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Naina’s face was still unlined, un-crinkled and her hair was jet black, short. But her eyes struck me the most. They looked like they had battled long and hard. Us dogs, we are intuitive about such things.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Navs is one of the winners for the February 2021 Muse of the Month. About this story, our author juror for this month, Damyanti Biswas says, “This was a very refreshing story, from the point of view of a dog, with a rather heart-breaking end that’s full of wisdom and acceptance.” It was originally titled ‘Naina’.
Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving.
This is what humans called “night”. Nights are my favourite times- it provides my beloved Naina some respite from her usual chaotic existence. I can see her now from my spot on the floor- curled up in her usual fetal position, clutching her second pillow like she’s afraid it will be snatched away, her mouth slightly ajar and her usually troubled face peaceful. She often coaxes me to climb up onto the bed for the night and I usually oblige her. As soon as she drifts off though, I jump off and snuggle into my usual vantage point on the floor, where I can keep an eye on her.
Today has been a troubled time for her- she fell asleep only after hugging me tightly for the longest time and spilling what humans call “tears” from her eyes. So tonight, I am being extra vigilant. As I settle into a half-sleep, with one ear cocked open, I once again marvel at the fact that humans would have it so much easier if they learned to live the simple life like us dogs do.
That’s me, Jenna. A dog. I am ten years old, with a furry coat that Naina works hard every weekend (to my utter displeasure) to spiff up. At ten, I am no longer the sprightly puppy I used to be. But Naina laughs and says I was always an old soul, even when I was a puppy. I was a shelter dog- they picked me and my two siblings off of some highway, about to be run over by a speeding car. At the shelter, my favourite person was the shelter lady. She always picked me up with the widest smile on her face. Her face was all kinds of crinkled- deep furrows on the forehead, thin lines around her eyes and snow-white hair. Every so often, she’d load all of us into a van and drive us out to what she called “adoption events”- where people came to look at all the dogs and cats and took them home. One of my siblings quickly got adopted the first time but as time passed, no one took me home. Probably why my favourite thing to do at those events and at the shelter was to snooze. Close my eyes, forget the external World and just jump into my make-believe World. As the darkness set in and sleep took over, it was easy to imagine a World where I was taken home, loved and pampered.
And then, one day, Naina found me at one of those adoption events! As usual, I was snoozing in my large black crate. My other sibling- we’ll call her Chocolate- was always the hyperactive one. Irritatingly so. Of course, most humans only want to play with the active one. Not many care about the snoozing one. Which suited me just fine, because why get my hopes up unnecessarily?
That’s when I heard a voice high up above me, “Hi there!” Shrill, in the tone humans usually adopted to talk to us dogs.
I sighed and continued snoozing. Probably another person to look at Chocolate, hmph!
“Can I say hi to this one, please?” The voice continued. The kindness in it made me want to raise my head up and hope- maybe this one would take me home? Who was I kidding though? “Calm down, Jenna”, I told myself and continued staring down.
The crate door opened and my shelter lady tugged on my leash. I reluctantly got up- having your leash tugged doesn’t leave you with much choice but to get up. Suddenly, my feet left the ground. Help!!!! Before I knew it, I was up in the air and face to face with the “voice”. It looked young and from what I knew of humans, longer hair and a shriller voice usually meant it was a “she”.
“Hi puppy, you are SO cute! I am Naina. What’s your name?” she smiled at me. Still smiling, she looked at my shelter lady and proceeded to ask who I was, how old I was, whether I was vaccinated etc.
I just kept staring at her. Her face looked young. To be fair, age was an abstract concept for a dog like me. Compared to my shelter lady’s face, Naina’s face was still unlined, un-crinkled and her hair was jet black, short. But her eyes struck me the most. They looked like they had battled long and hard. Us dogs, we are intuitive about such things. There are those humans who pick us up and we can tell immediately that they haven’t had to struggle much in life and have been blessed enough to have had happy, carefree lives. But I could tell Naina was different. Her smile didn’t quite touch her eyes. This girl, I could tell she had had it rough. And for the first time, I let myself hope- I could go home to her, I could help her heal, I could make sure that smile reached up to her eyes……
“Ok then!” Naina’s voice cut through my day dream. “Give me one week to make up my mind. If she’s still here after a week, she’s mine.”
My shelter lady took me back and that was the first time I started squirming. “Wait, put me down! Was I not going home with Naina?! I want to go with her- she needs me!” I started barking my high shrill bark.
“There, there, Jenna. Let’s see if this one comes back in a week”. My shelter lady comforted me.
“What does one week mean?” I started whining. Moping. Sulked the rest of the day in my crate. Humans, hmph. Did they not know that for us dogs, “one week” did not mean anything? How many meals is that? How many different naps is that? The only way I knew time had passed was when sunlight disappeared and darkness reappeared. My favourite Darkness. My shelter lady always gave me a sweet treat before turning off all the shelter lights. I would then drift off into a dark, sugary sleep, oblivious to this cruel World that continued to reject me, reducing me to a pile of questions assessing my worth rather than getting to know me.
