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, when last seen, was 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 was relo­cat­ing from New York City to Providence.