We have named the dog at last. All year, I have just called her baba, which is what I call all animals I don’t know the names of.
Baba is Hindi for father. (Or Urdu. Or something. The linguists can fight over it.) As a colloquialism, it’s a bit like saying dude.
So the dog has been “dude” for a year.
We met the dog, if I didn’t tell you before or you don’t remember, because she was lying in the way. She was lying directly in the way on the narrow concrete steps leading up to my flat on the first day that I moved in, as I was carrying all of my earthly possession up it.
They say one in seven dogs has rabies here. I don’t know if that’s true or how they made that estimation. But, it seems to me, the thing to do is to not get bitten.
So we made friends. You can make enemies of dogs or you can make friends, and if she was going to be lying around my house in the way all the time, it seemed better to make friends.
It’s not the really the Country X way of things. For the most part, they get a stick or a stone and act threatening. Or they just make a noise that sounds a little like water hissing out of a punctured hose, and because the noise has been accompanied by sticks and stones in the past, the dogs slink off in the same way they would if you held a stick over your head and waved it around. But I am not of the stick or stone type.
Instead, I held out my hand. She sniffed. I gave her a belly rub.
We are not close. I don’t see her for weeks on end, and then she will come running to meet me. Or, she lies on the pavement outside the house and looks at me with interest while refusing to move. Lately, I have seen her more. There is a kind of shelter that has formed for her under a stack of boards leaning against the house, and it has become a nice place for her to sleep.
Anyway, that is the dog. She was walking by my door one day—I saw her through the kitchen window—and Lana popped out to go open the door and pet her for a while. She called her Meesha, which is a Russian nickname meaning bear, because the dog is sturdy and black and furry and very much like a little bear cub.
So that is Meesha. Meesha has a brother we are not friends with. He growled at us once—the growl was justified, and the story of the growl is too long and tedious to bother with. But, we don’t pet him. Mostly, Meesha and her fatter, shorter brother spend their days together.
Meesha has a friend too. His name is Oscar. We are friends with Oscar—he is the pet dog of the shopkeeper who lives just on the next street up the hill—although we need to be careful of him. He is creamy and long-haired and has an uncomfortable-looking underbite and is really quite cute.
He is also very playful—I suppose he is still quite young—and we need to be careful of him, because he bites. He doesn’t bite hard. He is not vicious. But little teeth can scratch and break the skin and then you can either get a series of painful rabies shots, or you can worry whether you will die a horrible for the next three months. I have done the latter and didn’t like it.
So that is the little dog pack around my house. There are others who come and go, and there are two pet dogs next door that seem to be friends with our dogs.
But the top dogs on this little corner are Meesha and her nameless brother. Today, I heard a dog crying. It’s that crying they make when they are saying, “Please don’t hurt me please don’t hurt me I’ll be good I’ll leave if you want.” So I knew there was a new dog who had wandered into things. I didn’t look. Sometimes I do. I am curious about the lives of the dogs in my world. They interest me. They are in so many ways exactly like us.
Later though, I did look outside and I saw who had come. A small dog I think I hadn’t seen before and another one who doesn’t seem to have his own particular pack. He wanders here and there mostly and has some kind of neurological disorder—several of the dogs do—that makes him move his head up and down like he’s constantly strike by how brilliant you are.
So they had come, these two dogs and Oscar was there along with Meesha and her brother. The five of them were playing in the empty lot next door-I suppose we have to call it that. It is not a field. There are my landlord’s building materials stacked up in it and recently a pit with broken bottles in it has appeared that I haven’t discerned the purpose of yet.
I felt happy seeing them play like that. It’s the kind of thing I would have looked at before and tried to make myself enjoy and been only marginally able to. (That whole but she’s dead thing.) Today, I watched them and was happy, watching them run around in that happy happy happy way that dogs do.
I said, “Nata, look at the dogs. They’re playing.” I said this out loud. I was in my own house with no one around—only you know I also talk to dead people, and you will not judge me for being a little bit mad.
I felt her there. I did. I really did. Next to me.
It seemed to me she said, They are just like us, always playing.
Because we did play. Not always games, but other things, Things you can play with each other when there aren’t any toys around, when you only have your two hands to do it with. She tickled me—not like my dad did, not like it was also torture, but deliciously. The kind of tickling that stops long enough for you to laugh and catch your breath, but then starts up again and then stops. A tickling with pauses in it, that is not relentless, and not too much: It is not that horrible I’m laughing, but I don’t like it anymore kind of tickling, because it is simply too much. We tried to sneak around and touch each other without getting caught in the hands of the other. We did that too.
So that is why she would have said that.
I said, “I love you.”
She said, I love you too.
We watched the dogs.