I loved her diffident smile just as much as I loved watching the setting sun, and how it kept confusing the endless sky with its myriad hues. I loved the way she looked right into my eyes, searching for a confidante she failed to find in the eyes of a human being. While others threw me bread and biscuits, she would always pull me up on her lap and feed me from her own plate. The food she ate was not particularly good, but I knew that was all she could manage, for the two of us. I was not a dog to her. I was her friend. I was someone who had the patience to understand her. Laila was her name, and she was nineteen.
I do not understand the language of humans. There are so many. But over the last two years I have gathered that Laila was one of those few unfortunate girls who had survived a childhood worse than any imaginable nightmare. Her father was a drunk, and if I am not wrong, he almost killed his wife and raped his own daughter one night. I have heard Laila talk to her bedridden mother about that fateful night, weep uncontrollably, and curse the Gods she had blindly believed in. I do not understand humans, but I often wonder how someone could do that to his own child. Laila was a survivor. She poisoned her father’s food and fled with her mother that night, swearing never to return to her village. She did not even wait to see the monster die. She just kept running…running away from the abyss she called home…running away from her incapacitated self…with her weary mind concocting a beautifully carved doorway to freedom that seemed to be waiting for her. But like everything else, that door was a lie too.
She could not earn money. With an injured and diseased mother, life was a struggle she was sure she would lose. Nobody cared to offer her work. She kept begging from door to door, but all she learnt was that the world was indeed too big and too busy to care for a trivial being like her. Her mother needed medicines, which happened to be incredibly costly. In addition, they needed food. And clothes. And a roof over their heads.
Eventually they found a shelter by the sea – a small hut, little away from the fishermen’s colony. When no help knocked on her door, one night a fisherman did. He had been keeping an eye on her for some time. That night she knew why he had come. Her young eyes had already seen the face of the devil, her young skin had already felt his nails and rough fingers. She was not scared. She knew this was the answer. She did not scream that night, because when the fisherman left, apparently satisfied, there were a few currency notes by her bed, and a small plastic packet that had some fish in it. Laila told me once that she had cried that night, and that her tears tasted extremely bitter when they found their way to her lips. She spent the entire night sitting on the shore, the water lapping against her feet. That was the night she found me. That was the night I found a friend, a mother and a family. From that night onwards, I saw new faces every night. New people, entering Laila’s room, and leaving after some time looking considerably exhausted but incredibly satisfied. It took me a few days to realise what was going on, and I felt sorry. I realised sex could be so important to humans.
Some nights went rough… I would find her eye blackened, or a blood clot at the corner of her lips. I would bark with all my might at the person who did that to her, and try to scare him, but I knew none of them felt scared. Monsters never feel scared of a barking dog.
Laila’s mother apparently knew nothing about this. But her medicines always kept coming in time. “I don’t know what you do, my child, but it’s best to let me leave this world. I am but a burden you need not carry,” she would mumble, and Laila would kiss her forehead. She was still bedridden, her legs paralysed. Laila would talk to her sometimes, but mostly it would be me. She somehow believed I actually understood every word she said, and more importantly, every word she swallowed. And I wish I could tell her that I really did. I could see the pain in her eyes crawl down as two callous streams. I could see the little dreams she crushed under her feet every night. I knew she was doing all this to survive, and to keep her mother alive. I think about her father, and I think about her. It makes me wonder how starkly contrasting two humans can be.
Laila sat by her bed after the stranger of that particular night had left, and I knew it was my time to listen to her. I would wag my tail and curl myself up in her lap, and her slender fingers would run all over my head, my neck, my ears. It generally made me fall asleep. She would talk about her home back in the village, how she had once dreamt of climbing the mango tree like the boys did…how she had once loved the sound of the temple bells ringing together every evening…how she had enjoyed picking fresh flowers… and how often she wanted to sing meaningless songs, to run wildly with her arms open… I would look at her and notice that her swollen eyes were tired of crying. She would pick a half-eaten piece of bread from the plate, tear it in two halves, and we would go out and have our little late-night snack by the sea. “I thought God will never send me anybody to live for, to live with… now I have you. You have listened to everything I had to say,” she would whisper, and I would understand. “You are the rainbow in my wretched sky.” I wanted to tell her she was my rainbow too, but all that came out was a soft bark, and then she chortled, which was also the sweetest sound my ears had ever registered. I have no God to pray to, but I did not wish to have one, because clearly God never cared. I believed someday someone would hold her hand and say it was going to be okay.
That ‘someone’ arrived in the form a doctor, whom she called from the town after her mother had suffered a mild stroke. The doctor seemed like a good person. I am a dog, I can literally sniff good from bad. And that day my heart told me this man was good. I also noticed the way he looked at Laila when she was apologising for the ramshackle condition of the house. That evening I found Laila smiling. After so many nights, the smile seemed like fresh rain. “He knows everything about me. I could tell he had found out everything before coming here. Yet I saw something in his eyes that is very much alien to me. I saw empathy. And maybe a little respect,” Laila said, and maybe she did not notice that I nodded in agreement. I knew the doctor would come again. And that need not necessarily be because of an ailing mother.
