Anuja checked her watch. Time to go home. She pulled Buddy. He refused to turn around. Instead, he pulled her back.
‘Bud! Again? Stop this. Let’s go.’
But the little fellow had a mind of his own. Suddenly something whizzed past them. A squirrel? Oris that a mouse? Before she could identify it, Buddy had scampered off tugging Anuja with him. This fellow is too fast for me. Breathless she ran after him.
Abruptly, the pull slackened. The leash had broken leaving her clueless about which direction the dog had taken to.
‘Oh no! Bud? Hey Bud? Come back. Bud? Baby? Come back to mommy…baby! It’s not safe out there…!’
She heard nothing.
‘It’s getting dark, baby! Please come back to me….Bud….Bud?’
She pushed the thickets aside, peering into them. “Not the time to play games, baby.” But he was nowhere in sight.
The lake? Oh no. What if he has fallen into it?
She broke into a run. The lake stood pristine and calm. The water was still reflecting the myriad hues of the setting sun.
‘Bud….Buddy….Booodooo…’ She cried out.
Panting, she sat down on a bench. Her head in her hands. She did not know how long it had been. No, No….I can’t panic. I have to find him…but where….?
The park was huge. It was impossible to track the pup all on her own, in the fading light.
She shouted again.
No response except the crickets which carried on the monotonous symphony. Joining her hands she muttered a prayer. Tears streamed down her face.
‘Oh God, please find me Buddy….I can’t lose him. He is all that I have.’
It was 2am when she was returning home from her shift. The walk from the gate to her block seemed eternity. All she needed was some rest for her tired limbs.
And what would her mind do? Will it allow her to rest? ‘Time heals the pain,’ someone had assured her. But no, time doesn’t heal. It teaches you to live with the pain. It was a dull ache. She kept it tightly wound. There were days it threatened to unwound and spring back.
This was one such night. The pain was overwhelming. Retching over the grass, she crumpled into a heap. Heartrending sobs racked her thin frame.
And then she heard it. A soft whimper. She looked up. It was pitch dark and there was no one around. She heard it again. This time it was louder. And then a wail followed. What the heck was that? She chose to trace it. Wasn’t that a pup? Must be in distress. Wait…is it behind that house? But that’s an under-construction site. She was right. The pup was crying out from the newly constructed block. Flashing the torch on her cell phone, she tried hard to locate it. Her eyes strained in the darkness. There it was! A brown pup, ears resembling that of a deer peered at her from the fourth floor. There were no guard rails. One wrong move and it would jump to its death.
‘No…wait for me to come up.’
She made gentle, soothing sounds as she climbed up.
‘Ssshhh….don’t cry….I am coming up.’
The pup remained where it was.
‘Here I am…on the third floor…..almost there…baby…’
She was already on the fourth floor when a fresh burst of crackers lit the sky, startling them. The puppy yelped and jumped.
She yelled, rushing down the steps, frantically taking two at a time. The little pup lay immobile. With not a second to waste, Anuja picked it up, dashed off to the main road, tipped a passerby and got a lift to the nearest vet.
The next few days were an agonizing wait. The baby lay swathed in a bandage. Nothing could be predicted as the little one battled for its life.
A month later, she sat outside the hospital waiting for the vet when her phone rang. It was her employer. “Anuja, you are not coming to work ‘cos of a stray pup? A pup? Good, stay at home!” Those were the exact words of her employer before firing her. Relief filled her and not despair. She had more time for her little baby.
An assistant came running. ‘Madam, your baby….’ She did not let him finish his sentence, but ran with him, all the while bolstering herself.
The little furball looked up as she entered the cabin. She drew closer. The tail, the only un-bandaged part wagged a bit.
‘Baby…you recognize me!’
She touched him gingerly and laid her head beside his. A wet lick followed.
She named him Buddy. Bud. Budddooo. Bud bud. The nicknames followed soon. A month later, Anuja brought him home. The doctor, a childhood friend remarked. “When two survivors get together, they weave magic.”
How had she missed the similar trajectory of their path? They had both rescued each other unknowingly.
No! She can’t lose him. Wiping the tears away, she got up, called out to him again.
Tweeeet! The sound of the whistle disconcerted her. The guard!
‘What happened Madam?’
‘Bhaiya, have you seen a little dog? He is brown, has long pointed ears like a deer and….and he runs very fast.’
The man rolled his eyes trying hard to remember a dog as described by the woman. Scratching his head, he shook it vigorously. ‘Na na Madam. He must be here somewhere. Come let’s look for him.’
The guard flashed his torch around. ‘What did you say is his name?’
