“He took my heart and ran with it, and I hope he’s running still, fast and strong, a piece of my heart bound up with his forever”
— by Patricia McConnell, For The Love of A Dog
Once upon a time there lived an old man and a dog. The dog was supposed to be ‘his’ dog but the old man preferred the term ‘a dog’ better, because, quite frankly, he didnt want ‘the’ dog. In fact, he didnt like dogs or animals in the first place, or sometimes, even humans for that matter (especially the small kind or the ones that behave like dogs too.)
But you see, he needed a dog and the difference between needing and wanting had always been a blur for the old man, so, in return, they agreed to give him the nicest dog they could find (or rather, the stupidest one who wouldnt mind the company of a grumpy old man for the rest of his life.) The dog was chosen and the old man couldnt have been more displeased. One would expect their relationship to progress over the next half a decade. Well, in all truth, they didnt change one bit besides the obvious fact that they both grew an equal span of 5 years each.
The old man grew older ( he did not mellow not unlike most people his age) and as for the dog, well, the dog… was content, enough said.
Everyday the same routine progressed.
Bath, Breakfast, Medications, Walks, Radio, Nap, Lunch, Medication, Nap, Bath Dinner, Medication, Bed.
It would be insane , if one did not get a wee bit bored of the monotonous, almost robotic lifestyle. The old man, however did not seem to mind, but alas, the dog did.
And when, the old man discovered this, it was like Hiroshima and Nagasaki all over again.
It was a usual breakfast with the old man at the table and the dog on the floor. Old man finished his meal and reached for his medication while dog stood and waited for the highly anticipated morning walk.
This time, however, old man did not fasten dog’s collar. Dog waited and waited but the old man’s skinny hand ceased to meet the dog’s fur. Dog looked up and found the old man shaking his head slowly. “No,” was all he said.
The revelation, much to both of their surprise, really upset dog. Old man sighed as he offered a hand for comfort but dog backed away as if it was scalding hot – growling fiercely at the extended hand. A pin drop silence followed – like the lull before the storm and soon after, dog began to regret his decision. He moved forward to the still extended hand and waited for an oncoming pat.
The dog, however was sadly mistaken, instead of the gentle pat he had expected, a shocking pain seared through its body, so much so that dog bit its own tongue while gritting its teeth. Old man was angry and the impulse of his rage was to hurt. Old man’s coiled hand lay embedded in dog’s fur as he continued to fist at the dog’s soft neck.
Little did both of them realize, that dog’s impulse was to hurt too.
Dog struggled and howled in agony and wrenched forcefully away from the elderly man’s iron grip. Old man wailed at the sudden pressure at his frail wrist. He let go immediately and cradled his injured hand to his chest and weeped.
And dog knew it wasnt because of the pain.
He left the man alone to recover his bearings until returning soon after, with his head bowed low and his eyes cast down. He approached the lonely man.
I’m sorry, it said.
Old man did not turn and dog knew he was back to his normal self. Ignoring the dog’s presence, old man remained seated at the table, his head nodded down as if staring stubbornly at the hard wood.
Dog let out a pathetic bleat. In his mind, old man’s voice cut through the atmosphere like sharp ice.
“You’re not a goat. Shut up.”
The dog sunk down to its belly and looked sulkily at the old man. Old man huffed and started muttering away about how pathetic his life was. After completing his long rant, he turned his back to the dog with a small satisfied smirk on his face. The old man of course, was under the impression that dog understood his lengthy monolouge and automatically assumed that dog’s sullen expression was, in fact, the product of guilt, shame and … symphathy?
Unbeknownst to him, were that the actual thoughts that ran through the dog’s mind, were quite the opposite. Not that it didnt understood what the man had said, in fact, he had learnt to pick up man’s language over the span of time they were together. It was just that, he chose to ignore old man’s irritating rambling and concentrate on a more serious topic.
I’m sorry, it thought. What is a goat? I’m sorry. I am not goat. I’m sorry. Then what am I? I’m sorry. Ah yes, PATHETIC. I’m sorry.
Old man would have been pleased either way, since he didnt expect more from what he assumed to be the dogs pathetic, meager brain.
“Even if you died, I wouldnt get to make a decent sum out of you. Your whole anatomy is useless. Sick, Pathetic old dog,” he complained several times.
The often misconception of the word ‘Pathetic’ soon led the dog to realise that he had finally been christened with, said name. And so, whenever the pathetic word was uttered, uncaring to whether or not it was directed to him, he would simply stick out his bright pink tongue and smile like there was no tomorrow.
Old man seemed rather pleased with his achievement.
“That’s it, pathetic. You are so pathetic! Aww, pathetic, pathetic boy! Arent you the most pathetic thing in this whole pathetic planet??” Old man would coo and poor dog would continue to wag its tail, oblivious to the wicked smile on the old man’s face.
At this point, one would think the dog really was pathetic and equally stupid, at that and that the old man was right after all.
One would not be far from the truth.
However, there is one exception. Dog’s brain wasn’t as pathetic as the old man had pictured it to be. In reality, it actually was bigger than the old man’s as brains do shrivel as one ages.
Dog was young.
Dog was as fit as a fiddle.
In the old man’s mind, pathetic was the closest thing he had to adoration. Only because, every time he imagined his family, that word would spring to mind. The family who left him once he was sightless. It wasn’t as if he had always been… Then, they replaced their spot with a lesser being. A dog. I am not that blind! The old man wanted to scream. Nor am I stupid. I know a dog when I see one. That was when the man bit back his plea. They were right. He couldn’t see, he had nothing to prove. He was useless, old, pathetic. So he kept his mouth and watched his children leave him behind. At least he could still hear them. His grandchildren. They weren’t laughing. “Who’s that old man in the wheelchair, dad?” a girl asked – the unanswered question hung in the air like a damp chill. The old man smiled. A girl. He had always wanted a granddaughter.
He often wondered what they looked like. Would they be like me or their parents? And then slowly, he realized he had forgotten how his own children looked like, how he looked like. A soft head came in contact with his palm. Fur. A dog. Pathetic.
And so from then on, he could only picture because he could not see. He could only imagine the faces of his grandchildren while he still could. And the face of his silent companion. Old, worn, pathetic and alone. Just like me.
Dog knew old man’s everything since the time he met him, it was his duty and that made dog only want to love the man even more.
So when dog nudged at the old mans stubborn form, he didn’t respond.
There were no ‘pathetics’ or harsh comments followed after. There was no rant or complaint. Words the dog actually missed and longed to hear.
Don’t be so pathetic! dog almost wanted to shout, having figured the meaning by now.
The old man remained still, staring at the table with invisible eyes. Dog nudged the old man harder and harder and realized what had happened. He kept nudging. Over and over again. The old man tipped over.
Dog had never cried before and remembered how the old man did just moments before. It was then, he realised why people do.
I’m sorry, it said. I’m sorry.