Fifth edition

The Stray

The stray_Rashid

Syed Rashid Munir │srmunir@gmail.com

Memory is a fickle thing. One second you think you can recall, and the next you’re absolutely dazed and confused.

But, this one I remember.

It’s from a long, long time ago.

We used to live in the capital in those days.

The street we lived on was on elevated ground. And just beyond the other side of the street, there was a slope that led downwards to an outgrowth of sorts.

One hot summer day, after lunch, I must’ve sneaked out of the house (I say so because I don’t actually remember sneaking out, but can only recall returning back home, leading to the very reasonable possibility that I must’ve, indeed, sneaked out in the first place). And by sneaking out, I mean just stepping out of the gate and walking across to the other side of the road. It was a big deal for a two-year old: just me, on my own, ready to face the world.

My first taste of freedom. I was hypnotized by it, just floating around in its mesmerizing haze. Life, in that instant, was good.

Once on the other side, standing on the edge of that slope, about 20 feet away, I saw a stray dog lurking down below. Like almost everything at that age, it was fascinating; every new sight, every new smell, and every new feeling had to be explored. Now, on any other day, I would’ve just stood there and lurked around a bit myself, but this was no ordinary day. I was feeling invincible.

So, I picked up a stone, and threw it at the stray. It landed inches from its feet.

Nothing. The dog didn’t even budge.

Even when I remember it now, I laugh at how stupid that dog would’ve perceived me to be. That poor soul was just there foraging for some food probably, and perhaps wanted to be left alone. But here was this silly boy who was being a nuisance. However, the dog decided to not be bothered; maybe it was feeling invincible too.

After that initial throw, I, however, was very disappointed. Not only had I missed my mark, I had failed to elicit any response from the dog. But, like a lot of other stupid things in my life that I’ve continued to do way longer than I ever should have, I decided to give it another go. So, I picked up another stone, this time a bit bigger, and flung it at the dog.

I missed my mark again, as the stone landed even closer, but I clearly had the dog’s attention now. I remember it slowly raised its head, gave me a cold, long stare, and then got back to finding food again.

Houston, we have touchdown!

Spurred on, I picked up another stone, this time the biggest one I could manage. Emboldened by the previous attempts, I hurled it at the dog.

I missed a third time.

Angered by my shoddy marksmanship, I decided it was time for some drastic measures. Standing on the very edge of the slope, flailing my arms like a wild beast, I shouted at the top of my voice, trying to engage this other sentient being.

“Doggie!!”

“Oye!”

“Doggie!!!”

“I dare you to come at me!”

The head rose. Another stare. Nothing.

I was feeling bored now. The heat was getting unbearable, and I had been out of the house for a full two minutes. I started turning around to head back.

And then, something happened to that dog.

Maybe it was a flea that bit the dog too hard, or maybe it was the unforgiving sun, or maybe it was the sight of my dejected demeanour, but something happened to that creature then. Without warning, it started sprinting up the slope, its teeth bared, barking loudly, with blood in its eyes.

And standing there, up at the top of that mound, I felt it for the very first time.

I felt it even before I could describe it in words, felt it even before I could have any notion of it. And yet, there it was, clear as the sky on that day: absolute and terrible horror.

I swung around and ran for dear life. I could hear the dog’s barking getting ever so close, but I didn’t dare look back. Crossing that little road in front of our house took me a century, and once at the door, I started banging on it as hard as I could.

The barking was coming from the top of the slope now. Any moment now, and I’d know exactly how it feels to still be in the food chain. My breathing was getting laboured, and I could barely contain my heartbeat. This, it seemed, would be a very short trip on the blue planet.

For some reason though, I kept on thumping at that door.

And after what felt like eons, after what felt like the final, feeble thud of my hand, my mother finally opened the door. And there I was: the panting, prodigal son who had learnt more in 23 seconds than he would in the next 23 years.

We lived in that house for another year. On some days, I’d go looking for the dog by the slope.

But I never saw it again.

And that’s how I learnt about freedom… and fear. There really is no notion of one without the other; sometimes, freedom leads to fear, while on other occasions, the causality is reversed. But in whichever direction the correlation might flow, you’ll always find fear and freedom in close proximity of each other. Embracing them, as one, could lead to great adventures that might, or might not, feature a life-altering canine. But don’t take it from me. You must find your own dog.

Freedom and fear have featured multiple times in my life since that day, but why has this memory persisted? I think it’s because it’s my very first, fully-formed memory. I’ve racked my brains for anything I can recall before that, and there are those hazy visions of toys and spiders and walls and grass, but absolutely nothing that is this crystal clear.

A beautiful day that smelled of freedom, and a barking stray, chasing after me, scaring me within an inch of my life; that’s my first memory.

I wonder what my last one would be.

Rashid new profile Syed Rashid Munir, Senior Writer

Rashid works as a Research Analyst at the Lahore Development Authority.

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Categories: Fifth edition, Your Story

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