My doggy daddy
Roopa Raveendran-Menon

 

Those winter mornings when I would leave for school, I would ask the rickshaw driver to slow down as we passed a patch of trees near the Gulmohar Park. Just to catch a glimpse of him. He would be sitting under the now leafless Jacaranda tree impeccably dressed in a brown woolen jacket and an oversized cap and staring straight ahead. His eyes were brown and vacant.

Every time I would pass by, my heart would lurch a little and I would wave at him wildly and say bye, bye daddy. See you soon. He wouldn’t react but continue to sit as motionless as an ice sculpture pretending that he had not heard me. I didn’t mind as long as he was there.

Whom are you waving at? The rickshaw driver would ask. There isn’t anybody there.

Of course there is. I can see him. I would say with a kind of defiant confidence.

Girl, are you kidding me? All I can see is an old overdressed boxer dog wearing an oversized cap and expensive jacket.

I would smile, and in my head I would say clearly and loudly, duh! You moron. Can’t you see my doggy daddy?

***

A fortnight before I had met my doggy daddy I had lost my mother. She had mysteriously jumped to her death from the tenth floor. There was no note or letter, but before jumping to her death she had prepared my favorite evening snack, flatbread stuffed with potatoes, mint chutney and a glass of chilled rose flavored milk, and left it on the hotplate.

The aroma of butter, a pungent mix of masalas and freshness of mint wafted around as the khaki clad police, with tobacco stained teeth and squishy bellies, burst into my flat. They had left two days later. By then the aroma was gone, only an indescribable burnt smell hung loose from the ceilings and windows. Downstairs, on the concrete pavement just below our window, they had outlined a chalky figure, that of my mother’s body. Then they had cordoned off our flat.

With my sanctuary now officially declared a crime site, my father and I had to move to a hotel room for a week. At first it had felt like an impromptu vacation. No school or homework or classwork. Except that it was not. I had stayed put in the hotel room and dealt with the hollow feeling that had made a gargantuan nest in my heart in my own way. I ate a small tub of strawberry ice cream with a side order of crisp and gooey chocolate bars for breakfast, and played Call of duty: Black Ops Zombies on my father’s iPad until my head was a slippery puddle that one hastened to avoid on rain-streaked roads.

My freedom was now my reality: My mother was dead and my father a zombie with graying hair, leathery face and clammy palms. He kept pacing around the room, his knees knocking against each other. After pacing for hours together he would sidle up to me and try to pull me into a hesitant embrace. I didn’t enjoy these awkward interruptions that involved intertwining of limbs and body scent, mainly because it was a task playing Call of duty through a half embrace and fishy smelling breath. I wondered if my father was guilty or sad. Or both. The thought that he might be neither was a possibility that I had not yet conjectured. For the record, I wasn’t sad or happy. Just vacant and mad at my father. Mad at him for letting my mother die.

Every day my anger towards him bubbled a little more, reminding me of the mutton stew that my mother used to slow cook on a hearth, not for doing what he did but for not doing what I wanted him to. Then one morning, chewing the ends of my pencil, I sat and wrote out a formal list. If you feel inclined to read it, here goes:

1) I want my father to cry for my mother.

2) I want my father to cry for us.

3) I want my father to keep my mother alive in our memories.

4) I want my father to miss my mother.

5) I want my father him to be there for me, not hug and kiss me at random hours and buy me cute toys to feel less guilty.

6) I don’t want him to take her place or let someone take her place.

I didn’t show that list to my father or anyone else. I crumpled and put it away in my secret box and stashed it away in the secret corner of my secret cupboard. I didn’t forget about it though. Somehow the writing of the list didn’t reduce my emptiness which incidentally drilled itself into a well with a mossy green and slippery bottom. It did manage to do one thing though. It helped me justify my anger towards my father. I am right. He is wrong.

***

A week later when I woke up, I found a strange woman in my house.

Who are you? I asked.

I am your nanny. I will be here in the mornings and evenings. The strange woman said. She was clad in a sari with the most outlandish prints.

And my father? I asked in a voice broken by a lump nuzzling my throat.

He left for an official tour. He will be back next week.

My father was gone but the list was still there, cold and stiff.

