A Lingering Fragrance – Prelude to the Book

A LINGERING FRAGRANCE
(A SHORT STORY by Deepak Menon)

The dog’s erratic course found him standing once again outside her house. His drooping and soft brown eyes gazed longingly at the verandah, seeming to will the forbiddingly large opaque door of the house to open.

Within, the lady of the house busied herself with those seemingly endless household chores, which constituted the basic aim of her existence. She had been working tirelessly with a blank, automated, compulsive mind for some time now.

The dog without, continued, in fits and starts, to sniff around in circles, always returning to his station just inside the compound where, after a pause to gaze at the door of the house, he would resume his aimless wandering.

Though it is difficult to say why, the lady of the house whom we shall call Faith, for want of a better name, started abruptly, just as she was about to begin ironing the umpteenth garment for the day. Her eyes flickered to the clock. It was 9 A.M.

Hurriedly switching off the Iron, she made her way to the door, and opening it, stepped out into the verandah. Her anxious eyes searched wildly around for an instant, before coming to rest on the forlorn figure of the dog, waiting patiently at his self appointed station.

She stepped out into the compound, and the dog, with a whimper of pure joy, raced towards her coming to a skidding stop at her feet. A smile suddenly illuminated her face. The wrinkles of care and worry vanished as if they had never been.

The dog too, had changed. The perceptible droop in his bearing had been replaced with a marked hauteur. Her hand dropped down to his downy head and her fingers caressed his soft ears. The dog, (who had no name) wagged his tail furiously, and rubbed his flanks against her legs. She knelt down and placing both arms around his neck, hugged him close to her breast.

And there they remained for some immeasurable time that may have been a moment or an hour – no one can tell. The perfect communion of contented selfless devotion between the two, incredibly beau­tiful to behold for one who KNOWS.

By and by, she loosened her embrace, for the dog, though quite breathless with her frenetically tight grasp, was yet loath to let it end. It would have been very clear to any person who knows about these things that the dog would have willingly died in her arms with no other regret than the regret that he could not suffer a thousand more such deaths. However such people, as we all know, are few and far between.

The only person, who observed the meeting between the two, was the sharp-tongued housewife in the house across the street, who wrinkled her nose in disgust. She did so, not because she was motivated by any hatred of dogs or harboured any ill will against her neighbour. She wrinkled her nose in disgust simply because she was not one of those who KNOWS.

She saw not the unutterable beauty of the emotions behind the embrace. She saw only that the woman was dressed in a nightdress quite unsuitable for stepping outdoors in, and that the dog was a mongrel with a half starved look and a ragged muddy and mangy coat, probably suffering from a large percentage of known dog diseases and probably many as yet unknown to man.

However, her opinion hardly mattered to either the woman or the dog (at least at that moment) for both were oblivious to the world, and probably would not have noticed the wrinkled nose even if it had been hovering an inch from their faces.

The piercing whistle of the pressure cooker sliced down like a guillotine, in a fraction of an instant severing into two, their molded bodies. Hastily slipping a biscuit into the dog’s mouth, the lady hurried into the house, never looking back.

The dog stood there a moment, during which time he allowed the magic that had transformed him into a majestic creature, to evaporate. Slowly turning, he dragged his once again drooping tail away. One may have been mistaken, but hardly had he taken a few steps, it appeared as if some thought, (possibly of tomorrows tryst) entered his mind, and once again his bearing became erect and his tail straightened as he vanished into the distance. Of course, it must have been the imagination of the observer.

For, who ever heard of a thinking dog.

The dog had entered the woman’s life quite imperceptibly. She never knew quite since when, but had a dim recollection of seeing the dog often standing at his self appointed station, but could not exactly say when she actually noticed him.

As for the dog, it is quite obviously pointless to speculate as to why or how he came to get into the habit of standing outside the woman’s house, despite the fact that there was no earthly reason for him to do so.

One may possibly presume, that there was an unearthly or supernat­ural reason, but that is quite ridiculous, for he was only a stray dog, such as are found in the droves and dozens all around the world; and it would be equally impossible for us to imagine that the dog had planned the entire thing to gain the woman’s confidence, for dogs, as we all know, live for the moment and are incapable of preparing for the future being of simple trusting minds.

Let us therefore leave the motives or reasons to the seers to determine. Suffice it then to say, he had simply started coming there.

