On a Friday, six years ago, I reluctantly let a 3-month old yellow Labrador into my life. Allow me to clarify the adverb. I live in an undisclosed city in Greece with a population of around 138, 000. The city is a sprawling mess since the term ‘town and city planning’ had not–until recently–featured highly in its local government’s manifesto. I live on the ‘inskirts’ of the outskirts of the old town, in an area which boasts ‘not much’. There are too many cars on too-narrow roads, and most of the housing blocks are four-storey, rudely shutting out any sense of horizon for ground-floor residents. We have a yard, but that consolation is negated by the parking insanity and the sheer claustrophobic closeness of neighbours at every turn.
Back to the Lab: I never wanted her, I’ll say it plain. My children enjoy reminding me of that whenever they intercept the odd endearing comment aimed at her. You never wanted her, they say. I can’t deny it. I never wanted her because I could never picture a medium-large dog in such a dire urban place. She’d have to live in the yard: What about the traffic of three children, the extended family, the students for private lessons? She could never come into the house. We have enough allergies to keep a small pharmaceutical start-up company in the black. Left outside, she’d bark, and mess, and get bored since no-one would have time to walk her, and medium-large dogs need at least an hour a day to keep them sated. No, she couldn’t stay and that was that, I said to my family as they presented her to me like an offering. Choruses of Please, Mummy, please, and then I looked down, and there she was, belly-up in my husband’s arms, at the height of achingly sweet puppy-hood. No, I persisted. It wasn’t fair. I hadn’t been consulted. I was outnumbered. For my husband, I reserved my choicest words: how dare he cast me as the bad guy; how dare he go behind my back. Partnership? Bah! He promised the moon and his spleen in return, but my heart had iced over against all of them and their sneaky scheme. She was not welcome; she had to go. Tears and sulks followed, but I was firm. I didn’t go into the yard to see her for fear of entrapment, for I’m an unabashed dog-lover; cats go rot. That was my argument, my premise in response to their sniffles and black looks. I love dogs more than you all, I said, since I’m unwilling to keep one in a half-assed way, I added piously.
I fast forward a few notches to Sunday, the day before she was to be returned to the breeder. I was having coffee, attempting to read something when I caught sight of my son, then 13, playing in the yard with the dog. There it was, a preternatural glow on his face as he looked down at her, engrossed, totally unaware of me. And that was it; I was spiked, caught, irreversibly ensnared: Two days worth of intractable clamping down on my pride-bone, undone in a glance.
We named her Blue, monosyllabic, clean, and the kind of illogical that’s right up my alley: A yellow Lab named Blue. I drafted a contract in words of all the things I wouldn’t do, namely everything. I added clauses with lists of the responsibilities that they would carry. It was interminable, but they smiled and agreed to it all. I went out and formally introduced myself to Blue. She cocked her head, and the 5% I was holding back went up in flames.
I held out for six years until two weeks ago when I woke up with a message to myself. I was going to start walking once a day for an hour with Blue. Among the many duties my children happily take on regarding the dog, walking is the shunted one, the one that, as I’d predicted, wouldn’t happen as regularly as it needed to. Don’t ask me what called me to break my own contract so splendidly, but I did, and now we’re walking partners, striding out at 8 am every day to explore the city.
For anyone who walks or swims, you’ll know what I mean about the fundamentals of rhythm, and the urgent mind turns and ideas that come along with them, ideas that won’t lie down. These posts will be my attempts to give shape to these knocking ideas. If I don’t do it, I may never sleep soundly again.