Kamala Wijeratne is a well-known poet and fiction writer of Sri Lanka.

A Dog’s Life

never had a chance to live long anyway. The circumstances were such even three months was a lifetime. I had seen it happening all too often. But this one seemed to be a little more fortunate than the others. It had lived a little bit longer and seemed to be resilient to starvation, mange and the dog van which visited the institute from time to time.

And all in the midst of plenty, nay surfeit. Food was dragged about along corridors by dogs and crows from the polythene wrappers which were dumped into cardboard boxes left to dispose of them. All day long the two cafeterias were patronised by hungry diners or by those who wanted a break between seminars or workshops. But there were few who saw the little dog, now aban­doned even by its mother. It had no chance at all with the big hulking dogs, not even with the wily cats.

Dogs materialised out of nowhere as if they were created by some myste­rious power. Each day it was a new dog. The majority were females. There was no women’s lib among dogs, I suppose. Otherwise they could have fought back. But dog society being very traditional, the females were nearly always pregnant. Then there would be litters of six to eight puppies under the bushes and the culverts. For about a week they would only sleep, blind to the fate that awaited them. The mothers hovered around feeding six or eight ravenous rascals. It was a painful task even with all the love in the world. In a week or so the pups would start gamboling about on bandy legs, woolly and fat. Some kindly souls would take away the males if they managed to survive the reversing cars and the cleaning women who kept pestering them all the time.

Then only the females were left. Nobody wanted them and I thought of a future without dogs. If the same attitude were adopted to female children, one day Sri Lanka too would go back to the jungle free of man. Not a big mishap perhaps, with that kind of attitude. The little mites would wander along corridors running behind their mothers who in turn ran away from them. Clearly they had done their duty by their daughters. They had been fed until they could stand on their feet and now there was no more milk nor love to spare.

It became a fight to survive. The puppies would haunt the canteen hopeful of getting scraps, if they were lucky. They had a try at the big barrels where waste food was thrown in. But the barrels were very often too tall and little puppy dogs were so small. They would lick the polythene tissue which fell off the bins and in their hunger I suppose they munched and swallowed them. And that killed them off. I would see the numbers dwindle day after day – five, four, three. For about two months they wandered together licking empty yoghurt cups, munching the polythene tissues. Then there was only one. This puppy dog had lived for nearly four months. It had no fur on its body, not even on its ears. There was black wrinkled skin hanging on to its bony frame. There were sores on its ears and back, as a result of constant scratching. It was not friendly because it had not learnt to love man. Man hadn’t been kind to it so why should it love him! I had to coax it to accept the yoghurt I bought it sometimes. It would frown and hesitate and keep away. I tore the tin foil off the plastic cup and held it out. But it was too frightened. Was it another trap? The cleaning woman harassed it through the day. And this could be another wicked human anxious to snuff out its life. I left the yoghurt in the drain under a clump of trees. Slowly it came, attracted by the smell of milk and nibbled the edge of the cup. Quickly it gobbled it all down, fearfully looking to left and right. Any moment, one of the bigger dogs would pounce on the little one and that would be the end of its meal.

For days on end I would forget the little dog. Then I did remember I would get something for it to eat. One day – this was after about a week when I had been too busy to think of anything – I saw it running into the bushes with the head of a little kitten in its mouth. Hunger will drive creatures to any ferocity and here it was, this mangy, starving, shrivelled mummy of a puppy turned killer. I don’t know what formula that was: dog eat cat. Well one must live.

It was awful to hear it whimpering as the mange took over. For minutes it would sit scratching itself. I thought of various things that could have been done-using a little Shelgard that I used on my own dogs or using dog powder to ease its pain. Finally, I did not do anything.

And then one day it happened; that long awaited moment–a car driving at high speed within the grounds of the institute. I suppose it didn’t even feel the little dog as it careened over it.

As I said it never had a chance to live long anyway.