“You can close your excuse-referral book now. You’re coming home for lunch, and that’s final” said Melissa with an affirmative air that leaves you nothing much to say other than, “Ok, ok, as you say,”
As I put down the phone, I thought, I might as well. After all, it’s not every Sunday that I travel to Suburban Mumbai, and more so I could do with a little company while I crib about how my Sunday is absolutely ruined by a sudden business event, and most importantly it had been quite a while since I met Meli (well long enough for us to realise that the other had either put on weight or lost some of it – in girl terms, that’s quite a long time).
And so Sunday found me walking towards Meli’s society gate, a happy spring in my step, looking forward to an interesting rendezvous. In the true style of the considerate host that she is, Meli was already at the entrance, waving her hands in the air to catch my already attracted attention.
We don’t believe in exchanging pleasantries, we’ve known each other for much longer than that, so we giggled a little at nothing really hilarious, and broke into an almost immediate chatter, that wasn’t much interrupted by a sudden realisation that we could continue our babbling or rather “exchanging notes” as we prefer referring to it as, in the comfort of her home.
“Sure, let’s go”, I seconded her, all the while blissfully unaware of the recollection about to move slowly from my subconscious to my cognisant mind.
Happy feet moved inwards from the gate, which stood at the extreme end of the rectangular compound that was shared by 6 buildings, each separated by cobbled pathways. The buildings were lined by tall Ashokas on all sides, which provided a shady slumber space to the strays that called this society their home. I let out a short laugh, as I pointed to the white and brown mongrel that was resting under one such spot, all its fours up in the air.
Meli continued walking ahead, her head thrown back by the recent spurt of chuckles that dominated our banter, and it was only when she glanced behind that she realised that I was firmly rooted to the spot.
As all the laughter vanished in a whiff, I managed two words – “Meli, Spikey!”
In all the excitement of the afternoon, I had forgotten all about Spikey. Yes Spikey – one of the strays in the society, a malicious bundle of black and grey fur, that once chose to distrust a visiting friend and make a light snack out his seat. Ouch!
Stranded right in the centre of the compound, with a few wagging tails coming closer and not another human soul in sight, I’m faced with a dilemma – Do I retrace my steps towards the gate? Or should I listen to Meli, and continue onwards.
“I will be brave,” I tell myself. Murphy’s Law at its best here again has the destination building situated right at the end of the compound. Drat!
We keep walking, and I put on a smile that I hope will make me appear nonchalant should Spikey spot me. All the while, Meli keeps mumbling, “Jo, walk normally! We’re fine! We’re cool! No catwalks please. He may just find that suggestive,” I try hard to ignore that, but a dog finding your gait suggestive is just too much to handle.
Now we’re almost near her building, and I see a black figure striding towards us. “Oh crap Meli,” I shriek, my feet gone numb and my heart pounding loud. “Shut up woman! That’s not Spikey. That’s a good dog,” says Melissa. I don’t believe her. The dog changes course mid-way and I almost jump into the open lift.
Phew! We’re finally seated in the comfort of Meli’s home, but though a little calmer, my nerves still are a mess. How the heck am I to get back now?
I’m sure Spikey knows that’s there’s some stranger in the vicinity, and his already alert senses would be even more alarmed should there be a slight slip-up. Meli insists dogs are not interested. She further defends his case with her argument that he only bites vendors. “You do not look like a vendor”, she says. I said, “neither did Lee, but he still thought him (junk) food.” She keeps at it, “Lee instigated him”. I ask how. She says by walking provocatively. I stare in silence, dumbfounded. What could you say to that? A dog getting instigated because he thinks your walk is provocative. Sigh!!
We’re still debating about how we could possibly get past Spikey. Could she ask a few neighbours to escort her poor friend till the gate? She looks at me stupefied. “Ok”, I say, “could you carry some titbits with you that you could throw in another direction so that he changes attention, and I can sprint for the gate?” “No,” I contradict myself, “he would smell the titbits on us, and we’d probably be inviting him over ourselves, rather than keeping him away.” I asked her, “Can you go out and call a rickshaw inside, right up to your building?” “Well, no” I thought again, “He could jump inside very conveniently. And then I’m so done for.”
“Relax,” she says, “we’ll manage.”
I’m not sure what that meant. I mean he wouldn’t bite ‘her’, she’s familiar, but me? I’m a sure victim.
As we step out in to the evening sun, I start muttering my prayers. During the past 2 hours I have visualised and re-visualised my fight with the villain. At least in the re-takes in my mind, I end up victorious.
Melissa takes the obvious lead, and we begin the journey back, towards the gate of salvation, on mission – Protect Rear!
“The key is maintaining constant speed – not too quick, not too slow. Remember Johnny Walker” says Meli, “Keep Walking.”
We’re almost reaching the gate now, and then we spot the enemy – sleeping blissfully on the warm cobbled path. And then just as I’m about to offer my thanks to the powers above, the rest of the gang start their doggy chorus – barking at a speeding motorcycle that whizzed by.
Oops, the quadruped fiend opened his eyes to inspect the source of all the chaos. I’m so done for I thought. “Should I try singing a lullaby”, I ask. “If you do, I’d leave Spikey on to you myself,” warned a partially serious Melissa.
We turned our focus back on Spikey – it was exactly 5 seconds – he looked at us, yawned disinterestedly, and then went off to sleep again.
It took almost 10 minutes for my breathing to get back to normal, once I climbed into the rickshaw, relieved that every piece of me was intact.
A few days later Melissa called up to tell me that the society is thinking of putting Spikey to sleep. She asked if I would like to have my name on their signature campaign for protecting strays in Borivali.
“Sure,” I smiled back, “after all Spikey is just doing his job. The problem is that he is taking his job a little too seriously.”