by Nina Basu

Do you know what plastic bags taste of? They taste of nothing at all. Rotten banana peel is a step up. And my luckiest days as a young pup were when I found chicken entrails. Just watch out for the feathers tickling your whiskers.

The sun beat down that day. The rubbish dump was a smell banquet. I was trying to sniff out a rat.
Suddenly, my back exploded in pain. A shrill yap pierced the air. Later, I realised it had been me.

I couldn’t move my legs! Then everything went black.

When I woke up, I was jolting gently back and forth. “Ah, the poor creature,” said a gentle voice. “They keep dumping puppies in the rubbish.” I sniffed a hand next to my nose. “Even if he can’t walk again, he can have a good life,” the voice continued.
“You always had a soft spot for the mutts, Takis.”
“But they have no one, Iakovos.”
“Don’t be a fool, Takis.”

Takis’ courtyard was full of dogs like me. Most of them could walk and run, but some of them were like me and had to drag their legs behind them. One of them had his ears and tail cut off. Another one had a huge lump on her underside.

Takis had names for us all. He called me Hugo. It felt like an extra tail. I could never remember it. But then “Hugo!” he would call, “time for your food!” And one day, shuffling across the dirt courtyard, I thought of myself as Hugo, and then it was as much a part of me as my nose.

The woman next door used to shout at us over the fence. Early one morning, she woke up and threw a tin can at a black and white pack sister and made her squeal. Another day she emptied a bucket full of fish bones on a young pack brother who was sleeping beside the fence. The joke was on her, because it was a treat! We had a grand time.

One evening after sundown a pack of neighbours came to the gate. Their vigorous banging woke us up. All of us pack brothers and sisters howled at them, but they were very loud. Their faces were red, and their brows beetled. They were led by the ferocious fishbone flinger. They stabbed the air with pointed fingers, and jabbed Takis with words I had never heard before.

“Give me thirty days,” Takis kept saying. I had never seen him look so sad before. They stood around glaring. One of them spat over the gate. Then slowly, they went away.

Takis didn’t sleep all night. I could smell the worry. We all could. Takis seemed smaller somehow, and paler. Every evening, he would sit in the courtyard and stare into the distance. He would be gone for ages. We never knew when he would return.

Two strange men came to our gate one day. We were ready to rush at them, but to our surprise Takis invited them in. Then they spent ages inside the house. When they came out, they spent ages poking the water pump, running their fingers across the window grills, and peering down the drains. They shook hands with Takis and left.

A few days later, Takis jangled down the road in a huge whisker-quiveringly scary thing on wheels, with a flappy back. He carried me in. Some of the others jumped in. When all of us were inside, we did a little howl to prepare ourselves. We were worried. Can you blame us?

It has been ages now that we have moved to our new home near Ierapetra. We have so much more space to run around in, and the sun shines and the breeze blows here all day. At first Takis slept in a flappy tent which blew about in the wind. And then one day, some of his friends came. They did a lot of hammering and some shouting and laughing, and grilled fish on a stick sitting around a fire, and then the next day Takis had a little room to live in, and we had little wooden rooms as well.

We sleep all afternoon, and we do our evening howl before bedtime. There are no neighbours, so no one minds. We try to share Takis’ bed too, but he is sometimes a little disagreeable about muddy paws.
Even so, we are all content. It’s a good life.