After an interminable amount of time passed, we returned to another adoption event. I had already decided that Naina wasn’t coming back. But as soon as my crate was unloaded from the van, I saw her! Waiting patiently, craning her neck. A few papers signed and before I knew it, I was headed home with Naina!
I was Naina’s first dog and I could tell she was nervous from the beginning. A few hiccups and a few anxious weeks later, we settled into co-existence. I was finally happy. Naina and I lived together in a big house with a couple more people. These people were fun to play with and always happy to oblige me with yummy treats.
But it was Naina I loved and looked forward to seeing. On “weekends” (which were extended periods of time when Naina would just hang out with me), she and I would lay on her bed. Naina would watch something on a square thing, occasionally reaching over to kiss me or pet me. Other times, she would be gone for long hours. Initially I would be nervous, wondering if she would come back. But she always came back- usually with a “Hi puppy! I missed you!” Oh, how I longed to hear that voice. I would go crazy and jump up on her and she would laugh in delight, hugging me and allowing me to smother her faces with licks. It was one of the few times I saw her smile light up her eyes.
I don’t know if all humans are the same but Naina usually went through a gamut of emotions from sunrise to darkness. Sometimes, she would be furiously working on her square thing (I later learnt that it was called a laptop). Some other times, she would watch something on her laptop and laugh out loud- I loved hearing that laugh. And then there were the times she would punch buttons furiously on her smaller square thing (apparently called a phone!), sometimes nervously nibbling her lower lip, sometimes her brow furrowed in anger and sometimes, just happily. Of course, there were the times when her other friends came over. She’d transform into a completely different Naina- outgoing, kind, smiling, never a trace of her inner battles showing on her face. But the battles persisted- I could tell. Sometimes, on our walks together, she would plod along sadly. No trace of her smile, just continuously crying. On days she was really sad, I’d snuggle up next to her and she would keep still, holding onto me.
Somehow ten years have flown by. My joints pain a lot more now. I have had some close calls with the vet where a harried Naina has clung onto me crying bitterly. We have travelled so many places together. I got to experience a strange, cold stuff that Naina called “snow”. I went on a scary, noisy tube- like machine called an “airplane” at times. I am proud to say that I am a true World Traveller. Always with my brave Naina.
The reason she calls me an old soul is that I have never been a noisy dog. Unlike those other show-offs that somehow take pride in barking and jumping- oh, I’ve met a few like that. No! I am a lot more dignified, Thank you very much! Besides, I realized early on that Naina could do with one less problem in her life- the problem of an unruly, disobedient dog. It is why I have always been on my best behaviour. Errr…except if you ignore the fact that I go digging into the dustbin sometimes, which is the one thing that Naina hates! But hey, if you put yummy smelling things into the dustbin, what’s a dog to do?!
Lately though, Naina’s been more troubled than ever. She still continues to do whatever she used to do- gives me my food on time, takes me out for long walks, even plays with me as soon as she gets up in the morning. But my doggie sense tells me something’s off. She is quieter than usual, stares silently at the walls on most days, scribbles furiously in her journal. Her smile usually comes on when she sees me but even then, it has stopped touching her eyes. I can tell she’s in pain but I am at a loss as to what to do to fix her pain.
Which is why nights remain my favourite part of the day. It is one of the few times that I see Naina being peaceful. But tonight, tonight was different. I jerked awake- something had woken me up. I kept staring at Naina, peacefully dozing. In the darkness. Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud. I saw her rising up. She stopped for a second and looked at me. I was transfixed. Where was she going? I didn’t want her to go. But she seemed so happy, smiling in a way that truly lit up her eyes, with a serenity and happiness I hadn’t ever seen in her. She waved at me, blew a kiss and continued to rise up. I continued to stare at her, silently saying goodbye. Naina was finally at peace.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Damyanti Biswas, author of the multi-faceted and fast paced crime fiction book, You Beneath Your Skin, reviewed here.
Damyanti Biswas currently calls Singapore her home. Her short fiction has been published, or is forthcoming, at Smokelong, Ambit, Litro, Puerto del Sol, Pembroke, Griffith Review Australia, as well as other journals in the USA and UK. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions and is available in various anthologies in Asia. She serves as one of the editors of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her debut literary crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin, was published by Simon & Schuster, and optioned for screens by Endemol Shine. She’s a mentor at Pitch Wars, a program for aspiring authors, a blogger for the past thirteen years, and sends out a curated monthly gazette for writers and readers.
The cue is from her book You Beneath Your Skin, which you have to incorporate into your entry – whether at the beginning, end or somewhere in between.
“Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud. “
Navs wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: Rebecca’sPictures on pixabay
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