***

I had met my doggy daddy by chance. I was walking back home from school as I had run out of rickshaw money when I saw him sitting where he always sat – under the leafless Jacaranda tree near the Gulmohar Park. He had worn a yellow woolen jacket. I wondered if it was cashmere. I waited for a minute or two before removing my gloves and reaching out to run my hands over the fabric. It had felt soft and delicate like a baby’s skin. My doggy daddy didn’t flinch. His coat shone, and his paws and face were scrubbed clean and shiny. I was drawn to him, to his fresh laundry like scent that had reminded me of my once upon a time perfect home with my perfect mother and her perfect snacks. As quiet as air we had sat and watched the sun leave a series of vermillion colored squiggles on the sky.

***

When my father was away on trips, which was always, I couldn’t sleep at night. I would lie in my bed in the feverish anticipation of the frantic screeching of wheels into our empty driveway, of my father, pale and teary-eyed, rushing home to tell me how sad he was that my mother had died and how much he had missed her. Night after night I would lie awake but he never came except when his tour was over, looking rested, armed with a bunch of cute looking stuffed toys which I, of course, shredded and threw down the garbage chute. Then I began to wonder if my father chose to keep his sorrow under lock and key to protect me. Maybe his smiling face was a façade so I snooped around. I would open his suitcase and sift through his soiled clothes and sniff them for clues. Clues to his unbearable grief. The sourness of tears and depression. Or the daub of primrose oil. But all I found was the stink of cigarettes, expensive perfumes and betrayal among his crumpled suede brown jackets and silk shirts.

***

Months slipped by. By now I only saw traces of him around my home. A tie would be strewn carelessly on the sofa. A half glass of orange juice and a plate with breadcrumbs would sit on the kitchen table. Empty suitcases lay open in the hallway. Dirty laundry piled up in the basket. Cigarette smoke clung to the TV remote. He was like a messy house ghost.

***

My doggy daddy, thankfully, was always waiting for me every day. The Gulmohar Park where we met was freezing cold but I would sit next to him and share a plate of fried tangy potatoes as I narrated the day’s happenings to him. He was a listener more than a talker.

And talk I did of many things, including school, which had begun to feel like a reddish pimple growing under my armpit. Uncomfortable. My total disinterest in studies and sports only worsened the situation. Only my doggy daddy was privy to the remarks and notes that I got for my bad behavior and horrible grades. He would dutifully go through each one of them and grunt. Never did he reprimand me.

My doggy daddy was the only one who knew. He knew about the trolls residing in my head. He knew why I caught dragonflies and decapitated them. He knew why I caught a chocolate brown scorpion with a juicy sting and placed it in the nanny’s shoe. He knew why I secretly watched zombie movies and drew zombie pictures during my art class. And when I would start to talk about my mother and how much I missed her toothy smile, her warm embrace and her primrose oil laced scent, I would see his gluey eyes turn cloudy, and he would place his paw on my mine.

Once I had made him sign my report card. I had put a little ink on his paw and pressed it on the signature line. It looked like a dirty smudge. I was pretty pleased but my teacher wasn’t. She gave me a note marked URGENT. The note read thus: Dear Sir, Your child has been displaying erratic behavior for some time. His imagination is unsound. We would like to discuss the matter with you urgently. We recommend that he see a therapist.

I had read it out to my doggy daddy that evening and we had laughed till our stomachs had ached. My doggy daddy’s had distended like a leftover birthday balloon.

***

The winter seemed to stretch ahead with the obstinacy of a springy rubber band. The cold had subsided but there was a hazy bitterness in the air that lingered. And it remained even when my father brought home his friend. She was a butterfly. Her translucent skin glowed like wings. There was glitter on her face and body. Her eyes were buried under a heap of mascara, eyeliner and eye shadow while her lips shone like dewy gooseberries. It was mortifying to watch my father. He kept looking at her as if she was a birthday present waiting to be unwrapped. Over dinner he announced that he was going to marry her. Aren’t you excited? You are going to have a new mother? He had ricocheted. It was pointless to tell him that I would have loved to keep my old mother thank you very much. So I simply nodded. We had ordered food from my mother’s favorite Indian Chinese restaurant. I looked at my father in disgust. The man was definitely sick. And he wasn’t even aware. By the time I was mopping up the last of the sticky honey noodles and ice cream I had made my decision. Actually one of the trolls in my head did. I couldn’t let him go on. He had to know what it felt like to have a broken heart. Another troll convinced me that I was doing it for my mother. In unison they had said: You have had enough of your father. He is a poser clad in silk shirts and ties. You need a new daddy.

