The Pair

The silence of the evening was broken by my sister’s shrill cry, coming from the hall. “Daddy! Johnny has adopted yet another lizard in his shirt”, yelled Lizzie, flying away at top speed from the fine specimen of a creepy-crawly, procured with tremendous effort from a tree outside our house. I knew about it, since I had assisted Johnny in doing it, on a silent agreement that neither our parents, nor our little sister would know anything about me being involved. “Slow down, hon,” called Mother after Lizzie. “You would put an Aventador to shame with that speed”. I went to our hall, and sat down on the sofa, picked up Gaboriau’s book from the table, and yelled for Linda to get me tea.

Being the eldest son entitled me to such privileges, quite equivalent to those of my father. A truly special thing he exclusively enjoyed was that a separate chair was always set for him at the dinner table. Apart from that, he got to smoke his pipe, which I had looked forward to doing since my childhood, but as I grow older, the interest fades away more and more. Lizzie rushed into Father’s room, to wail about how she was to live amidst brothers who roamed with creatures up their sleeves. “Up their shirts, Liz”, corrected Johnny. My brother was seven years younger to me. He regarded me as an ideal role-model, though I did not find anything in me that could be emulated. Johnny also looked forward to becoming as tall as Father one day, but for now, he was just a skinny and small boy, much like the creatures he owned. His fascination for living things was the only thing recognisable about him, earning him the title “Johnnie Tamer” among our folks.

Lizzie had almost no similarity to him. She was a chubby, bright girl with a happy-go-lucky attitude towards everything. Being the youngest, she often pestered Mother as to why she was so. Had she been the eldest, she could have had everything to herself, my room (as if I would part with that!), her own closet where she would hang her pretty frocks (Ew! Closets are for real clothes!), and an awesome view of the nearby Andes from my window. The only thing Lizzie did not approve of was animals. She would be afraid of even a harmless puppy roaming about in the streets. Coming from a family of pet-lovers, she was the only one to have been born thus in our long lineage.

That evening, we went to sleep around eleven o’clock. Next morning, Lizzie woke up with a start. It was a school-day! And her birthday too!! The previous day’s event of the lizard was forgotten by her, as she rushed into my room, making me jump in fright as she leapt onto my bed. “Brubby, Brubby!! Wake up!! It’s my birthday! For heaven’s sake, wipe the sleep out of your eyes!! It’s my birthday, and I don’t know what to wear, and I’ve got school, all my friends will wish me, I’m another year old. Just you wait Brubby..I’ll catch up with you some day”. She paused for a moment, possibly to catch her breath, while I availed this opportunity to put my glasses on, and make sense of the situation. My perfectly romantic and wonderful dream had been broken, thanks to my little Lizzie. Mother rushed in, along with Father, beaming at my sister. “Guess what we got you, hon.” asked Mother, even as I spied Father clutching a silver-paper wrapped packet. So this was what they had been buying at the store the other day. On being handed over to Lizzie, the beautiful paper was shred to pieces, and cast aside, as if it was of no importance any longer in this world.

Johnny appeared in my room too. For some strange reason, my room had become the family meeting room for that morning. On the way out, Johnny said “Brubby, we did not get Lizzie anything. What should we do? Mom is sure to notice that, although she probably will not mention it.” I listened to him, trying to think of something appropriate for Lizzie. Suddenly, I had a brainwave! “Got it. It’s time Lizzie learnt to love animals”.

An additional duty of being the eldest was that I had to accompany my sister to school. As she walked with a hop-skip-and-jump over the puddles, I pondered upon the gift I had planned to get her. Would she accept it? God forbid that she would turn it down.

On leaving her at school, I, accompanied by Johnny went to visit the local pet store. Mr Jonas, the owner, sat on a low stool feeding his eternal dog companion Buster. I call Buster eternal because I’ve never seen him leave his master’s side even once. The plump, amiable man called out “Nice to see you Bobby. You too Tamer. Want a pet?” He walked up to us, and gave short taps on my back. “Petting. That joke never gets old”. Even though I wanted to give that impeccable man a piece of my own mind about adhering to at least a standard while making jokes, I reminded myself of the mission we had to accomplish. “We need a dog, Sir”, said I. “Follow me,” replied Mr Jonas, walking towards his backyard.

What a scene! Perhaps all the four-legged varieties in the world had congregated in that place. Bulldogs, German shepherds, Terriers, Poodles, Rottweilers, Boxer Hounds, Dobermans (men?), Spaniels, Shih Tzus, I mean, you name the species and it was there. They immediately bounded up to Mr Jonas, evident of the love and care he showed for them. The massive energy levels in that backyard were enough to drive the breath out of any regular person, for he would be lost amidst the sea of these dogs.

