It happened one rainy day, as Aditi walked back to her rented apartment after a tiring day at college. She had successfully managed to escape the group of gregarious girls, whose only aim in life was to corner lovers of solitude and try to bring them out of their peaceful shells.
Aditi loved the rains. People at home stayed put and those caught outside wanted nothing but to get back in. Everybody minding their own businesses for once, minimizing the chances of social interactions. Perfect.
She pulled down the hood of her windcheater and faced the sky, feeling the rain drops hitting her face and drenching her short hair. A stray droplet ran down her neck right to the middle of her back where her T-shirt soaked it in. It sent chills through her spine and her skin momentarily hardened, making her body hair stand on end.
As she continued walking down the empty road, she came upon the body of a dead dog. Some ass of a guy had probably driven over it, not bothering to even stop and look if the animal was hurt, in his hurry to get home. Aditi muttered a few curses to the driver under her breath. Getting closer she noticed that the dog was a female and looking at her inflamed and enlarged breasts and swollen nipples, she had probably just delivered a litter.
This was too much to take in for Aditi and she felt her eyes fill up with hot tears, and a sob escaped her throat. As she let her tears flow out freely she felt an ancient knot in her chest, which she had forgotten about with time, release and dissolve, making her feel light in the head. She felt so much relief as all her emotions pent up throughout the years were released in one go. She had almost forgotten what crying felt like, and oh boy, did it feel good!
The rain camouflaged her tears so she did not have to worry about being seen crying. Her only giveaway were her red eyes, which could be seen only if one were to look closely enough.
Aditi never cried in front of anybody else no matter what the circumstances. As a child she had been taught that crying was for the weak, to always be strong and never show your weaknesses to others, as it would leave you vulnerable and exposed. Growing old she had learnt that the opposite was true, how important it was to express oneself freely, but scared of being judged and not trusting anyone enough, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. She kept waiting for the one being who would sit down and listened while she poured out her heart, convince her that she was loved and that it takes courage to learn how to cry.
Aditi heaved a sigh, praying that the dog’s soul may rest in peace, and as she started to walk back home, convincing herself that there was nothing much she could do here, she heard a sound which made her freeze with excitement. So soft and so weak, at first she thought it was just her imagination. She waited for a few seconds straining her ears so that she could catch it a second time, and almost when she was ready to give up, there it was again!
She ran in the direction from which she thought it came, and it led her into a nearby hedge where some old furniture had been stacked. Not caring about getting her hands dirty, she lifted up the mouldy planks and inside a shelf, perfectly safe and dry, she found the source of the sound. Two puppies, smaller than her palm, curled up against each other trying to keep warm. Judging from their sealed eyes and pinkish skin, they were no more than a week old.
Sensing her presence one of the puppies mistook her for its mother and started whimpering again. To Aditi, each whimper felt like her heart was breaking into a million pieces, like she was losing years from her lifespan**. She had this sudden and deep urge to do something, anything, that would make the whimpering stop. But she knew not what to do. She tried stroking them to keep them warm and calm them down, but the foreign touch made them panic and they started crying out louder, calling out to their mother for help, unaware of her tragic fate.
Aditi had a decision to make here. She couldn’t possibly take them home, but then she couldn’t even leave them here. Her conscience wouldn’t permit that. She knew, more than anyone else what it was like to be left alone, to have no one you could talk to, have conversations with and look up to for guidance.
She remembered how alone she used to feel in her house when her mom and dad would leave for work, how when at home they would continually engage in work related conversations and hardly have any time for her. At parties she would have to keep up appearances in front of the guests, and her parents would introduce her to one of their seniors and expect her to pay them their respect. Much to their disapproval, Aditi never complied. To her a person is not deserving of respect just because he is senior by age or position, until he has earned it with love and compassion. None of the people at the party were deserving of any kind of respect or love from Aditi, or anyone for that matter. She would never forgive them for making her mom and dad mad at her.
Her parents, she forgave over time, as she now did understand that they had to work and earn in order to be able to afford her school fees and the big house and all the things they provided her with. But that understanding did not soothe the pain of not being able to receive their attention and affection and having a proper relation with them, instead it helped to push and bury the pain in the back of her mind.
As these bitter thoughts and memories flashed through her mind, the pups stretched and yawned and gave in to the warmth of her hand. At that split second her decision was made. She had no idea that this decision would change her life forever. A few minutes later a transformed Aditi walked home with a spring in her feet and a smile on her face, and two hairless pups curled up in the inner pockets of her wind cheater, promising herself that come what may, she would never let anything happen to them.
The first few weeks were quite difficult for Aditi. Looking after the pups and keeping them warm and comfortable took most of her time. They had to be fed carefully prepared and diluted cow milk every few hours, in baby bottles with ‘teat’ caps. Half an hour after every meal they would poop and Aditi would clean up after them. Sometimes one of the pups’ bowel movements had to be stimulated to make him poop, by rubbing its tummy around the genitals, with a cotton ball moistened with warm water. Her maid, who would visit every week to clean her apartment, was a lot of help and very supportive of her efforts. Having some experience in dealing with puppies, she gave instructions to Aditi on how to handle certain situations were they to arise, and Aditi took these lessons to heart.
A couple of months passed and the pups grew up to be healthy and fit. Both the dogs were furry mongrels. One had a black coat and bright white on his chest and on the tips of his paws. She named him Bailey. The other had a husky coat with a tinge of brown, and would wag his tail so fast that Aditi wondered how it didn’t fall off. She had decided to call him Waggs.
As the foster mother, Aditi was doing everything that was needed to be done to the best of her capabilities. She spent all the money sent by her parents, to provide for Bailey and Waggs. But inspite of everything that she did, she never felt like it was enough, like she still should be doing more, and that if their mother was here she would have done it better. She had taken responsibility of their lives by bringing them in and she was determined to go through with it. They were the younger sibblings she never had. Adopting the dogs had awoken something inside Aditi, something that she didn’t know existed within her. Where earlier she used to lead a solitary life, she now had someone to look forward to meeting, someone to care for and someone she felt so ferociously protective about that she was ready to take on other strays who would dare to try and harm them. Most of all she had grown to love them.
In return she was showered with an equal, if not more, amount of affection and love from her boys. They would always sense when she was feeling down and seemed to know exactly what would cheer her up. Their mere presence calmed her mind down and watching them play together became her favorite pass time.
One morning while bathing, she was thinking that her sem-end vacations were coming to an end, and she had absolutely no hesitation, no sense of anxiety and no panic attacks about joining back and having to interact with other students. She casually observed herself in the steamy mirror, and she could hardly recognise the person she was looking at. This was in stark contrast with what she looked like earlier, pale skinned and drooping eyes, with dark circles. Also, she felt light at heart and at ease with herself. She watched as steam from the hot shower still clung to her soft skin, which had turned into a raw shade, as she wondered what could have brought about this transformation. It was amazing how love and a few licks could change ones life. She realised how much her heart had craved for love but her mind wouldn’t let her accept it, convincing her that she could live without it. How foolish she had been, clinging on to her past and shutting out the world.
Bailey and Waggs had brought out virtues and traits in her personalty that she had never even dreamt of having, her love for travelling, music and dance. Parts of her which she had hidden away long ago, tired of unappreciation and scared of being judged and of people’s opinions. She had considered external validation very important, and unaware that these were the very best of her qualities, she had shut them out of her life. They revealed to her that she had the ability to give love and affection, and convinced her that she was herself very deserving of love, affection and devotion. For this she would be eternally grateful to the both of them.