Mrs Donna had never left her dog, Bubu, alone. Kept in her handbag they’d go to relatives, the cinema, the theatre, cafeterias, everywhere. They even travelled together every summer to the remotest places of the globe. Once they’d arrived, Bubu would sniff and roam around, moving her curly bum and wagging her tail. When Bubu showed her teeth, Mrs Donna knew something wrong was going on and took care for both of them. When Bubu was playful, Mrs Donna felt relaxed. Bubu was her radar for everything, from the moment she lost her husband.
The old lady and the dog lived together for eight years. Bubu never had a collar because Mrs Donna wanted her to be free to stay or go. From the moment she set eyes on this five inch of puppy curled inside a glass tank, she fell in love with her, the same as she had fallen in love with her late husband because he reminded her of a lonely gigantic shar-pei, that strange bulldog with the deep wrinkles and the blue tongue – only her husband’s was pink. The bell jar brought me a companion, instead of madness, thought Mrs Donna and went into the shop and bought Bubu.
At the beginning she had her on her late husband’s pillow at nights, to keep an eye on her, as she used to do with him during his sickness. Now she could see the whole of this tiny creature; with her husband she could see either his face or the back of his neck curious of the way the roots of his hair sprouted from the skin.
During the next six months Mrs Donna trained Bubu. She could walk or run, smell and do whatever she wanted on the pavements but she had to be safely tucked in the old woman’s palm to cross the road.
People were amazed with this miniature and she looked back with her twinkling button sized eyes. She wasn’t one of those dogs that lick and kiss and bark hysterically. No. Bubu was a lady. She stayed cool, gentle and a little detached from people’s affection, as if she kept all her tenderness for Mrs Donna.
At home things were different. Apart from the fact that she had to pee in a tray in the corner of their bathroom, Bubu shared everything with Mrs Donna: food, sleep, reading, knitting, eating, T.V. Her owner had sewed straps of cloth with a pocket where she had Bubu, like a mother kangaroo, for the baby to listen to her heart-beat.
Mrs Donna was not the talkative type so she didn’t say much to Bubu. They were two quiet creatures enjoying each other’s company in silence. Bubu’s way of showing her love was to hide her head under Mrs Donna’s armpit and emerge from there with a sigh, as if telling her, ‘I love your perfume,’ to which Mrs Donna replied with a kiss on her black wet nose.
At times they simply gazed into each other’s eyes. Mrs Donna felt the dog’s eyes carried the world’s wisdom. Then Mrs Donna would say: “Either I will bark, or you will talk,” and she could swear to God that the dog nodded.
She often wondered what and if Bubu was thinking and asked the vet who insisted that “the only thing we can say about our animals is whether they have a good life, judging from their health and behaviour and I swear, Mrs Donna, this is a very happy baby”. This was enough for her.
Eight years passed smoothly between the two. Bubu was the first to notice something strange was happening to Mrs Donna and barked in a lamenting way to alert her. Mrs Donna took her to the vet. He declared there was nothing wrong with the dog.
Then Mrs Donna’s sister had her yearly check-up. The two women went to the clinic together, with Bubu in her owner’s handbag. One of the doctors was a dog-lover and was very intrigued by her lamenting barks. He asked Mrs Donna to have a check-up too. The results showed a serious heart disease in urgent need of operation.
Mrs Donna entered the clinic and stayed there for almost a month. Bubu stayed with her sister who adored her. Mrs Donna complained because doctors wouldn’t allow her to see the dog. She was sure she’d have a faster recovery if she could be with Bubu. She claimed that when she dreamed of Bubu, she felt no pain. “My dog saved me, why I can’t see her?” she’d beg the dog loving doctor but he said: “even a hair could kill you now”.
After the clinic, Mrs Donna moved into her sister’s flat. The moment she set foot inside she knew Bubu had changed. The dog didn’t react to seeing her. She just stayed put and stared, like a statue they had both seen (In which country? Mrs Donna wondered but couldn’t remember) an iron statue of a sad dog, which seemed as if he was trying to hold his tears back while waiting for his master to come back from the seas. Mrs Donna bent over Bubu, took her in her palm, murmured sweet words, caressed her, and kissed her. Nothing.
“She is punishing you”, said her laughing sister.
Mrs Donna couldn’t believe that; she thought Bubu had understood the reason for her absence. She kept on cuddling the dog, speaking softly into her ear, a secret habit which made Bubu sneeze and open her mouth as if laughing. Nothing. She put her under her armpit to smell her perfume. Nothing. She put her inside her favourite pouch and tied it on her heart. Nothing.
They slept together in a single bed, on the same pillow. Woman and dog stayed up until dawn, gazing at each other. Mrs Donna’s tears were soaking the pillow, like the first years together when she was mourning her husband and Bubu licked her wet face. But now Bubu remained distant.
Night after night Mrs Donna tried to persuade Bubu that she still loved her, that the clinic didn’t allow dogs. Night after night Bubu listened to the same whispers and accepted hugs in a distant manner.
The time to return home had come and although Mrs Donna had seen the care her sister offered to Bubu, she took her to the vet.
“She is depressed,” said the vet.
“What can I do?” asked the old lady.
“Nothing. As long as she eats, we are ok.”
Soon Bubu stopped eating and Mrs Donna panicked.
“Mrs Donna, you have to be brave,” said the vet as soon as he got her tests results. “You just had a heart operation. Bubu has cancer in the mouth. When you are ready we shall have to put her down.”
Bubu was on the vet’s metal bed, moving her head from him to her owner and nodded. Mrs Donna was shattered. She left the vet with Bubu tucked in the curve of her neck, an old game of theirs where the dog was the parrot and she the pirate with the limping leg. In this game Bubu never fell off her shoulder no matter how awkward the limp. This time she did fall and Mrs Donna grabbed her in her palms, feeling shame for pressing her to perform a trick that needed a fitness Bubu didn’t possess anymore.
She started feeding Bubu by injecting into her mouth milk mixed with egg yolk. Both woman and dog were emaciated in ten days. At nights they went to bed together but hardly slept. Mrs Donna started talking. She narrated to Bubu all she could remember from her childhood, her youth, her marriage, her good and bad times. Every night she ended her talk by telling the dog how happy she had made her.
When she had no words left, they gazed at each other and Bubu at last showed her love. Only it was a tired, sorrowful love with the slightest of tail wags and the faintest of kisses. “I didn’t betray you,” Mrs Donna kept explaining and Bubu hid under her armpit emerging with a weak smile and a lick which made her owner smile too, despite the decaying smell of the dog’s saliva. “We have a good time together, why do you want to leave me?” asked Mrs Donna as if she was talking to her husband. Bubu didn’t answer. Her husband didn’t answer either.
One day Bubu didn’t wake up. Mrs Donna and her sister buried her at the neighbour’s orchard where she loved to play with his Alsatian. The animal kept howling long after the people were gone.
A tearless desiccated Mrs Donna asked her sister the question that had been eating her up from the moment she returned from the clinic.
© Belica Kubareli