“We want something small, sir. Something suitable for a young girl”, said I. “Small? Let me think. Hmm…” said Mr Jonas, scratching his chin. “Aha! I have just the one”. Saying thus, he led us back into the store, to a small box. He reached in to get hold of the resident inside. “Got her yesterday. Cheap too. Quiet and lovable as well.” Out of the box came a truly lovable Beagle, an adorable puppy, barely a year old. She had quick, darting eyes, an eager expression on her face, and a shrill voice. I need not tell you readers, that a purebred Beagle puppy is one of the most beautiful things in the world to possess, for anyone regular, that is. I was not sure of how Lizzie would react. Forcefully imposing a dog upon her did not seem the right thing to do, but I was firm in my belief, that she had a soft spot for them somewhere. I had always seen Liz staring at the mongrels in the street, smiling from the window. It did not take an expert to figure out what she had in her mind.

Mother was uneasy about the prospect, but seemed to be on my side. “She needs to learn to understand animals, to care for them, to nurture them. Excellent character development, I say”, boomed Father, with shining eyes. As Lizzie came home, everyone waited with abated breath. The time had come. Would she accept her gift, or turn it down?

“Surprise Lizzie!” I said, as she bear-hugged me, overjoyed that her Brubby had got her a present. Her friends at school had thrown a big party on this eighth birthday, and her face was full of shine and glory. She rushed up to the box, and opened it. Everyone waited. Johnny was chewing his nails nervously, his lizard appearing as bumps here and there in his shirt. Lizzie gave out a loud cry and rushed to the bedroom, I going after her. I managed to get in before she shut the door.

“I hate you Brubby! I absolutely hate you! You knew I hated animals. Yet you wanted to tease me about my fear, that too on my birthday! You are the meanest and baddest brother in this whole world..” I had no heart to tell her that the word was ‘worst’. She pushed me out of the room, and banged the door on my face. I returned to the hall, crest-fallen. My marvellous brainwave and idea had come crashing down. I felt sorry for dear Lucy, who too had an expression of grief on her face. Dogs are much more capable of judging human behaviour. Lucy knew that Lizzie had well and truly rejected her.

Weeks passed, all uneventful. Although Lucy got all of our care and affection, in her little heart she felt sad. She felt she had somehow failed Lizzie. The little Beagle could be seen wandering around the house, alone inspite of us as companions. As for Lizzie, she never remained in the same room as Lucy. I felt myself guilty for having dealt with such a delicate part of Liz, not knowing that she truly did not like animals. I had been lost in my own ideas that she would accept her gift from the next day, but no.

One winter morning, while we all sat round the breakfast table, Lucy did not appear. Her whine would be the first thing for us to hear each day, but it so did not occur. “Might have gone into the garden, the poor dear”, said Mother, pouring tea for all of us from the kettle. Afternoon came, still no sign of Lucy. Now all of us began to get worried. Father and I, along with Johnny volunteered to set out to search for her, although it was snowing heavily outside. Lizzie too was nowhere to be seen.

Once outside, we strode along the pathway, glancing everywhere for the lost dog. At last we found her, lying near the roadside, injured. Apparently, she was hit by some passing vehicle while crossing the road. We put a muzzle on Lucy, to prevent her from lashing out as we carried her to the town vet. He was a most helpful man, and immediately took her under his care. Thankfully, Lucy had sustained only a minor fracture, but tremendous trauma.

In a few weeks, the fracture had managed to heal (for Lucy was a healthy canine), but not the shock. All of us at home could not help her in the least. Lucy refused to let anyone approach her. Only one person was left to try. Lizzie, my sister. I got her from her room. She was aware of the situation too, and was extremely distressed like the rest of us, but some part of her still told her to keep away from Lucy.

“Give it a try, Liz” I said, trying to be hopeful. Lizzie was doubtful, but I sensed that she was considering it rationally, for once. The doctor had said that a caring and patient parent/guardian was needed to bring Lucy out of her trauma. Lizzie went forward, but drew back her hand. “Come on, Liz, go do it. Lucy needs it. She needs you. Only you.” Lizzie tried again, but closed her eyes, lest Lucy should turn her down and snap back. She placed her small hand on the Beagle’s forehead. And let it stay.

Lucy had accepted her. This made Lizzie cry, as she hugged her birthday gift lovingly. She told Lucy that she was sorry for being mean, and believe me or not, Lucy seemed to understand her perfectly. As the two spirits combined, so to say, we all felt eternal bliss, right in that very room.

As for Lizzie, her joy knew no bounds later. Over the next few weeks, there was no better person in the world more capable of care for Lucy than Lizzie. Her shrill cries and her dog’s s shrill howls resonated perfectly, often forcing us to shut our ears for a minute. Lucy came out of her trauma, and resumed normal activities. Lizzie apologised to me too, for saying bad things. She had been just plain angry, and had felt horrible after saying it. I forgave her, and added, “Oh, I’ll teach you better things to say, better than ‘meanest’ and ‘baddest’ ”, even though I knew Mother would never forgive me for that.

Our family went back to its regular routine, but this time, with a minor change.

Lizzie had become an animal lover.

© 2017, The Pair by Ritom Gupta. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior written permission of the author.