My name is Shoe – or rather, it was Shoe. Now, I am called… well… let that go, what’s in a name anyway. I sit here, on a soft rug in an air-conditioned apartment staring at the impressive skyline of the City. A bowl full of tempting food lies next to me. Despite my philosophical preference for freedom over material comforts, I must say, I like it. But I can’t claim that this kind of comfort has been a lifelong friend.
I was born amongst a set of triplets, one of whom was claimed by this City’s winter. So it was me, and Hat, my stupid brother. We lived and roamed around what seemed to be a wealthy suburb of the City. Our colour, our fur, and our demeanour were all visibly different from the rest of those wandering around haplessly – our father must have been of a high pedigree. That we didn’t know about our roots hardly ever mattered, for, a life that trudged with a primary aim of survival did not care about lineage. Onlookers couldn’t help but adore us and often extended the only thing we needed – food. Ha! We encashed our pedigree without ever knowing it.
Usually, not one to curse my circumstances, I was however nagged by one aspect of life. Who lent us such mundane names? I envied my fellow canines, with their princely names like Bruno or Milo or Caesar. But then I also thanked the stars for the absence of a neck-strap that bound these princely-named to their captive lives. At least I was free. What would you rather have, name or freedom?
Speaking of names, I stretched my memory and traced the source of the link to the old woman who lived behind the main street. When young, Hat and I would find ourselves at the mercy of this old woman who threw us leftover food that she had collected from the backyards of the tall buildings. (Even this second derivative of rich people’s food had served us well.) It was this old lady who first called us by something, anything. For a considerable amount of time, I didn’t know what our names meant, at least not until I noticed an adorable shop displaying flowery, colourful, round objects which beautiful ladies adorned on their heads and walked out of the shop asking their better halves, ‘How do you like my hat?’
For my own name though, it took Hat’s idiocy one evening; when hunger had harassed Hat for two straight days. When he couldn’t bear it anymore, he leapt towards a leathery object a man had just removed from his foot in order to get comfortable on a garden bench. No sooner did Hat mouth it and start biting, the man shouted, ‘That’s my shoe, get away you fool!’
Hat was a bit of a boisterous boy. His spirit often led to him getting attention, affection and sometimes, being fed. I loved the third part, didn’t mind the second but surely, abhorred the first. Somehow, Hat and I fit the locality like a street juggler showed tricks on a busy street. But for how long? Who knew, so I liked to keep my face down and scout for the leftovers of restaurants and homes. Hat – that idiot, however – didn’t mind meddling into other people’s business and attempting to claim what he thought was his rightful place in the world.
Amongst those, Hat really loved to meddle with a three-year-old girl and her grandfather. The duo had a routine of taking evening walks. The grandfather would buy the young one candies, lollies, cakes, sweet breads – things childhood is made of. As Hat’s familiarity with the young girl increased, he began getting a fair share of those as well. And as generous children are excessively generous, I was extended some too. While Hat and the young girl kind of had a thing for each other, me and the grandfather seemed to have mutual feelings too: that of suspicion. If we had our own way, we would reduce the quartet to a trio. The irony was, if grandfather had his way, life would have become better for the trio whereas if I had mine, life would become far, far worse for the trio.
One evening, the girl and her grandfather came to the rendezvous spot where we were busy playing with a soft drink can.
‘Doggyyy…’ she shouted and jumped. Hat said something in reply, circled on his spot and wagged his tail in joy. I rolled my eyes and kicked the can aside.
The girl dropped the paper bag at a distance and ran towards Hat. She knelt and hugged him.
‘Careful, careful,’ said the old man.
‘Doggy…how are you?’ the girl asked Hat.
‘Woof,’ Hat answered. The girl giggled and started scratching Hat’s head and between the ears. Hat narrowed his eyes and sat still, wagging the tail.
‘Easy, easy,’ a voice floated behind the girl.
The girl took Hat in her lap and mollycoddled him. Usually, Hat enjoyed such affection but at one point this time, he yelped and tried to back away from the girl. I raised my ears. On the previous day, other dogs had chased Hat and a minor tussle had ensued; one of them ended up scratching Hat’s neck. The girl must have cuddled Hat near the injury. I barked at the girl to dissuade her.
‘Careful Nina, these are stray dogs,’ the old man came very close to the girl, protectively.
The girl, unmindful, pressed the spot harshly a third time. I retaliated instantly and barked even louder, closing in on the girl. Hat was in pain, and inadvertently pushed her, ending up scratching her wrist.
‘Nina!’ the old man pulled her back. The girl, scared by the cacophony of my barks, Hat’s yelps and the old man’s alarmingly loud shout, let out a wail.
‘These stray dogs, why doesn’t someone do something about them,’ the old man bellowed, picking up his granddaughter in his arms. Assuming the shout was meant for him, a security guard came running towards us with a raised baton. Almost immediately, the scene attracted the interest of onlookers who stopped in their tracks. It was time to flee, both of us sensed and ran.
We knew where we had to run to – the old woman’s dwelling. We eased ourselves into a pile of discarded truck tyres and didn’t dare venture out until the old lady returned.
Upon returning, the old lady sat under a streetlamp with what seemed to be her day’s earnings. A scrap collector, the old lady opened her sack, peeped inside and her face glowed. That’s when I decided to approach her – happy souls are more considerate. Hat and I stood in front of her, waiting to be noticed.
