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Saptarishi Bandopadhyay

No people without dogs

  

The way I know all of what happens today is that when you die, the whole world opens up to you, and you can, if you so wish, go back and forth through all of your years including these last hours, in no time at all. There is, contrary to popular belief, no flashing involved, because past a point time isn’t relative, it is entirely redundant, and everything turns—for the first and only time—however you decide it should. When you pass a headstone and note in the engraving a life bound by calendar, rest assured that only what comes before the hyphen may have mattered, if at all, to the one lying under it.

The highlights of this day—if I had to choose—would be, helping my daughter colour in a card to decorate her beloved grandmother’s grave, and being advised by our gardener, who I fired later in the day, to watch my back. All in all a pretty exciting day, I’d say, for a man who’s spent the better part of the last decade cooped up in his study sketching figures without depth, so the readership of the local daily will still have the funny pages with which to wrap presents they never put much thought towards. Of course, other things of consequence happened this morning, but these I only know now: for instance, somewhere up the hill from where I live, a teenager experimented with Diet Coke and heroin, and in the city, the manager of a major fast food restaurant was found naked and handcuffed to a kitchen cabinet at the back of the restaurant, his behind, numb from air wafting out through an open freezer door a few feet away. I know these things now; can you say fringe benefit?

My regrets on this day specifically, are: that I didn’t save more than I did—surely no one is going to use, or buy, that blue vinyl chair I brought home last summer,  and I never did buy a dog. When I think of dogs and all the love, affection and hassle that comes with them, I think I would have wanted one for my own.

***

Down the hill from our driveway, along the dirt road that strays purposefully from the expressway exit only to go nowhere, there is a dog park where I go in the evenings. The rule was that only dogs were allowed in. But that was until a little Schnauzer snipped at the ankles of the wrong oversized playmate. Letters were written and owners invited in. I have no dog but the locals who know me will usually beckon me into the space bound by wire and lined with benches, where the owners can now sit and with some modest concern, watch their dogs run without leashes. Except today I didn’t see anyone I knew and spent almost an hour waiting at the boundary, hoping to be invited in. At one point I even saw a woman, from higher on the hill, who I didn’t know but had exchanged pleasantries with on the inside. She was about to head in, when spotting an acquaintance, that was not me, she stopped to converse. I used this moment to creep along the wire until I was almost alongside the conversation: she wouldn’t get in without acknowledging me, is how I saw it play in my head. The women shared banalities: mostly “how about that…” and “don’t you know its going to happen just when I…,” while I, like a burnt tongue poised for flavour, waited. Ultimately her dog came through for me, grunting and tugging at its leash until the woman turned, and with what is surely a skill that cannot be taught, sashayed past me without so much as looking up towards my face. I was about to speak when she pulled the gate shut and my eyes fell on the freshly painted sign that dangled on it: “No dogs without people…,” it read. This is when it started to rain, and I, bundling my fists into my pockets, began to run home.

I didn’t make it, but that’s neither here nor there.

***

You may find it curious that I’ve spent so long recounting my day at the dog park but made only a cursory reference to my family, my life with them, and now their life without me. The last of these is the future and as such, not something I can speak to. But your query, if it arises, is answered by the fact that time isn’t all you lose when you die. Death is the great leveller, because past this point, all value is lost; money isn’t the only thing you can’t take with you, is what I’m saying. I could have spent this time telling you about the way I was taught to peel bananas or the afternoon I discovered that a family of rats housed by the back wall of my workshop had, over the summer, thieved away one stick of each colour present in a standard box of crayons, and no others. But dogs were what came to mind. This may be because I’d never seen that sign before today, but there isn’t a way to know for sure.

“No dogs without people…,” indeed, as if a dog would just show up and demand entry, or if it did, as if this sign would convince the now playful canine that it couldn’t come in. No, the sign I figured, as I ran home in the rain, was there for me. I imagine I would have felt some disdain towards the park’s management for the unnecessary cuteness they’d inserted via this order preceding the one directed at me, but I never did get that far. I know I keep returning here, but I assure you that it isn’t to create some mood leading up to how I died. I’ll tell you straight, it was a car, a beat-up old sedan that skid off the paved street and onto the dirt track just as I, one hand keeping the rain out of my eyes, ran around the corner and into its haplessly sliding boot. I died surrounded by rain water that fell fast and hard, and a dozen or so dogs that whimpered and howled as they came up the track on their way home. It wasn’t the gardener’s car, let it be known.

You come across the strangest things when looking back on your life: you stop to remember the high school teacher whose smile made your socks hot, but give your wedding a miss; your senile grandfather in his dyed hairdo and pink exercise shorts makes an appearance but an entire life spent drawing, doesn’t. I can describe every image that I see and to you, to whom they mean nothing, they mean more than they do to me.

All of this would have been useful to know on one of those occasions when my daughter asked whether her grandmother was “sad that she was dead,” and “where do people go when they die?” They step outside the dog park, I would have said; from where they can see us run and play and pant and howl and though we are without leashes, they are at once helpless but unafraid. 

 


Saptarishi Bandopadhyay is an international lawyer serving as a Global Governance Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. At the time of publication, he is relocating from New York City to Providence.

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