I have decided to write a short story:
Short Story: I will call you Hope
How she wished she had someone to play with! But her chuti nangi was four months old, and her malli, seven years old, was only interested in playing cricket with his friends or hunting the neighborhood for fruit trees to climb.
Lifting her eyes from the dusty pavement, Karuna scanned her surroundings for anything that might hold her interest today. She loved looking at beautiful flowers, but most houses were surrounded by high stone walls with glass shards on top, so she was left with the trees lining the road and the drains spilling mossy greens onto the pavement. She had made up her mind to walk toward the city center and look at the toys in the shops, hoping her father would bring her one on his next visit, when noise from the other lane drew her attention.
Karuna rounded the corner and walked towards the commotion. She heard raucous shouting and thumping noises, intermingled with high-pitched wailing that sounded inhuman and pierced her heart. Automatically she broke into a run although her pulse was hammering in instinctive fear.
What was going on?
When she came closer, she saw a group of boys, most of them a couple of years older than her and still dressed in their white school uniform. The tallest and thinnest of them was holding a stick in his hand while some of the boys were armed with stones and others were jeering and clapping.
Karuna slowed down and edged closer, her heart in her throat. What she saw made her scream an involuntary NO, and the boys all froze in mid-action.
On the dusty ground close to a garbage dumping site lay the lifeless, impossibly tiny, skeleton-thin body of a mud-colored puppy, its fur caked in its own blood. A few feet away, another puppy was cowering, shivering and whining. The tall boy had evidently been hitting it, trying to kill it too, for one of the sand-colored puppy’s legs lay at a strange angle, and blood was trickling down its small face.
“No!” Karuna screamed again. “What are you doing? Don’t kill it!”
The leader of the gang scowled at her before grinning. He elbowed the fat, dark boy next to him in the ribs.
“Look who’s come to watch. Now this will be even more fun. Let’s see whether the puppy or the girl screams louder.”
At his signal, two other boys advanced and grabbed Karuna’s arms to drag her forward into the circle. Another boy seized the puppy by its tail and lifted it high into the air, and they all laughed at its desperate yowling. The tall one lifted his arm to land another hit at the creature he considered worthless, and Karuna saw red.
She didn’t know what possessed her, but from somewhere she found the strength to fight the strong hold the boys had on her. She yanked one arm free and flailed and kicked until the other boy let go of her with a curse. Flinging herself forward and raising one arm to protect her head, she snatched up the puppy that had been dropped in surprise. Hugging it close to her trembling body, she said, “You will not hit him. He’s mine. You can’t hurt him. If you want to get him, you have to hit me first.”
Karuna didn’t feel half as brave as she would have wished it, and her voice was wobbly with terror, but her black eyes burned with determination. The boys took one long look at her, frowning and muttering to themselves.
“Spoilsport, you’ll pay for this,” their leader shouted. He spat on the huddled form and dropped the stick. “He’s useless, just as you are useless. Filth associating with filth. He’ll die even if we don’t kill him.”
With that, he signaled to the group and they walked off, chorusing “filth, filth, filth”.
Karuna realized she was crying in big, snotty sobs. She didn’t bother wiping the boy’s spit from her arm but looked down at the puppy. It was pressing itself to her, huddling into her safe embrace and shaking like a leaf.
“You’re not filthy, you’re the sweetest thing on earth,” she whispered to it soothingly. “I will call you Hope, and you’ll become my best friend.”
Once she felt stable enough to walk, she got up and carried the puppy home, pressing her blouse over the bleeding wound on his face.
Eleven years later
Karuna turned the key in the lock of her apartment door, smiling brightly at the ruckus her dog was making on the other side of it. As soon as she had opened the door, he came bounding toward her on his short legs and leapt up to place his paws on her stomach and lick her hands.
She dropped her handbag and squatted down to hug him.
“Hey there, Hope. How has my sweetheart been? Did you miss me?”
