Wednesday, August 8, 2007

a sinking feeling

I saw Pupino one last time. I had no idea it would be my last. We spent Saturday afternoon playing his new favorite game “shake” for toffees. I gave him a bath and he rolled around on the towel drying off. He got some medicine for his cuts on his nose in a tea cup full of milk. On Sunday we had tied him up because a guy complained. The complaint seemed so fruitless and transparent: an obvious attempt to get money from us, we didn’t even really think about it after the discussion ended. Even if this guy was disturbed, how could he take his frustrations out on innocent sweet Pupino?

Pupino is a 9 month old puppy who had recently discovered his manhood. To prove it he recently began pursuing a girlfriend in the neighborhood. He was frequently observed strolling around with her and periodically invited her over for lunch and would let her eat first out of his bowl. Sometimes he was found sneaking under an added barrier to the fence that the guards had made to prevent him from sneaking out. On a good day these barriers were Pupino proof but on a bad day, when Pupino was feeling frisky, he couldn’t be stopped.

Every morning the guards and the drivers and I made up little stories about the adventures of Pupino and it seemed that these stories were some sort of platform in which we could laugh and joke and be playful together. This is a difficult platform to find in an environment outside your own, but somehow Pupino managed to break down all barriers for us with regards to humor. All our discussions were ironic and sarcastic and preposterous and I loved it.

Never, not once did poor Pupino fight back when all the dogs in the neighborhood would fight and every time he escorted me to the basketball court he would take a long route up over the hill to the left of my walking trail so that he didn’t have to encounter the meanest dog in the neighborhood. He never growled at a human being, actually he didn’t even bark which was not so great (given he was gifted to us to be a guard dog) but it wasn’t his style and he spoiled him rotten for it. All the kids in the neighborhood knew him by name even more so than my own and so some days you could see me walking down a dusty path with him and hear “whitewoma! Whitewoma! Pupino! Pupino!” He was so sweet, such a tool.

He went missing on Sunday night. Earlier that day I found him rolling around chewing at the makeshift rope leash that we had tied around his neck to keep him from going to the aforementioned complainer’s house (had I only known how dangerous this fella truly was). Pupino played with the rope in the way a cat would play with a dangling toy. He looked so innocent that I figured it would take him some time but he would get free and join the dozens of stray dogs in the neighborhood and the guy would cool off because, in reality, Pupino was no trouble at all. I never, not for one second, thought Pupino would leave and never come back.

Allegedly, Pupino had spoiled a screen. When we visited the house there was not window or door on the house that was not already spoiled and the home was not even the beginning of a home. It looked abandoned and the children were all running around with runny noses and the wife was clearly maltreated.

The night it happened was a bad night in Gbarnga. Guns and ammo were found in a small house on Broad Street near the mosque, and dozens of people threatened to light the mosque on fire. They stoned the house of the alleged arms dealer and chanted, “the war is over! no guns! no bullets! no more!” Failing to see the irony in their aggression towards the potential aggressors about being aggressive, an ire sense of instability set in and the UN forces were out patrolling all night. Unbeknownst to me this was the same evening poor Pupino was slaughtered.

I find myself unable to relive myself of two regrets – one, that when that scary man came to discuss the screen door Pupino had “allegedly” spoiled on his house that I didn’t speak with him longer. I figured that by sending him away I was sending a message that no I was not going to engage in these “lets exploit the NGO worker” games. I figured this man, who was claiming this very specific male dog, one of many, was some sort of culprit, a dog with a volitional plan of wreaking havoc on his household, could not be serious. At the end of the day he was demanding payback for a made up issue so that he could access some of the money he so quickly (and wrongfully) assumed we had. And two, that in that last moment of contact with poor sweet Pupino, I had not relented and let him crawl up into the hammock with me in the creeping little way he always tried. I was thinking he was getting too big and he was too dirty and he shouldn’t be crawling on people anyways, but in my heart of hearts, I adored this foolish little dog for being such a lover and should have let him crawl in and cuddle for a minute.

I think it hurts a little bit more because in this world I’m living in, a world where I am always an outsider, I felt I communicated more, not less, with this silly little dog. Pupino never considered my skin color in formulating his impression of me and once I won him over, his love for me was unconditional. I was so proud of him when he would walk with me down to the basketball court, unleashed, with a slight swagger. He would sit patiently in the tall grass periodically grasping for flies, waiting for me to finish. He would wait the entire two hours, play with the kids that were lingering about (if they so desired) and then he would walk me home. With the same studly gait he came, he went, and he would arrive home to greet Sharon with as much love and excitement as he had greeted her three hours earlier.

I once read that holding hands is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together.
I find that a fitting phrase for poor Pupino as I felt so incredibly proud of him the day he finally learned how to shake. Even though it took weeks and weeks to conquer this small task, he eventually became a true gentleman when it came to the shake. After weeks of him rigidly resisting any attempt at the hand shake, he eventually did it and once he knew how excited we got when he did it, he became a shaking fool. Some nights I could even hear the guards outside my window practicing with him and once he did what they asked for, they always clicked and whispered “that’s one clever dog.” From the day he learned how to shake forward he would do that thing dogs do when they can’t seem to get enough; just place his paw up on my hand or my knee and wait, over and over again as if to say I have something to say but since you can’t understand me, let’s say nothing together.

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