‘Badddddy? Baddi beta? Come back to your Maa-ji, beta.’
No response. The guard shrugged his shoulders.
‘Madam, I have a suggestion. It’s time to close the park. Don’t worry. I will look for him. Tomorrow morning you can come back. If the dog is inside, it will stay locked up.’
‘What? No! He can’t be here on his own throughout the night. I am not going home without him…’
‘Madam, I have to lock. And I am strict about timings.’
A loud squeal stopped them on their tracks. A man was approaching them. In his hands was a furball which kept wriggling, trying its best to escape.
She stretched her arms out. The man let the dog go. It dashed straight into the arms of the woman, throwing her off balance. Both rolled on the grass. The woman shrieking in excitement and the dog squealing in glee.
‘Buddy…my buddy. Why do you have to run after every cat and mouse? What if you had gotten lost? What would have happened to me?’
Buddy chose not to listen to her. Instead, he focused on nibbling her fingers.
‘Owwww. It hurts.’
‘Ha ha…that’s adorable.’ A voice interrupted the fun. It was the man. The one who had brought Buddy to her.
‘Ohh thank you. Thank you for bringing him back to me.’
‘Not me. Thank my friend who caught him.’ He turned around.
Next to him stood an enormous dog. Sleek and athletic, it was a beauty!
‘Isn’t that a Dane?’
‘A Great Dane.” The man corrected her. ‘She is Bunny. The one, who found your pup, caught her by the neck and carried her back to me.’
‘By her neck? What?’ She turned around to examine her pup. No…no marks on that tiny neck.
‘Don’t worry. She looks big…but she is the gentlest creature you have ever seen. Very affectionate.’ He then turned towards his friend. ‘Bun…say hello to her.’
Anuja looked at the beast in amazement as the massive creature trotted up to her and started sniffing. ‘Umm hi…Hi Bun.’ Immediately it placed its paws on her shoulder and looked straight into her eyes. Her hands reached out to touch its head and then traced it down the neck to its shoulders.
‘Under the chin…that’s her favorite spot.’
As she massaged her, Bun gradually leaned on her.
‘Oh oh…let’s sit down, Bunny.’
‘Bun. Sit! Else she will fall.’ The man instructed her.
Understanding the situation, she sat down immediately waiting for a thorough massage from Anuja.
‘By the way, I am Anand.’
‘Oh sorry…I am Anuja. How old is Bunny?’
‘I think…around six years. Well, she is adopted.’
“Oh, how did you find her?
‘She came to me last year…during the lockdown. I was out to visit a doctor, when I noticed this fellow roaming around aimlessly. Reduced to bones, shaggy and unkempt, she walked around slowly scavenging for food. Totally dehydrated. I got a pack of Wallyte*, made a solution and fed her. The collar was still around her neck. Had she run away or was it a case of abandonment? I spoke to the people in the locality. The couple who owned her had passed away. The caretaker, reluctant to take care of her, had left her on the street. Passersby were scared of her sheer size. Even the children threw stones at her. I started feeding her every day. One morning she followed me home and never went back. I have had no experiences with dogs. But instinct assured me that I can be a paw-parent. That’s it.’
‘She is not leashed!’
‘Not needed! I am all she has and she knows that.’
The guard was back.
‘Madam. I see you have found your dog. Now you can leave. I have to lock the park.’
Looking at both of them, he added. ‘Finish your conversation tomorrow.’
The dogs woofed back at him while the adults giggled as they left the park. But not before setting a time to meet again at the same location the next day.
Winter was early this year. Anuja and Buddy sat in the sun waiting for their friends. Beside her was a flask of coffee. It was Anand’s responsibility to get the biscuits for her and the babies. Strange! How the days had passed by. Three months, already!
Buddy picked up the scent first. His droopy ears were on alert and he sat up on her lap. The tail started wagging furiously as he noticed the duo approaching them. Bunny was the calmer, level-headed one. She sauntered casually towards them, put her paws on Anuja’s shoulders and licked her hard. That was her typical greeting. She always chose to ignore the little fur ball which drove the latter into a frenzy. An impatient Buddy jumped off from Anuja’s lap and made a dash at Anand who immediately scooped him up. Having finished with the adults, the dogs took to each other, scampering into the park, chasing butterflies and squirrels.
‘It’s ok. You know there is nothing to worry.’ Anand reassured Anuja as her eyes darted at the animals.
‘Nah! Not with Bunny around. She is like a mother hen following Bud around. How well they have adjusted!’
‘She is fiercely protective of Bud and… also you!’