The dog whined softly before barking in joy again and licking her face with his big, wet tongue. She giggled and pried him away with greatest difficulty. Walking into the kitchen with him nipping at her heels, she poured him a bowl of milk and watched him lap it up within seconds.
Hope was one of the ugliest dogs she had ever seen, and she had seen many mangy mongrels on the roadside. While his body was rather big—though not fat—his legs were much too short, and one the front legs bent awkwardly a little away from his body. His sandy fur was short everywhere but in his face where it was a mass of shaggy, grey curls. His tail was as long and as bald as a rat’s tail, and he had lost one eye the day she had rescued him.
Still, he was her most precious possession and the best friend she had. The pitiable puppy had grown into a fiercely loyal and utterly kind-hearted furry beast that was the light of her life.
Karuna patted Hope’s head and went into her room to undress and have a shower. She lived alone, barely able to pay the rent for the tiny apartment with her meager secretary’s salary. Her mother lived at Karuna’s brother’s house, and both had become estranged to her because Karuna refused to agree to an arranged marriage. Karuna’s baby sister was working abroad just like their father.
As during childhood and adolescence, Karuna was too shy and quiet to make real friends, be it at her workplace or elsewhere. She avoided social gatherings, couldn’t afford anything nice in her life, and preferred staying at home with her dog.
That night, Karuna awoke with a start when Hope leapt off her bed and started barking loud enough to wake the whole town.
“Sweetie, what’s the matter?” she asked groggily, groping for the torch on the nightstand.
By now the dog was growling and barking at the same time, his hackles raised. What on earth had gotten into her calm pooch that was too loving and lazy to get so worked up?
Loud crashing and banging noises from the living room alerted her. Despite the warning voice in her head, Karuna grabbed the torch and opened the room door to find out what was going on. With a hand on the furious dog’s neck, she approached the living and gasped when she saw the reason for his behavior.
Two dark figures with cloth wound around their heads and torches in their hands were rummaging through her belongings. The moment Hope saw them, he tore himself from her grasp and ran towards them, yapping and growling and barking, trying to bite the intruders. The men cursed and yelled, and one of them yelped when the dog sank his sharp teeth into his calf. The other man didn’t lose his calm that easily, unfortunately. In an instant he was at Karuna’s side and held a knife to her throat.
“Call that bloody dog back or I’ll kill you,” he commanded.
Trembling with terror, Karuna tried calling her dog back, but Hope wouldn’t listen. He kept avoiding the other man’s weapon while biting him all over his legs repeatedly. Karuna felt the blade of the knife pressed so tightly against her throat that it was cutting into the skin, and she shouted at her dog to come to her side and be good. It was no use.
Just when she thought they’d both die, there was another loud crash that had them all freeze. She saw the glass of the living-room window burst into a million shards, and a figure looming in the half-light from the roadside lamps.
“Stop whatever you’re doing, right now. I have called the police, resistance is futile,” a deep and surprisingly calm and commanding voice spoke. Her mysterious savior held up his mobile phone to emphasize his threat.
When Hope used the burglar’s surprise to sink his teeth into a hand, things took a turn. Cursing in the harshest filth she had ever heard, the two men scampered off through the half-open front door they had broken into some minutes ago.
There was eerie silence after they had vanished into the dark. Karuna sank to the floor as the shock finally registered, and Hope was by her side in a second, nuzzling her face and sniffing her all over to make sure she was fine. His face was covered in blood, but this time it wasn’t his own.
A voice from the window broke her trance.
“You have a really wonderful dog, you know. I think he just saved your life.”
She watched as the man gingerly climbed into the room, avoiding all the broken glass. In a corner of her mind she wondered dimly why her dog didn’t bark at this stranger. The man slowly walked closer and bent down to them, and Hope still did nothing but watch him, one of his paws on Karuna’s knee.
“Are you alright?” the stranger asked, and she looked into the kindest eyes she had ever seen, her dog’s eyes not counted.
Author’s note: Karuna is the Pali (and Sanskrit) term for compassion, and part of the spiritual path of Buddhism.