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A Dog’s Life

JOE’S JOURNAL From my Tanganyika diaries, 1960.

It’s Friday night in a small town, the provincial (county) capital.
The only hotel bar and lounge is crowded with locals and regulars home from the weeks work, out in the ‘bundu’ (bush), or ‘on line’ (railway).
Here is the Central African crossroads: east – west railway interchanging with the north – south road which is mud or dust according to the season, but with a continuing turnover of travellers.
The bar, unlike the various clubs, is open to all, and its dartboard the ‘in-n’ place of activity.
A visitor could ‘take chalk’ (scoring), buy a round and so earn an invitation to a game.

Heinz the dog sees another guest come to the barOne night among the throng and under the flying arrows HE arrived with a whimper.
Hungry? – A sausage roll made the tail wag.
Thirsty? -a bowl of water raised a cocked head of doggy amazement, and no wag.
Then someone gave him a half of India Pale Ale.
Instant wagging and immediate consumption.
This dog was not here for afternoon tea, nor was it his first round.
He soon qualified as a regular, and became a resident.
Where he came from raised no discussion, but his pedigree suggested some fifty seven varieties, so I named him HEINZ.
Awaiting your turn at the dartboard, you tried skidding bottle caps across the tiled floor, to get one past him into his goal – most unlikely.
Giving your ‘round’ order to the barman, you nodded a reply to his “And one for Heinz sir?” and the tail wagged again; small bottle for a small dog.
His beer and bar snacks got us a star entertainer, dart retriever, rat catcher and night watchman – and a collar for him.

Friday was always a late night, but Saturday morning (no five day weeks) was mainly office, paperworking out the weeks activities (and expenses) in the field; no computers or calculators.
At last the two hands reached twelve, then away to the dispensary for ‘a hair of the dog that bit you’.
Heinz was curled up in his corner.
The ‘New Boy’ recognised him.
“Nice doggy, Heinz.”
The warning growl didn’t register.
A hand avoiding a dog biteThe extended hand just beat the snap.
“Whats wrong with him then?”
“Same as you, and all the rest of us — your round!”
The group stood off from the bar, crunching peanuts and crackling crisps as he ordered.
“And one for Heinz sir?”
One ear twitched and the growling paused.
His bowl was filled, and eased towards his corner – with a long stick.
Both ears up now, then sniff . . .lap slurppp.
Two minutes silence and suddenly the tail signals ‘Ready’ – for the first bottle stopper, and the rest of the world.
The New Boy is enlightened as he too enjoys his therapy.

Heinz’s departure, like his arrival, puzzled everyone.
Perhaps some family took him away ‘on transfer’ to another posting?
Or a leopard had him for breakfast?
His absence left a dismal atmosphere, vacancies in the darts team and a fall in bar profits.
This small sporty canine entertained and united us, redirecting our attention from dead dartboard to a living creature.
He shared and endured our hunger and thirsts, excesses and remorse.
Who realised we needed him?
Who sent him among us?
Hopefully, some new ‘owners’ gained as much as we lost.

Joe Lucas January 2008

One comment on “A Dog’s Life

  1. Unfortunately sometimes, we take people for granted and only realize how much we really appreciated them after they have gone!

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