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The Dogs in Midsummer
|by Dhiraj Bhimji Raniga|
Like the beggars, the town’s vagrant dogs devoted greater part of their day among the public. The crawl space under the Golgotha (a place of skull), was their forum. Golgotha was a shabby rendezvous for the ladies of the night and men whose lives revealed depiction of failure. The great affair for the dogs was to move freely and to feel the needs and hitches of their lives; instead, they failed and thus became the ostracized vagrants of the town. They sat in exhaustion in public places and gazed dreamily upon the bustling life of the humans on the streets. Gujaratis, the local shopkeepers in town, hardly had the empathy to give a home to such creatures; they had no time for such companions either.
Just after the crack of dawn, the vendors displayed their stalls with colorful fruits and vegetables in the market place as the Market Master opened the gates. A vendor deftly lobbing off chips to shape coconuts into pointed heads, stared at the passing women’s exposed midriff while the vagrants chewed on the fibrous husk. The shopkeepers’ sprinkled water on the hot pavements in front of their shops after a good cleanse with their bristle brooms. And if they sighted the rovers, they noisily tapped on the pile of wooden shutters placed under the window with their brooms to remind the roving creatures to keep their distance. Then they lit jasmine incense sticks and placed them in the crevice of the dusty walls with clasped hands.
The northerly winds from the ocean whispered through dancing leaves of the tall coconut trees across the main street. Shortly, before the movements on the streets, the rumble of the coal engine train, carrying sugarcane to South Pacific Sugar Mills, hurtled pass across the road on the iron rails through midst of the town. Within minutes, the fragrance of the incense quickly thinned out into the thick cloud of black smoke. Subsequently, the children took the advantage, they ran along the train, pulling sugarcane from moving carts and the dogs ran behind them barking in excitement, and only then, the little town of Lautoka began a new day.
From all sides of the streets the canines came gravely walking forth. A pack of vicious group flocked by the town’s Bus Station. One day it seemed as if they wanted to sabotage the buses, but rather they claimed the territory. Some made their nook just by the Lee Roy’s house, diagonally to the market place where the wide drainage carried the toxic water from the Lautoka General Hospital to the ocean. There, the naked native Fijian children swam and speared fish for their family’s frugal meal. Apparently, the vagrants quenched their thirst in the pool of this toxic water. The dogs then took their place on the streets as the king of the animals and meditated. Some followed strangers on the streets and the strangers scared by the looks of the beast would say, “Gone gone gone” then they would increase their pace to avoid the stalkers. As the noon hour approached the dogs from the other part of the town, especially from Cathay and Dominion Hotels made their appearance. They awoke later than others, for they had feasted upon the previous night’s rancid food left over from the hotels’ kitchen.
The canines descended from the venerable old places which they called sweet homes. They loved their niche under the houses which were built on the short tree trunk pillars with crawl spaces. Soon after a giggle between the sheets, the tiny toddlers were born and later they crawled out as miniature scavengers. The little ones in their little world that foresee no boundaries sometimes strike lucky at times and find their way to a nicer homes and became more civilized creatures among the family of four legged animals. In some homes when the sun had subdued its fire, the dining table stood spread for the family to seat and feast, and for the dog, he has his silver plate or he munches on the thrown pieces of bread or meat on the floor. In reality a dog gladly admits the superiority of his master over himself, accepts his judgment as final, but on the contrary, he does not consider himself as a slave. He looks upon his master as a king, almost as his God and expects his God to severe if need be, but he also expects him to be just.
Unlike the humans, they made love in the alleys and public places, they had no shame, indeed why should they, they could literally sense the tragedies played around them. Lee Roy always had problem with the vagrants. Vicious as the dogs were, Lee Roy never made the effort to extend his hand in friendship to the rascals. There were times he would fetch cold water in a container and splash over the poor barking creatures. On the other hand, Sundays brought joy to this particular poor old sod when his master, McPhail, brought him along to Saint Thomas Church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Where he sat, the eastern sunrays pieced through the fanlight church windows and painted the hymn singers’ faces blue, green, red, and yellow, on the nave of the church. The dog lay on the steps outside the church, looked at his master with slight confusion, and listened to him sing at the chancel of the church. Father Fitzpatrick, standing tall in his alb, gave the sermon. and when time came to receive communion the dog stood up and wagging his tale barked every so often, trying to get his master’s attention as if to ask, why he should be deprived of such holiness,
Sometimes their longing for activity was roused, and they slowly crossed the street and sat at the corner of the Lautoka market accompanied by summer moths and flies and they lazed the afternoon away on the fallen leaves. No one dared to make an effort to walk past the sleeping beasts. A faint interest lighted up the passive faces if the passerby was known to them, and only then, they would not move a muscle. Later before the day ended, they look over their shoulders and slowly walked away to their private hell.
The only time the dogs had their day was on Fridays. Under the faintly illuminated street lights across the Globe Theatre, was a triangle island, a curious surrounding with its acoustical properties. The farmers like warriors gathered from the suburban muddy fields with their sacks full of vegetables. They waited upon the arrival of Market Master the following morning to open the gates so they could take their usual stalls in the market place. During the course of the night, they played instruments and sang in off beat rhythms much like the ones from Bihar, a region of East-central India. The town’s deprived scavengers lay downstage like Royals and set their eyes upon the minstrels who brewed the song of love and hatred among the other smiling faces and thus they enjoyed their Friday evenings with occasional howling accompaniments when excited.As the days and years went by, they stayed in their private hell without the sense of time and time like river flowed past them. They manage to stare at few more years to come, then they gave up and they limited their movements, they became old. The struggle for survival ceased except this time the poor old sods did not open their eyes to see who the passerby was.
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