Precilla sometimes does a double-take when Vrede walks into her little pharmacy to look for some shade. He’d sniff at her ankles, push a wet nose against her knee, give a grrr-ff type of hello – and lie down behind her counter. At lockup time he’d listen for the sound of her picking up the keys, before stre-e-etching and walking in front of her as if he is leading some royal procession.
The reason for her double-take is that he so much reminds her of another dog, a long time ago. Not the looks, for Vrede used to be a police dog and must have been a very popular member of the force amongst the doggie ladies. And also not in size, as Vrede is a rather portly gentleman these days.
No, it’s in the eyes. The windows of a soul. Oudoom says dogs don’t have a soul, but he’s wrong, of course. Precilla knows. When she thinks of Tinky, she knows.
Tinky started her life in a SPCA shelter, where she shared a cage with a variety of other puppies. Like the rest of them, the little Spaniel had no idea of who her parents might be or where she used to stay. Small dogs are like babies – they only understand things later on. The local municipality, which funded the shelter, was always on the lookout for new ways to sustain the shelter; and that’s how Adopt-an-Orphan originated. Local scholars and young people were encouraged to donate a small amount of money every month, which would then be allocated to a specific animal in the shelter. It created a sense of responsibility towards nature and animals, they said.
Precilla, barely sixteen, gave half of her pocket money every month. She desperately wanted a pet, but there was no way she’d get that idea past her father’s rigid rules. Pets carry disease. They’re dirty. They shed. And they mess all over the show. And, once he’s put his foot down, there would be no further discussion.
That’s why Precilla sometimes lied.
She’d tell her father that she was visiting a friend; but then she’d get on her bicycle and ride over to the shelter to pet the dogs and cuddle the cats. And that’s how she met Tinky.
Tinky was part of a litter some late-night policeman on patrol found in a bag next to a garbage bin. They were all terribly small with almost-open eyes and pink noses. Precilla met them the next day and fell in love with the smallest, which she named Tinky because of her size. Her visits then became a daily affair, despite the risks.
Then inevitably one day, her father found out what she did with her free time. She was sitting with Tinky (quite a teenage Spaniel at this stage, Precilla being just shy of her eighteenth birthday) on her lap when her father stormed in and demanded to be told what the hell she was doing there.
After that, her visits had to be stopped – at least as far as her father was concerned. Precilla became more inventive, but still could not manage to see Tinky more than once a week. She explained this to the Spaniel, which listened with her head turned to one side and her eyes fixed on Precilla. Every time she left, the dog would slurp her one across the cheek to tell her it’s all right, she’ll wait for however long it’d take.
She passed Matric and university loomed. This time, Tinky didn’t understand. Only during the holidays? Maybe a weekend here and there? Sometimes no visit for months at end? Ever since she told Tinky about university, Tinky grew visibly thinner. She refused the titbits Precilla brought along. No goodbye-slurp. Tinky was in mourning.
University was exciting and she was young. With all the parties, studying and tests, she almost managed to push Tinky to an unused part of her brain. Almost. But the little Spaniel refused to be sidelined – she cropped up in the unguarded moments.
When at last the first term was over, she couldn’t get back to her hometown soon enough. She didn’t stop at home. Straight to the SPCA, where she hastily greeted all her old buddies before storming through to Tinky’s cage…which was empty.
“She did poorly after you left. We tried to get her to eat, but nothing doing. It was pitiful to watch. All she did – all day long – was to watch the door to see if you’d come. So we did the only thing we could…”
She didn’t want to hear the end. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she ran out of there; ran from he memories with the shadows of guilt chasing her all the way to het car, to her house, to her father’s front door. Here she sat down on the steps; too angry at her father for being so rigid and too sad to go in.
And that’s when the black nose came sniffing at her shoulder and a wet tongue slurped her neck.
“The shelter phoned me and told me what happened, Precilla. After you left, the house was so empty. I did the only logical thing. If you came back and the bloody dog died, you’d be angry at me. ” She looked up at the stern face to see a few smile wrinkles around the eyes. “And you know what? I found this dog,” he playfully scratched her ears, “this dog to be a most wonderful companion. Initially I told myself I’ll just feed her up and then give her back to the shelter, but now, of course…”
He never took Tinky back. The two of them became inseparable. And when her father had that final, fatal stroke; Tinky died two weeks later. She had followed her master – the garrulous old man who loved his Spaniel almost as much as he loved his daughter – for twelve years and she wasn’t going to stop just because he died. The vet said fourteen was a good age for a Spaniel, but Precilla knew that Tinky didn’t die of old age. She died out of loyalty.
Precilla will never forget those doggy-eyes, on the steps in front of the house where she grew up. Tinky stared at her with such happy eyes, filled with love and affection and forgiveness and understanding. She didn’t find that strange. What was strange, was that she saw exactly the same thing in her father’s eyes.
That is why, when she walks past Vrede, she does a double-take. That opens gaze, the fixed stare, the doggy-eyes… There’s such a lot she reads in there. It offers devotion and it only asks for love.
Tinky had the same look. Her father – in his later years – also had that look. And at night, when Precilla combs her hair in the cracked mirror of her little bathroom, she sees it again. That’s when she’ll go sit outside, on the steps of her narrow porch.
And Vrede always joins her there, slurping his hello. He knows. Two souls sharing the same journey have a way of understanding each other.