So there I was, resting comfortably on Boggel’s cushion, when in walked this man. I know him – or know his scent, to be more precise. The last time we met, he shot at me.
“Good afternoon, good people of Rolbos,” he says cheerfully, “I hear this is the place with the coldest beers in the Kalahari.” He sits down next to Precilla.
My hairs stand on end – but I had proper training in the old days, so I wait. These days they admit any old dog to the training sessions. It makes me sick to think about that. They train Alsatians as attack dogs, Dobermans for protective duties, Labradors for drugs, Jack Russels (can you believe it?) to inspect cargo holds. In my day, you had to do everything. If you failed, you got more than a slap on the paw, like they do now. I hear they give preference to blind, lame and sickly dogs currently. Imagine that! Not that I despise disadvantaged dogs at all: it’s just that we had to do it all way back then.
Funny thing people have with punishment, isn’t it? All that psychology stuff makes me mad. Take away privileges. Explain – in great detail – what rule was transgressed. Talk about consequences. If you asked me, I would have told you what was wrong with that. It doesn’t help if the punishment doesn’t fit the crime – act immediately, scold and tell me what I did wrong. Give me a good old-fashioned whack if you have to. I understand that. This way of talking and explaining doesn’t help much. If that’s the worst that can happen, I’ll just steal your biltong again. And again. I hear humans aren’t even supposed to punish their children any more these days. Boy, will they pick the fruits of that one!
So there I was, below the counter, listening to this man and smelling his scent.
“You’re a very special lady,” he said, “I can tell.”
Nobody has spoken to Precilla like that during the time I spent on Boggel’s cushion. But then again, she is a rather special woman. She has the scent of a female human looking for a companion. It is flavoured with musk and cinnamon – a special smell I recognised a long time ago. I suppose the males in town don’t realise her need.
“Thank you,” she said demurely. I could smell her desire.
They talked. She laughed. I cringed.
What does a dog do under these circumstances? If I attack the man, they’ll pull me off. There is a lot of rabies around, so chances are they’ll think I’m mad and even end up shooting me. If I do nothing, Precilla will spend the night with a serial killer.
Yep, that’s right. Serial killer. I was in charge of the hunt for the Bay Butcher, as they called him in Port Elizabeth. He seduced women, took them home and carved them up. When the police got involved, he disappeared. In came the Dog Squad. I sniffed one his shoes they had found and scouted around until I found the trail; followed it until I found him hiding in a disused store. That’s when he started firing.
When Boggel rings up some drinks on the till, I grab his boot, growling softly. He thinks I want to play and shoos me off. I snarl at him. He delivers a whack on my head, telling me I have to behave myself.
That leaves me no option. I trot over to Gertruida, who sits away to one side, reading her National Geographic. Grr-Arf, I say. She looks up with a puzzled from. Grr-Arfarf, to emphasis the point.
“Now, Vrede, I know you want to tell me something. What is it?” Of all the people I have met in my lifetime, Gertruida is the most intelligent. If she were a dog, I would have tried my luck.
Grr-Arf, I say. Then I roll over on my back and let my tongue dangle from my half-open mouth.
“Playing dead, are you?”
I roll back and put my paw on her knee to tell her she’s right. Now I pull my lip up, showing my teeth and snarl.
“Okay. So you’re an angry dog and you play dead. That’s very clever. So what?”
I do the unthinkable. I scamper over to where Vetfaan and Kleinpiet are discussing the merits of tax evasion and do the doggy-thing on Kleinpiet’s leg. He gives me a clout but I run back to Gertruida to do my begging stance.
“Dead. Angry. Sex. That is a strange combination, Vrede. Who or what are you talking about?”
Mission accomplished! Making sure Gertruida watches me, I saunter over to the man next to Precilla and sit down right behind him.
Now you may think this is all far-fetched and that I should pull the other one; but Gertruida gets up and returns with Sergeant Dreyer. It’s all over in a minute. Dreyer recognises the man, tells everybody he is an escaped prisoner and carts him off. Gertruida says there was a photograph of him in the Upington Post.
Now I’m back on Boggel’s cushion. Gertruida gave me a whole length of biltong and everybody patted me, telling me (in those funny high-pitched voices humans use when they address animals) what a good dog I am. As if I didn’t know!
But I feel sad, despite the way things turned out. Precilla’s scent has changed. The desire-smell has gone completely, making room for the aroma of utter loneliness. It, too, is very distinct. It smells like old cigarette ends and empty beer glasses. Faintly sour and somewhat pungent.
I know that smell all too well. There’s a lot of it in Boggel’s cushion. Sometimes I find it difficult to say whether it belongs to me or the hump-backed man who owns the place. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we all wish our lives were different. A lonely dog, a deformed man and a lonesome, lovely young woman – a trio of tragedies.
Gertruida says loneliness is all in the mind, but for once she is wrong. It’s in the nose.
We all smell just the same.