“A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he'll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”
I’ve watched Marley and Me thrice over. And these lines have resonated with me each time. As I gathered myself every time the film ended, I’ve always thought how difficult it must be to lay your dog to rest. And immediately, almost out of reflex, I’d call home. “Ma, what is Hachi doing? Send me a pic.”
Hachiko stepped into our home during one of the most troubled phases of our lives. My dad had just resumed work after a major brain tumour surgery, and ma had just fractured her ankle. There were endless discussions around the dinner table as to why my father chose the most inopportune time to bring a puppy home, while a month-old Hachi kept squealing in my arms. Who would have known that eight years and three months later we’d be mourning his loss, fighting our tears as we struggle to get on with our lives.
Hachiko – A Dog’s Story
It all began with a film. I made my parents watch Hachiko – A Dog’s Story, and I don’t know what struck my father, but he decided to get a little fellow home from a friend whose German Shepherd had littered. We knew we wanted to name him Hachiko, not just because we watched a film, but also because they coincidentally shared the same birthday – 10 November. And our Hachiko was indeed Hachiko incarnate. He was fiercely loyal and a true friend.
At a month and a half, Hachi was like a little bear, a black ball of fur, walking every two minutes and taking a leak on the floor before finding himself a cosy corner to nap. Soon enough, he blended in with the family.
Hachi’s formative years was like having just another baby at home. His teething troubles found solace on my mother’s calves. Hachi was always at her ankles, looking for a chance to chew on her soft skin.
When the entire family huddled together to flip through photos from a recent trip my brother made, Hachi would not accept being left on the floor; he made umpteen attempts to hold on to the side of the bed and squeal his lungs out until we took him in our arms and finally placed him up beside us. And before we knew it, Hachi became a big boy. His once-droopy ears stood up straight, his snout grew longer, his tail fluffier and his squeals turned into gruffy woofs.
My Brilliant Friend
I don’t think one will ever know what true love is unless you have a pet.
Oh the joy of being woken up with sloppy kisses, or being egged on to play with the tassels of a cushion, or hovering around you when you munch on a biscuit, he was always there to lift my spirits. In times of distress, when I’d silently weep over something, Hachi would tiptoe into my room and lick my tears, sniff me, and then settle down by my side until I felt good enough to walk out of the room.
And then there were horror films he saved me from. Wouldn’t let me hide behind a cushion, would come distract me during the scariest of scenes, and even rush with me upstairs when I was apprehensive of going to the first floor alone.
But I only got to spend vacations with him. We spend so much of our lives away from home, educating ourselves, finding jobs, that we rarely realise how it keeps you from your loved ones at home for days on end.
Hachi never grew tired of waiting for me to come home. I came home for semester breaks and he would throw himself over me, wag his tail until it almost came off, lick me and circle me. I came home on breaks during my first job and it was the same story.
And he greeted me the same way over and over, every time I came home, while I moved jobs, moved cities, got married. My best friend was always around for me, and always upset when I dragged my suitcase into the car each time I had to leave.
The Sense of An Ending
When I was leaving home after end of break early February this year, Hachi was more upset than usual. He skipped meals, and curled up on the sofa. He wouldn’t budge, he wouldn’t bark. I don’t know if he had given up on his hope of me being at home for good, or whether he was upset that my brother, who came home after nearly four years, was leaving again. But Hachi had retired to the sofa that Sunday evening and he wouldn’t move.
I called home thrice everyday asking after him, and there wasn’t any sign of improvement. My parents were doing their best, having a vet see him, cleaning up after him, trying to feed him. My mother always said, “He is no less than my child, my second son.” But when the dreaded phone call came on 15 February, with the news of his demise, none of us could hold it in any longer. I have never seen my mother cry inconsolably before the way she broke down after Hachi left us.
A massive sense of loss gripped me and his passing has left behind a void which will never cease to be. It has been four days now, and I can’t sleep in peace. The day sweeps past, what with all its chores and tasks. But as night draws close, the thought of returning to a home without him jumping, barking, running all over the house, leaves me cold and lonely. He was just eight, and for a dog who was so cared for, his diets constantly monitored, couldn’t he have given us a few more years with him?
I do not know when I’ll stop frantically googling causes of sudden illness and death, or asking my parents why the vet could never diagnose what went wrong. I do not know when I will stop breaking down while cooking a meal, or editing a report, but I do know that I have had the good fortune of spending eight most beautiful years with a friend I possibly didn’t deserve. My best friend taught me genuineness, to trust your own tribe, to hope for a daily dose of goodness, but most of all to accept people as they are and love them nonetheless.
Rest in peace, Hachiko. Thank you for being my light.
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