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Dog Day Afternoon

posted Aug 8, 2014, 12:19 AM by Madhuri Sen

Lucas hurried down the road, head bent like his nose would scrape the ground. He was looking for that bottle he’d spotted on the road last evening when walking by. It would have been a nice addition to his bottle collection.  Darned bad luck that at the time that he’d spotted it, his patron had been in a hurry. Duty first. So he had hurried after him, keeping his eyes skinned on the road for any potential threat to the patron.  His patron was a good man; if one did his duty well. Lucas felt satisfied with life, doing his job, the best he could. A round-the-clock job wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it came with its perks. He could actually relax totally when his patron was indoors, as long as he stayed close to his post at the door and the food was wonderful. The patron believed you are what you eat and personally made sure that the “quality” of his security was not threatened. Lucas’ colleague Rudolph was new and still learning the ropes. The patron didn’t ever quite say so; but it was an unspoken expectation that Lucas would take the younger member under his wing. He felt proud of his new responsibilities.

There was a bit of green sticking out there – was that the bottle? He went in for a closer inspection. No – that was just a shiny piece of plastic. He was quickly losing heart. Maybe an overzealous rag picker had spotted it in the corner as well and added it to their collection.  He stood there pondering, trying to make up his mind to continue the search or just give up – there would be other bottles. He thought about the rows of them in the house, his collection over the last 5 years. He imagined exactly where he would have fitted that one and felt a twinge of dejection.  He knew he was a tad high strung about seemingly nonsensical stuff – but that quality served him well in his job. He was suspicious of everyone and everything and would first act and then think. He hadn’t been retained to think – only watch and protect the patron. The patron could do the thinking and stop him if he liked, as he wanted.

His attention suddenly turned to a loud crash from somewhere across the road. His first assumption was a speeding car may have run into another or maybe the divider. Instead as he swiftly turned around, he saw that one of the ramshackle shanties that the road repair workers put together had collapsed. Had anyone been in there, he wondered?  A crowd was quickly gathering. He crossed the road to get a closer look and poked his head in between two of the onlookers.

What he saw was puzzling. There seemed to be a man stuck under one of the asbestos sheets and he was trying to beat away whoever tried to get close or pull him out. He made shooing gestures and yelled repeatedly, “Arre jao na. Tamasha hai kya! Main theek hoon.” (“Go away! Is this a circus? I am fine.”) How he would be fine was anyone’s guess. The asbestos was squarely on his back and another couple had collapsed on top of those in a zigzag pattern. The crowd was not to be deterred however. They kept pulling at him by hooking their hands under his both his armpits. As he budged the first inch, another voice, a woman’s this time, yelled in muffled tones, “@#$%%*.” He responded in kind, “*&^%$@#. Ab mai aur kya karoon. Yeh sun nahi rahe. Tu aur andar sarak ja.”  (What am I to do, they won’t listen to me. You move in further) She responded, “%&^&^@%*”. 

A lady in the crowd moved forward, “There seems to be a woman in there as well. But why won’t they let us help them.” The police had arrived there by then. He bent down over the man as asked him it was hurting if they tried to pull him out. The man stuck gestured to the police constable closer and whispered in his ear. Having heard him out, the policeman’s stern, annoyed face suddenly eased into a mild expression of amusement. After a second’s pause, he started yelling at the crowd to move away; that they would need to get equipment to haul the collapsed asbestos off before the couple stuck beneath could be moved. He got busy on his walkie to summon help. Much of the entertainment value dissipated, the crowd started to disperse.

Lucas moved on as well; his focus back on the bottle. He crossed several other patrons with their bodyguards as he proceeded to the end of the long stretch of the straight road. There were quick gestures between them, signaling all was well ahead.  However, no one would actually stop or exchange a word;  not while they were on duty. As the road ended, Lucas sat down disappointed on the side of the road for a minute and then turned around to proceed back. As he passed the point at which the recent incident occurred, he saw the man and there was a woman next to him; both huddled on their haunches with seemingly just tattered bedsheets wrapped around each of them. The asbestos sheets seemed to have been pulled away into the corner.

He wished he could comment aloud to his patron. But then they belonged to different worlds. Communication was always a challenge and he wasn’t sure if anything he had to say about the matter would be welcome. So he stayed silent.  He couldn’t decipher the patron’s thoughts either. The sun was setting into a grey and black streaked sky of varying shades. It was a lovely time of day. But it was time to get home.

As he started to get back to his post at the door, his patron who had preceded him inside called out to him, “Lucas you may be thirsty. Come get a drink, boy.” He smiled inwardly at the caring that always seemed to lurking barely beneath his patron’s stern façade. With a happy swish of his tail, he went to his bowl to lap up the iced water poured in!