The days passed. The daily ritual continued. The woman became the subject of talk as often happens when people are not able to comprehend actions they themselves cannot associate with. The woman’s family found her actions impossible to understand, espe­cially when the daily ritual with the dog interfered with their lives.

The entire family planned a holiday.

The woman , however delayed their departure on the appointed day on some pretext or the other till the dog appeared. Despite the panic of departure , she took a moment off to hug the dog and pass on a handful of biscuits. Then she was off in the car with never a backward glance, listen­ing to the reprobation of her family, leaving the dog staring forlornly after her. The train was boarded only in the nick of time. We can only presume why she did this. Maybe because she had no way to tell the dog that she was going out of town, and she felt that he would understand only if she went in his presence. It would be quite silly to think that she whispered her itinerary to the dog while she hugged him.

But, strange as it may seem, it was observed (and sworn before several of the communities honored and honest gossips, to be the truth ) by the woman with the perpetually wrinkled nose across the street, that the dog only put in his next appearance the morning after Faith returned.

And then, one day, when the dog arrived for his daily dose of life, the manner of the woman had changed. She gave him a bis­cuit, and without even kneeling to hug him, she hurried back into the house. Who knows what the dog must have felt, but later, when she came out into the verandah, she noticed the biscuit lying untouched where the dog had stood. A flicker of a teardrop glistened momentarily in her eyes, but then resolutely she tore her gaze away from the biscuit, and went back into the house. Her shoulders however, were slightly hunched.

The next morning Faith did not open the door. The dog took his appointed place, and stood for a long time, all the while appear­ing to shrink into himself, before slowly (very slowly) crawling away like a beaten cur.

Here it may be said, a smile crossed the usually straight and tight lips of the woman in the window across the street, though we have no way of really telling why. And through a narrow split in the curtains, Faith watched him go through swollen eyelids.

The very next morning when the dog arrived, Faith was already at the gate. She ran to him and hugged him so hard that his bones creaked. She wept tears (of happiness or repentance one cannot say). And finally when she returned to the house, one could observe, if one had been there, the sudden radiance in the woman and the sudden royal bearing of the dog as he stalked away.

For some time everything continued as always.

And then the break in the ritual occurred again. The whole charade was enacted again, with all the immense sadness of separation and the incred­ible joy of union. But it could have been observed that, while the woman was strong enough to initiate the break, the dog was not. Back he came again and again and again.

If only one could see into the dog’s mind, one would be able to fathom the way he thought. One who has had experience with dogs may be quite sure that the dog could not understand what was happening. For dogs have simple minds, and their devotion never varies.

As to whether the dog felt hurt, and then too, how badly, is again a matter for conjecture. It can be thought that the dog did not feel very badly hurt because he always came back to the woman, possibly for the bis­cuit. But if one considers the gradual general decline of the dog, and the fact, that whenever he sensed an indifference in the woman, he left the biscuit untouched, one may construe the earli­er explanation to be incorrect.

But whatever the truth may be, the dogs devotion was total and complete despite his puzzlement, hurt, or sadness. With time the behavior of Faith became even more erratic, alter­nating between fits of delirious joy at meeting the dog, to tearful fits of cruelty aimed at driving the dog away. Her rea­sons for doing this she kept to herself.

But if one could have seen into her heart, one may have seen the excruciating pain arising from the fear of some impending disas­ter such as separation. It may be that paradoxically, instead of grappling the dog (who had come to symbolise all sorts of noble things to her) to her heart, she strove to lessen the shock of the actual event by driving him away before.

But this is in many ways a love story. And Dogs devotions never vary. Even unto death.

So it can not be expected that the dog would ever default in his sole aim of existence.

But that is what he did one day. He did not appear at his station that day. Nor the next. Or the next….

Epilogue :-

I was the woman. And I loved the dog with a passion that was spiritual in its intensity.

I could not adopt the dog because my family would have none of it. And I, valuing my fami­ly, yet torn apart by my longing for the innocent devotion of those brown eyes, sacrificed him, and myself.

For weeks and then for months after he stopped coming I found myself at the window every morning staring blankly at the spot where he used to sit. And then we moved away.

But his memory never faded…..

I would often think of what must have happened to him. Did he meet with an accident and die desolate and unattended?. Or did he sense my sorrow and stop coming to spare me more pain. But either way, I was wrong. My pain did not lessen.

One day, grown strong with the passage of years, the scoffs of my friends and family ringing in my ears, I traveled a thousand miles back to the lingering fra­grance of his love.
And planted a rose in his memory at the sacred spot.

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