Because every story needs a dog
Inspired by a young American woman I studied with in Nepal, Megan, I have decided to introduce a new character to the second draft of my novel. Her name is Kuku and she is a tan and white stray puppy.
The puppy followed Lara past the snake temple and onto the main road. Sometimes it fell behind to sniff at something interesting in the gutter, then trotted to catch up with her again.
‘Go on, get home,’ she told it two or three times, but the puppy just wagged its tail and scampered alongside her. She gave up and tried to ignore it.
She passed the shop selling mobile phones from dusty cabinets then the butchers shop, really just a tin shed open on one side to the street. Freshly killed chickens with their heads still attached were suspended on hooks from the low ceiling. A woman was haggling over a slab of buffalo meat while the butchers mate, a skinny teenager, flicked away flies with a bloodstained rag. A pair of goats were tethered to a post outside, obliviously chewing on some meagre weeds. Only meters away their friend’s skinless flanks lay bleeding onto a wooden chopping block. A motley group of stray dogs lurked around the entrance, hoping to be thrown a scrap. The metallic smell of blood mingled with diesel fumes. Lara put her hand over her mouth and nose and crossed the road.
She heard a low growl and looked back over her shoulder. A large un-neutered male had its ears down and was crouched low on the footpath, baring it’s teeth at something in the mobile shop’s doorway. Just as well she had crossed the road, the dog looked vicious and who knew what diseases it carried.
A flash of tan and white caught her eye. The puppy, huddled in the shop doorway trying to make itself as small as possible as the large dog closed in. Why didn’t it run back the other way?
The shop keeper came out and raised his fist, trying to shoo the puppy away. It cowered further into a corner. He yelled again then aimed a sharp kick at her rear.
‘Oi!’ Lara shouted at him. ‘Don’t do that.’
He ignored her and went back into his shop, leaving the puppy whimpering on the footpath. The stray dog bared its yellow teeth and growled and snapped at the puppy. It’s solid back was covered in scars and patches of fur were missing.
Lara watched, heart thumping. The puppy looked so small and vulnerable. Would the butcher’s stray rip its tiny body to pieces? Everyone else was going about their business, seemingly unconcerned by the puppy’s plight. Why weren’t they doing something? Somebody had to act. She ran back up the uneven footpath until she was level with the mobile shop, then crossed the road. Not taking her eyes off the growling stray, she crept up behind the puppy and snatched it up in one quick movement. She tucked it into the folds of her jacket and started to back away.
The dog bared its teeth and lunged towards her ankle. She jumped back but it kept advancing. The puppy trembled against her.
Thwack. The butcher came out of his shop with a broom and hit the stray across its solid back. It sounded like a rug being beaten and a cloud of dust rose from its mottled coat. It gave one last bark in Lara’s direction then loped away.
Lara weaved between motorcycles and taxis to the opposite side of the road. Her heart was pounding and her hands shaking. She felt something warm and wet against her skin and looked down. A wet patch of urine had soaked through her jacket.
‘$400 at the Patagonia shop in Melbourne, and now it smells like dog pee.’ She opened her jacket and the puppy stared up at her. ‘What are we going to do with you then?’
* * *
‘It looks like you have adopted a kukura.’ Amrita pointed to the puppy who was sitting just outside the tea-stall, waiting for Lara to finish her lesson.
Amrita wrote कुकुर on Lara’s notepad. ‘It’s Nepali for dog. See how it looks like two puppies sitting side-by-side?’
‘So it does, but I haven’t adopted her. Just took her to a vet clinic to get wormed and have her eye infection treated. She waits for me outside Tensing’s and we walk to school together. She’s so cute, when I come out of class she is still there and we walk home together. And since I’ve been feeding her she isn’t as skinny. It’s amazing how much better she looks than a week ago.’
‘Sounds like you’ve adopted her,’ Amrita teased. ‘What have you called her?’
‘I’ve just been calling her “Pups”,’ admitted Lara. Naming the puppy would have made her responsible for her well-being, and Lara had no intention of adopting a stray dog off the streets of Kathmandu.
Amrita shook her head in mock dismay. ‘You have to give her a name!’
Sensing she was being talked about the puppy lifted her head and wagged her tail.
Lara thought. ’Hey Kuku, do you think Amrita’s right and that I need to give you a proper name?’
‘Kuku,’ said Amrita. ‘Yes, I think it suits her.’
Kuku wagged her tail then lay her nose on her paws.