I have hated dogs all my life. It didn’t matter if they were Labrador or Pomeranian; black or white, big or small -I have despised them all alike. In return, they have barked at me and chased me and humiliated me. I have memories of trying to evade from them on foot and on the bicycle, on open roads and in closed alleys. Even the so-called “friendly dogs”, Bruno and Jerry, of my high school girlfriend, had made me test my stamina numerous times. I have never been bitten, thank god, but many near-miss experiences are still fresh in my mind.
So, I was a little surprised when I found myself standing near a litter of puppies, on an early summer day, with their mother beside them. Maybe it was their teeny half closed eyes on small faces that made me curious about them. Or maybe it was their fragile bodies that made me feel less afraid than usual. I stood there, observing them intently. They were four in number. One of them was black, the second brown, the third brownish black, and the fourth, a combination of black and white. For the first time in life, I had a different emotion, other than fear, near dogs.
It was my brother who had found them, huddled in a corner, near an abandoned house shivering in the rain. I had tagged along with him, casually, just to help him out, if he needed any, and also I was curious to see what he would do. My brother picked them up one by one in a basket and brought them to our courtyard. For the next two days, they lay there, shivering and trembling, visited intermittently by their mother for feeding.
After a week or so, they started to wobble around, rolling over each other, trying to stand up and fall again. It was on one of the evenings when my brother wasn’t around that I heard a wailing sound. I got out of my bed and went downstairs to have a look. One of the pups had moved out of the makeshift shelter and was trying to crawl out from between the barricade and in the process had got stuck among the bunch of wires, with half of its body hanging outside the barricade. It made me smile a little, to see that little thing making a valiant attempt. It was the one with brown color. I went towards the barricade to put it out of its misery.
I had never touched a pup before. So, I was a little wary while picking it up. As soon as I untangled the pup, I placed it on the ground. The pup slid like a sulking baby and rest its head on my foot. As I tried to pull back my foot, it clawed on my foot with its little paws and made a soft whimpering sound. I noticed it was a little bigger than the other pups, a tad fatter, an ounce bulkier. Brown in color, it looked like a ball of soft wool. I sat down near it. Apparently, the pup had slept. I felt its body vibrating in rhythms of short breaths.
After that little incident, I started to take more care of those pups, especially the brown one. Every morning I went out to pour milk in a bowl kept outside for them and play with them. And perhaps they started to like me too. Even before I called for them, they used to recognize the sound of my footsteps and used to dash towards me with a jump. The brown one used to be most excited, staying with me a little longer than others, playing a little more with me than others.
On one of the evening, while I was coming back from the market, I saw three of the pups near their usual place but the brown one was missing. A little worried I started looking around for it. After a few moments of searching, I saw it on the other side of the road. Feeling relieved, I started walking towards it. I had taken only a couple of steps towards it when the pup also saw me. Instantly, it started running towards me. Then it happened in a flash -a loud sound of a horn honking, an SUV speeding up towards the pup, I shouting in vain for it to stop. By the time I realized what had happened, that SUV had run over the pup. My eyes were shut tightly in fear. I felt my heart beating faster against my chest.
I sat down, too afraid to open my eyes, too scared to face the reality. Suddenly, a flash of anger ran inside my body and I felt a strong urge to run towards that car. It was then that I felt a soft touch on my feet. I opened my eyes to see that pup, looking at me, with a confused look on its face. Maybe it thought something had happened to me. I laughed with joy picking it up with my both hands. Apparently, the SUV had passed right over the pup without even touching it.
“You lucky dog,” I cried feeling relieved to see him. “Don’t you ever do this again. Lucky, yes that’s what I would call you now. Lucky.” I christened him joyously.
Weeks passed by and spending time with these pups became a habit for me. Daily, I would go downstairs to feed them in the morning, play with them in the evenings, and come to bed only after ensuring that they were inside in their shelter, fast asleep. Lucky was my favorite, and I guess I was his favorite too. It had outgrown every other pup in size. Just hearing my footsteps it used to jump out of its shelter. It used to ensure that I play with it more than the others. Its energy was infectious. The more I spent time with it, the more I fell in love with it.
One night, I returned home late after a party, at around one in the night. My friends Ashish and Varun dropped me at my house. As I came out of the car, I asked Ashish to not allow Varun to drive as he was heavily drunk. While entering the house, I tiptoed lest I disturb anybody. Just when I was about to climb the stairs I heard a slight whimper. I turned and found Lucky standing there looking at me. It was waiting for me to return. I was surprised. I was happy.
“Lucky, you sweet little thing”, I said softly as I sat down on my knees.
