Have you ever looked at the dogs on the street? They belong to anyone who will speak to them kindly. The dog of many names belongs to many people and touches many lives.
The word of the day is – Friends.
The Dog with the red collar
The dog seemed to have been waiting for Ria when she walked in through the school gates one morning. It was a white dog, with a friendly face and plumy tail that was wagging gently.
“Hello dog,” Ria said, surprised, “Where did you come from?” The dog pushed its nose towards her hand, as if looking for an answer there. As Ria scratched the dog’s head she noticed that it had a red collar around its neck. Ria looked around the school campus, wondering who owned the dog. The dog seemed to like being petted and was pushing at Ria in earnest now, as if urging her to continue. Ria liked dogs and this one seemed friendly. But where had it come from?
All the children walking through the gate were greeted by the white dog with the red collar. Some of them were nervous, and crossed the road, watching the dog out of suspicious eyes. But most of the others stopped to talk to it and pat it. But they forgot all about the dog as they entered the school building. After all, they told themselves, the dog had probably strayed away from its home and would soon find its way back.
They were wrong. They walked out of school to find the white dog by the gate. He wagged his tail at them and then settled down by the gate. Watching the white blob by the gate getting smaller and smaller as her bus picked up speed, Ria puzzled about the dog. All evening she found herself thinking of him, wondering why he wasn’t with his family. Her last thought that night was of the white dog, to wonder if she would ever see it again.
She saw the dog the very next day. He was sitting by the gate, tail wagging gently.
“So,” Ria said to the dog, “You are back, are you?” The dog thumped its tail on the ground, as if to say yes. Ria scratched the dog behind his ears, feeling her heart soaring with joy at seeing him again. She had been so sure she would never see the white dog with the red collar again. And though she hated to be wrong, today the sight of the dog made her happier than she had ever imagined.
She was not the only one pleased to see the white dog. Many children had carried biscuits for the dog and they gathered around it, taking turns to feed it. Soon the children got used to the dog and looked for him as soon as they entered the gates every morning. They fed him the treats they smuggled from their homes. The dog accepted everything – the petting, the caresses and even the food – in a businesslike manner. He accepted all the names that the children gave him with the same easy acceptance. The younger children called him ‘Tommy’, ‘Timmy’, ‘Scamper’ or ‘Raja’. He seemed to like these names as much as the names the older children gave him. To Ria he was ‘the Phantom’ because of the mysterious manner in which he had made his appearance. It didn’t matter what he was called, all the dog needed was to hear a kind voice and his tail would start wagging.
The Phantom loved his spot beside the gate. He left it sometimes to play with the children but always went back there. The day Ria walked in, worrying about the Math test looming over her day, she didn’t even remember to look for the Phantom. Suddenly felt something wet touch her hand. It was the Phantom, looking at her out of kind eyes. And though Ria had no treat for him that day, the Phantom walked her halfway to the school, as if trying to cheer her up. Ria noticed that whenever anyone was upset or sad, the Phantom always seemed to know and would stick close to them for a little while. When Varsha from Class 2 A fell down and burst into loud tears, it was the Phantom who reached her first and soothed her. The boys of 9 C, trying to bully a younger boy, were shocked to find the Phantom beside them, and instantly stopped bothering the junior. And when Tara was sick and cried all the way to school, it was the Phantom who walked beside her, his warm body pressed against her legs in sympathy. The day somebody wound the green and blue length of an old school tie around his red collar, the Phantom officially became a school dog.
And that’s why the news of his disappearance shocked everyone. Why had the Phantom gone away? He was their school dog, and his place was with them. They waited all day for the white dog with the red collar to appear. And when he didn’t they decided to wait till the next day. He was sure to be back by then, they told each other. Ria, listening to these discussions, tried to believe that the white dog would be back. But as the days passed and the white dog didn’t appear, she lost hope. The younger children soon forgot the white dog, their Tommy, Timmy, Raja. But Ria never forgot the white dog that had entered their lives with the stealth of the Phantom. She was convinced that the dog had gone away to another school, to befriend the children there and to soothe them with his presence, to transform their lives for a few short days, before moving on to the next school. And she hoped that someday she would meet him again, the dog of many names.
This story was published in Young Buzz, the children’s pages of Sakal Times.