Updated: Oct 16, 2021
While living in Kathmandu, I befriended a pack of stray dogs living in an empty lot. Over a couple of years I got to know them and in the early winter of 2020, before Covid, we spent every morning and evening together after I fed them. This is an excerpt from our lives.
A man was standing over Bella with a wire in his hand. It was a metal hanger he had untwisted so he could use it as a weapon. His mind was unwell, his body short and stocky and dirty.
Bella was threatened and barking at him while the other dogs gathered behind her. The man hunched his shoulders as he tightened his grip on the wire and jabbed it at Bella’s face shouting that he would kill them all. The villagers watched from doorways of shops as I stepped in front of Bella and her pack and faced the man with my arms held wide, palms open, to protect the dogs behind me.
He took a few steps back and circled like he was in a boxing ring and lunged at them with his weapon threatening to kill them. I stood my ground and I told him if he hurts them, I will hurt him back. I gestured so he understood that I would hit him. Behind me the dogs were barking, while the sick man in front of me was howling threats and contorting his body into postures of demented rage.
I shouted to the watching crowd of shopkeepers and passersby that if he hurts these dogs I will strangle him and I held my hands out towards him making the gesture of strangulation, my hands clinched tight with the imaginary effort. The crowd laughed. They knew I wouldn’t have seriously hurt him, but I felt rage and I expressed my desire to protect the dogs as passionately as he expressed his desire to destroy them. We were two embers, dancing in the ashes of civilized behaviour, not yet ignited and far from extinguished.
Look at the warrior I’ve become, facing the deranged to protect the innocent. After that day whenever he saw me he turned and walked in an opposite direction and I petitioned all of the shopkeepers to intervene if they ever saw him hurting the dogs, to which they responded, “I will try.”
In normal times, dogs and children play together while dodging vehicles, and shopkeepers sit on their stoops watching the daylight fade away into darkness. Faraway in Canada during this time of Covid, I like to think I exist there even when I’m gone, in the memories of the people who know me, some as the lady who feeds dogs and made them all laugh once. I wonder if they miss the normality of the world as much as I do, while they are isolated inside their homes longing to be free again, to wander out into the streets at dusk where the smell of incense and the sound of children laughing pervade the senses. I wonder if they remember me as I remember them.
Bella and her two siblings are safe, I had them rescued from the street one day before the Covid lockdown in Nepal forced people into their homes, and the once bustling streets of lively Kathmandu came to resemble a ghost town. All but one of Bella's pack was saved, a white dog named Tommy who often came to the protection of his peers. He was missing that day when my team assembled for the rescue, but he has since been found alone on the concrete with an injured leg, hungry and lacking the exuberance that once defined his playful demeanour. A short time later when lockdown was lifted and I sent a team again to rescue him, and it was reported that he had been hit by a car and died.
The sick man still sidles into the street with his weapons of metal and stone, and his mind full of malice. I wonder now if there are not many who have been infected with the derangement of this man, rearing its head in societies where animals have become defenceless against appetites and desires for inflicting pain. But there is hope.