Two Old Girls

Two Old Girls

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Two Old Girls

Wobbles was a fragile, shaken fistful of fur that slipped and slid across the green marble floors of my grandmother’s house, her eyes tightly shut to keep out the terrifying sight of our concerned family crowding around her. My grandmother was unimpressed and remained unaffected at the sight of this forlorn, abandoned pup bought from a village lad for the ransom of one rupee (one-fortieth of a dollar). We knew her thoughts on the matter: a dog’s place is downstairs, preferably outside the house. Human space could not, by her stringent standards, be shared by an animal, however dear!

“But she’s not a dog yet; she’s just a puppy,” my brother and I cried.

Gran was unmoved by our wails and pleas, as were my two bachelor uncles, who were sticklers for cleanliness and order. A dog of any size, pedigree or shape was still a dog. And ourWobbleswas definitely of an undistinguished family tree.

Still Wobbles came to stay—outside only!—growing from a scruffy puppy with unsteady footwork into a medium-sized white mongrel. We grew, too. Time lowers guards, increases acceptance levels and brings patience. A dog in our lives eventually rearranged our inner mental complexities into simpler expressions of affection and emotion.

This was especially evident in Gran. Every afternoon at 1:30, before she ate her own lunch, she’d call for the cook and ask in a vitriolic and imperious tone: “Has any one thought of her lunch or are we only interested in our own food?” “Her” referred to Wobbles, the name being quite unpronounceable in the Indian tongue. Gran’s English was rudimentary, and she hadn’t gotten as far as W. My brother and I would smile secretly at each other over our own half-eaten lunches.

When the cook—a moody but brilliant concoctionist— disappeared for a week, we watched in amazement as Gran covered her nose with one hand and carefully took out Wobbles’s lunch every day. This was remarkable since Wobbles’s lunch consisted of a meat mush or stew. Normally, our rigidly conditioned vegetarian Gran wouldn’t consider going close enough to inhale its offensive odor, but she not only smelled the lunch, she also warmed it, then laboriously panted down the twenty-two steps and gave the “lunchtime” signal: banging Wobbles’s dish twice on the shed’s cement floor, at which sound Wobbles, wriggling joyously, would appear fromnowhere.

“You move away from me, you stupid dog. Don’t touch me or I’ll have to bathe in this afternoon heat. Do you want to kill me with two baths in one day?” Gran asked shrilly, waving her fragile arms as Wobbles whined and wagged her ridiculously curly tail.

But as I looked down fromthe balcony, I thought I saw— or was it the sun in my eyes?—Gran pettingWobbles with her slippered foot before slowly going up the stairs to the safety of her cool, incense-scented living room.

Several summers later the monsoons came down with a fury. For weeks streets were waterlogged, traffic held up, and pedestrians found themselves in a quandary. One day our family jalopy, trying to make its way through the crowded city in one such rainstorm, became stranded. Two glum-looking uncles, three squirming, sweaty nephews and nieces and our worn-out mother in an after-work state of exhaustion, satwaiting for the already harassed, out-of-control traffic cop to regain his breath and create some semblance of order. Gran was the only family member at home. This meant that, except for the half-blind watchman who was as old as the foundation stone, there was no one to look out for Gran. The grown-ups worried about her as the lightning and thunder crashed and the children giggled and squirmed.

At home, the downpour steadily increased, its volume crashing down on the parapets and balconies, as the old watchman struggled to close the windows against the elements. Once he had accomplished this, the old man sat patiently within range of Gran’s call, nodding off as my grandmother counted off prayers on her prayer beads.

The old watchman was Gran’s unacknowledged favorite. Tall, snowy-haired, soft-spoken, he had stories by the trainload to tell in his nasal twang—and oh, he loved Wobbles to a fault! The first hot leavened bread rising on his mud-baked oven was always Wobbles’s breakfast. This religious old man seemed to see some divinity in this pet of ours. Though Wobbles snarled at the arrogant, swearing cook and snapped at me for tweaking her tail, her behavior was always angelic with the watchman.

The storm continued to rage. The water kept rising, flooding the driveway and then entering the ground floor landing. Gran and the watchman heard a sound: pattering paws and a very wet whine. Suddenly a dripping nose with drooping wet whiskers peered into the room. My grandmother let out a small scream of surprise. The entire three years Wobbles had livedwith us, thiswas only the second time she had trespassed and entered Gran’s spotless living room. The old watchman got busy with his head cloth wiping Wobbles, whilemy horrified Granwatched the puddle fromWobbles’s dripping coat grow ever larger on her precious marble floor. What could she do? None of her kitchen rags could be used for the purpose of swabbing dog water off the floor!

All of a sudden, there was a large crack outside the window as lightning brought down a sizable portion of the blackberry tree in our yard. Ears flattened, Wobbles howled piteously and crawled from under our watchman’s caressing hands to lie shivering near Gran’s feet. The terrified dog refused to budge. Gran, solidly ignoring the errant gate-crasher, continued counting her beads. This was the scene that greeted us when our tired, fidgety lot finally returned home.

After that day, although no one ever spoke of it, whenever there were thunderstorms, the dog came to lie at Gran’s feet. Wobbles had won Gran’s crabby old heart!

Seven years later, Wobbles passed away quietly—lying on the driveway, just like that—on a scorching May afternoon. The watchman, blinder and older, came to tell my grandmother that the gardener and cook were taking Wobbles away. I was sitting beside Gran doing homework. At the news, Gran lay motionless with eyes closed.

All she said was, “Give her some water to drink.” (Hindu last rites include wetting the lips of the dying with holy water.)

The old watchman nodded and shuffled off. The room was silent. From her tightly shut eyes, protected by her horn-rimmed spectacles, a solitary tear coursed down Gran’s wrinkled cheek—and then another and another.

I knew it was up to me. I stood up and prepared to go out and say good-bye to Wobbles. From me—and from Gran.

Atreyee Day

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