He came again. A few days during the daytime, and sometimes at night. He brought good food with him. He hardly cared about my presence, but I realised he was always finding excuses to touch her. Laila, from that day onwards, had never allowed anybody into her house at night. I was happy to see that she was preparing for a future. One night when the doctor left, she came running to me, picked me up and started cuddling me furiously. I had hardly seen her smile or laugh, but there she was, overjoyed. “He said yes! He wants to marry me!” she kept murmuring, and I was the happiest dog in the world. I licked her arms and tried to smile like humans. “Don’t worry, I will never leave you behind,” she said, and I wanted to reply, “I know. You need not say that.”
She continued, “All my life I thought I was destined to spend my youth in a dark and dirty little corner of this hut. I never got a chance to know who I am.” I kept listening. “My past wakes me up from my sleep, and my present won’t let me sleep. I believed I was that kind of a person. But now I see it.” She was smiling and crying at the same time. To me it was like sunshine and rainfall, at the same time. “It took God twenty years to show me light in the darkness, the filth I have been living in…but better late than never. Now my boat has a sail…you understand, my boy? You do understand everything, don’t you?”
I could not be happier. Laila would live a life she deserved with a person who wanted her and not just her body. The next few days the doctor failed to show up. But the sky tore apart the day a woman paid us a visit. I was out, searching for eatables at the marketplace. When I returned, I heard a woman shouting blatantly at Laila, and she was sitting on the floor, crying, her hands covering her face. “You little whore… how dare you burn my house down? I will deal with my husband later…but you? What do you want, you pathetic soulless whore? You want money?” She groped for something in her purse, and then threw some notes at her face. “If he comes here again, I want you to shut the door, and keep it shut! He has a wife! Push that right into your brainless head! Don’t make me drag you out and take you to the police!”
I was unable to move, or bark. I stood there motionless, watching Laila, and how every word emanating from the fat woman’s mouth kept breaking the small palaces she had built in her mind brick by brick. The woman stormed out, and Laila buried her face in her hands again. The sound of her hiccups frightened me, and I kept rubbing my head on her arm. “Get lost! Go!” She cried and pushed me away, and that was something new. I did not leave her. I sat by her side, waiting for her to muster her strength. After about an hour, she stopped crying. Her eyes were blood red. She looked at me and smiled, as if she was smiling at her own fate, and how she was destined to be a victim of its evil mockery. “One sunny day made me forget that I live by the sea, where my life is surrounded by storms. One sunny day. I shouldn’t have dared to dream. I shouldn’t have….”
I had never felt more helpless in my life. I realised I could never understand humans. When it comes to humans, I can never sniff good from bad, not really. There are too many layers. Too many colours. Too many masks.
That night the doctor came again. He was furious. I was taken aback at how his calm and composed face had metamorphosed into something so cruel. He clutched Laila’s hair in a monstrous grip and pushed her on the bed. I could hear her mother slowly calling her name out from the other room. I growled and bit his leg real hard. He shrieked in agony, and kicked me away. He shut the door, and I was left outside the room alone. I heard Laila moaning and screaming in agony, and then I heard the doctor’s angry voice, “I paid for your medicines, brought you food, and now you say I will get nothing in return! You really thought I would marry you? You are filth! And now my wife knows! Great! I am here to have what I had always wanted. A piece of advice – the less you wriggle and shout, the less painful it’s going to be.”
I kept barking as loud as I could. I even ran out and kept barking helplessly in front of the little teashop that was about to close. The shopkeeper saw me, smiled, and threw me a biscuit. It was the first time I was not happy with someone throwing me food. I did not touch it, and kept barking. He then threw me a bigger biscuit, probably a better one.
I ran to other fisherman, but none seemed to understand. Benighted men were seen hurrying towards home, and none seemed to care. A barking dog was after all not a very noticeable thing. I had to return to the hut. I had never felt more anxious, more frightened. I wanted the door to open. I wanted to see her. When I came back, the door was already open and the curtain was fluttering as if something demonic had just departed, leaving a diabolic trail. I slowly walked into the room. And then I looked into her eyes.
Blood was gushing out from her mouth and nose. Scratch marks were all over her bare body. She was having trouble breathing. My heart ached terribly at the sight, and I did not know what to do. Her trembling fingers slowly reached for my ears, and she whispered in pain, “The rainbow…of my sky…”
Those were the last words of my friend, Laila. I sat by her bed all night, and never uttered another bark. Her eyes were still glistening as if they were still not done trying to find a little light in all this darkness. In the morning, a few fisherman took her body out of the hut. Her mother was informed, but the truth was sheathed. She was told that her daughter was killed by a goon. The fishermen who were monsters to me suddenly seemed more human than most. They kept murmuring amongst themselves, expressing grief. They even arranged for a small pyre to burn her body. I had never seen a human body burn. When I watched Laila curl up into the open arms of the sky as thick black smoke, something inside me crumbled badly. I wanted to scream, run, bite whatever I found before me. I constantly kept barking, hoping that finally after all these years, one of my barks will sound like her name. But that did not happen. Laila took very little time to burn.
The person who was just about to dream was pushed to eternal sleep. The thought that I would actually never hear her chortle, never get her lap to sleep on, never listen to her stories, made me feel so alone, so hollow. That evening I watched the sunset, the hues of the sky, the montage of broken clouds, the homecoming birds. Nothing seemed beautiful. I wish that I could tell her, just once, that she was my rainbow too…and how colourful my rainbow really was.