***

It was a foggy day. My doggy daddy was wearing an ochre colored jumper. His paws had curled up. The folds of his skin on his neck had stiffened. Daddy, are you cold? I had asked. No, he had nodded. So, shall I go ahead, daddy? Like a silent Buddha he had given me his blessings. And before I had left he had put his paw on my hand to say: When it happens I will be there for you.

***

And thus began my search for that elusive pill. One that could break my father’s heart, rip it open and splatter it around the room. The idea was messy but very satisfying. For that purpose alone I trawled the big bad world of Internet on my father’s iPad. I had typed pill to break hearts in the search engine and the results were depressing. Almost all the information that popped up were about mending hearts. Stupid, moronic Internet. I nixed the search and decided instead to ask around in the real world.

My first stop was at this impressive looking pharmacy near my school in Connaught Place. One evening after school, I sauntered in. Pharmacy uncle, do you have pills that can break hearts?

The pharmacist gave me a long hard look before bursting into snort filled laughter. Starting early, eh? He said amidst such loud gasps that I thought his handle bar moustache would fall off his pumpkin face. I left, exasperated and embarrassed. At the second pharmacy I presented the same demand. The pharmacist, a beaky looking man with a tuft of hair on his crown, didn’t laugh. He looked at me unblinking for a few minutes. Then gesturing with his fingers, he lowered his voice and said in a conspiratorial tone, if you can get a prescription, I will manage. I ran as fast as my wobbly knees could carry me.

Eventually help came but from the most unexpected source: my school. My growing notoriety and delinquency proved to be useful. It helped me secure the right connections. Through a series of insidious barters with my more ignominious classmates, I was able to secure a wild concoction of pills which my devious classmates assured me would break the poser’s heart in such a way that it would never ever get mended again.

I was ecstatic. I crushed the pills and stashed the mixture away in my secret box and stashed it away in the secret corner of my secret cupboard. Meanwhile, the list had crumbled away into nothing.

I waited.

***

They set the wedding date. It was on a Monday. The day officially marked the last day of winter and the first day of spring. The astrologers deemed the date and time as auspicious. The Friday before the wedding I returned from school to be greeted by my father. He was a delirious bird. His naked enthusiasm depressed me. Kiddo, do you know this is our last weekend as just us. Next weekend you will have a new mother. I have decided that we will spend this entire weekend together. We will have tons of fun. What say? The poser said and hugged me tight and planted a slobbering kiss on my cheek.

That’s lovely. I am so happy, daddy. I said in my best fake sweet voice.

I set the bag on the sofa. All that courage that I had accumulated to break his heart had begun to evaporate. I wasn’t sure I could anymore. My knees were numb and my mind hazy when my father began to speak.

The strangest thing happened today. I had to drop off some invitations at a building near the Gulmohar Park. When I returned, I found an old dog sitting near the car. He looked rather haggard. He had no collar or name. I asked around at the dog pound. I even checked with the nearby buildings but no one came forward. I didn’t feel like leaving this poor fella behind. Besides, isn’t he superbly dressed? Do you want to keep him?

An old dog dressed in a mustard jacket and an oversized cap, ambled in and sat in front of me and started staring straight ahead of me. He had vacant brown eyes.

I hugged the poser around his waist. He picked me up and I buried my nose in his suede jacket. His body scent had intermingled with a familiar, rich perfume. I took long drags of his scent. I was storing it in my memory to fake weep on it later. When I had enough, I mumbled through his clothing.

Daddy, I wanted to make you my special tomato soup as a thank you. Would you eat it?

He cooed in delight and hugged me nice and tight. My first full embrace since my mother’s death. I looked over his shoulder, my chin still buried in the shoulder pads of his jacket.

My doggy daddy was looking directly at me. He had an evil lopsided grin.

 
Roopa Raveendran-Menon has been a reporter, editor, recruitment consultant, copywriter and media coordinator. Currently she lives in Dubai with her husband and two imaginary cats.