The wonderful thing about not having children is that you don’t have children. This means that you can keep your breakables where they are, swear as much as you like, and call a boiled egg and cigarette ‘lunch’. You can sleep right through the night (or day), never touch anyone’s poop but your own, and walk out of the house in the morning and decide not to come back for a month. In other words you are master of your fate, captain of your soul, rather than knee deep in tiny novices for whose adoring gaze you have to be a role model.
Dogs, on the other hand, are well worth having. They’re much more loyal, softer to the touch all through their lives, put up with your absences without holding grudges, and when a dog lies with his throat on your foot and swallows, it’s enough to make your heart explode with contentment.
My family has had three dogs. The first was a boxer puppy we got when we lived in Jakarta. Kipo was the sprightliest three-month-old in his litter. He was fawn coloured with a black snout and a white streak up his forehead and white socks up his paws; his tail was docked but his ears were not, and they always emerged with a milk moustache when he drank milk out of his bowl. He was smart as a whip, always up for a wriggly romp, enormously loving, and slept with all his paws in the air and just the tip of his tongue sticking out of his mouth.
The people we got him from said he’d had all his shots, but apparently they’d lied; Kipo died of hepatitis four months later, and we buried him in the garden. For weeks afterwards I’d reflexively rise from the table to open the screen door to the garden because I heard him scratching to be let in.
A while later, our doorbell rang and we found an incredibly tiny Dachshund puppy with an enormous pink bow around his neck, blinking at us from the porch. Friends of ours had gifted us one of their dog’s offspring. Toffee was so little that when he ran he floated back to earth like a leaf. He was bright, tender, well behaved, and filled the void left by Kipo for a little while, until the next summer when, while we were on vacation in India, we got a call from Jakarta saying that he had disappeared. Perhaps he’d run out of the gate, and either perished in traffic, or been stolen.
It was a good ten years before that we were ready for another dog. I spotted Simba in a photograph at a supermarket checkout counter in Manila, where my parents lived at the time. “Absolutely not,” said my mother firmly. In the car, she said, “Do you remember the phone number on the paper?” I reeled it off, we called, and a few days later Simba was tottering around our house.
He was a beloved but difficult family member. He was very loving, but also bit every one of us at least once (I have a crescent-shaped scar on my palm to remember him by). Even as a puppy he would crawl off into the bushes, out of reach, and lie there glaring balefully at the world. He was no furry plaything; he was a character, and if you didn’t respect him, you were liable to run into his dark side. He moved with my parents from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, then to Switzerland, and finally back to India, where he died aged ten and a half. I think that if he’d been human, he would have been an alcoholic and written quite good poetry.
I miss them all very much.