It’s the middle of the day. Max is asleep splayed out on the living room floor. He reminds me of my grandfather. Come to think of it, just like Max, I knew my grandfather only as an old man. He retired before I was born. I’ve never known him as the strict father, the dedicated son or the naive lawyer that he was. To me he was the strict but loving grandfather who always bought me vanilla flavoured Joy ice cream and vada with chutney parcels.
Soon Max will wake up and begin whining, a performance he reserves exclusively for me, apparently because I pay him more attention. In the last two days I have learned to ignore the whining. Often it escalates to barking. Ten minutes into that performance is my wit’s end. I am wired to be an impulsive person and patience for me, is a rational response. And rationality is the first out the door when I am overwhelmed by noise. Usually I stop working and pace around the house with Max in tow. In no time, he is pacified back to sleep. I’m pacing lesser and he seems calmer with every passing day. After all, we’ve known each other only for one work week.
By the time I got out of college, my grandfather was in his late eighties and would sleep intermittently all day just like Max. Instead of getting a job, I stayed back home so I could always be there when he woke up. He would call out my name with the same three requests; to know the time, to go to the loo or to make tea. Sometimes, just like Max, he would wake up angry or not know where he was. And I would lie down next to him, hug him and talk to him like he was a baby. By then his memory was failing but our bond only grew stronger. Even when he had trouble remembering names he would call out to me; all day and all night. At night, I would leave both our doors open and be by his bedside if he called out even once. For years after he passed I was a light sleeper, my mind tuned to that call in the night.
Our relationship was not one of respect or love. What we had for each other was overwhelming affection that knows nothing but to comfort. He carried me in his arms before I could walk, taught me the words I know and how to use them, fed me when I fussed or even when I didn’t. Now that he couldn’t walk, talk, eat, think or remember I was offering him the same comfort. I was saying, “I don’t know what you are feeling but I want you to know that I am here. We are in this together”.
Truth be told, I was anxious about adopting an old dog. I had never had a pet and I didn’t fully understand what being a pet owner entailed. But as I rang the doorbell to meet Max, out came a nose that burrowed into my hand to be petted. He circled me and sought out my love till he was sated. He then left to plonk in the middle of the living room and be dead to the world. And that put my mind at ease. Max is a well-behaved gentleman who avoids entering the kitchen and bathrooms. He is friendly, mild-mannered and hassle-free. In under a week he has reminded me how much love I am capable of and trained me in playing a responsible adult.
Like my grandfather, I have not known Max all his life. Max is over 11 years old now. He has lived a life full of experiences I will never know. I will never know why he doesn’t like other dogs, why the doorbell is the only noise that startles him or why he doesn’t like children touching his face. But since our lives collided last Sunday, I’ve learned that he is ticklish near his tail, does not like carrot sticks for treats and that he likes my attention over anything else. Soon we will learn to coexist. Beyond my awkwardness and his confusion, there is a life for both of us where we are connected by the bridge of overwhelming affection.