‘Ohh…you have come. Where were you scoundrels? You seem hungry…wait, I have something for you.’ She took out a small plastic box, opened the lid and tossed it to us. I was amazed at my luck. It was almost as fresh a food as strays can get. The old lady must have made a fortune today. We smelled the food, found it appetising and got to business.
‘Look at this’, the old lady pulled out a necklace from the sack. She adored it for a while and then put it on her neck, saying, ‘I always wanted something like this for myself, but it will fetch some good price too. Should I keep it or sell it? I will keep it, maybe, it’s very nice.’ Then she pulled out a container, the kind they use for tea. It was pretty looking, but broken. ‘How about this? We can keep warm water in it in the winter. What do you say?’ she poked me with a stick. I glanced at the kettle for a while and decided to go back to my slurping. The old lady kept pulling out things, examining them to decide whether to keep them or sell them, while we ate. She pulled out a strap from the sack next.
‘Shoe, shoe, look at this.’
I looked up and instantly gauged that it was a dog’s collar. Oh no. Holy crap.
‘Come here, come,’ she said and held my foreleg. I detested those belts anyways and after the incident with the little girl, more so. Humans treat us as their property and these collars are symbolic of that. Every collar claims: I Own You. It can’t be, the old lady can’t make me wear that, I thought and tried pulling back but the old lady wouldn’t let go.
‘Come here, come,’ her voice became more authoritative. I yelped and resisted.
It was then that Hat looked up at the commotion. A belt! A collar! He leapt into the old lady’s lap and stared at the belt adoringly, his neck bowed.
‘You like it?’ the old lady asked. Hat’s demeanour clearly suggested that he did, and was eager to wear it.
‘Nice,’ muttered the old lady, patting Hat. She looked at me, almost repulsively, and hissed – ‘See, you thankless rat. You want my food but you don’t like my belt. Run away from here.’ The next moment, she was putting the belt around Hat’s neck.
‘Aha…you look nice’, she said and let him go. Then out of nowhere, she picked up a stone and hurled it at me. I couldn’t believe it. A moment ago, she wanted me as her pet and now she was hurling stones at me? Humans are strange. I fled.
The last thing I saw was the old lady tying Hat down with a rope, while he tried to get away from her hopelessly.
Stupid Hat. Idiot.
I was wrecked from within. I would have barked at him, for his stupidity, but that’s how Hat was. Who knows though, maybe Hat would have cursed me for my independent streak, because what’s really the harm in having a strap around the neck if it ensures timely supper.
The ball was in my court – to try and seek the blessing of the old lady so Hat and I could stay together. But of course, I needed to sleep over it. Thankfully, the weather was perfect for a good sleep and I found a place on a rug near the shutter of the showroom.
At dawn, I felt unusually heavy around my neck. I could smell it. It was Hat! Hat was lying on me and breathing in a slow rhythm. He must have missed me. His wailings would have driven the old lady nuts so she had to let him go. I opened one eye; the collar around Hat’s neck was still there. Truce seemed to be in order during the day.
However, fate likes to play.
Just before dawn, two men jumped out of a truck that had entered the street – a burly one with a large net and a pale one with a catch pole. They closed in on us. I sensed danger. I rushed towards Hat, but the men were already upon us.
‘These ones?’ The pale man asked.
‘Yeah, looks like,’ replied the other.
The pale man shot the pole at me and I ducked. I tried jumping left to find an escape route but the burly one quickly raised his net, blocking the path. In his second attempt, the pale man put the loop through my neck and tightened it. I jerked and thrashed and pulled, but to no use. The game was over. ‘Put the net on the other one.’
‘No, this one’s got a belt.’
‘He said there were two. This must be the second one. Just catch it.’
‘I am not doing it. It’s got the belt, you idiot. I am okay letting a stray one go but I am not taking chances with someone’s dog here. This area has got mad people, with connections everywhere. To hell with it.’
‘How could a domestic dog be sleeping on the road?!’ This one was seemingly losing patience.
‘Not my problem, you wanna do it, be my guest.’ The burly man said down in finality.
The other one grunted and, considering the argument, pulled back. I didn’t have strength to stop a seasoned dog-catcher from dragging me to the vehicle. He threw me inside and closed the door.
In the shelter, I was given a little cell, the first one from the door. When morning arrived, I saw all emotions known to dogkind on the faces of the inmates. Hope, despair, optimism, anger, dejection and even that eagerness to appease the provider – something I didn’t approve of much. And this appeasement was directed towards a man who had just entered the common area with a handful of bread loaves.
‘Shoe, shoe, here, take this,’ the man extended a loaf to me. I was surprised that the man knew my name. An acquaintance in the middle of a shelter! I did a somersault and caught the loaf. ‘Arf!’, I thanked the man.
He moved on, without acknowledging.
‘Shoo…shoo, here, take this,’ he said to the dog in the next cell. And then to the next. And then to the next.
That’s when it dawned upon me.I was never Shoe – I was always a shoo.
A day later, I was adopted by Shalini, my current mother.
At home, it was comfortable. I got used to her, the home, and the strap. She looks like a very important person. She talks to me too, a lot. My sumptuous food and the wonderful view from the balcony allow me my own philosophical musings.
So; about my current name. When the shelter people told her the story of my capture, she laughed and said, ‘You little Hector!’
Who is this Hector?
Chandrashekhar Mahajan is a finance professional from Mumbai who prefers visiting the world of words in his personal time. He likes to weave stories around the emotions and questions humans try to grapple with throughout their lives. He would like his stories to leave the reader with something to ponder about while looking out of a window on a rainy day with a cup of coffee in hand.