It ran towards me and hugged my legs. Maybe it was because I was a little drunk or maybe Lucky’s little act really touched my heart, I felt a tear dropped out of my eye. I hugged the pup and then took it down to its shelter before I went upstairs.
A little hungover, I woke up late the next morning. I heard a noise outside, somebody talking. It was my mother. She was talking to the neighbor downstairs. Trying to sleep I sunk deeper into the bed and covered my face with a pillow. Some of the words still filtered through the layers and I heard vague words and sounds.
“…it happened in morning.. that would hurt.. people drive rashly these days…it was really unlucky….”
I sprung up and sat bolt upright. I remembered that my friend, Varun, last night, was insisting on driving the car. I immediately called him, but he didn’t pick up the phone. I started panicking. Scared, I rang him again and again. After trying three to four times, I called up Ashish. He picked up after the third ring.
“Ashish, where are you now”, I was almost shouting.
He replied lazily, “At my home, obviously. Why are you asking this? Are you still under the effect of last night’s drink.”, laughing as he said this.
“And Varun, where is he? Did you talk to him last night?”, I questioned.
He replied, “I dropped him at his home first, he was too drunk, so I didn’t let him drive.” I felt relieved. Satisfied, I told him sorry that I disturbed him and hung up the phone.
“…it happened in morning.. that would hurt.. people drive rashly these days…it was really unlucky….”
The words rang loud in my ears. I felt a little edgy.
I went to my mother and asked what had happened. She said something about an accident during the early morning. A worried look ran over her face when she said that. I ran downstairs. It was already ten in the morning and the pups were roaming outside. All, but one. Lucky was missing. I looked here and there frantically, stamping my foot loud on the ground, hoping that he recognizes the sound of my footsteps. Lucky didn’t turn up. I kept on looking around the area. After a few moments of running around frantically, I saw, behind the banyan tree, Lucky lying on the grass under the tree’s shade. At first, I thought it was sleeping. The stillness of its body was unnerving me.
My heart was beating against my chest faster now. Nervously, I moved towards Lucky. As I had taken a couple of steps, I saw Lucky, lying on the grass, still, lifeless, motionless and . . . . . . . headless. I stopped with a heavy jolt, shocked to my bones. It took me a while to realize what I was watching was true. Lucky was lying in front of my eyes and it was headless. The cruelty of the scene in front of me made me choke. My chest became heavy and I sat on the ground with a thud. My mother told me later that Lucky had got out of the shelter in the morning, far from our home, and then a speeding car ran over it, trampling its head.
Lucky was gone. It was dead.
A tinge of sharp pain ran inside my body. I felt helpless, weak, abandoned. I pinched myself hoping it to be a dream, expecting myself to wake up in my bed. Expecting Lucky to jump and lunge towards me. But nothing helped and nothing changed. Lucky was gone. Realization sunk in slowly and cruelly. For some time, I didn’t know what to do, what to say or where to go. I stood there, near Lucky’s lifeless body, hoping somebody to give me answers about this loss.
Slowly, denial changed to despair and then to acceptance. I realized that there were things needed to be done. Painfully, I trudged upstairs. I found my mother standing at the gate, apparently watching me all this time. She had tears in her eyes.
“You can’t do anything about these things,” I said with a straight face, trying to put up a strong facade.
Seeing tears in her eyes, I realized I was welling up too. I went inside and took out a fresh bed sheet. When I came downstairs, I saw the other pups standing around lucky. They too had realized something amiss, something wrong. Lucky who would not stand still for a second while it was alive, was lying still, motionless and that ached every other pup around it. I spread the sheet near Lucky and rolled its lifeless body onto it.
Watching me do this, the other pups became wary. Realizing something was wrong, they started jumping on Lucky, hoping to irritate Lucky, bring out a reaction out of Lucky, the way they used to do earlier. I had to push them away hard. My tears were falling in a continuous stream now. I placed its body on the backseat of my car. I took the plow which my mother had brought down with her and started driving towards the edge of the town, near a canal.
I remember the last night when I had seen Lucky. What if I had stayed with it a while longer? Would that have changed something? Maybe if I wasn’t outside until late night, things would have been different, and Lucky might have been alive. I cursed myself. But nothing would change now.
I was helpless. Lucky was gone.
I drove slowly. I wasn’t able to concentrate on the road ahead. Every other second I hoped that somehow, lucky would come alive, it would jump right at me. But it never happened. I reached the canal and started digging the earth. I don’t know which drenched the soil beneath me more, my sweat or my tears. I held up Lucky for the one last time and placed it on its grave. Unable to control anymore, I started wailing, heavily.
. . .