Sunday, September 26, 2010

a haunting?

In a way you could have called it a haunting.Whenever I would walk down the corridors of my childhood house, I would feel as if I was being enveloped by a dampness that made me shiver even in the warmest of summer days.I would also feel a black shadow that seemed to walk behind me, constantly.
In those childhood days I had no name to give it. I would turn around several times in an attempt to catch whoever it was that walked so quietly behind me.

Of those years I remember no winter, no summer and no spring; just occasional days. Days when I crawled into the canopy of the lemon bush to lie down and read (Now, so many years later, I am surprised to find that lemon bushes have thorns, for I never remember having been scratched or having to avoid any when I hid inside the bush), days when I sat by the pond with my feet in the water, days when I made mud pies and decorated them with flowers torn off bushes ( I regret tearing those flowers now), but mostly I remember the days as days spent with myself, endlessly weaving stories to keep myself amused. I do not remember telling my parents about the other girl. Many years later they asked me about her, because they said, I would tell them about her and the games we would play, the adventures I would have with her. Amused though they were, they would tell me that I had a lively imagination but I must not let it carry me away. I would insist she was there, they said, waiting for me, and she that would play with me every day as surely as I spoke to them.

But what of this black shadow that would walk with me wherever I went, once I was inside the house? Oppressive, heavy, cold, once frightening, once thrill inducing, yet never harmful. Just walking, walking, walking ceaselessly behind me, making me want to run, making me want to stop and turn abruptly, making me wrap my arms around myself for warmth.

Two men wait for me in the kitchen, dressed in carnival costume; Punchinello, except there are two of him, tall, very tall, lanky with arms and legs that seem wobbly at the joints. They walk towards me, jerkily, grinning and I cannot escape. One of them, pushes me, hand on my face ‘Beauty Queen’ he says and laughs.

I wake up in a panic. I never ever want to enter the kitchen again. Never alone anyway.

I smell blood. The cold wind blows in and brings with a blackness that can be felt, can be tasted, and it wraps itself around me, chokes me and a knife plunges into my bed, stabbing it and then there is blood everywhere.

I wake up knowing this was real. This happened. Now I never want to enter that bedroom again. Thankfully it was never mine. Just one of the many spare ones I had wandered into one afternoon and fallen asleep.

And still, this house haunts me, so many years later. In my dreams I walk, relentlessly walk up and down those corridors, feeling the same black shade. I search for the lemon bush, the pine tree, the mango trees, I roll in the grass and let the hot sun burn red and brown blisters into my skin. This too is a haunting.
In my teen years, my mother once showed me a poem she wrote and I loved it so much, I made it my own. Now only bits of the poem come back to me

The fragrance of roses,
My garden pervades,
And the moonlight shines,
In silver cascades,
…a sudden movement,
A creaking of the gate,
Is it you that comes,
At this hour so late
Memories food,
as I rush out to see,
Ah! but it’s just a shadow,
Your spirit is visiting me.

Who then did my childhood self see? Who walked behind her? Who was the other girl? Who haunts that house? Is it me? Is it the other girl? And what of the black presence? Of Punchinello? Of the knife and the blood? I don’t know. I don’t know.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

She had been left in the animal shelter because she was old, incontinent, had bladder cancer and cataract. For someone, she had become too much of a bother to look after. I saw her in the distance, tied to a pole. She looked at me with an intense expression that I tried to ignore. I was not intending to take her home. I had just lost my German shepherd and looking at another one was too much to bear.
As is often the case with me in animal shelters, I walked up to her anyway. ‘Do not touch her’, said the shelter manager, ‘She has already tried to bite three people who have wanted to walk her or adopt her’. I looked at her. She was a huge black and tan German shepherd, with large wolf like eyes and enormous ears. She was really staring at me; I had not imagined it when I first saw her. Her tail did not wag, and in her eyes I thought I could read a deep sorrow. I went home and told my mother about her. The next day both of us went to the shelter and were told again that she was a biter and it was best not to go near her. When she saw my mother, she wagged her tail and jumped up and down. So, despite my protests, my mother walked up to her, with biscuits and to the astonishment to all those around, this dog ate out of her hand. I was asked by my mother to unchain her which I did with my eyes closed in fear, expecting a bite right on my face any minute. Nothing happened, she was unchained and I began to walk her outside the shelter. She saw our car, ran up to it, dragging me behind her, climbed in and sat down and looked at me with her tail wagging.
We took her home, I sat next to her and she licking my hands and face throughout.
Whether she would she adjust to the cats was my next fear and I told her that if she did not, she would have to go back. Once home, she settled in with cats like it was the most normal thing for a dog her size to do.
Three months later, my mother took ill and passed away. I, overcome with grief, became withdrawn and began to live a reclusive life, my only outings being the daily trip to work and back. Leela, as we named her, insisted in moving into my bedroom and she would cuddle with me through those pain filled nights. I would spread a rubber sheet on the bed because of her incontinence and feel grateful for her warmth and love.

Slowly Leela began to look after me. She would go to the kitchen and wag her tail, so I had to go there too, to give her a snack, and so would eat as well. She would flop down next to me when despair would fill me. Few things can equal the peace and joy that comes when you hug a dog, especially one her size. She began to screen everyone who came home. Some of my friends were fine according to her and she liked them, others she hated and as the years showed me, were well worth her displeasure. She would not leave my side when I had repairmen at home and they could hardly talk to me because she would bark continuously not letting them come anywhere near me. She bit one or two people who tried to come too close to me when I walked her and soon had the reputation of a ferocious dog. An excellent reputation that she worked hard to build I am sure, to protect someone who was living alone.
Three years passed and she grew weaker and more incontinent. Her kidneys failed and she was dying. I begged the vets to save her. I just could not lose her. I could not. After fifteen days of dialysis, her creatinine count came down to a near normal level and she came home. Once home, she resumed looking after me, protecting me and bossing over me.

More than a year passed and then she began vomiting blood and I knew that she would not live much longer. Around that time someone called me and inquired if I had a kitten that he could adopt. I said I did and he said he would come over in the evening to have a look at her. I warned him about Leela when he rang the doorbell and waited to se Leela’s reaction. She walked up to him, sniffed him, wagged her tail and walked away. I was relieved. Usually anyone new would be barked at for at least fifteen minutes, more, if she disliked the person. ‘She likes you’, I told him. He took the kitten home and Leela died a week later. Once again I was devastated. My lifeline had been cut again.
But Leela knew something I did not know. It was as if she had been waiting, just as she had been waiting all those years ago to be taken home. She was waiting for this man who came to take the kitten. It sounds rather dramatic, but I married the man who adopted the kitten from me. We have adopted many dogs and cats since but I will always remember my special friend who looked after me like a parent does and even made sure that I got ‘settled’ in life.