A Matter of Stripes

Fiction

Dalmatian Dog

     It was ten past five and the sun half-way down in its descent when Anu made her way into the park with her one-year old Alsatian named Rambo. She was a little late today and there- fore found herself being virtually hauled by Rambo – despite her protesting, “What the hell, Rambo...Don’t do that!” and “What’s wrong with you today?”

     She found herself half-sliding on the interlocked paver block tiles that formed the walkway. But relentless Rambo had his way till he reached his usual landmark - the azalea shrub which he pro- ceeded to water with fury. A few of the low-lying pink flowers were the shuddering victims of the splash.

     A relieved Rambo half-smiled, half-winked at Anu as he stretched his hindlegs before sitting on his haunches to convey, “From now on, I’ll do as you say.”

     Anu stroked Rambo lovingly on his neck. She saw a couple of ladies playing with their dogs. One of them was hurling a yellow frisbee which her Dachshund would then retrieve and bring back for the procedure to be repeated. The lady was munching potato chips and chuckling to herself as to how much she was making her dog slog. Another lady was running about, occasionally hiding behind a bush or tree challenging her Labrador to find her which the dog was doing as easily as it would lap up a bowl of water when thirsty.

     Anu did not have the luxury of letting go of the leash: the residents of her Naval colony were not comfortable with big dogs being let free. Nor was she allowed to indulge Rambo in any game of any sort in the park. What had happened was that a week back Rambo had pulled out a bamboo reed which was supporting an Ashoka tree sapling and had run all over the park with it, contin- ually dodging a dozen gardeners and security staff before finally cracking it into two when two security staff got hold of one end of it and tried to extricate it from his powerful jaws. One would have wondered as to why half-a-dozen men would have been so desperate to recover a mere bam- boo reed. As though it had been studded with emeralds. But the fact was that it was lending sup- port to the sapling that had been planted by the Fleet Commander - an Admiral no less - a month back and the sapling needed to be nurtured as if it were the Fleet Commander’s own baby. Since only a badly-bitten half of the bamboo reed could be retrieved which served no purpose as it is, a decision was taken to issue a letter to Lieutenant Commander Sanket Tyagi and Anu – the owners of Rambo - directing them to ensure that Rambo was kept on a tight leash outdoors at all times.

     Anu goaded Rambo into a bit of slow running: it was her way to ensure she got to do a few hun- dred steps. Rambo who had perfected running at this pace, was not paying much attention to the goings-around. Therefore, he did not see the Pomeranian emerge suddenly from a bush and run alongside him barking wildly before springing forward and sinking its teeth into his lower thigh. Rambo was stunned by this unexpected attack. Before he could sense any pain, he was the victim of another vicious bout of barking from the perpetrator of the attack. The noise got him. He snarled and bit the other dog on its rump. The screams that the Pomeranian let out reverberated throughout the colony for what seemed like eternity. The panicky sailor who was in-charge of the dog rushed to the spot put his arms around the bleeding dog. In a flash, a crowd had gathered. “Oh, my God!” ... “Rush him to the vet...Quickly!” ... “Where’s your Madam?” were the reac- tions. In seconds, the ‘Madam’ in question Rashmi Juneja arrived on the scene. She broke down on seeing the poor dog who was now wailing. “My poor, poor, Chanchal...” She slapped the sailor before he could narrate what had happened.

     Anu was there at the Pet Clinic when they were nursing the wound of the Pomeranian. Rashmi Ahuja was still abusing her, despite Anu’s having repeatedly trying to explain that Rambo had only reacted to being the victim of an unprovoked attack. Rambo too was in the queue for being treated by the vet.

     “Who did you say your husband was?’ snapped Rashmi Ahuja for the eighth time.

     “Madam, I’m the wife of Lieutenant Commander Sanket Tyagi...”

     “The wife of a damn Lieutenant Commander!” hissed Rashmi Ahuja. “My husband is Captain Mahipal Ahuja...Commanding Officer of...”

     “I’m aware of that, Madam...” responded Anu feebly.

     “And yet you have the guts to do this? Shame on you! My husband has four stripes...your hus- band two-and-a-half...and yet you have the guts...”

     That night as she lay on her bed, Anu could hear Rambo snoring as he slept underneath. Her rang up her husband who was away on tour.

     “Hi, Sanket...How are you?”
     “Fine, darling...How was your day, Anu?”
     Sighing, Anu said, “Fine...I guess”.
     “What does that mean? Everything alright, I hope darling...”
     “Sanket, tell me how many stripes you have on your shoulder...on the uniform I mean...” Sanket was taken aback. “Anu, it’s almost eleven in the night...”
     “Just tell me!”
     “Alright...Alright...I thought you knew...”

     “Wanted to confirm...”
     “Three”
     “And a Commander...How many stripes does he put on?”
     “Three”.
     “You mean...”
     “You see, my middle stripe is narrower than the other two...”
     “That’s what she meant by two-and-a-half...” Anu muttered to herself.
     “You said something, darling?” Sanket sounded concerned. “No...Nothing...Was just wondering when you’ll get to wear four stripes...”

     “Oh, that...”, Sanket chuckled. “A long way off baby...Besides, one may not make it...I don’t mean to sound pessimistic...By we have a pyramid-like hierarchy...Most just fall off...But then why think so far? I mean...”

     Anu was no longer listening.

Satish Pendharkar is a resident of Navi Mumbai in India. His short stories have been published by The Shine Journal, Flash, Bangalore Review etc. He has published a novella named The Backrush of Mem- ory.