‘She is a darling, Anand!’
Anuja poured them a cup of coffee while Anand took out the biscuits. This had almost become a ritual. And so was watching the sun set behind the Eucalyptus trees as their kids frolicked on the grass.
‘Anu… May I ask you something?’
She nodded her head.
‘Well….err….It sounds personal…But I would really like to know…’
‘Oh, come on! Shoot!’
‘You haven’t told me about your family.’
Her eyes stilled. The smile vanished, replacing it with a frown. Her breathing quickened.
‘Okay, okay. I am sorry. You don’t have to tell me.’
Putting a hand on her chest, she tried her best to control her breathing. The pain was back, engulfing her, threatening to spill over.
She raised her hands, gesturing him to give her some time. Taking the cue, Anand lent his sipper to her. ‘Drink it. I always gulp down water when I panic.’
She did as she was told. The pain dulled after a while. Turning her head towards him, she tried hard to smile. ‘Thanks…you panic as well?’
‘Yes…I do have a story. A past. Will you listen to it?’
‘Last year during the lockdown, I lost my job. My parents fell prey to the virus. Even the best efforts couldn’t save them. I was left in neck-deep debt. Small projects and consultancy sustained me for a while. It was tough. There was no way the mortgage could be paid. Al I had was the two-room apartment. Panic set in. Every day I suffered anxiety attacks which lasted for almost a minute, leaving me weak and shattered. I consulted a Psychiatrist. It was during one of my trips to him that I came across Bunny. And from there my life took a turn for better.
She brought sanity in my life. The attacks lessened. Will you believe me if I say that whenever I panicked, she would be the first to sense it? She would sit beside me, put her snout against my neck and lean into me. It worked like a wonder drug. The panic immediately lessened. Bun has been with me for more than a year. In the last six months I have had no attacks. Without these four-legged saviors….what would have we done?’
Anuja hugged Anand. His arms went around hers, drawing her closer.
‘Anand, if I don’t muster enough courage to share my past today, I won’t be able to move on.’
His fingers tightened around hers.
‘I have known Ramesh since school. We parted when our jobs took us to two different cities. That’s when realization hit us. During our annual leave that year, he came home and popped the question. Marrying my best friend was the best thing to have happened to me. We moved in together. Bit by bit we realized our dreams.
And then one night we were driving home from a party. It was late and both of us were high on the cocktails served that night. A friend had advised us to book a cab and leave the car behind. If only we had listened. I chose to drive. He refused. You see he was a better driver. I threw a tantrum.
“Okay, fifteen minutes.” He had told me. That was the deal.
Those fifteen minutes changed my life, Anand. The music was at full blast. Ramesh was telling me a joke. And I was laughing. It was late by the time I spotted the car ahead. I swerved the steering to the right. I never saw the divider. All I heard was a loud crash, the sickening crunch of metal and a warm sticky liquid around me. The car hung from the bridge at an angle, trapping Ramesh in his seat. And he….he…his eyes were wide open. I passed out.
I woke up after weeks. The doctor informed me that I had gone into a coma. My internal injuries were severe. But I lived. I lived to regret. I lived with the guilt that I took his life. If only I had acted responsibly.’
Anuja covered her face with her hands and wept. Anand’s arms tightened around her.
Sensing something amiss, the dogs stopped playing and scurried back to their parents. Buddy attempted a dive into Anuja’s lap surprising the couple, while Bunny sat close to both of them, nuzzling her neck against their legs.
The guard was about to blow the whistle when he chanced upon the couple. His hands tightened on the whistle. A tweeeet and he would startle them. But it was a scene straight from a movie.
The couple sat on the bench with their arms around each other. Badddi, the little dog sat snuggled in the woman’s lap while the ‘beast’ sat close to their feet. The man sighed. He had been for months, watching them. How the young woman who usually turned up alone started bringing in a little pup. The lines of sorrow etched on her pretty face eased out gradually. How the solitary young man who stood for hours throwing stones into the lake and then gazed at his reflection in the pond found hope in that huge dog. And then one day when their paths crossed, they awakened from a deep slumber. They found happiness again. All four of them deserved a second chance.
He wiped away the tears. Tonight he won’t blow the whistle. He will allow them to sit for hours and enjoy the moment. But tomorrow he will give them an earful. He smirked and went away humming….One two Ka Four Aur Four Two Ka One!
Note: Based on the true story of my friends who discovered love at The Lake in Kolkata. Their rescued dogs brought them together.
Wallyte: A sachet prescribed for dehydration
One Two Ka Four: A song from a popular Bollywood film.
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