the smoking of course. He used to smoke like a chimney!
(The unlikely duo look at picture after picture. Birthdays, broken teeth and weepy faces, first bicycle, some festivities, some parties and lots of smiles were neatly tucked in chronologically in that dog-eared album. You could see Master growing old and gaunt, and Little Master growing taller and gangly with each turn of the page. Time favoured one and settled in the wrinkles of the other.)
Oh, and this is from a fishing trip at the river! Master used to say this is where he caught the biggest catch of his life. A fish my size! Can you believe that, fish can be that big?! (His tail thumps the dusty floor at the happy memory.)
This is the last one. This is where he used to always tell me, ‘He will come’…. Heeeeeey! Wait a minute! (stares at the picture, cocks head to one side, licks his lips and whimpers, then looks up at Stranger) Stranger, that’s you in this picture….Little Master is YOU! (Sniffs Strangers hands again, and licks them lovingly) Ooooh, now I know why you smelled familiar. (Lick, lick, lick) You smell like Master, my poor Master.
(Stranger puts his arms around Gino and breaks down.) “Oh, Father! Oh, my poor Father! Oh, if only I could be there for you! If only I wasn’t serving time in jail. I didn’t have the guts to tell you that your boy did something so wrong. I’m so sorry…so sorry…If only I could do it all again, I would never leave your side, never…If only….”
(Gino and Stranger weep for the loss of their beloved Master, each taking comfort from the presence of the other. Each a party to the other’s pain and empathy.)
(Then, just as suddenly as Stranger had started crying, he stopped, gathered himself, unwrapped his arms from around Gino and started walking to the door.)
Hey! Hey, Stranger! Where are you going? (rushes off after Stranger and nips at his feet, while Stranger secures the lock on the house’s main door. Stranger shakes him off by a thrust of his hand. He comes back and yanks at the hem of his shirt. Stranger turns back angrily and shoos him away.)
I’M SORRY!! I know what you want, boy. I can’t take you with me. I’m incapable of being there for anyone… I’ve no home, no money, nowhere and no one to go to. There’s people looking for me. You’ll be left alone again if they kill me. (Pats his head lovingly, while the tears still roll down his face) I can’t take you with me! Just go, please, be a good boy and go away. Thank you for being there with my Father, thank you for being there for him. Bless you! (Stranger unlocks a rusty car, gets in, and gives Gino one last look.)
(Gino stares back with sad eyes) Its okay. Its alright. I get that you don’t want me. I get that you’re sad….I guess I’ll just stay here, eat from the city streets. (Whimpers and lies down on the wet earth, his nose between his crossed forelegs, his eyes glassy, his tail lying dead on the ground. Stranger breaks into a fresh spate of guilty tears and drives away into the mist, while Gino follows the foggy tail lights with droopy eyes).
I guess… I guess I’ll just do what I’ve been doing since Master died. Bide my time. He told me to be a good boy when he breathed his last on that stretcher. He told me I’ll join him in faraway land soon.
©Pradita Kapahi, 2016.
Picture Credits – http://www.pixabay.com